Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Life Throws You a Bag of Onions… You Cry, Then Make Lamb Stew and Drink Beaujolais

When you’re single again after years of marriage, navigating your way through the treacherous sea called the "holidays" can be extra challenging. This Thanksgiving, I found myself away from most of my immediate family, waxing nostalgic, yet celebrating new traditions with my grown son Devon and his girlfriend Mindy’s family. I was feeling grateful to even have a holiday table to be sitting at and a special meal to enjoy, and so I truly savored my Thanksgiving lunch and the company I was in. After lunch, my son's girlfriend's family not only lovingly sent me away with leftovers, but also with hazelnuts and walnuts from their orchards and onions and acorn squash that were still coming out of their garden.

After leaving their busy home and arriving at my empty one, this strange combination of both my heart-searing loneliness for the rest of my of family and the swell of joy I felt from the generosity Mindy’s family’s had shown me, moved me to tears. And I didn't just cry, I sobbed deep, chest heaving, tears flowing thick as water from a spout whose spigot I just couldn’t seem to turn off. When I was finally empty, drained, I fell asleep and dreamed of nothing.

I awoke, feeling recharged, as if a spark had been lit deep within the furnace of my body. I looked at the goody bag Mindy’s family had shared with me, and at first I thought I’d do something fun with the nuts, because nuts are always fun (no?), but what struck me instead were the onions. Those dirty, round little brown onions were calling to me, asking me, begging me to cut into their white and juicy flesh.

It didn’t take more than a minute for me to realize what those onions were meant to become. I knew what I wanted to make, what I needed to make, what I was destined to make. The dish that would awaken my senses and warm my soul was none other than a Moroccan Lamb Tagine inspired by Sunset Magazine. My dear friend Pam made this dish for me when I first moved to Portland, and after searching out the recipe for myself and making some modifications, it’s become a standard in my fall/winter line-up.

I cut up the lamb (see video below) and set it aside, but when it was time to slice the onions, just removing the skins was enough to make my eyes instantly well up with tears and begin to stream buckets again. I tried putting on sunglasses and chewing gum (both tricks I’d heard about) all to no avail. I thought my reserves were all dried up, yet somehow, my eyes were pouring out enough tears, I could have drowned a small city by now. And yet I just couldn’t stop myself, and I didn’t want to, I was almost enjoying it… like it was some kind of catharsis. Finally, I'd completed the cleansing task of slicing the most potent onions in the world. Tear session over, I cleaned up my face, washing away the salt from both my eyes and cheeks and then felt a simple calm envelope me.

Like the dream I should have been dreaming the night before, when I got to the best part of the recipe (where you combine all the various spices), I couldn’t help but be swept away to some exotic spice market in the far east, lost in thoughts of how these magical ingredients were so valuable, they were once traded like gold. I imagined people traveling for weeks from the far reaches of the globe to bring these spices back to their homelands… heroes with their new discoveries of unknown flavors. The colors were magnificent, like an old Indian tapestry… earthen browns, deep, mustardy yellows. The smells immediately drew me back in and perked me up, yet they were hypnotic and elicited emotions that washed over me like a cold shower awakening me from my sleep of self-absorbed loneliness.

As the dish cooked and my house was filled with pleasing aromas of home, happiness, memories… the lack of companionship and emptiness began to slip away. What was left in its place was a very hungry belly and a great pot of lamb stew, enough to feed my mind, body and soul for days. I recommend you let this recipe rescue you sometime too. If not from some kind of sadness, then from the dark, cold and dreariness of the season.

Realizing it was not only Thanksgiving time but Beaujolais season as well, I decided to try a bottle of 2011 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau I had set aside for the holiday weekend with this meal. I think a spicy Syrah, Zinfandel or even a Marsanne would pair nicely (and a Riesling might even be interesting to try), but this wine just seemed to fit the bill. It was casual enough just for me, bold and sweetly fruity, with a bit of spicy oak, a slight suppleness and enough acidity to balance out and play against the spice and heat of the dish. Food and wine pairing isn't rocket science, just have fun with it!

