Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pesto Galore!

Basil is definitely in full bloom here in the Mid-Atlantic! Not only do we grow some basil out in the yard, but we also belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which bestows upon us massive quantities of basil each week. And what's the best thing to do with an abundant supply of basil? Pesto of course! I'm sure I will begin to tire of fresh pesto meals, but I haven't yet. In fact, the cool thing about pesto is that if you make extra, you can place it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Then whenever you want pesto, just pop out a cube or two and throw it in to the mix and voila! Instant pesto.

So, when looking for a good wine match for pesto, I stumbled upon this SF Chronicle article gathering the opinions of great SF Bay chefs on the classic summer dilemma of pairing wine with fresh vegetables. Virtually all raw veggies are pretty wine un-friendly, and choosing a nice wine match for a meal starring even cooked veggies can be a challenge. So I was happy to find this advice for matching wine to meals made from fresh herbs, such as pesto:
"Green herbal and grassy notes in many New Zealand and some domestic Sauvignon Blancs, and other white wines like Albarino, echo summer herbs' freshness. Wines with intense fruit can work well, provided they doesn't have too much leftover sugar.

If the herbs are used along with richer ingredients like cheese or butter, a light red may be a good option. As for pesto, its intensity requires an equally intense wine.

Examples: Albarino; unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay; Gruner Veltliner; dry Riesling; Sauvignon Blancs with some weight, depth and grassy or mineral notes; Italian Sangiovese; light to moderately oaked Barbera or Dolcetto."
I was fresh out of my typical stand-by for such a circumstance, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; but as luck would have it, I had a nice Gruner Veltliner patiently awaiting consumption in the cellar.

Grüner Veltliner
Never heard of Grüner Veltliner? It's definitely a grape worth remembering. As you might guess by the name, the grape is most widely grown in Austria (accounting for over 1/3 of all grapes grown there) although it is beginning to catch on elsewhere. I think of "Gee-Vee" as the Germanic world's New Zealand Sauv Blanc - minerally, crisp and fresh with a nice acidity, Gruner Veltliners are very food friendly, and are as age-worthy (if not more so) than dry Rieslings.

2005 Anton Bauer Gruner Veltliner
Tonight's wine was a 2005 Anton Bauer Gruner Veltliner. Besides displaying the typical GV characteristics mentioned above, this wine had some melon to it, and perhaps some white pepper. The overall impression though is of a fresh, clean wine which went spectacularly with our fresh pesto! (Thanks SF Chronicle!)

Selling for $11 at Total Wine in McLean, VA, I'd say this wine has a Good Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR). I'll give it a couple extra points for variety's sake as it's an excellent alternative once you've exhausted your palate on Sauvignon Blancs and Unoaked Chardonnays during the hot summer months. If you've never tried one, give it a shot!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vino in the BVI

So, Vinvenio has been on summer vacation for a while here, with a nice chunk of that time spent sailing around the British Virgin Islands! Kris and I chartered a 45' sailing catamaran and cruised the islands - awesome. But even in the rum-soaked Caribbean, I still found ample opportunity to enjoy some quality vino! In fact, I think the American Yacht Harbor's Marina Market in Red Hook, St. Thomas had a better selection of American wines (California, Washington and Oregon) than I can find here in euro-centric Maryland!

2005 Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc
Yee-haw! I finally get to take a shot of a scrumptious looking bottle of white wine sweating in the heat of the day to rival those of Winedeb from Deb's Key West Wine blog!

This 2005 Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc was enjoyed with a chef's salad off the coast of Jost Van Dyke (pronounced "yoast van dike"), BVI. As you can probably tell by the picture, virtually any beverage is going to taste just splendid given the surroundings, but I think this wine really pulled through beyond that. This medium-bodied Sauv Blanc had a nice pear, citrus/pineapple and melon taste, with a mineral tanginess to it that refreshed the palate. I didn't record the price, but given the slightly inflated price of anything imported to the islands it may not have been representative of its US mainland cost (although I doubt it cost more than $20 even in the VI). Thus, no Quality-to-Price ratio (QPR) for this wine, but all I've mentally put this wine in my "buy again for a refreshing white" list.

2005 Estancia Monterey Pinnacles Ranches Pinot Noir
"Uncork & Unwind" says Estancia. And so we did! You definitely know you're not roughing it when you can not only find a bottle of Pinot Noir, but Port Salut cheese to accompany it! If you've never paired Pinot with Port Salut cheese, you must do so immediately - this is a match made in heaven, and you don't know what you're missing!

This Pinot had a nose of cherries, tobacco and spice. The cherries and spiciness carried through to the palate, which also displayed a nice earthiness to it. I must admit that Pinot Noir doesn't play a very prominent role in my day-to-day wine consumption. This is not because I don't like it - on the contrary, I love the versatility of a red wine that can be consumed slightly chilled (especially handy on 90 degree days), paired with fish (which goes well with my largely pescetarian diet), etc. No, the reason I don't drink much Pinot is that I'm a cheapskate. Everyone who watched Sideways now knows that Pinot Noir is a fickle grape, difficult to grow and offering lower yields (thus increasing its price). Well, I try to keep my typical wine consumption in the $10-$15 range, which in my experience excludes almost any Pinot worth drinking.

Thus my Pinot Noir palate is quite limited. But that limited palate has convinced me that there are two major styles of Pinots - velvetty and spicy. These two styles aren't mutually exclusive - there is certainly some overlap - but in general it seems to me that some Pinot makers bring out a spiciness, and others concentrate on a more subtle, smoother wine. This Estancia Pinot Noir was firmly in the spicy camp. In general I think I'm more of a "velvetty Pinot" fan, but at around $17 in the BVI, I think I'd probably buy this Pinot again. For a Pinot, I'd say this wine has a good QPR, especially if you're looking for a light, spicy wine. Me, I'd love to find some affordable "velvetty Pinots", so if you know of any please let me know!

Completely Non-Wine Related
So wine is obviously my alcoholic beverage of choice, but given my sailing/piratical leanings, I'm also a big fan of rum and rum drinks (especially while in da islands mon). Some hot summer day when you want to transport yourself to the islands, make up a batch of the best mixed rum drink ever - "Painkillers". This stuff is so good you're going to want to mix this up by the pitcher, so here's the relative proportions of the ingredients:

-4 parts (cups) pineapple juice
-1 part (cup) orange juice
-1 part (cup) cream of coconut (Coco Lopez brand at your local grocery store)
-2,3 or 4 parts rum (known as a Painkiller #2, #3 or #4)
-Pour into glass with ice and sprinkle with nutmeg

In terms of rum, I personally prefer my Painkillers made with Cruzan Rum (made in St. Croix, USVI - also a key sponsor of Kenny Chesney, who sings country songs about the Virgin Islands, but I digress). The "original" Painkiller was made with Pussers rum however, at this little beach bar on Jost Van Dyke called the Soggy Dollar Beach Bar (so-called because it doesn't have a dock, and sailors visiting the island would swim ashore thus soaking their cash). So Cruzan or Pussers - you'll be fine. As long as it's a gold rum, and not some nasty spiced rum like Capt. Morgan or something. :-) Enjoy!