Archive for February, 2009

Organic wine & food matchin: Ca’ del Solo Muscat & Dong steamed whole fish

February 23, 2009

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy’s Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

Because something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is…

The 2008 Ca’ del Solo Muscat (Monterey County; about $18) is not just another pretty girl; as lightly sweet, delectable and fragrant a white wine as it is, blooming with notes of tropical flowers (jasmine and frangipani), lychee and white peppery spices (or as the back label describes it, with Nabokovan alliteration, “a musky, melodious, melon-like meditation on minerality”). It also ranks as another battle cry against convention launched by a winemaker who has done more than make a career out of idiosyncrisity – he has made a career out of turning idiosyncrisities into norms.

Ca’ del Solo, for those of you who’ve been around the block, used to be a brand, formulated by Bonny Doon winemaker (and “President for Life”) Randall Grahm, signifying Italian inspired grapes, wine styles, and yes, leetle girl labels. Today, Ca’ del Solo labels bear “crystalline” micro-snapshots of each wine, captured in their petri dish; connected to silver strings that make the crystallizations look more like floating ova than kids’ balloons.

Ca’ del Solo now also stands mostly for Grahm’s recent conversion, like an Kierkegaardian winemaker of infinite resignation, to biodynamic viticulture.

No matter how “loopy” anyone may say biodynamics – complete with the burying of manure filled cow horns in the vineyard, the spraying of herbal teas according to phases of the moon, etc. — can be, there could be no sobering a reminder of exactly why many of the world’s most respected vignerons have recently turned to the teachings of the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner than the news, reported last week in the Associated Press, concerning allegations of an “organic” company selling fertilizers secretly “spiked” with synthetic chemicals to CCOF certified farms all over California.

Kathleen Inman, winemaker/owner of Sonoma’s Inman Family Wines, wrote me, saying that “it certainly adds another ‘tick’ in the yes column of why moving towards more self-sustainable farming is a good idea.” Inman, who fashions her own liquid fertilizers from worm castings from a nearby worm farm, says “being biodynamic is ideal,” although for now, she is content to make do by supplying her own small organic vineyard strictly from resources she can trust.

Grahm, however, did not simply convert to the full-fledged self-sustainability of biodynamic viticulture. In 2004 he went so far as to divest his wine production company of his two biggest brands, Cardinal Zin and Big House, thus taking his annual production down from 450,000 cases to 35,000 cases (what he called “Doon-sizing”), specifically to finance the development of 120 acres of vineyards near Soledad, California into a 100% biodynamic farm. Ca’ del Solo, the name of the property as well as the label under which these biodynamic wines are being bottled, was certified by Demeter® USA in 2007.

As much as he loved sourcing forgotten, even “ugly duckling,” grapes up and down the California coast to make his Bonny Doon wines (such as his ground breaking, critically acclaimed Southern Rhône style blend, Le Cigare Volant, and his immensely successful Pacific Rim Riesling), Grahm says in the end it “wasn’t sustainable emotionally or spiritual for me.”

This is how Philippe Coderey, the biodynamic guru to whom Grahm turned to direct his vineyard operations, voices Grahm’s revised conception of terroir: “Most conventional wines are fruity… you can feel the fruit, and then, after that… nothing.” By eschewing chemical fertilizers and avoiding things like irrigation, however, the biodynamic grower “is training his vines to go deep into the soil.” Once vines are converted to biodynamic practices that establish a biological and, yes, even spiritual symbiosis with the soil, “you will find inside the bottle of wine the minerality that gives the wine complexity… you’re tasting not only the fruits, but also the soil.” Hence for Grahm, a more fulfilling, transparent sense of terroir.

Dong Festive Steamed Whole Fish

Enough verbiage, what can the Ca’ del Solo Muscat do for you? There is no less than three ways to enjoy this wine, in all its winsome, wise-crackling, perfumed precocity: First, utterly naked, as a well chilled, palate freshening apéritif. Secondly, poured over ice, upon which the wine’s mild sparkle perceptively sighs with pleasure, with a wheel of lime or sprig of mint to bring out the Muscat’s citrus zest and minty freshness of flavors.

