Vote For Us! We’re Finalists in the Millesima Wine Blog Awards!

Millesima Blog Awards

We’ve been selected a finalist in the 2016 wine blog awards sponsored by Millésima.  Millésima is a leading provider of provenance-guaranteed Bordeaux futures and fine wine. Their Bordeaux cellars house 2,500,000 bottles from producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, Champagne, Italy and the New World. In 2006, Mellesima opened a storefront on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  In 2014 Millésima launched its annual Wine Blog Awards in order to honor the American wine blog community and to give to their 77,000 customers the most qualitative and independent content about wine.  This year, we’re a finalist!

The contest featured blog posts submitted in three categories:

  • Bordeaux Wine Travel
  • Wine and Technology
  • Bordeaux Food & Wine Pairing

We entered a post called Finding Closure in the Wine and Technology category.  The post discussed the merits of cork vs. screw-top wine closures.

The contest isn’t over yet, and the public votes to select the finalist in each category. This link will take you to a Facebook page where you can vote for us.  Voting ends February 26.  Please take a moment — it just takes a couple of clicks.  DO IT NOW — WE NEED YOUR VOTE!  We’ll let you know the results. And thank you.

Finding Closure.

A couple of weeks ago we happened across this spectacular corkscrew machine built by an artist called Rob Higgs.  and a Youtube video showing it in action.  It’s a thing to behold, with some 250 parts, cast in bronze.  I’d hate to be charged with polishing it.

Surely this thing would give Rube Goldberg a run for the money.   There must have been a fashion early in the 20th century for artists drawing fantastic complicated mechanisms that perform simple tasks  — the United Kingdom had a contemporary of Goldberg called Heath Robinson.  Production of this device is limited to 25 units.  The first three sold to exclusive hotels for £100,000, and the remaining units are available and priced at £75,000 each, which is about $119,000 US.

This had us thinking about wine closures — specifically, screw tops.   When we started on this adventure in Virginia wine, the growers and wineries we talked to were a bit adamant about using cork, because they felt it helped give legitimacy to an industry perceived by outsiders as not the same quality as the usual suspects.  This was over six years ago, and public sentiment appears to have caught up with the technology.  For example, Richard Woodward reported in Decanter Magazine last November 2011 that acceptance of screwcaps had more than doubled for UK consumers since the last survey in 2003.  The survey was conducted by research company Wine Intelligence for its 2011 Closures Report, and the results showed that 85 percent of the regular wine-drinking population now accepts screwcaps – compared to only 41% in 2003.

Wine consumers in the United States, on the other hand, have been slower to embrace alternative closures.   A survey by Tragon, Corp. published in December 2011  found that natural cork remains the overwhelming choice for U.S. wine drinkers, because it conveys higher quality than alternative closures.

According to the survey, 94 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to purchase wine with natural cork.  A nearly equal number, 93 percent, said that natural cork conveys high or very high quality.

“These results are remarkable because we rarely find such overwhelming agreement among consumers,” said Rebecca Bleibaum, Tragon’s Vice President, Sensory and Consumer Insights.  “We consider 70 percent to be a powerful plurality, but 94 percent positive purchase interest is almost unheard of.”

Other key findings included:

  • Only 45 percent of respondents said they would consider purchasing wine with a screw-cap.  Seventy-two percent said they would consider wines with a synthetic closure.
  • For gifts, dinner parties and special occasions, as many as 90 percent of respondents said they would prefer wines sealed with cork.  Sixty percent of respondents said wines with synthetic closures were inappropriate for gifts, and 78 percent indicated they would not consider giving screw-capped wines as gifts.
  • Compared to similar Tragon studies conducted in 2004 and 2007, consumer opinion changed the most for screw-caps, with the closures having reached their peak of popularity in 2007. Compared to four years ago, the closure is now seen as less appropriate for all occasions.
  • Half of respondents thought that wines with a screw-cap were of low quality.  Only 11 percent indicated that screw-caps conveyed high quality.

What is it about the U.S. wine drinker’s resistance to progress?  It’s like or refusal to embrace a dollar coin, though intellectually we know that its the right thing to do.  We had a discussion about it with one wine merchant about it, who said “If the wine isn’t going to be aged more than 10 years, there’s no reason not to use screw caps.”

