On the Fourth of July, we celebrate everything that is American. According
to the National Retail Federation’s 2010 Independence Day Consumer
Intentions and Actions survey, nearly 144 million Americans will celebrate
the holiday by way of hosting or attending a barbecue or picnic.
For those of us who are lucky enough to have friends and family who invite
us to parties we will invariably be subjected to over-cooked burgers that
have the texture of a Brillo pad and are about as moist as the sole on my
flip-flop. Of course there are the cold salads bathed in mayonnaise that
are obviously store-made but passed off with despicable confidence as
homemade. However as the good people we are, we choke down that burger and
fork up that sun-bathed potato salad with a smile on our faces.
Since we’re celebrating all things American, it’s apropos to serve or
bring a red zinfandel wine to the celebration. Some of you may not want to
part with the other all-American beverage that is beer, which you stuff in
your New York Giants koozie that your ex-girlfriend knitted you after
Super Bowl XXV…and that’s ok. But zinfandel grapes are unique to the
United States and the wine will actually help to class up your backyard
Of course you also have brought an excellent bottle of Red zinfandel (not
the sweet White zinfandel), which is not to say that you had to spend a
lot on this uniquely American red grape with roots that stretch half way
across the globe to Croatia, however today those grapes are only grown in
the United States and primarily in California. However you can find a
sister varietal in Italy called Primitivo which is also linked to parent
grape in Croatia. California has some 50,000 acres of Zinfandel vines and
sales have never been stronger despite being loosely connected with White
Zinfandel by grape only.
Zinfandel is the perfect match with burgers, barbecued ribs, and steaks
assuming that they cooked properly if not you can toss the food and just
drink the wine. It also goes well with another American favorite: pizza.
For my taste I tend to lean toward the style of Zin that has good red
fruit up front but is followed by some nice spiciness that goes on and on.
Some examples are Zin 91 Old Vine 2006 from California $14.99, and
Plungerhead Old Vine 2007 from Dry Creek Valley California $17.99.
So if you’re in the faction that is planning to gather around the grill in
the backyard, tossing lawn darts at each other, and showing off your
horseshoe game as Uncle Frank burns the hot dogs, keep in mind that you
will be partaking in one common thing: food, beer and wine. Just remember
what we always preach in the Off The Vine Column: always open the bottle
you bring and pour yourself the biggest glass. Now if you are more devious
you can bring a cheap magnum of wine to distract the wine-guzzlers at the
party and keep the nice bottle hidden away for you and the other
wine-sippers. The choice, of course, is yours.
As always if you have any questions, comments or insults feel free to come
down to my wine store Off the Vine Wines & Spirits in Norwalk, CT or visit
us on the web at www.offthevineonline.com. Of course we will taste some of
the wines that I have mentioned this Friday & Saturday from 12pm-8pm.
Jump Back Smacka- Macaroni Salad:
· ¾ Box of Spiral Pasta
· 1 Cup Mayonnaise
· ¼ cup of milk
· 1 Tblsp Dijon
· 3 Tblsp minced shallot or onion
· 1-2 tsp Fresh lemon juice to taste
· 2 tsp Apple cider vinegar to taste
· ¼ tsp Worcestershire Sauce
· ¼ tsp Salt to taste more if needed
· 1 tsp Fresh cracked pepper
· ¼ tsp Sriracha hot chili sauce or your favorite hot sauce-add more if
you like it hotter.
· ¾ large cucumber peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
· 2 medium/large Tomatoes cut into 1 inch chunks
Combine ingredients (except pasta, tomatoes & cucumbers) in a big bowl and
whisk together. Take cooked pasta & toss with sauce, tomatoes & cucumbers.
Store in fridge for at least 2 hours. Easy & delicious!
The 2010 World Cup kicked is in full swing with the USA defying all the
odds and walking away with a tie with England. For the next three weeks,
millions of soccer aficionados will be glued to their televisions watching
their favorite team vie for world dominance. But soccer-watching doesn’t
automatically mean overdosing on bar food, drinking too much beer, and
shooting one too many tequila shots. I’m proposing a different approach to
cheering on your team: hosting a World Cup wine party.