Or third, to experience the full, dynamic food versatility of off-dry, buoyantly fresh whites like the Ca’ del Solo, with this recipe for Dong festive steamed whole fish, culled from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s fascinating cookbook/travelogue on the outskirts of China, Beyond the Great Wall:

One 1½ lb. red snapper, cleaned and scaled

¾ tsp. salt 1 tbsp. minced ginger

2 scallions, cut lengthwise into ribbons and then into 2 inch lengths

1 red cayenne chile, seed and cut into thin strips

Generous 1 tsp. peanut oil (or vegetable oil)

5 or 6 Sichuan peppercorns, lightly crushed

To steam fish, you will need a 12 to 14 inch wide bamboo steamer and a wok with a wide pot with a bamboo or metal steamer insert. You will also need a deep heatproof plate (there will be some pan juices) that fits into the steamer and is wide enough to hold the fish (curve fish or trim off end of the tail if necessary).

Wash fish well and dry. Place fish on cutting board and cut 2 or 3 parallel diagonal slashes on each side, cutting down to the bone. Rub all over lightly with salt. Rub minced ginger into the slashes and into the fish cavity. Place fish on plate, and sprinkle scallion ribbons into the cavity and over the fish. Sprinkle any remaining ginger over the top of the fish, and then sprinkle on the red chile strips. Place the plate with the fish in the steamer basket or insert.

Place the wok or pot on the stove and add about 2 inches of water. Place the steamer basket in the wok or pot (make sure water level is below steamer), and bring the water to boil over high heat. Cover the steamer tightly and cook 10-11 minutes, until fish is firm and the flesh in the slashes is opaque and flakes when pulled with a fork.

Meanwhile, just before fish is done (at about the 9 minute mark), heat the oil in a small wok or skillet. When it is very hot, toss in the Sichuan pepper, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Uncover the cooked fish and pour the hot oil over it. Lift the steamer out and onto a work surface, then remove the plate from the steamer. Serve the fish on the plate, with its pan juices, hot or at room temperature. Serve with steamed white rice.

Final remarks: as with any recipe, you needn’t be slavish to this outer-rim style of steamed fish. In Hawai`i for instance, we typically add crushed garlic and rough cut sprigs of cilantro to our steamed fish, and peanut oil is usually sizzled with a dose of soy sauce. Either way, the Muscat’s peppery spiced, citrus fresh fruitiness is the ideal match; the sweetness balancing the chile spice, hot oil and/or soy to a tee, and the tropical flower and fruit qualities reflecting the gingery sensations and digging deep into the delicate white flesh of the snapper… a symbiosis of wine and food terroir!



February 21, 2009

Filmmaker Thomas Brickel sent this background information about his recent movie, I think you will like it.

The Spirit of  New Wine is a documentary about the joy and meaning of the world’s most celebrated drink

Man has been making wine for thousands of years. Its origins are deeply rooted in Western culture. Yet despite our familiarity with the beverage, there is something mysterious about wine that makes it unique. What intangible elements does wine present that remind us of our own invisible nature?

Journalist Denise Ingrid Brickel takes viewers on a fascinating journey to the heart of California´s wine country where the spirit of new wine is explored through its relationship to faith, art, music and more

To learn more you can visit Love One On Productions, LLC

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Sippin’ at the Ritz

February 20, 2009

I want to expand No Cookie Cutter Wines beyond just sharing the stories from artisan handcrafted wine producers to include wines and wine events that give back to local communites around the world. Here is an upcoming event in Twin Cities that will be fun and good karma.

A Food and Wine event at the historic Ritz Theater to benefit Second Harvest Heartland food shelf.

Cat and Fiddle Beverage, along with some of the Twin Cities’ favorite chefs present an unforgettable night of food and wine.  Local chefs and international winemakers will be on hand, along with local wine professionals, to present the evening’s gastronomic fare. 

Minneapolis, MN     March 19, 2009 – Cat and Fiddle Beverage, a local wine wholesaler based in Arden Hills, is presenting an unforgettable night of food and wine in one of the city’s most interesting theater settings.  A number of local chefs will be on hand, preparing appetizers to accompany the international wines which will be poured from many exciting wineries.  Second Harvest Heartland will be the beneficiary of the proceeds, providing a much needed boost to area food shelves.

The event is a celebration of artisanal, craft foods and wines, and an opportunity to meet producers while being treated to tastings of their fare.  The featured wineries and chefs share a similar respect for tradition and local agriculture, in a way that is respectful of the land.  The majority of the wineries represented are smaller boutique producers and the chefs are those of restaurants who represent a marriage of local and organic foods. 