We will admit the absence of ceremony when opening a screwcap enclosure is a bit of a letdown.  There must be some way to inject a little romance into the act.  I recall a server in one restaurant who wrapped a towel over the end as if opening a Champagne bottle; that small gesture elevated the experience a tiny bit, though one  might argue that concealing the deed is somehow dishonest.

International Screwcap Initiative

Some years ago Australian and New Zealand winemakers took the lead and launched the International Screwcap Initiative to promote the closure.  The rationale and evidence are compelling, backed by decades of research.   Wine geeks know all the arguments, but to summarize, here are the most compelling reasons:

  • There is no possibility of cork taint – from corks contaminated by the organic pesticide
  • The wine suffers no sporadic oxydation – from oxygen entering through irregular or defective corks
  • No flavor modification from exposure to cork – no flavors are imparted by the corks, since the screwcap material is completely neutral
  • Screwcaps provide a reliable long-term seal – the industry is working hard to change the association of screwcaps with wines that must be drunk young.
  • Screwcaps simplify cellaring and storage – there is no need to store bottles on their sides, and no concern about maintaining humidity.
  • Screwcaps are environmentally friendly – screwcaps are constructed of aluminum and can be recycled.
  • Wine can age under screwcaps – This, to us, is the most controversial and most compelling.  The ISI Initiative website offers this summary:

Following the AWRI/ACI closures trial in the 1970s, Dr Bryce Rankine stated that, “… the range of wines examined retained their quality with a stelvin closure significantly better than with a cork.”  Subsequent trials have proven that screwcaps retain fruit, diminish the incidence of oxidised characteristics and bottle variation better than any other closure currently available on the market.

Before deciding to bottle their Chablis Grand Crus under screwcaps, Michel Laroche undertook similar comparative experiments, using 11 different types of closure over a 5 year period. His findings confirm the AWRI results and the percentage of his wines sealed under screwcap has significantly increased since he introduced them with the 2002 vintage.

Among some of the oldest red wines under screwcaps is a 1966 Mercurey which, when tasted 38 years later, showed remarkable freshness and structure and samples from Australian wineries confirm these results.

Perhaps one of the greatest areas of debate is the importance of oxygen in winemaking and bottle ageing. Revered oenologists, such as Ribereau-Gayon and Peynaud, have long claimed that oxygen ingress is not a condition for wine ageing in the bottle, or for the development of bottle bouquet.

“Reactions that take place in bottled wine do not require oxygen.” Jean Ribereau-Gayon.

“… it is the opposite of oxidation, a process of reduction or asphyxia, by which wine develops in the bottle.” Emile Peynaud

The reactions that produce what we know as bottle bouquet are reductive, and occur at low redox potentials in the relative absence of oxygen. The rate of oxygen ingress through a screwcap with a tin liner is very small, and appears to be comparable to that of a very good natural cork or technical cork. It is also very consistent, thereby minimising bottle variation.

Have Virginia wineries embraced it?  We know of only two that use screwcaps exclusively, and that’s Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville and Tarara Winery in Loudoun County, Virginia.

We haven’t done a scientific survey (or for that matter an unscientific one), but we have gave them a try with our 2011 white wines, and will continue to use them for our “accessible” white wines — but we will likely continue to use natural cork for the reds.  If we didn’t, how could we use that fabulous corkscrew?

A Hiatus.

A strange word, “hiatus.”  It’s derived from Latin and came into use in English in the mid-sixteenth century, when it originally was used to describe a physical gap or opening: from hiare, “gape.”  Early Latin uses are more literal, with the word meaning “to be greedy for,” “to be open-mouthed” (with astonishment), to “be wide open, to gape.”  Strange how the modern usage has devolved into an absence, so unlike earlier usage that seemed so active.

