Wednesday, November 30, 2005

College Cellars

Last weekend I had the opportunity to taste a couple of wines from College Cellars at the "The Walla Walla Institute for Enology and Viticulture. Stan's students are doing wonderful things at the College Cellar. I tasted one of my favorites (and rare) - Lemberger. It was fruit forward with a mouthful of strawberries. A long jammy, yet peppery finish which makes for a very food friendly wine. Also a light wine for those winter afternoons in front of the fireplace. A great price at $12.00. I had to buy one. If you like Lemberger, I would recommend to grab this wine ASAP. Not much left.

Also available for tasting a 2004 Syrah of Rose'. I know a secret about this wine - the enology students added a bit of Chardonnay. Not sure why and therefore I had in my mind I was not going to like it. I was fooled. What a great picnic wine! I was immediately impressed. Perfectly dry and yet forward like a fruit salad. I loved this wine for what it was. Since it is a bit on the nipplei erectus (Latin for "cold") side for a picnic, this would be a nice addition to the holiday entertaining cheese plate. Sante'!

Friday, November 18, 2005

~November Cooking With Washington Wines~

It seems to be a standard that when a person asks "What kind of wine shall I serve with the Thanksgiving turkey?" Everyone answers, "Pinot Noir."

Instead of posting a turkey and cranberry kind of recipe for November, I chose salmon instead. I think a Pinot Noir would hold up wonderful with this recipe that was created by Bruce Hiebert, owner of Patit Creek Restaurant. The sauce and salmon recipe is famous in Cordova, Alaska where it was used by the Copper River Fishermen’s Co-op's annual barbecue.

If you can find a Pinot Noir in Walla Walla (At this time we are letting the Willamette Valley have the Pinots. Aren't we generous?), good luck. K-Vintners had one, but I was suspicious of it being "bootlegged." No, not really bootlegged as illegal, just not of this AVA. Since it is November - "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!" A Beaujolais Nouveau would also pair very fine with this dish.

Instead of the above - let's get adventurous. I think that the ingredients combined make a topping that’s slightly sweet but also acidic, which matches spicy wines such as rose'. Yellowhawk Cellars has a spicy 2003 Rosato made with 84% Lemberger, 8% Barbera, 8% Sangiovese. Also their 2002 Sangiovese would be tasty, as well. Since the salmon is going to be grilled, which adds a smoky kick to it, how about a Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley? There is also Marie-Eve Gilla's Zinfandel from Forgeron Cellars - at this time the only Zin in the Valley. Basically there is such a huge variety of wines from the Walla Walla Valley that would pair lovely with this recipe. It would be like a kid in a candy shoppe having to pick just one.

Butterflied Alaska Salmon with Copper River Barbecue Sauce
A long simmer gives the sauce its flavor and smooth consistency, so start it about two hours before you are ready to grill.
The Sauce:
1 1/2 cups onion, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons salt
Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste (optional)
The most important ingredient - The Salmon:
4 pounds Alaska salmon (king, sockeye, or coho) fillets, butterflied 1-inch thick
Canola oil for grill

In a medium (2- to 3-quart) skillet, sauté the onions and celery in the oil until they are translucent. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring the sauce to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for up to two hours.

Heat your grill to medium-low, leaving the lid open, and brush the butterflied salmon with canola oil. Place the salmon on the grill and close the lid. Grill the salmon for 5 minutes. Gently flip the salmon with a spatula and baste it generously with the barbecue sauce before closing the grill’s lid. Grill the salmon for 4 minutes, then check for doneness with a fork. If the fish is no longer translucent in the center, remove it from the heat and transfer the cuts to a serving platter. If the fish requires more grilling time, close the grill’s lid and re-check the salmon every 2 minutes until it is done. Serve the cuts with warm barbecue sauce on the side.
Yield: 8 servings
Sante!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Smokin' Syrahs

Last month Michael Franz of Wine Review praised the State of Washington "poised to become America's premier source for Syrah." Including, "Washington's Syrahs generally show a little more character and a few more nuances than California's"

Franz said, "...for any state to surpass California in vinous achievement with a major grape variety. My recent tastings of Washington Syrahs have certainly made a believer out of me."