Doing so will require a breakdown of the teams and the wines their
countries are known for. Here are a few suggestions for getting into the
World Cup spirit with an alternative to the traditional drinks of choice.
Ranked 88 in the world behind such teams as Moldova and Panama, South
Africa are one of the outsiders to win the 2010 World Cup, with odds of
around 100-1 to actually win the whole tournament. However, with the World
Cup on home soil, and with the loud and colorful fans, who knows what can
The host country is in the spotlight and so should be its wines. I suggest
serving traditional dishes of bobotie (curried meat casserole) or bredie
(South African lamb stew). You can pair those dishes with The Pepper Pot
$13.99 which is a red blend of syrah/Mourvedre/Tannat that is a
medium-full bodied wine with deep red fruit and some peppery spice on the
finish. Another great wine on the dog-days of summer is the Steenberg
Sauvignon Blanc $8.99 which deliver dry crisp acidity with some nice
French National Football Team
The French football team was once the perennial under-achievers on the
world stage, before their victory in the 1998 tournament. Last year they
played runner-up to Italy in the World Cup final. French fans serving
Boudin Noir (blood Sausage) and Pomme Frites with their soccer game, may
want to try a couple of reds like Domaine Monpertuis Cotes du Rhone $15.99
or a Bordeaux from the legendary 2005 vintage like Chateau de Cazenove
$16.99. Of course a crisp refreshing white is always welcome on a hot day
so may I suggest Domaine De Villalin Quincy “Silex” (Sauvignon Blanc)
$24.99 from the Loire Valley.
United States Football Team
Despite the unpopularity of the sport in the United States, the national
team has been a regular in the World Cup finals, often negotiating tricky
World Cup Qualification Groups featuring stronger teams from Latin America
Whether you cheer for U.S. soccer or just want an excuse to throw a party,
hamburgers and hot dogs go great with red or white. Zin 91 from California
is a great old vine Zinfandel 2006 $14.99 with good depth of red fruit
that is tempered with some nice spiciness. For another red Rabbit Ridge
Allure de Robles is a great “Rhone Style” red from Paso Robles $8.99 that
is perfect for barbeques. One more wine to consider on the white-side of
wine is a refreshing Pinot Gris from Oregon like Emerson $17.99. See
recipe below for grilled seafood salad.
So if low-scoring games that seem to last forever that have the potential
of rewarding your cheering with a riveting tie sounds like fun then crack
that bottle of wine and get to drinking and eating with the country of
your favorite soccer team. If you have any questions, comments or insults
feel free to come down to my wine store Off the Vine Wines & Spirits in
Norwalk, CT or visit us on the web at www.offthevineonline.com. Of course
we will taste some of the wines that I have mentioned this weekend from
12pm-8pm Friday & Saturday.
The recipe below was taken from the blog of my good friends Chefs Matt
Scialabba and Melissa Pellegrino, authors of the recently published
cookbook, The Italian Farmer’s Table. For more information about their
book and to check out their blog, please visit:
Recipe: Grilled Seafood Salad
• 1/2 lb. baby octopus
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• Kosher salt
• 12 small shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
• 1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
• 1 lemon, thinly sliced
• 2 heads Belgian endive, sliced
• 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into fine dice
• 1 jalapeno pepper, fine dice
• 1/4 cup parsley
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
Prepare a medium gas grill. Toss the octopus with a 1/2 Tbs. of olive
oil and season with a pinch of salt. Place on the grill and cook on both
sides until lightly charred, 5 to 6 minutes total. Transfer to a clean
plate. Toss the shrimp in a 1/2 Tbs. of oil and season with a pinch of
salt. Grill on both sides until they have good grill marks and opaque, 3
to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a plate with the octopus. Raise the heat
to medium high, put the mussels on the grill and cook covered until the
shells pop open, the meat is plump, and the juices are boiling and
sizzling in the shell, 3 to 7 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the
octopus and discard any that don’t open. Grill the lemon slices until
just tender, about 1 minute per side. In a large bowl toss together the
endive, red pepper, jalapeno, parsley, 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper.