Your correspondent suffered a difficult fall the Sunday after Thanksgiving and suffered an injury to the right rotator cuff, calling for corrective surgery.  The  surgeon is one of the best in the mid-Atlantic for this sort of thing, a sports medicine practitioner and an expert in the shoulder.  He’s an Assistant Professor of Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and he is a member of the prestigious American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons, an educational association comprised of specialists in these complex joints. The group has just 350 members worldwide, and he is the only member of this elite group to practice in Northern Virginia.

In addition to his clinical practice, he is the team physician for the Potomac Nationals Baseball Team, an assistant team physician for the Washington Nationals Baseball team, and a founding member of the Mid-Atlantic Shoulder and Elbow Society. He also has a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine.  I think we’re in good hands.

We went under the knife today.  But the good doctor warned that during recovery we won’t have use of the right arm for about six weeks.  As a consequence with mobility impaired, we will be taking a break from this blog, and plan to resume posting in February or March.

Until then, auf Wiedersehen, au revoir, arrivederci.  See you soon.  And Happy New Year!

Recipe: Beet, Ginger & Coconut Milk Soup.

Beet Soup

We had occasion to put on a vegan dinner, or rather, a dinner for a dear friend who happens to be vegan — and allergic to dairy.  She had never been to Annefield, so we wanted to make a fine impression.

So for dinner we started with this Beet, Ginger and Coconut Soup, which is very simple to make (it seems most vegan things are), but very impressive — and fantastic with a crusty, crunchy French loaf and sparking wine.  We served it with a nonvintage Lamarca Prosecco.  This is delicious hot, but it could be served chilled, too.

Beets have turned into our “go to” vegetable for something showy and unexpected, like this Marinated Beet and Blackberry Salad we shared a few months ago.  A special challenge would be a dinner where beets figure in every course — now that’s something to think about.

Anyway, for our vegan menu we opted for foods with a “meaty” profile, so there were lots of mushrooms, along with tofu and eggplant.  And bread — bread with everything (gluten-free people, please stay away — this meal isn’t for you).  We started with a Vegetarian Faux Gras previously shared in these pages, and ended with another favorite, Grape Soup, but that recipe called for using gelatin, but we found a bottle of agar in the pantry that can be used in its place.  We made an evening of savoring the subtle interplay of vegetables and sauces, which call for the simplest of preparations for them to truly shine.


 

A Vegan Dinner at Annefield.

Passed

Vegetarian Faux Gras with French Bread

Beet, Ginger & Coconut Milk Soup

Lamarca Prosecco NV

Mixed Bitter Greens with Sauteed Mushrooms

Domaine Bellevue Touraine Sauvignon 2014

Tofu and Eggplant Pot Pies

Van Der Heyden Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Chilled Grape Soup with Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Warre’s Warrior  Porto


Beet, Ginger & Coconut Milk Soup.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
  • 3 large red beets, roasted until tender (1 to 1 1/2 hours), peeled, then cut into 1/4-inch wedges
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast them at 425ºF for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until tender; allow to cool, then peel and slice into 1/4 inch wedges (do the day before, then refrigerate, if you think of it).
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger.  Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the sliced beets and 4 cups of vegetable stock; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes.
  5. Using a blender, puree the soup.  Add additional stock if necessary (if too thick).
  6. Stir in the coconut milk, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves six generously.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon by Candlelight.

Christmas Trees (2)

“I say there is no darkness but ignorance.”
― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

With Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving behind us, our thoughts turn to, well, Christmas.  Its unavoidable as people haul decorations out of storage, what with the giant inflatables that litter suburban lawns everywhere, strings of lights along the eaves, wreaths festooning doors, and the interminable Christmas carols being broadcast nonstop in that steady consistent effort surely intended to drive the listener insane.

But before becoming completely jaded, we paid a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon for the annual Holiday Party and Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour.  Having a house nearby on land once owned by George Washington, we joined as “Neighborhood Friends” so we could take advantage of things like the tour, and advance notice for purchasing tickets to the Spring and Fall Wine Festivals.  An invitation to participate as a winery is highly prized, by the way (which we had the pleasure of so doing a couple of years ago).   But we digress.