Several wineries from Walla Walla received Franz's recognition: Amavi Cellars, Bergevin Lane, Canoe Ridge, Dunham Cellars, Forgeron Cellars, Isenhower, Reininger, Sapolil, Three Rivers Winery, and Waterbrook. I noticed that Preston Winery was included in his list. Although, Preston's winery is located in the Pasco area, it has a tasting room downtown Walla Walla.

Hmmm - I noticed that K-Vinter's "K-Syrah" was not listed. It's one of my favorites, especially his Morrison Lane Vineyard Syrah.

Patit Creek Restaurant

Nestled at the east end of Dayton, WA, about a half mile from the heart of their downtown, is one of the best kept secrets for the last 25 years. Those many cars who daily drive by Patit Creek Restaurant on the highway may not realize that the cozy, yet colorful cottage is the home of one of the only 4-Star French restaurant east of the Cascades as noted by traveler's guide, Northwest Best Places.

Owners, Bruce and Heather Hiebert certainly have a recipe for success. The main ingredients are unpretentious atmosphere, excellent service (because both owners are always there) and the freshest and finest cuisine. People drive for hours to dine there. No mixes, pre-breaded food, or margarine will be found in their kitchen. Sauces, soups and salads dressing are from scratch including one of my favorites -Danish Blue dressing. The Hieberts purchase produce from local growers and grow a lot of their own vegetables, herbs and flowers. The flowers from their garden not only adorn the table but garnish the plates - - all edible.

I personally like the decor. Kind of funky, very cozy and very comfortable. About 10 tables. Maybe seating for 30? Heather has a wonderful collection of black-and-white photos of classic actors and actresses from the 1930-40's on the walls. I have seen people dining at the restaurant in their celebratory best or in their hunter's plaid. But most important. Let's get to their menu.

Let's start with a few examples of the appetizers - chevre cheese-stuffed dates or smoked salmon cheesecake has been my personal favorites and often been served crackers hand made by Heather. Escargot is offered and while I avoid snails, I have dined with several friends who have raved about them. The entree menu includes such dishes as filet mignon poivre verte with green peppercorns, cognac, and cream; and sautéed duck breast with red wine, currant, and port demi-glace, lamb chops, saffron-curried mussels, glazed elk-medallions, and shrimp scampi.

My favorite is the medallions of beef ala Hiebert. It's topped with a rich mushroom demiglace. The meat cuts like butter. It pairs so perfect with a local Cabernet Franc. That's another thing - their extensive wine list that supports the local wine industry. Wines from the Walla Walla Valley showcase the list.

It doesn't matter how full I am at the end of my entree, I am going to find a spot for dessert - - all made from scratch personally by Heather. From fruit pastries to chocolate tortes. Presentation always lovely.

I have had the wonderful fortune to dine at the Hiebert home a couple of times because of a good friend we have in common. Yes, the food was even more amazing and their beautiful gardens and home (behind the restaurant) is an extention of what the public sees while dining at their restaurant. After a couple of invites from the Hieberts to their home, of course I wanted to invite them to my home for dinner. However, I felt a bit intimidated. I mean, cook for these two people who have mastered the art of fine cuisine and entertaining? Especially Bruce who many people have acclaimed his skills in cooking meat and being one of the best in the NW. Let me just say that Bruce had several helpings of my Cuban ropa vieja and commented how good it was to have someone else cook for him. That's my claim to fame with my culinary skills.

Now that I have told you all about the wonderful merits of Patit Creek Restaurant. I send you best wishes in getting a reservations. Call ahead of time. Call (509) 382-2625. 725 E. Dayton Ave, in Dayton. Patit Creek is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Friday, dinner only on Saturday. No last minute phone calls. Again - call ahead of time and it will be worth the wait.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Franc-ly Speaking About Cabernet Franc

A grape that is often blended and rarely sold as a single varietal, it would be a safe bet to say there is a large majority of wine drinkers who have yet sampled the Cab Franc alone. Cabernet Franc is grown mainly in the Bordeaux region. It is a variety which bears small bunches of thinner-skinned, earlier-ripening black berries. Cab Franc has a lower acidity, when compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. Yields are similar, although Cab Franc normally buds and ripens somewhat earlier. Growers appreciate it because it is not demanding vine.

