Coco Frio – Modern Veneuzualan in the heart of San Francisco

I love food.  If you take one look at my Instagram account, or follow me on Facebook, you can probably figure that out.  I’m very fortunate that I live in a food capital, where there are literally dozens of world class (Michelin starred or not) restaurants to choose from.

There is a problem however; new restaurants open and close like a revolving door.  It’s no secret that opening a new restaurant is a challenge – something like 80% or more fail within the first year.  Even established restaurants can close their doors in twist of the economy.

But I’m not here to talk about the negative, I’m here to talk about the positive!  Last fall, I was introduced to a new restaurant in the heart of our Latin Quarter, The Mission.  A blend of many different Latin American culture, The Mission has a plethora of both ethnic and uniquely American food choices.

Enter Coco Frio.  Coco Frio Restaurant and Bar is uniquely Caribbean, based on the food culture of Margarita Island, located off the Venezuelan coast.  Using the freshest seafood and a Venezuelan flair, the food is taste tantalizing fusion of Caribbean and Latin cultures.  Topping it off, unique cocktails and a pretty stellar wine list will set off the cuisine.

On our visit, we opted to start with a cocktail, before having the tasting menu, with wine pairings.  In addition to the classic tasting menu, Chef Manny Torres Gimenez added in a few extra dishes to ensure that we were fully immersed in the Margarita culture.  The wine fishlist, curated by Katie Brookshire, focuses on affordable, unexpected, and unusual pairings.

First Course:  We started with the Fish Fume (Siete Potencias) a delicious fish soup, with
fresh mussels and clams.  This paired perfectly with the Kerner, which was fresh and unique with a mineral finish.

Second Course:  Scallops on the half shell.  Sadly not pictured, the scallops were perfectly cooked with fresh tomatoes and spices of the region.  I think this might have been my favorite.

meatThird Course:  Meat!  This amazing steak was so tender, you could have cut it with a spoon.

Fourth Course:  Free Range Chicken (Pollo Frito) with Yuca, downloadwhich paired surprisingly well with Austrian Zweigelt.

 

 

 

With many additions to the menu, we lost track of what came next, but suffice it to say we were stuffed.  With so many delicious wines and experiments to try, I highly recommend you take time to visit Coco Frio when you are in San Francisco.

The large by the glass selection of wines ranges from Vino Verde and Gruner Veltiner, to Rioja and Garnacha.  Most glasses are $8, and the wine pairing for the $30 – 3 course prix-fixe menu is only $15, which considering the large half glasses, is a steal.  Additionally, there are several beers if you want to have an inventive beer paring for some of the spicier dishes.

The final component of Coco Frio is the lengthy and creative cocktail list.  With Chef Manny’s recent acquisition of Santa Teresa Rum, the oldest rum in the Caribbean, the cocktails are, naturally rum based.    From the party packed Pisco Punch to the Venezuelan classic El Coco Frio, served in a coconut and meant for 2, this is not your mother’s Pina Colada.

I look forward to a return visit to taste more of the cocktails and dishes!  With a menu that focuses on fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, it si sure to be different every time you go.

Special thanks to Natalie from Bread & Butter PR for not only setting this up, but hanging out with us for a drink!  

 

Clif Family Bruschetteria – A Revolution in Napa Valley dining options!

There’s a big green truck rolling in to town, and it’s not the kind that picks up your trash cans!  If you haent’ heard by now, Clif Family Winery has expanded their St. Helena operation to include the Clif Family Bruschetteria Food Truck, replete with northern Italian menu options that are magically created to pair with the wines.

Clif Family Wines began with a spark of inspirtaion, when founders Gary Erickson & Kit Crawford, both avid cyclists, enjoyed the laid back lifestyle where a leisurely meal and bottle of wine were always on the agenda after a full day.  It stands to reason that the health-minded founders of the Clif Bar Company would also want to complete their lifestyle portfolio with wine.  After a long bike ride, with some tasty energy booting Clif Bars, who doesn’t need a glass of yummy wine?

 

And so, here we are in St. Helena, at the Vino Volo tasting room and salon, where the winery tasting room has expanded to include a beautiful outdoor seating area and the Bruschetteria, offering bites, snacks, and full meals.  Keeping things local, Executive Chef John McConnell takes advantage of the Clif Family Farm in nearby Pope Valley, as well as various other local suppliers, to maintain the freshest of flavors.