Some of the featured chefs include JD Fratzke (The Strip Club Meat and Fish, St. Paul), Hector Ruiz (El Meson and Café Ena), Jim Grell (The Modern Café), Stuart Woodman (Heidi’s) and John Hunt (Al Vento). 

Cost to attend this event is $50, with proceeds benefiting Second Harvest Heartland of Minneapolis.  We will also be collecting food at this event, so please bring a canned food item to the theater to donate.

Thursday, March 19th

Ritz Theater: 345 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis 55413

Tickets available through the Ritz Ticket Box Office: (612) 436- 1129ls, MN 55413

The event will run from 6-9 for the public.  Guests must be 21 years of age to attend.

For additional information (including promotional artwork and logos), contact April Torzewski at 651-785-3360 or at

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Wines With a Purpose

February 10, 2009

I think in these new times we are all challenged in new ways to find delicious wines. One area to explore is getting to know the people behind the wines and something about them as people, their wine philosophy and maybe even life. It is an interesting path to follow.

Recently, I met Verasion Beverage Distributors in Colorado. They are typical of what is happening around the country as new small independent wine distributors are emerging to serve the needs of special niche wines. This is another path to find new wines too.


Through this conversation I learned about Judd Wallenbrock’s Humanitis Wines  that can best be summed in one sentence.

Humanitas is a unique winery with a very compelling story.  Simply, we make wine, sell it and give the profits to charity!

We give a minimum of 7% of our total revenues (that’s ‘revenues’ not ‘profits), our ‘7% Solution’ to charity.  In effect, Humanitas is uniquely to the wine industry what Paul Newman’s Own is to the food industry.

Specifically, the profits go to find solutions to three very primary issues – housing, hunger and education.  We’ve chosen Habitat for Humanity and the Food Bank network of Feeding America as the specific charities.  However, we try to support whatever charity addresses these issues community by community. 

You see, we don’t give the funds to the national headquarters of these charities.  Rather, we give back to the regional chapters in the areas where the wine was purchased.  In this way, by enjoying Humanitas, you are giving back to your own community. 

But Humanitas is first and foremost about the wine.  We are serious wine people – pure & simple.  Our goal is to make outstanding wines.  We also want to ‘do something good for the world’ — we married the two passions and Humanitas was born. 

Humanitas – really delightful wine passionately crafted by a band of folks having a great time doing a good thing.  We hope to change the world one sip at a time. 

Like the meeting that follows the meeting, it is the story that follows the story. Here’s a sample for Humanitis Wines.

“Most wines are designed to make people feel good. Judd Wallenbrock’s wines are designed to make people feel really, really good.” USA Today 

“Brands to Watch:  Humanitas Changing the World ‘One Sip at a Time.”The Wine  Business Insider

“Following Paul Newman’s Lead with Humanitas Wine” The San Francisco Chronicle 

“California Label Takes Humanitarian Approach to Wine” The Wine Spectator 

“Humanitas Wines cares not only where the grapes comes from, but where they go” North Bay Bohemian 

“Judd’s approach lets consumers choose a great wine and know they are part of doing something socially good.” Paul Ash – Exec. Dir. SF Food Bank in Benefit Magazine 

“News flash:  I’ve found some California wines I can enjoy, afford for every day drinking, and feel good about.  Humanitas Wines, founded in 2001 by Judd Wallenbrock, is a California winery unlike any you’ve heard about before.  Seriously. Lenn Thompson – Lenndevours

Please join us and drink charitably!!


Organic wine & food matching: Marcel Deiss Engelgarten & saffroned chicken biryani

February 9, 2009

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy’s Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

In Alsace, a part of France full of famous rebels – like André Ostertag, Charles Schléret, and Zind-Humbrecht’s Olivier Humbrecht – Jean-Michel Deiss (right) has played the role of absolute pariah.

It’s not so much that he took the organically cultivated vineyards inherited from his grandfather, Marcel Deiss, and turned them into biodynamic farms by 1997. The domaines of Marc Kreydenweiss, Zind-Humbrecht, Ostertag and other top Alsatian vignerons are also farmed biodynamically. More than anything, what has rubbed colleagues and local authorities the wrong way has been Deiss’ total disregard of the sanctity of singular varietal bottling; for in Alsace, the finest wines have always been bottled by the names of the great grapes of Alsace – namely, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat d’Alsace.