Speaking of having fun with things. Just because I couldn't possibly post about lamb and not include this memorable quote/video:

"What do you mean he don't eat no meat? That's okay, I make lamb." - Aunt Voula

Moroccan Lamb Tagine
Prep and Cook time: Approximately 1½ hours
Serves 6 (or one person for days)

3 pounds of fat-trimmed boned lamb steak, shoulder or other cut suitable for stewing, cut into 1½-inch chunks
2 large onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon EACH of paprika and cumin
1 teaspoon EACH of ground turmeric, ground cinnamon and minced, fresh ginger
¼-½ teaspoon (depending on heat preference and tolerance) cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2½ cups of chicken stock
12 dried apricots, roughly chopped 
2 big handfuls of baby carrots
1 can (14½ oz) diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Bottle of wine 
Box of couscous prepared as directed 

1.  Pour glass of wine, sip often and refill as needed.
2.  Brown lamb over medium heat.
3.  Add onions and garlic, stirring often until onions begin to get limp (about 5 minutes).
4.  Add spices and stir until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
5.  Take a big whiff. Mmmmmm.
6.  Add broth, apricots, carrots, tomatoes and tomato paste; bring to a boil over high heat. 
7.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until lamb is tender (about one hour).
8.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over couscous.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Give Thanks for Free Wine

As corks are being popped all over the country, and toasts are being made by grateful people everywhere, it’s important to take a moment to recognize wine’s rightful place at the holiday table. When one raises their glass on Thanksgiving and speaks to what they’re most thankful for—their health, their family and friends, the bounty of food at the ready—they wouldn’t be making that toast without the wine that’s in their glass

Ok, it’s not apple pie, and it’s not even Amercian, but really, what wine pairs better with a food holiday than one whose name literally means a gathering of close friends over casual fare (Tapeña = tapas + peña)? And since these wines are Spanish, you can drink them with pride, knowing the first Thanksgiving holiday celebrated in the U.S. was actually by Spanish settlers in Florida in the year 1565 (not Plymouth, as you may have learned in school). 

Rooted in tradition, and a blend of camaraderie and good taste, Tapeña wines are food-, people- and wallet-friendly. Priced at $9.99, you’ll find their Tempranillo, Garnacha, Verdejo and Rosé available for purchase in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. And nothing says dig in to your holiday dinner better than Tapeña, the wine with the little fork on the label.

So, in honor of the bottle, and in thanks for your readership, I’ve created this fun contest and a chance for you to win a whole collection of Tapeña wines as well as some other cool swag (think cookbook, corkscrews wine charms…) that will have you speaking Spanish in no time… or at least saying “gracias”.

Simply add a comment to this blogpost by Sunday, November 27th about what you’re most thankful for and I’ll select the lucky winner at random, announcing the results on Monday, November 28th (sorry kiddies, you must be 21 or over to enter).  

THEN (if you so desire):
Visit the Tapeña website for delicious recipe ideas, useful trivia, Spanish music downloads or even to learn how to pick up a woman like a real Latin lover (seriously!). Join Tapeña on their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, check out their blog and don’t miss their awesome customer rewards program!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another Oregon Winery Steps into the Spotlight

Come closer. I have a secret I'd like to whisper in your ear. There's a new winery in town and I know you want to know all the juicy details before everyone else does.

Since I’m always on the lookout for new wines and wineries to share with you, when I heard about the upcoming Grand Opening of the Hyland Estates tasting room in Dundee this weekend, I knew you’d want me to get and spill the latest dirt.

So, digging in deep, I visited the tasting room a couple days shy of their big debut and met with the winery's Tasting Room Manager Eric Baldwin, who shared with me all he knew about the Hyland Estates story and let me preview the wines.

Purchased in 2007, Hyland Estates is owned by the NW Wine Company (i.e. Laurent Montalieu and Danielle Andrus -Montalieu of Solena Estate) and though the 200-plus acres have been supplying preium grapes to many of Oregon's most prestigious wineries since 1971, the Estate is just releasing its inaugural bottlings and providing a stunning venue in which to preview them.