 

On the day we visited, BrixChick Liza and I were greeting by General Manager Linzi Gay, who joined Clif Family in 2007.  With a curated menu of options that were paired wtih the day’s food options, we were off on a culinary adventure, while enjoying the peaceful setting on the back patio.

 


Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124726Porchetta Bruschetta paired with 2012 Oak Knoll Chardonnay
.  The juicy porchetta was perfectly rich for the Chardonnay, which was aged in 50% new French Oak for a delicate creaminess while still maintaining the fruit.  I loved the fresh, clean citrus notes that were followed by a mineral, flinty finish which paired perfectly with the fattiness of the pork.

 

 


Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124726 (1)Pomodoro Bruschetta paired with 2011 Kit’s Killer Cabernet – c
oming from the slopes of Howell Mountain, Kit’s Killer Cab is bursting her green herbs, as well as bright red fruit and, chewy fig, and tobacco leaf.  This combination of a higher acid wine was perfect for the tomato based Pomodoro Bruschetta, which was oozing with garlic and goat cheese.

Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124727Finally, the Funghi Bruscetta with 2011 Gary’s Improv Zinfandel.  As someone who has kind of a thing for mushrooms, the aromas wafted over to my nose even before they served it, and I couldn’t wait to dive in.  Seasonal mushrooms are slathered with Fontina cheese and fresh herbs, and perfectly toasted.  The Gary’s Improv Zinfandel, also from Howell Mountain, is a lovely example of high elevation fruit that shows both the brambleberry, dark blue and black fruit notes that are the hallmark of Zinfandel, but also the spice rack and acid pop that are classic Howell Mountain.  The earthy hard spices were a perfect match for the funghi!

With only 4,000 cases produced, winemaker Laura Barrett, who just joined in  2014 after a stint at Casey Flat Ranch, is able to focus on specific fruit sources that are both Estate and sourced fruit.  Picking just the right vineyard, she is able to craft small lot wines of distinction, and serve them with the perfect companion bites.

The Bruchetteria has been open since 2014, and is normally parked outside the Clif Family Vino Velo tasting room on Highway 29 in St. Helena; but don’t’ be surprised if you see the big green truck roaming the valley!  The food truck is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30-4:00, and is a perfect stop for lunch or a mid afternoon snack anytime you are in Napa Valley.  Dishes range from snack sized salads and bruscetta, to larger lunch portioned roticceria dishes, and are perfect for sharing.

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Stop by and stay a while!
Special thanks to Clif Family and The Barn Group for hosting us for this perfect lunch hour escape.

Tastemakers: Fresh is best at The Independent

The Independent – Restaurant and BarAfter a full day of learning about the history of the El Dorado County wine culture, we headed in to Placerville for a pairing dinner at The Independent.  While I had ducked in here for dinner the last time I was in town, I was happy to experience the pairings and enthusiastic locally fresh cuisine by Chef Ryan Montgomery.

Owned by Jeff & Judy Thomas, together with their son Ben Carter, who manages the facility, The Independent is their second venture in Placerville.  The now acclaimed Heyday Café in old town Placerville, where I enjoyed a delicious lunch, inspired them to open The Independent, with an expansive outdoor space and focusing on fresh, creative American fusion.

Here are some snaps of the meal!  Paired with the local wines, it was simply delightful.  While I refrained from detailed tasting notes during dinner, the thoughtful pairings and fresh flavors were delicious.

If you’re ever in Placerville, make a beeline for The Independant!

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Featured wines for the first two courses, as well as the not pictured Scallops:

Skinner Vineyards & Winery – 2012 Seven Generations ($26) – 52% Grenache Blanc, 21% Roussanne, 17% Marsanne, 9% Viognier, 2% Picpoul Blanc and 2012/2013 Mourvedre ($26)

A blend of 5 classic Rhone varietals, it was fresh and lively with the salad, and scallops.

 

 

IMG_8656Holly’s Hill –  2013 Grenache Blanc ($25), which was delectable with the salmon.  I am a huge fan of Grenache Blanc in general, and this was no except.  Flinty, floral and citrus notes combined with fresh pears.

 

 

 

 

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With this gut busting steak, the David Girard Vineyards – 2011 Coda Rouge – 46% Mourvedre, 36% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 3% Counoise ($30).

This bold red Rhone blend was perfect for the meat course, and really gives you a wonderful idea of what syrah can do in this hills.  The Coda Rouge blend is a prime example of the Rhone focus in El Dorado County, and the elegance that some elevation can give to classic blends.  Beautiful spice notes, plums, and a hint of graphite follow bold berry and hibiscus.