Instead, Deiss’ finest wines are bottled simply by the name of Marcel Deiss along with the names of their vineyard sources: such as the grand crus Schoenenbourg and Altenberg de Bergheim vineyards, and premier crus such as Burg, Rotenberg, Gruenspiel and Engelgarten. But no mention of any grape on the label.

Deiss himself says that a turning point was in 1993, when a Riesling from his Burg vineyard was criticized for not tasting like a “Riesling.” This prompted Deiss to not just remove the names of grapes from his single vineyard bottlings, but also to start planting as many as seven different varieties in his best vineyards (which, also unusually, Deiss harvests and co-ferments all at once). No more blind following of tradition, he has said, because of obligatory feelings. “I realized that the grape in a vineyard is an ingredient, but not a dish… it is wrong to transform the energy of a unique place into a ‘Riesling’… by having many varieties in Burg I am giving the terroir different letters so it can create sentences.”

Hence, no winemaker in Alsace focuses as much on terroir as Jean-Michel Deiss. As in our organic wine of the day: the 2003 Marcel Deiss Engelgarten (about $45), which is a field blend composed mostly of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Auxerrois. True to Deiss’ intentions, this white wine does not taste of any one grape; but rather, in the words of Deiss’ winemaker Marie-Hélène Christofaro (right), like a “filtering” of wine through the gravel dominating Engelgarten’s soil. Nevertheless, the nose is honeyed, suggesting ripe, juicy, white fleshed stone fruits (peach, nectarine and lychee); and a steely, austere entry gives way quickly to almost sweet, viscous sensations of the honeyed fruit, before finishing with a mouth-watering bang and emphatically stony, faintly bitter, citrus peel dryness.

Peculiar, maybe even strange… yes. Expressive and flavorful… ditto…

Saffroned Chicken Biryani

And you know what I love even more about the Engelgarten? This wine’s electrifying minerality and multi-grape fruit complexity make a match for dishes few other wines in the world are up to handling. No, I’m not talking Asian/fusion sweet, sour, salty, or spicy food sensations. I’m thinking specifically of dishes dominated by the flavor of saffron – that wild, indescribably pure, organic seasoning derived directly from the stigma of the crocus flower.

Of course, being a wine guy, I do have words for saffron. To me, saffon infused foods suggest sea water, citrus peel, burnt hay, roasted clove, warm humus, dusty velvet, sun dried fruit and sex. I know many people say saffron makes them laugh, and many others just smile. Me, I just get hungry, like for this Kuwaiti style dish of saffroned chicken biryani, adapted from Peter Mentzel and Faith d’Aluisio’s Hungry Planet:

2½ cups basmati rice

1 tsp. saffron, soaked 10 minutes in warm water

2 tsp. canola oil 2 medium sweet onions, minced

4 cloves garlic, crushed ½ tsp. fresh ginger, minced

1 whole chicken (about 4 lbs.), cut into pieces

salt (to taste) 1 tbsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. turmeric 3 tsp. allspice 2 tbsp. butter

1 cup plain yogurt 1 medium fresh tomato, diced

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Optional garnishes:

1 medium sweet onion, minced (fried to brown crispness)

¼ cup golden raisins, fried

1/8 cup crushed cashews, fried

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Heat Dutch oven pot on stove and add oil; when oil is hot, add onions, garlic, and ginger, and sauté until onions are transluscent. Add chicken pieces, salt, coriander, turmeric, 1 tsp. of allspice, yogurt, tomato and lemon juice. Stir over moderate heat for 7 minutes, taking care to prevent yogurt from boiling. Add water to cover chicken, with salt to taste; cover with lid and cook at high simmer for 45 minutes. Towards end, preheat oven to 350°.

Add rice to pot with butter, saffron and remaining allspice; stir to combine. Cover pot with aluminum foil and pot lid, and cook in oven for 45 minutes. In meantime, prepare garnishes (fry raisins and cashews with onions). Remove pot from oven, stir to combine, sprinkle over garnishes, and serve.