After wine and finger food in the Ford Center inside the gate at Mount Vernon, we were led in groups to the mansion, but were disappointed (but not surprised) that the only candles were in lanterns lining the walks to the entrance.  It was really, really dark.  Fake candles illuminated the interior  — if you can call it illumination — given that it is Mount Vernon, surely the risk of fire cannot be tolerated, so we’ll forgive this bit of false advertising.

Each room featured one to three interpreters who gave a glimpse and some insight in what it was like to celebrate Christmas in the early Republic, and with the Washingtons.  We especially enjoyed the actor portraying Martha seated in The New Room.  George and Martha, like many people of the time, chose to have their wedding on January 6.  It does make it easy to remember the date, and it being a time of frivolity and merry making, a fitting choice, even today.

The significance of Twelfth Night — in Catholic countries the next day is Epiphany, or Three King’s Day — seems to have been lost.  And it doesn’t help that there seems to be some confusion on when to start counting (on Christmas Day or the day after); some say Twelfth Night is January 5, other traditions hold that it is January 6.  Regardless, Epiphany is the traditional date the Magi showed up in Jerusalem to pay a call on the infant Jesus.

Now if you aren’t one of those Pagans who believe Christmas is over on the 25th, you probably delayed decorating until close to the date, but if you are one of those Pagans, you’ve no doubt had enough Christmas cheer and the stuff has got to go out, out, out of the house the day after Christmas, along with that dead tree (if you used a live one) the wrapping paper and that blasted tinsel that sticks to just about everything.

After the tour we dined at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant and discovered a lively bar scene there (who knew?).  A new neighborhood haunt!  The meal was surprisingly good, and you can make your reservation on OpenTable.

Mount Vernon
The Mansion. Interior photographs were forbidden.

Christmas Trees

Friendsgiving Weekend, 2015.

Group

Our favorite annual tradition — dinner with friends the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Usually we spend Thursday morning on the road on the way to Annefield, and this year was no different — except for what we served that Thanksgiving day — a roasted duck.

We’ve never prepared duck before, and looking over different recipes noticed that each had you turning the duck periodically while cooking. Why bother if you have a rotisserie?  And with the reverence held for duck fat, we chanced upon a preparation that called for using a rotisserie and roasting potatoes in the duck fat as it dripped underneath.  So with visions of Peking duck in shop windows in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Alea iacta est (“the die is cast”), and that was what we had for Thanksgiving dinner.

The afternoon started on a really festive note.  We joined our friends at Tranquil Hill in Halifax County for a decadent brunch of Eggs Benedict with Asparagus and these lovely rose-shaped muffins and decadent Bloody Mary’s.

In retrospect we’re feeling a bit spoiled at the moment, if exhausted from all the cleaning and putting away.

Tranquil Hill

Eggs

Roasted Duck with Roasted Potatoes.

Ingredients

  • One 5 or 6 pound duck
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
  • A handful of fresh thyme and rosemary
  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered and salted
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Glaze

  • Juice of one lime
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

Directions

  1. The day before roasting the duck, liberally sprinkle it inside and out with salt and pepper; place in a dish uncovered in the refrigerator.  (Note: all poultry benefits from this technique.)
  2. Remove the duck from the refrigerator about two hours before cooking to allow to come to room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 425° F.  Mount duck on the rotisserie skewer.  Juice the lime, and stuff the duck with the lime rinds, thyme and rosemary with the butter.  Close up the opening using small skewers.
  3. Roast on the rotisserie for about 45 minutes, with a tray underneath to catch the fat.  Add potatoes, and roast for an additional 45 minutes.  Stir the potatoes every 15 minutes or so.
  4. Brush the glaze on the duck a couple of times, and allow it to cook an additional five minutes.
  5. Allow the duck to rest about 15 minutes.  Add more glaze.  Slice and serve with the potatoes.

One duck will serve two people generously.


Red Pepper Shot

As a break from all this richness, the next night we made pizzas while finishing preparations for Saturday’s meal.

At the appointed hour we greeted our dozen guests with a bourbon cocktail called a Jackrabbit — squeeze a dozen lemons, add the juice and the rinds to a bottle of bourbon (we used Buffalo Trace) with a cup of sugar, and let rest refrigerated overnight.  We found it a bit too tart, and added a second bottle of bourbon the next day, which perfectly modulated the acid and the sugar.  For a festive touch, we served them in sterling silver Julep cups over ice.