The swanky tasting room is located in the original and remodeled residence on the grounds of the NW Wine Company. From the outside it looks like a modest home, but inside, in complete opposition, it's all sleek, elegant surfaces with bold, vivid art and a trendy (chichi?), upscale feel.

Producing just over 500 cases a year, Hyland Estates wines are boutique wines, but with 200-plus acres of vines at their fingertips, the winery is poised to accommodate demand. “Always being a vintage away of having more production is a nice position to be in”, says Baldwin. Though the vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muller Thurgau, they don’t make a Chardonnay or Muller Thurgau, preferring to focus on very limited production of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. 

The vineyard is situated in the McMinnville AVA on ashy and volcanic Jory and Nekia soils. The lovely 2010 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir ($35) showed aromas and flavors indicative of the region, with an abundance of dried cranberries and juicy, dark plums as well as pleasant notes of vanilla cola, moist earth, lingering smoke and roses.

Though not available for tasting on my visit (but hopefully in time for the Grand Opening, and definitely by Thanksgiving weekend), the winery is scheduled to release two additional higher end Pinot noirs; one is a clonal selection called Hyland Estates Coury Clone ($60) and the other, the Hyland Estates Founders Selection ($100), was crafted from just one chosen barrel and then aged for a full two years (only 28 cases of this wine was produced).

Providing an alternative to Pinot gris, the winery is also featuring their bone-dry 2010 Hyland Estate Gewurztraminer ($25), bright aromas of white grapefruit, pear and orange blossoms. The 2009 Hyland Estates Riesling ($25) was very untraditional as far as Riesling goes, and simple, if not flat, with green apple and citrus.

Visit the tasting room for their Grand Opening celebration November 19th and 20th where the wines will be presented alongside tasty morsels. If you can't make it for that weekend, stop by the next time you're out and about in Wine Country; you'll be glad you did.

Open daily from 11-5
20980 NE Niederberger Road, Dundee OR
Join them on Facebook or call them directly at (503) 554-4200

Speaking of being out and about in Wine Country, next time you are, be sure to include a stop at the Red Hills Market in Dundee (which is really so much more than just a market); it's seriously worth making a special drive from Portland just to come here. I discovered their holy-cow-good roast beef sandwiches worth road tripping for (and quite possibly even considering for a last meal) and though it's tempting to try and keep that goodness all for myself, I loved it so much, I want to scream from the rooftops about how great this sandwich was.

Wander around while you wait for your food and you'll find local charcuterie and cheeses, house-made baked goods, locally made products, books, home decor, and 100-plus local wines and craft beers you can enjoy on-premise or to-go. All their craft sandwiches and pizzas are wood-fired and come served right in the roasting pan for a rustic, warm, homey feel. There's even cocktails, locally roasted coffee and fresh nosegays for whatever pick-me-up you so desire.

Consider the Wine Taster's Survival Box, which contains a selection of cured meats, cheeses, olives,  chocolate, a fresh baguette and 2 waters, add a view overlooking the Valley or a vineyard and tell me it doesn't result in complete and utter satiation. Peruse the Red Hills Market menu on their website, then be the hero and avoid the lunch rush by calling ahead with your order, (971) 832-8414.


One a side note, when Eric poured the Pinot Noir, one of the bottles was clearly corked, meaning it was flawed and smelled fowl, being adversely affected by the presence of TCA in it. I remember reading a tweet from my definitively Portlandian friend Jenny Moshbacher (@secretcrumpet on Twitter), who’s also a writer for the fabulous and informative wineblog NW Wine Anthem, about how putting saran wrap in a TCA-tainted bottle cured the problem right up. I mentioned this to Eric and setting off on an epic experiment, he went and procured a piece of saran wrap, which he then crumbled into a ball, stuffed into the neck of the bottle, jiggled down into the wine and stuffed the cork back on top. We went about our chat and when we were wrapping things up, we decided to check on the “experiment”. What was once a completely unpalatable bottle of wine, was somehow transformed into one smelling of fruit and spice instead of mold. Magic? Seemingly.