 

 

When you are in Placerville, or driving up to Tahoe, make sure you stop by and stay a while at The Independent.  You won’t be sorry!

 

 

 

Kickin’ it with Kitchit!

How is it possible that there are only 4 days left until Christmas?  For those of you celebrating other holidays around this time of year, like Festivus, or the 8 days of Chanukah, or any other celebration – you are, no doubt, in the thick of things.
This time of year, we often realize that we have forgotten to shop, whether it be for one specific person or for several hard to buy for family members.  Or perhaps you are throwing together a last minute dinner party to celebrate with the family and friends.  Nothing says stress like a party for 6!
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Instead of running out to Whole Foods and fighting for the last organic ham, check out this new service from Kitchit.  Kitchit brings talented local chefs to you, in your house, to cook up a storm . It’s like having a private chef on demand!  Cooking a wide variety of special menus for up to 6 people, you can whip up the feast in no time.
Kitchit chefs each have their own style, and menus to choose from.  Customers can select a chef and menu that meets their needs.  From only $39 per person, you can build a gorgeous dinner party and sit back and relax!  The chef preps, cooks, serves and — here is the amazing part – cleans up!  Yep.  That’s worth $40 right there.
But wait!  Like a Ginzu Knife commercial, there’s more!  It all starts with the menu; with an ever changing collection of Kitchit Tonight menus in collaboration with chefs and local specialty vendors, focusing on high-quality seasonal ingredients.  Why not try the “Leaf Strewn Streets of Lyon” for your holiday dinner?  Roasted Beets, Duck Confit, Paris Breast for dessert.  Viva la France!  Or perhaps you’d rather have a “Roman Holiday”, with stuffed squash, Saltimbocca, and Crostata de Ricotta.  Yum!  Have little ones at your house?  Don’t worry, you can add on kids meals for $9 each.
But, if you something specific in mind, check out the chef matching tool.  Chef Tiffany Friedman is cooking up a Sonoma inspired dinner party with poached pear & prosciutto crostini, scallops, duck, beef loin, and lemon pudding cake.
I know I’ll be checking some of these great deals out.  Need a great gift?  Kitchit also has gift cards to help your friends and family survive the holidays.
Happy eating!
Kitchit is available in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

2014: Time to reboot!

Here we are, another new year.  Yikes!  How did that happen again?  2014 is already a week old, and like many of us, I am on a path to better heath, better eating, and more fun.  You  might not know that I love to cook, and try new cookbooks and recipies all the time, paired iwth wine.  You might also not know that I hate to cook for myself.  Yes, it’s true!  Cooking for one is a pain:  with no dishwasher, and limited counter space, it means a pile of pots and pans, and creative us of my counter.

Luckily, the good folks at Cedar Fort PUblishing and Dalyn Miller Public Relations have given me inspiration and ideas on how to cook great food both on a budget, and with the magic of my slow cooker.

Paleo has been trending for a few years now, and in my opinion is bascially Atkins / South Beach / The Zone / Sugar Busters /Whole9 on steroids.  In fact, my research shows that pretty much every “trend” diet is the same, with a few tweaks.  That said, I like that the Paleo lifestyle emphasizes all natural, high protein, low or no carb foods that are unprocessed and full of flavor.  Yay!  If you know me, you know I’ve always battled the bulge, and while I am passionate about wine, food, travel and cocktails, I still need to balance it with health.  I’m happy to say a Paleo-like plan helped me immensely in 2012, and I’m ready to reboot in 2014.

The first cookbook, Paleo on a Budget is full of recipes that are friendly on the wallet, as well as your eating plan.  After flipping through the pages looking for a few good recipes that I could make and save (a single gal’s secret weapon), I went with Pork Loin Chops with Apple Cider, and Onions.  I paired that with scrumptious Brussel Sprouts & Bacon in Balsamic Glaze.  Yozah!  As someone who has ALWAYS said I would never eat Brussels Sprouts since they reminded me of the dirty gym socks that my mother tried to pass off when I was growing up, I was impressed and amazed at what they could actually taste like.  And they were legitimately Paleo!  Well according to my version anyway.

Paleo on a Budget is a beautiful cookbook with full page pictures and easy to understand instructions, in well thought out recipes that won’t take 3 hours to prepare.  Author Elizabeth McGaw runs the Paleo on a Budget webiste, with handy weekly meal plans and advice for the Paleo beginner (me!).