Organic wine & food matching: Chidaine Montlouis & wild mushroom pie

February 4, 2009

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy’s Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner. You can reach him at

There’s a chalky flintiness everywhere in Montlouis, a long under-appreciated region in France located across the Loire River from the Vouvray AC; the latter better known around the world for its soft, flowery fresh, demi-sec (“half-dry”) styles of whites made from the Chenin Blanc grape.

Montlouis is also planted exclusively to Chenin Blanc; but because its best whites are probably its dryer ones, flinty or chalky sensations seem more pronounced in Montlouis; the understanding of which doesn’t require much of a leap after you see its whitish soils, which consist of almost no clay, but rather a predominance of silex (finely ground flint), sand and limestone.

Not to say that each sip of the 2006 Francois Chidaine Montlouis Clos du Breuil (about $23) tastes like wet rocks The terroir is a subtle undertone in this wine, which exudes more of a succulent, melony fruitiness in the nose, tinged with a wildflower honey, a whiff of bread yeast, and even tropical suggestions (like caramelized banana). On the palate, the honeyed fruit sensations mesh with a pointedly green apple tartness in a medium-full body, and the wine finishes as dry as, well, rocks.

If you take the trouble to seek out and appreciate this wine, you might go further and taste more of Chidaine’s cuvées (he bottles several each year, the Clos du Breuil from one of his oldest plots, and usually among the driest); illustrating what many connoisseurs believe to be as compelling a testament to the link between low-intervention, biodynamic winemaking and purest possible expression of grape and terroir as you can find anywhere in the world. Most certainly, the naturally perfumed character of the Chenin Blanc and the lime crusted quality of the soil contribute to that.

When matching food with such unique wines, I like to highlight the attributes, which also rounds them out. Because of the tartness, for instance, slightly sharp, earthy cheeses like fetas and chèvres make sense, smoothing out the wine’s sharper edges. If you choose a smoked chèvre, the smokiness plays up the wine’s flinty, minerally qualities, and you begin to better appreciate the complexity of good Montlouis (combining chèvre with, say, smoked salmon or wood grilled oysters would achieve the same effect).

When it comes to dishes: yes, saline flavored foods that like tart edged whites (oysters, crab, bouillabaisse, etc.) make sense. Or, you could emphasize both the flinty and fruity qualities of the Montlouis by this recipe for a wild mushroom pie; teeming with aromas of woodsy earth, while a creamy béchamel underlines the luscious, tropical notes of the wine.

What is the Role of Acidity in Wine?

February 4, 2009

A search on “acidity in wine” will return around 1.5 million articles on the subject. They include very technical discussions of chemistry to forums with groups of people talking about the juiciness or crispness acidity brings to wine. This tells me acidity in wine is discussed around the world.

What I wonder is, for all the discussion, what is really understood and has the role of acidity changed over time?

Do winemakers view the importance of acidity the same as consumers?

If consumers have different positive or negative responses to acidity in wine, how do winemakers respond?

Do they adjust their wines to meet the expectations of consumers or do they follow their own philosophy of wine making?

While the word “acidity” is technically correct, is it the best word to describe its role in making delicious wines? What would be a good alternative word?

Some time ago I read a post by California wine writer Steve Heimhoff about wines beginning to taste very similar. I commented something about understanding the importance of acidity in wine as one of the stepping stones we all go through in appreciating wine.

He commented back with the following. 

  • Ron, your comment about acidity turns me on. I’ve been thinking about acidity for the last year and appreciating its role in wine’s vitality. I just returned from a big wine festival that attracted many high level winemakers, and this topic of acidity came up repeatedly. I think you’re going to see a trend toward drier, more acidic wines — which means more distinctive and unique varieties.

To me this was a very interesting reply, especially the words distinctive and unique. Isn’t that the goal with wine?

As I have been learning the world of Twitter I have read a few Tweets from Natalie Maclean chiming in on her love of acidity in wines.

Here is a comment via Twitter from Natalie with a little humor too.

  • Okay, I’m always happy to trip about acid … it truly is in wine what salt is to food: brings forward flavors, adds piquancy

Reading these two comments highlights it is an important component of delicious wines.

As I circle back to my original question; What is the role of acidity in wine?

I wonder if the role of wine has changed over time? Wine was always part of the food experience and over time a beverage experience evolved too. This is neither good or bad – just evolution.

My sense is acidity in wine requires food and without it, the magic from the vineyard and winemaker is lost.

What do you think? Appreciate you sharing your thoughts.