Vineyard Visit, Chardonnay, and Quite Possibly the Best Pairing Ever -- Or, Things Non-Recreatable

We took a last-minute trip out of town at the end of July to visit our still-green Grenache berries, 3,200 feet up in the air at the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard in Cuyama, CA. The fruit looks fantastic – uniform berry size, nice clusters, healthy vines – it's been a great growing season in the Highlands so far. They'll be dropping fruit soon, in order to concentrate the vines' energy on developing the very best winegrapes. We'll (before we know it!) be making at least two more trips up there, to pick up fruit for two separate j.brix Grenache wines we'll be making. Two, you ask? Ah, yes. Let's talk about the first. 

This year, we've our hearts set on a dry Grenache rosé, which we'd like to pick nice and early, before the sugar levels get too high. This will keep the finished wine low in alcohol, while showcasing all the beautiful aromatics and flavors Grenache brings to the party. The best thing about it is that it'll be ready to release in spring 2011 … just in time for rosé season. (In future entries, I'll discuss the other j.brix wines in the works. Stay tuned!)

The weekend happened to coincide with the first Chardonnay Symposium, which I was able to cover for Palate Press – The Online Wine Magazine. (If you missed my first article for Palate Press, all about our garagiste adventures, you can read it here). The symposium was an excellent event, held in one of my favorite places in the world, and as the most descriptive paragraph in the story was painfully but necessarily lost to the editing process, I'm including it for you, my few, beloved blog-readers. Call it bonus content. Extra features. Excess verbosity. Whatever you want to call it; as I told my delightful editor, it's Santa Maria in a paragraph. (Graf 2, below.)

En route to the first Chardonnay Symposium – held at the Bien Nacido Vineyards' historic Adobe on a morning that began, like most in this winegrowing region, wrapped in tangible veils of fog – the city of Santa Maria appeared in all its incarnations. 

There are old, industrial warehouses; and strip malls with barbecue pits in the parking lot, filling the air with the aroma of sizzling tri-tip steak. Everywhere, round agapanthus hold their heads heavily, reedy stalks bending under the weight of purple and white flowers gone to seed. Across Highway 101, vast agricultural fields emerge, bursting with broccoli, lettuce, squash. Distant, countless workers bend low, in the paper-clip hunch that instantly identifies strawberry picking.

Read the rest of the story...

I'll Buy You a Kebab?

The latest (Double) Double-Blind dinner 'round these parts involved a meal nonpareil and a spectacular wine that it seems a little cruel even to write about, since, while we might make this meal again, we'll likely never have another one of these bottles again, and unless you act quickly, you won't either. Even thinking too much about the pairing, which, as I look back over the tasting notes, causes tangible pain and suffering ... oh, yes, it hurts, a little. Nevertheless, I'll press on, because it happened, and it must be told.

These are kofta lamb kebabs. From our lamb. We had a lamb. We have a lamb, I should say; he's in the freezer, now. In an effort to eat as much locally sourced food as possible, we recently went halfsies on a blue-ribbon-winning 4-H lamb, the biggest at the Del Mar Fair this year. Local acquaintances of ours raised the lamb; we shared the meat with our friend Matthew Rorick. In 2008, he made the wine that we drank with these lamb kebabs. (Oops! Getting ahead! Pay no attention to that last sentence!) In any event, it all was very, very good. Read on.

So, when one purchases an entire lamb, one has many decisions to make about which cuts one ends up with in the end. We got some Flintstones-looking cuts (really, the massive shoulder roast one receives from a 172-pound lamb!), and some comparatively meek-looking ground lamb, which Jody turned into amazing kebabs for this secret dinner. He based his recipe on this one from Jamie Oliver; though he never really follows recipes all that much, so I can't vouch for exact ratios (just do what you feel!).

There was also homemade flatbread, made with half whole-wheat and half bread flour, crispy and delicious, to pile the meat upon, topped with pistachios, home-pickled red onions, and mixed greens with mint, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, salt & pepper, and yogurt for drizzling atop. Oh, and a sautéed side dish with fingerling potatoes, eggplant, garlic, garden Roma tomatoes, harissa, lemon and parsley.

The condiments...

 The side dish...

The plateful, and with wine, too ... sigh.

Seam by Seam, the Vein, it Glows

I won't get too outrageous in my description here of my secret wine, our one bottle of 2008 Forlorn Hope D'Anconia Malbec from Solano County, CA -- which is long sold-out from the winery, but which I've just discovered you can still buy at Wally's, so hurry if you want it, because someone else deserves to have this pairing ... but let me just tell you that the nose and the palate both bring a seriously feral funkiness with tons of black fruit, ropey red and black licorice, and everything else black you can think of -- black pepper, black plum; just go ahead and paint it black, why don't you.

Seventeen cases produced. This Rare Creature made a mark, and met its match. Tussle on!

The combination of the food and wine: perfect. It couldn't have been better, I don't think. The way the wine seamlessly took on the spicy flavors of the lamb, and the velvety texture of the eggplant and potatoes, and the herbs and acid components in the condiments and the side dish; it simply lifted the entire thing to a level that's difficult to describe. (Some things just need to be experienced.) A lovely, keenly intense sensorial memory -- isn't that what the best food and wine pairings bring?

Friends, harvest and crush are around the corner, and there's lots of news and excitement to come, so come back soon! Thanks, as always, for reading. Leave comments and questions in the box -- they warm my heart. Cheers!