I paired the yummy pork with both an Oregon Chardonnay, as well as a lighter Piniot Noir.  Both worked well and brought out the fruity notes of the apples and cider vinegar.

The Paleo lifestyle can be super strict or not so much, and while I’m not going to go in to the details of the plan here, I will say that it can go from no grain, no butter (but ghee is acceptable), no fermented foods (the horror  the horror!), to a somewhat looser version where bacon, the occasional glass of wine, vinegar and other foods are allowed.  Since I firmly believe that every in moderation is crucial, I tend to adapt the plan to suit my wine filled lifestyle while still maintaining the core values and the  intention of losing weight and getting healthier.

The second Paleo cookbook that I received is my secret weapon:  The Paleo Slow Cooker, by Arsy Vartanian, is a great way to keep on track with just a little planning ahead.  I don’t use my slow cooker enough, and this cookbook has been a great nudge to pull it out of the cabinet and leave it on the counter.    Another beautiful cookbook, with full page images of the creations, the use of the slow cooker makes planning ahead easy.    

I tried the Honey Mustard Caveman Drumsticks, which were savory, sweet, spicy, sticky and downright delicious.  I halved the recipe and still had plenty to put in the fridge, and they keep very well.

Pair the Drumsticks with an off dry Riesling or Viognier for a pop of flavor.  Enjoy these recipes with a glass of wine and plenty of water, and toast to good health and tasty food in 2014!

What are your favorite healthy recipes?

These cookbooks were provided by the publisher or PR agent for consideration.

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Risky business at the Marques de Riscal hotel

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After spending a leisurely morning horseback riding in the high tableau above La Rioja and her vineyards, the intrepid travelers were treated to a luxurious after noon at the Marques de Rical Spa.

Opened in 2006, this stunning art piece stands high on a hill, well hidden from the prying eyes of road warriors, in the town of Elciego, Spain.  Master architect Frank Gehry, who is well known for his work on the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, designed the building in a similar style – with a waving metallic roofline, and soft, unctuous features.

Since the opening, the Marques de Riscal has become a famous retreat for the elite, as well asIMG_2334 the masses, with a focus on design, art, gastronomy and of course – wine.  For our group, we spent the afternoon relaxing in the spa, massaging away the horseback – behind, travelers aches, and other stresses.  The Spa Vinothérapie Caudalie Marqués de Riscal is tucked away in the lower levels of the hotel, with a peaceful outdoor sitting area overlooking vineyards and the hillside.  With an indoor pool and hottub, as well as a variety of luxury treatments, I could have stayed with my book all afternoon.

IMG_2361Special treatments at the spa were designed to highlight the benefits of essence of the grapes, from the surrounding wine culture, to sooth and invigorate the skin.  I had a massage with grape oil, and there is an option for a barrel bath, soaking in the grape pomace.  Ahhhh!

After our spa treatments, and exploring the hotel grounds, we headed to the restaurant for an epic feast.  Awarded with a Michelin Star in 2012, the traditional Spainsih fare is turned on it’s head with a modern twist.

From wine “caviar” to beer “soup”, our evening progressed in to a classic, and long, Spanish dinner, full of wine and laughter.  The dishes were magical a retelling of simple and classic traditional Spanish items, and we enjoyed them to the very last crumb of dessert.

Spa treatments start at 60 Euro for a 20 minute massage, with a Barrel Bath treatment at 110 Euro.  The pool area is open to hotel and spa guests, and is a fantastic way to relax on your trip to Rioja.  A full day of touring in the region and and access to the spa is a very affordable 80 Euro for you day trippers out there!

For those who are points collectors, the Marques de Riscal is a Starwood Preferred Guest program property, and I can envision myself saving up some points to stay here!  I highly recommend a visit to the Hotel Marques de Riscal, in the “City of Wine”, in the heart of Rioja.  You won’t be sorry!

This visit was provided by the good folks at:

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Jordan Royalty


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Sitting on the mountaintop overlooking Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and Geyserville, you might feel like doing your best Leonardo DiCaprio impression from Titanic.  I’m the king queen of the world!

Jordan Vineyards & Winery was founded in 1976, with a passion for world class Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, made in the heart of Sonoma.  Today, that vision has grown to include a showcase for the local terroir, as well as a focus on sustainability and stewardship of the land that the vineyards are planted on.  From solar panels to water treatment facilities, Jordan strives to maintain the land that produces these beautiful wines.