Cut the octopus in half crosswise and add it to the bowl. Remove the
mussels from their shells and add to the bowl along with the shrimp. Add
the remaining 3 Tbs, olive oil and the red wine vinegar and toss to
combine. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. Season to taste with
salt and pepper.
Come to the store and see local Photographer Colin Farmer’s “Vineyards” Photo Exhibit. These shots explore vineyards in Italy and Argentina.
Living in South Norwalk Connecticut, Colin picked up the photography bug at the end of the millennium and has been shooting regularly since 2005 when moving from film to digital mediums.
Colin’s work has been published in Connecticut magazines and newspapers, photo.com and his photo “Orchid” scored Second Place at 12th Annual Wilton Arts Council Focus ‘10 Exhibit. “Orchid” can be found in the “Abstracts” gallery.
The majority of his work reflects extensive travel spanning three continents. Many of the diverse landscapes, cityscapes and wildlife are from Alaska, Mexico, Europe and South America.
Along with traditional photography Colin has been experimenting with long exposure and recently has delved into the world of HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography.
See more of his work at http://www.colinfarmerphotography.com.
Off The Vine
John Noakes & Chef David Repp
Bringing your own wine to a restaurant has become increasingly common as the food revolution marches on and consumers get more persnickety about what they drink. Once considered an unorthodox practice, toting your own wine to a restaurant is common in most states, accept, however, in Texas where it is illegal to bring your own wine to a restaurant with a full-liquor license.
Well folks, be thankful we’re not longhorns because bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant is a treat. However, there’s certain etiquette involved in the process, so I’m here to discuss the do’s and don’ts of being successful without offending the sommelier or owner.
First, when I’m considering bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant that is known for its fabulous wine list, I ask to speak to the sommelier or manager when I call to make reservations. This helps me get a feel for whether they’d be upset or offended about bringing a bottle.
Some restaurants actually discourage patrons bringing in wine. In these cases, they will impose a rather high corking fee—the price they will charge to open the bottle and pour it in a glass. This fee can range anywhere from $5-$50 a bottle. A high corking fee would likely be over $30. Sounds crazy but it keeps people from bringing in jugs of wine, and if the fee is high enough it is meant to discourage.
One of the more embarrassing rookie mistakes is to bring a bottle that is already on the wine list. Lord only knows what will happen to your food in the kitchen. Most fine dining establishments post their wine lists on their websites. So check out the website before going and spy the wine list to avoid bringing a double.
Next, don’t skimp on the price and quality of wine—you will likely embarrass yourself. Your special bottle should hopefully cost more than $40. Go big or go home when bringing a bottle. Do not bring, for instance, a bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay when you are paying a $25 corkage fee. No more explaining necessary.
So once you get the necessary approval, you’ve got your car all washed and waxed and your honey is riding shotgun and you are driving to the restaurant feeling good…I know. You’re on the precipice of looking like a wine God to your significant other because of your recently gained knowledge with regard to bringing your own bottle. Everyone can thank me later. Things are looking good as you walk in the restaurant; you’re in too deep to mess things up and come off looking like a wine neophyte so the next couple of steps are crucial.
When you greet the host/hostess and give them your name you also want to show them your bottle. When you sit down and meet your server you will let them know if you need the wine to be decanted. It is also at this moment where you will ask to have the sommelier or manager pay a visit to the table for a taste. That’s right. You’re going to have to offer up a small taste of your precious wine to the powers that be at the restaurant, it’s what we call a pro-move. It is this which will separate you from 95 percent of the people that bring their own bottle. It shows the sommelier that you know what you’re doing and that you’re a wine-nut just like him/her and puts you in their good graces. Most of the time, that simple move will either wipe out the corkage fee, or get you an after-dinner drink on the house. One more thing, friends, don’t forget to palm $10-$20 to the sommelier or manager who assisted you. This move will surely make your next meal even more memorable and of course make you look like a professional.