Apparently, according to an article in the New York Times from Andrew Waterhouse, a professor of Wine Chemistry at UC Davis who exposes the secrets of the magic trick, the reason it works is that the culprit molecule in infected corks (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) is chemically similar to polyethylene and actually binds to the plastic.

Thank you Jenny for your superior wine-salving skills and for sharing your super-sleuthy and MacGyver-like wine knowledge with those of us smart enough to follow you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Who's Going to the Ball?

Drumroll please…

Congratulations to Robert Frost! You've won yourself 2 tickets to this Sunday's Southern Oregon Wine Tasting on November 13th, from 4-7pm at the Portland Art Museum.

Enjoy yourself as you taste the wines from famed Southern Oregon producers like Abacela, Del Rio and Quady, and discover the lessor known brands that are guaranteed to not be lessor known for long!

Expect an education and a good time, just don't expect Pinot Noir.

I wish I had tickets for all my readers! Please keep checking back for other fun wine promotions!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Importance of Being #Twitter - Breaking it Down

Each of us probably knows a few rebels, a few holdouts to the pre-social media way of life, though mass numbers of people sign in daily, engaging both personally and professionally with others through the Facebook platform. I've wondered though, how many of those same people are using Twitter, and of those who aren't, how many don't because they don't understand the benefits or the basic Twitterese language?

I personally dove headfirst into Twitter several years ago before I started blogging and never looked back. I started "tweeting" just for fun and to connect with others that shared similar interests, but when I started blogging, things really exploded and I realized what I had at my fingertips. Though I'm active on Facebook, I find it's through Twitter that I've been able to connect with the broader wine world. I follow nearly 2,500 national and international wine and food people whom I've organized into easy-to-manage lists and I have over 3,000 people following me, that's nearly 10 times the number of followers I have on my Facebook page, and most of them are information hungry and industry-specific (i.e. not friends and family).

So, what started as an innocent "tweet" about how I was roaming the expansive Twitterverse instead of writing my blog, ended in a glimmer of inspiration thanks to my friends over at Wine Is Serious Business.

In less than one hour's time I had conversations (granted they consisted of 140 characters or less) with 11 different people, seven of which are West Coast wine writers or bloggers, while discussing (or promoting, because word of mouth is worth its weight in gold) seven Oregon wineries. Of my 18 "tweets", at least 10 of them were then also ReTweeted by others who follow me, making countless impressions on all their followers as well and continuing the conversation well into the night and beyond.

I've included a snapshot of the Twitter communication which led to this blog post and after you'll find what I hope is a helpful glossary to break down the Twitter language barrier, if that's what's keeping some people away. For those of you who are Twitter pros, good for you for finding a way to connect with others who have similar interests… may you tweet long and prosper.

For Oregon wineries, "tweeting" is key. In addition to the virtual and virtually untapped market of wine loving consumers, the Wine Bloggers Conference will be in Portland in August 2012. So, even if a winery is already "tweeting", they should also be engaging with the bloggers now to really building those relationships and brand loyalty prior to the bloggers' visit. And the place to find them is on Twitter. I'll make it real easy, start by following my list of wine bloggers and just see where the conversation goes. If you'd like some tips or suggestions on how best to go about this, feel free to contact me, I've got ideas.

A very warm Twitter welcome to prized #Oregon winery… @DrouhinOregon - So glad you could join us! Follow them for great #wine!

@GrochauCellars The Commuter's was lovely John, hence the term of endearment "this little beauty" :) Great on night two too!

@UCBeau Enjoy your tour tasting tomorrow at @archerysummit - You're in for a real treat!! Don't get lost in the caves!! :)

@SLHousman Thanks Sherri! I got to participate in a "Sensory Tasting" at @archerysummit - fun experience! Coming back to OR soon??