Cabernet Franc wine, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon wine, is a bright and shiny red color. It brings strawberry and blackberry aromas, but compared to it's cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is the less herbaceous, less tannic, and more fruitier.

There are a few Cabernet Francs being bottled in the Walla Walla Valley. Cougar Crest, Tamarack, Buty and last, but far from least is Walla Walla Vintners. My bottles of Cabernet Franc from Walla Walla Vintners, I treat like a precious child, a gold holy grail and I often check in with them to see how their day is going.

Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc is rich. Often jammy, full oak, with a mouth full of blackberries and chocolate. One of my favorite ways to enjoy this wine is with the Medallions of Beef Hiebert from Patit Creek in Dayton, WA. (I won't get started on this fork tender, melt in your mouth entree. I will save it for Patit Creek's very deserving blog.) We try to continue the enjoyment of this WWV Cabernet Franc with one of Heather's rich chocolate desserts.

Although, Preston Wines (also the third licensed winery in the state of Washington) isn't located in Walla Walla, they recently have taken space down town Walla Walla and now have their own tasting room. Two months ago I remembered I had a 1997 Preston Winery Cabernet Franc stashed away and we enjoyed it during dinner. It had aged beautiful. Silky with lots of dark fruit showing through. It was an industry trade and as soon as the bottle emptied, I had wished I had traded a couple more bottles.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Taco and Wine Tasting

In the city of Walla Walla (not including the county of Walla Walla) taco trucks are popping up all over like a frozen corn tortilla on a hot greased griddle. There are at least a dozen that I know of (sometimes they move around a lot so it's hard to keep track.) I never know which one to check out. One person will tell me to stay away from a particular one, while another person will tell me it's the best one in town. Prices are reasonable - $1.00 to $5.00. So far what I have had was delicious! The sauces were the best.

Visitors from Seattle Dining (and other Seattle visitors to the valley) thinks the best taco truck in the valley is La Monarca. It's on Rose street, between 11th and 12th. The old milk truck sits in a gravel parking lot. You will spot it by the Monarch butterflies painted on the truck. Some friends have mentioned that the one by Jefferson Park on Ninth Street is the best and former college student friends have mentioned that the truck parked by John's Wheatland Bakery on Isaacs street is the best. Which one to choose?

There was Dora's at the local worm ranch. Yes. Worm ranch. A place where you buy bait. Dora recently moved to a fancier spot - at the golf course. Now called "Casa Dora." Dora's will never be the same. Good food, but the bait ambiance lost and compromised.

Someday I am going to spend a couple of days checking out all the taco trucks and make my notes. Friend Jamie thinks it would be fun to visit many of the taco trucks and do some local Walla Walla wine pairings with some of the favorites. I am ready!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Cow-bernet? ~ Moo-lot?

Crush is just about over in the valley and much of the red wines have been fermented and pressed. Now what to do with all of those grape skins? Sometimes the grape skins are used as fertilizer or used as decorative "bark" about the flower beds like at Woodward Canyon Winery. The word is that we have some contented cows in Walla Walla valley because they have been dining on skins of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wine grapes.

Local restaurant 26 Brix restaurant is serving cuts of beef that has been raised on red wine skins (pomace). The restaurant is working with local farmer and vintner Lynne Chamberlain of James Leigh Cellars who feeds her Angus cattle meals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape skins. Lynn mixes the grape skins with grain, hay, wheat, soy, molasses, rolled corn and flax for a natural diet and without growth-hormones, antibiotics, chicken litter or fish meal. The word is that the beef doesn't necesarrily taste of wine, but there is a richness unlike other beef.

26 Brix offers on their menu a steak salad with baby frisée and tomatoes and one of their popular dishes has been the “Cow-bernet Burger” with melted Point Reyes bleu cheese from pastoral shores of California. A blend of the rich and fertile Walla Walla valley with the rising tides of the ocean of Point Reyes Station is definitely intriguing. Maybe one could say - - spiritual!

So -- what's next? How about if we feed the cows Pinot Noir grape skins so we can have instant Boeuf Bourguignon?