We’re all in for a treat this week, as my friend Chef/Owner Renato Donzelli of Basso Café in Norwalk at 124 New Canaan Ave. (in front of A&S Fine Foods) is providing a phenomenal recipe for us to enjoy. Basso Café is a “BYO” (bring your own) restaurant which charges a very low corkage fee for wine, so feel free to bring a couple of bottles. I usually bring a white and a red to cover all of my food choices. Outstanding food served in a mellow beautiful setting. For reservations call 203-354-6566, or visit www.bassobistrocafe.com.
Exile On Spring Street…Swingin’ from the Vine-
I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a new column, but now Chef Dave Repp and I are back, refreshed and ready to tackle the summer season of barbeques, wine, beer, and libation with our usual reckless abandonment for our liver counts and cholesterol levels.
This summer Chef Repp, along with some special guest chefs and great home-cooks, will be sharing their recipes for the “Off The Vine Barbecue Series,” which will include everything from dry-rubs and marinades to cold salads and beyond all paired with exciting summer alcohol. Look for the first column this May.
Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon, Scallions & Feta cheese
3 plum tomatoes (washed and cut in half lengthwise) ½ cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil 4 sprigs oregano washed and dried 2 sprigs rosemary washed and dried 3 cloves garlic peeled and mashed 1 clove garlic peeled and sliced 6 jumbo sea scallops ½ cup white wine 1 cup chicken stock juice of 1 lemon 1/8 cup scallions, green part only, cut on the bias ½ tsp dijon mustard 1 tbsp parsley, leaves only, chopped, plus additional sprigs for garnish 1 tbsp dill, leaves only, chopped ¾ cup feta cheese crumbled Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
3 plum tomatoes (washed and cut in half lengthwise)
½ cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil
4 sprigs oregano washed and dried
2 sprigs rosemary washed and dried
3 cloves garlic peeled and mashed
1 clove garlic peeled and sliced
6 jumbo sea scallops
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
juice of 1 lemon
1/8 cup scallions, green part only, cut on the bias
½ tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp parsley, leaves only, chopped, plus additional sprigs for garnish
1 tbsp dill, leaves only, chopped
¾ cup feta cheese crumbled
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tomatoes and 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a non-reactive bowl. Gently toss the tomatoes to coat evenly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the tomatoes to the baking sheet, placing the tomatoes cut side up (make sure they do not touch each other) and reserve the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the baking sheet on the center rack of the oven and bake for 3 – 3 1/2 hours or until tomatoes are dried. Transfer tomatoes, placing them cut side up, to a shallow dish or baking dish. Arrange the oregano and rosemary sprigs over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the mashed garlic, drizzle with reserved olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Allow to marinate for 3 – 3 1/2 hours at room temperature. Place a medium size sauté pan over high heat. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and bring to heat. Season scallops with salt and pepper and place in sauté pan. Sear the top side until golden brown, about two minutes. Turn the scallops, lower the heat to medium, and cook the bottom side for another 3 – 3 1/2 minutes or until the scallops are slightly firm to touch. Transfer the scallops to a dish and reserve. Discard the oil. Return pan to heat, add one tablespoon of oil. Add the sliced garlic and sauté for one minute. Add wine to deglaze the pan and continue cooking until reduced by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about five minutes or until reduced to 3/4 cup. Add lemon juice, fold in scallions and mustard, remove from heat. Fold in the parsley and dill. Gently stir the sauce to combine. To serve, place one oven-dried tomato on each of six serving plates. Top with one scallop, seared side up, drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with feta cheese. Garnish with parsley if desired
Here we go people, the obligatory column on the biggest sporting event of most American’s lives. Even though most of us don’t have the team we want in the big game we still will watch. My suggestion to make the game more fun and to keep interested is to place a wager of one kind or another. In my household my wife and I have been blessed with each of our teams being in and winning the Super Bowl for the past three out of four (Pittsburgh Steelers and Giants). As you know (unless you are a Jets fan) having your team in the “big game” really makes the day that much more special and winning is the icing on the cake! This year has come as quite the shock for my wife and I with regards to football. What should we do? How should we act on Sunday? What we have decided is that we will concentrate on making a classic Super Bowl Sunday dish for our friends and off some great wine as well to go up against the macro-brews that are consumed in massive quantities. No worries though, we’ll class up the joint with some killer beer selections too.