@DrouhinOregon Thanks, my pleasure. Please feel free to DM me if you have any Twitter questions; it can be like learning a new language :)

RT @wineanthem #PDX peeps like the @wineanthem fb page and get prepped for the So. Oregon tasting giveaway on Thursday... facebook.com/pages/Northwes…

Big thanks to @lisasharahall for the invitation to taste with her at @archerysummit today! #SpecialTreat

@UCBeau Yes, but have you been in their caves? :) Buying too much wine is a great problem to have! :) @ArcherySummit

@SLHousman We'll have to get into some great trouble then! ;)

Words to live by… ow.ly/i/kSu8

@clivity Have you been to @nataliesestate @coleneclemens or Spangler?

.@oregonwinelover Yep, gotta love roadside philosophy! :)

Thanks, LOVE them! RT @stevens_tk: @clivity @ColeneClemons was my other suggestion. @SipwithMe is right on.

Lucky ladies!! RT @seattlewinegal: At @KingEstate with @sbroback, @lisagilpin @KelseyIvey. Dinner is PHENOMENAL img.ly/aggq

Gorgeous… blow up and frame that! RT @ucbeau: RT @BeckyBoo503: A close up #photo of a grape leaf! yfrog.com/klq9vmhj -- Awesome pic!

Tweeting when I should be blogging.

(And the inspirational response from Wine Is Serious Biz
@SipwithMe It works! How many tweets does it take to make a blog? Hmmmmmm)

@beckyboo503 Nice, I bet it will be stunning. Well done!

Really? The McRib isn't food? ow.ly/7nvQd Is anyone really surprised by this?

@wineissrsbiz Ha! Wish it worked that way for my blog!!

  • Follower. This is someone who is reading your tweets. You may or may not follow them back.
  • The @ symbol: Put this before any Twitterer's username to refer to them and create a link to their profile automatically (handy to track conversations or look at people you're referring to).
  • RT = "retweet." If you read someone else's tweet and you want to share it, put this before copying and pasting the whole thing, including the original tweeter's username into your tweet.
  • (Via): Instead of using retweet, you can use "via @username" in parentheses to attribute something you read someone else tweet about. This is good when you are not directly quoting word for word, but paraphrasing or passing a link along.
  • # = Hashtag: Use this symbol prior to other words (#oregonwine for example)  as a way of assigning a keyword to a tweet so that so others can follow the topic.
  • DM = Direct Messaging. This is how to send a message to someone so only they can see it. The person has to be following you in order to receive messages from you, though. (No DMing Robert Parker unless he's following you, k?) 

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Flying High at Raptor Ridge's New Winery

    Visiting Raptor Ridge’s stunning new location perched along the Northeast side of the Chehalem Mountains on Hillsboro Highway (which is technically located in Newberg, but actually closer to Scholls) had been on my radar for some time, yet somehow I’d not yet made it out for a visit. So, when the opportunity knocked to attend a social media event introducing their new digs, I didn't make them knock twice.

    Graduating from a small horse-and-sheep-farm-cum-winery to a brand new state-of-the-art winery/27-acre vineyard estate with four-peak views gives a winery good reason to send out the engraved announcements showing off to the world exactly how far they’ve come. If I were Raptor Ridge, I’d be shouting from the slanted rooftops!

    Raptor Ridge is as smart about social media and public relations as they are about making wine. Taking the media bull by the horns, they invited a room full of press, including writers from Portland Monthly, Yelp and OregonWine.com as well as several prominent freelance print writers and bloggers, for an afternoon #ReTweet (Twitter Retreat) of Raptor Ridge’s wines paired alongside great food and a tour of their functional yet elegant new facility.

    We met at The Bent Brick in Northwest Portland where we were given a quick tour of the restaurant and kitchen (which would be serving our lunch), before being whisked away in a grape colored and covered chariot (special shout out to Wayne Winewizard) for a culinary education and excursion in wine country.

