Oyster Cayuse

The 2007 Cayuse En Cerise Walla Walla Valley Syrah received some of the best (across the board) acclaim of any Washington State Syrah my lips were ever lucky enough to try. Its distribution is very limited, so I had to rely on one very good friend, who is on their mailing list.

Paired with some specially prepared fried cajun birthday oysters, the smokiness and spicy nature of the Cayuse was a dream date. Lots of rugged old-world flavors persist throughout this wine, including olives, anise and roasted wild game. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but your birthday is well worth the extra coin.

Sultry Syrah

Good California Syrah isn’t cheap. So finding an exceptional one in the $25 range can often be fortuitous. Dinner tonight portended such an unexpected find. With a robust dusting of some five spice dry rub, I dressed up a tenderloin and sided it some roasted fingerling potatoes and butter sautéed Brussels sprouts that were doctored with Wright’s bacon.

The wine partner? How about a Russian River Syrah with an all-out, surfs up California motif – the 2008 Longboard Syrah! Combining a nice melody of woodsy, cedary aromas and chewy dark fruit, the Longboard in short order became a spectacular find for the fast approaching and hearty, winter weather foods.

Alban Patrina Syrah

What’s in the bottle? How about 100% of delicious Syrah from Edna Valley!

Alban Vineyards dedicates itself entirely to the production of Rhone varietals like Syrah. Its 2008 Patrina Syrah packs together decadent jam-like flavors of strawberry puree and fleshy, perfectly ripe black cherries. Hints of cedar are delivered mid-palate, as a perfectly integrated acidity rounds out this complex, robust and inviting red.

Highly recommended with an earthy, porcini and mixed funghi risotto, some bright English peas and a flurry of Parmigiano Reggiano, the Alban amazes every time.

The new Scotch is not a re-Peat

* This column was originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

If you’ve ever taken a long train ride into the Scottish Highlands, you know that you’re likely to see more sheep, inexplicably dotting steep mountainsides, than you are to see trees. These areas are often barren and limited in vegetation. Because of this, the long history of whisky making in Scotland has been singularly dictated by the source of fuel needed to toast the barley grains, which in turn created great malt whiskies.

Not to be denied the pleasurable warmth of a nice whisky, the great Scots relied on the burning of dried peat moss as a natural and cheap source of fuel in their whisky making process. The peat, in turn, produced toasted malts with smoky, earthy and musky notes that, out of necessity, became the trademark characteristic of Scottish whisky.

Eventually though, all of that began to change with the industrial revolution as alternative sources of fuel became accessible deep into the remote areas of northern Scotland and indeed many of the isles. With transportation facilitating the access to these sources, it also established a supply line for malts that weren’t as smoky or for that matter pre-disposed to peat at all.

Fast-forward to modern trends in making Scotch whisky and any purveyor can tell you that the new Scotches, hitting the store shelves, mostly seem to be avoiding that old-school peaty style. In fact, today’s new malt whiskies place more emphasis on what they’re aging their product in, namely unique and diverse barrels that once were homes to sherry, port, sauterne, madeira and just about anything else just shy of root beer.

Naturally, this new trend is designed to introduce more consumers to Scotch as these different casks greatly alter the final whisky into something less austere and more likely to be enjoyed en masse. If you want to get a sense of this newer, less peaty style, then the following four whiskies offer differing insight into today’s new Scotch.

Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or 12 year (glen-MORE-an-jee)

Aged in French Sauterne casks, Glenmorangie’s “Golden Nectar” creates a substantially sweater aroma, reminiscent of a traditional Irish whisky. A bouquet of orange peel and ginger ale compliments a honeyed finish and a Sauterne-inspired nuance of honeysuckle.

Balvenie DoubleWood 12 year (Bol-VAINNY)

As far as experimenting with new interpretations of Scotch whisky, the Balvenie Distillery is perhaps one of the original pioneers in this modern whisky movement. Its DoubleWood 12 year whisky sees aging time in both a whisky oak barrel as well as a sherry oak one. The result is a Speyside whisky with minimal peat influence that shows off caramelized brown sugar notes, warm vanilla aromas and a fluid, mellow mid-palate.

Bruichladdich Rocks (broo-kladdie)

The western Isle of Islay is known for making some of the peatiest, smokiest whiskies in all of Scotland. So, it’s a bit ironic that the Islay based Bruichladdich Distillery decided to produce this completely unpeated whisky. Bruichladdich Rocks has scents of warm cake and vanilla with just the faintest of medicinal finishes.