A friend brought these wonderful spiced cashews and prosciutto cups for passing, and dinner, in due course, was (of course) wonderful.  We included a couple of reliable favorites (its less stressful to serve things you’ve already made) — a Slow Roasted Turkey, Creole Oyster Stuffing, a Marinated Beet and Berry Salad and a Pecan Chocolate Tart.  We made a slight variation on the stuffing, substituting ground bison for the ground beef, and using shallots rather than garlic (we forgot to buy garlic but had plenty of shallots — the result was divine).  This year we served on a mix of very old and new china, breaking out the 19th century Canton China for this special occasion.

Friendsgiving 2015.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup Shots with Spinach and Artichoke Phyllo Bites

Mont Marçal Brut Cava Reserva 2009

Marinated Beet and Berry Salad

Naje Riesling 2012

Slow Roasted Turkey

Oyster Stuffing

Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes with Milk and Butter

Brussels Sprouts and Celery Salad with Schezuan Peppercorns

Green Bean Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole

Dried Fruit Compote

Rolls with Herbed Butter

Domaine Lafage Nicolas Grenache Noir 2013

Lemon Meringue Pie

Pecan Chocolate Tart with Whipped Cream

Sweet Potato Pie

Ramos Pinto Collector Porto Reserva


 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe: Braised Leg of Lamb.

Smoke & Pickles

Our love affair with Louisville continues.  During on our recent trip to Kentucky, we became enamored of the cooking of Edward Lee, the owner of two restaurants there — 610 Magnolia and MilkWood.  Both restaurants meld Lee’s Korean heritage with Southern traditions, and the result is a fascinating riff that makes you think differently about Southern foodways.  Louisville’s food scene is not so deeply rooted in Southern culture as, say, New Orleans or Charleston.

Another factor affecting the food culture there is the existence of a culinary school at Sullivan University, which is turning out graduates who if they not able to find jobs in restaurants, open places of their own where they do as they please.  Mr Lee has stated that since Louisville is not so rooted in Southern traditions, people in Louisville are open to new interpretations of Southern classics.

This year Lee branched out of Louisville and teamed up with a local restaurant group and opened Succotash, a new restaurant in the Washington, DC-area at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  In a story in The Washington Post about the venture, Lee noted that Maryland has a similar mind-set as the people of Louisville (not being so rooted in Southern traditions), which has an appeal for him (“Edward Lee to open Southern-themed Succotach in National Harbor,” by Tim Carman (29 January 2015).

We chanced upon Lee’s first cookbook at Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville’s Crescent Hill neighborhood, and adapted a recipe of his for braised lamb, a technique we have not tried before.  Mr Lee suggests serving it with grits and a Red Cabbage-Bacon Kimchi, but it also works served over rice.  Adapted from Smoke & Pickles, by Edward Lee (New York: Artisan, 2013).

Braised Leg of Lamb.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 leg of lamb, about 3 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/4 cup black bean paste
  • 1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock

Directions

  1. Make a rub by mixing the salt and pepper together in a small bowl, then rub all over the lamb and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add the lamb and brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.
  3. Add all of the vegetables to the pot, tucking them around the meat.  After about 3 minutes, add the bourbon, ketchup, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, molasses, black bean paste, chocolate and chicken stock.  The liquid should completely cover the lamb.  If it doesn’t, add more stock or water.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Skim any foam that rises to the top.  Lower the heat, put a lid on the pot, and simmer gently for 2 1/2 hours.
  4. Remove the lid and cook for an additional 30 minutes.Check for doneness; the meat should pull easily from the bone, but not so tender as to turn to shreds.  Off heat and let the lamb rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board.  Slice the meat against the grain or pull it off in large chunks.  Serve over grits or rice, and ladle the braising liquid with the vegetables over the meat and serve.

Feeds 6 as a main course.  The heat from the jalapeño called for a wine with a little residual sugar, so we served this over rice with our slightly off-dry Annefield Vineyards White 2013.

Rubbed Lamb

Braising Lamb