    Raptor Ridge has been making top-notch Pinot noir and Pinot gris since 1995, giving them a strong foothold in the Oregon wine scene. But with their new winery and vineyard estate, the owners, Scott and Annie Shull, have found a place to both put down their roots and a beautiful facility to showcase what it is they do best, presenting the whole package… wine, hospitality, education (check out their wall of aromas and quiz yourself), and ambiance. And to top it all off, it's one of Portland's closest wineries!

    The estate was originally a cherry orchard that produced for 65 years before most of the trees were removed to build the winery and create the 18-acre Tuscowallame Vineyard, which is now planted to several clones of Pinot noir and small amount of Gruner Veltliner. Tuscaowallame is the indigenous word for “place were the owls dwell”. Paying tribute to the property’s history, the Shulls preserved two of each type of cherry tree from the original plantings. 

    As we sat in the tasting room, a sleek yet functional concrete, stainless steel and glass structure, and enjoyed their wines paired with savory bites from Chef Scott Dolich of The Bent Brick who says he sees wine pairings as discussion between good wine and good food, a storm quickly brewed up and passed over the vineyard leaving a magnificent and glowing rainbow in its wake.

    Winemaker Scott Shull describes Raptor Ridge as “Two wineries in one. One side produces cuveés of 2500 cases for distribution to 26 states and the Virgin Islands, while the other side focuses on vineyard designate wines for their club and tasting room". Scott has a few tricks up his winemaking sleeve, which he shared with the group. One thing Scott does differently is that after the berries have been sorted and destemmed, he sorts them again for a third time to ensure the quality is up to his standards. Scott also uses a mechanical punch down machine, which I had never seen before (and I probably shouldn’t mention what it reminded me of), and though he’s a self-professed control freak and uses commercial yeast, he also experiments with wild fermentation.

    Not exactly a cave, but we made our way into the barrel room, large enough to house 500 barrels and located 25 feet underground, where Scott confessed how he likes to listen to the quiet and breathe in the aromas of the barrel room. I understand the draw to go there to reflect on one's thoughts or find creative inspiration; the barrel room has a meditative and almost vault-like quality to it. The sounds are softened and muted, the oaky smells are magnified by the amount of wood and wine fermenting in such small space, the light is dim to protect the wine as it undergoes its transformation and the cool air feels a bit thicker, heavy with a certain mustiness or maybe it’s just heavy with energy. Whatever it is, it’s working for Scott… he’s making some great wines. If Raptor Ridge hasn't flown onto your radar yet, hopefully it has now. While making plans for your next Oregon wine country outing, be sure Raptor Ridge is on your hot list and in the meantime, join them on Facebook and Twitter.

    2010 Pinot Gris (sold out)
    Spectacular showing of lemon, grapefruit and pear, with subtle hints of tropical pineapple and a pleasant tease of almond. The wine displayed balanced acidity with an attractive minerality not found in many Oregon Pinot Gris.

    2007 Pinot Noir Reserve ($35)
    Simply gorgeous, makes you forget anything bad you may have ever heard about the 2007 vintage. Silky and spicy with a glass full of plums and crushed cherries.

    2008 Pinot Noir Reserve ($35)
    Noticing this wine was stylistically different than the others (I thought it was flawed and not my favorite), Scott described is as a noble reduction. When wine is not exposed to any air as it ages, it becomes reduced (the opposite of oxidized). Scott sees it as a feature, not a flaw in this case, adding interest and complexity. The wine was smoky and a bit funky, but soft with vanilla, coffee and a strong showing of ripe, black fruit.

    2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($23)
    Great value for a quality wine that’s rich and silky with cherries, pomegranate, vanilla, cassis, licorice and smells almost like walking through a pile of fall leaves.

    2010 Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard (Not yet released)
    Celebrating nine years of Shea fruit, Raptor Ridge does this vineyard proud. Though this wine had just been bottled six weeks prior, it was truly emblematic of what an Oregon vintage should be… pure, ripe and lush red cherry and blueberry pie flavors with a velvety mouth feel and a lingering finish loaded with peppery goodness.