Most people’s expectation for Super Bowl food is pretty low and for alcohol it’s even lower. So asking guests to drink wine and high-end beer could come off as elitist or just plain rude. However my wife and I are willing to take that risk. Not that shot-gunning beers during the half-time games of foosball in the basement isn’t fun but it’s nice to mix things up a once in a while. I promise if you don’t like great beer and wine you can return to guzzling beer next year no questions asked.
So what I’m thinking to accompany my chili on the wine side is a white and a red just in case you favor one over the other you won’t have to sit on the sidelines…everybody is a starter at my party. For white we’re going to with an off-dry (light sweetness) Riesling which will cool off the heat of the chili while the crisp acidity that Riesling is so famous for will usher the food off the palate and get you ready for another spoonful. We’ll be tasting one of the many Rieslings at the store on Saturday from 12pm-8pm so you can all taste what I’m talking about.
For red we’re starting the Zinfandel grape for the team on Super Sunday. With its medium body and raspberry influence which can also exhibit an edge of spicy pepper it will easily take on the strong flavors of the chili. Don’t worry we will be tasting this varietal at the store this Saturday as well.
Onward to beer and I’m not talking about your good ol’ macro beer I’m talking beer with flavor and complexity that’s got some body and weight on the palate without being to overbearing and filling. Time to suck in your guts gentlemen because we are going to be tasting Beer Lao Dark Lager from Laos ($7.99 six pack) at the store this weekend. Dark but not heavy my friends this beer is smooth with a light character that is perfect for chili or just drinking all day.
So now everyone is ready for the big game and has something different to offer guests in the way of alcohol. Of course you’ll also have my award-winning chili recipe. Word of warning though, you might have to sleep in separate bedrooms from your significant-other that night.
3lb Ground 80/20 Chuck
10oz Sliced Mushrooms
2 Cans of Beef Consume
½ Can Chix Broth Low Sodium
1 Large Onion Chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic pressed or minced
1 Italian frying pepper seeded and chopped
1Tbl Seeded and chopped Jalepeno or Habenero (more if you want it hotter)
1Cup Dry Red Wine
1Tbl Hot Chili Sauce (Siracha)
1Cup Heinz Chili Sauce or Ketchup
2Tbl Tomato Paste
1 Can of Drained Beans Black Beans
1Can Chopped Tomatoes
1Tbl Worcestershire Sauce
1Tbl Soy Sauce
1-2Tbl Corn Starch
Dry Mix aka (The Dump)
¼ Cup of Chili Powder
½tsp Ground Corriander
¼ tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Ground Cumin
1Tsp Coco powder
2 Cups Shredded Cheddar
2 Hard boiled eggs
2 Cups rough chopped cilantro
1 Bunch of scallions chopped
In a heavy pot or Dutch oven sauté onion, garlic, Italian frying pepper and hot peppers in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat until soft (about 4 minutes). Add tomato paste and stir around for about a minute, then add ground beef and brown-
drain off most of the fat. Next add the red wine and let reduce almost completely. Then add “the dump” and stir through. Add soy and Worcestershire sauces followed by ketchup and chopped tomatoes and stir through. Now we add the chicken and beef stocks and let simmer for one hour on medium-low with a loose cover. After one hour taste and add hot sauce and salt as needed. If you want the sauce thicker add 1 Tbl of corn starch stirred in 1 Tbl of water repeat if desired. Now add the black beans and mushrooms and let simmer for 15 minutes.