Glengoyne 10 year (glen-goin)

Since a very good Scottish-born friend recently recommended the Glengoyne 10 year, it’s the next whisky on my list to sample. Located halfway between the Eden-like Loch Lomond and the workingman’s capital of Glasgow, the Glengoyne Distillery produces an unpeated, 10-year whisky. And I can’t wait to try a not-so-wee dram of this insider information.

Fiore de Sol Timpano & Pinot Noir

Are you hungry yet? Yes it’s edible. Introducing my own spin on the master of all dinner flytes from the classic cult film, Big Night!

Before you try to wrap your spatula around just what it is, I really recommend you grab the movie off Netlix. Starring Stanley Tucci, Isabella Rossellini, Tony Shalhoub and a very young Marc Anthony, Big Night is a story about… well… a lot…including the restaurant business, the quintessential love triangle, the Italian American immigrant story – of trying to make it big, as well as being about music and yes FOOD. Or in this case a big bundt pan full of humble pie!

I knew I couldn’t make my timpano look quite as good on the inside (as the one in the movie), so I asked my girl to put a little makeup… errr food coloring on the outside. The result was a nice looking sunflower timpano, stuffed with tomatoes, cheese, soft-boiled eggs, sausage, pork, funghi, pasta et al.

Since it was more of a pork-based timpano, I popped a bottle of Pinot Noir. The 2011 Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir is a whole lotta luscious love, layered with more fresh fruit flavors than a subscription to Harry & Davids. I found the Belle Glos on sale at Pop’s Wine & Liquor in Powell for $28 and quickly realized that I should’ve purchased a second bottle. Just remember not to mix your starches!

Sunday’s Cabernet Column in the KNS

2009 Napa Valley Cabernets to seek out while they last

Napa Valley extended its run of outstanding Cabernet vintages to six years in a row with the successful harvest of the 2009 crop, but some vintage trackers are showing a return to mediocrity with the 2010 release. With the possibility of a drop-off looming, now may be the last best chance to secure some quality and yet affordable 2009 Napa Cabernets for the year ahead. With that in mind, I set out to find what’s left of the best.

Back in October, I blogged that the 2009 Martin Ray Cabernet promised to be a viable choice with some classic and comforting cedar notes and an all-out black cherry sensation. Its quality, for an under $20 bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet, may be surpassed by few, but one wine with the most likelihood of doing so is the 2009 Black Stallion.

A virtual newcomer to the Napa Valley wine scene, Black Stallion offers an alluring profile of sweet oak flavors, cinnamon stick aromas and an all-spice cadence that is akin to catching that captivating scent of a freshly unwrapped piece of Big Red. It has a certain something to it that’ll remind you of old-school Christmas charm. For under $20, Black Stallion Napa Valley Cabernet is the quintessential “go to” for cool weather drinking and heartier dinnertime fare.

Continue reading at knoxnews.com

Brisket Love and Nut Brown Ale

Sometimes you just want a beer for dinner. And although it would have been easy to pair a nice Sonoma County Cabernet or Washington State Syrah with this fabulous brisket, I couldn’t resist a nutty, slightly sweeter brown ale.

This very tender brisket is wrapped in a heaping hug of sassy sauce that includes brown sugar, cumin, red pepper, tomato paste, red wine, beef stock, garlic, basil, bay leaf, oregano and onions. It’s also perfect for smothering onto some side-kicking carrots and a serving of buttery egg noodles.

Blackened Mahi Mahi & Greco di Tufo

Guest Blogger: Ricardo Burnelli returns

My favorite dish of the week is one that brings back fond memories of living in Charleston, South Carolina. We would set out from Charleston Harbor at about 4:00 or 5:00AM on a 34 foot center console Pursuit (fishing boat) in search of the schooling dolphin fish, more popularly known as Mahi Mahi. Once reaching the weed line at about 60 miles off the coast, it was time to put the lines in the water. After a few hours, we would head back to one of our favorite restaurants on the water to prepare the fish and deliver them to the cook to add his famous blackened seasoning.I don’t know precisely what his secret ingredients were, but my own version includes paprika, onion & garlic powders, thyme, oregano, basil, cayenne pepper, cumin, sea salt and pepper. Preheat the grill to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, dip the fish in olive oil, coat with seasoning and grill for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle some lemon juice on after it’s finished, and then choose the perfect wine.

The wine we most recently chose was the Vesuvium Greco di Tufo 2011. This wine is grown in the volcanic soils near Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy. This is a dry white wine with just the right amount of lemon and lime notes. For just under $20 per bottle, I believe this wine to be quite a bargain and a great complement for seafood dishes.

- Ricardo Burnelli