On a gorgeous late summer day, I joined a group of fellow bloggers to preview the newest tour & tasting offering, the Estate Tour & Tasting.  This 3 hour tour will make you feel like you are Gilligan, lost in the rolling hills of oak trees and back acreage, but you will soon be found in your glass of wine and several stops along the way.

Meanding down from the main chateau and tasting area, the first stop is in the gardens, where the produce for Chef Todd Knoll’s culinary program.  Having had several meals at

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Jordan, I know first hand what amazing vegetables can do for a meal.  Wandering through the rows of raspberries, roses, and veg, we had a mini feast of summer tomatos and fruit before boarding the newly christened (and air conditioned) Jordan shuttle for our next stop on the tour.

Next up, Seven Oaks is a stand of oak trees surrounding a new tasting bar, with sweeping views of the lake and olive orchards.  Here at Seven Oaks, we tasted two vintages of Chardonnay, paired with bento boxes of fresh vegetable sushi.  My favorite was the 2011, with beautiful crisp green apple and citrus fruit, with a healthy dose of white necterine.  The 2010 was equally beuatiful if not differnt.  The 2010 was a classic California Chardonnay, but more restrained, with creamy golden delicious apple, pear, vanilla, and baking spice.  Two yin and yang experiences, refreshingly chilled on a hot day.

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At Creekside Landing, on next stop, we strolled through the vines heavy with Malbec and Petite Verdot grapes, and tasted the componant grapes that go in the Jordan’s Cabernet program.  If you haven’t tasted fruit off the vine, this is a once in a lifetime opportuinty to taste the tannic Malbec skins, and the rich ripe flesh of Petite Verdot!

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At our final stop on the tour, with the time going all too fast, we reach the crest of the hill at Vista Point.  This open air gazebo has 360 degree views of Alexander Valley, Geyserville, and peeps of Dry Creek and Chalk Hill and is an amazing viewpoint for sunset.  There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, as we sat down to enjoy our tasting of Cabernet and nibbles.

IMG_2947Starting with local cheeses, artisan bread and Jordan’s olive oil, we moved on to Sonoma miso beef, served with mushrooms and endive.  Both courses were paired with the 2002 and 2009 Cabernets, two amazing examples of what can be achieved here in Alexander Valley.  The amazingly fresh 2002 tasted as if it were just bottled, and was well integrated with earthy black pepper notes and blue fruit jumping out of the glass.  The 2009, by comparison, was fresh, lively and young – and still delicious – with blackberry, lavender, and herbs de provence.  As we sat chatting and tasting, it was easy to see our glasses emptied and refilled as we sighed away the afternoon on the mountain top.IMG_2951

From the wine lover to the wine geek, the Jordan Estate Tour & Tasting is the perfect experience for any one who wants to learn more about the proprey and the products produced here.  For $120 per person, you have an amazing experience to remember.IMG_2942IMG_2941

The bloggers on this preview tour were guests of Jordan Winery

 

Battledish: 2013

Have you heard of Dishcrawl?  It’s a craze that’s sweeping the nation, where like-minded foodies get together on a themed “dish” crawl.  Much like the traditionally bar crawl, each Dishcrawl stops at several locations; typically themed around a food or a neighborhood, it’s an amazingly fun way to meet new people, discover new restaurants, and enjoy some really awesome grub. Now, Dishcrawl has launched a new event to focus on the food truck craze!

Battledish will be hosting events all over the country, including Seattle, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.  Lucky us, the first event will take place here in the Bay Area – at San Mateo’s Bay Meadows Expo Center!

As in most metro areas, food truck culture is huge here.  From Off the Grid here in San Francisco, to lunch time random truck-ness, there is nary a time when a delectable food truck isn’t a stone’s throw away.  This makes my taste buds very very happy! On October 5th, Battledish is sure to be an entertaining afternoon, with food truck chefs competing for the best dishes!  With 15 food trucks and 30 dishes, only one can win.  Featuring new concepts from your favorite food trucks, you can join in the fun and be a beta tester too!  Entry to the event is $10, and you can enhance your experience with one of the ticket packages that include food, beer, wine and spirits. Here’s a few of the trucks that will be featured at the event:

  • We Sushi – Lobster Taco, BBQ Albacore, Vegan Taco
  • Tia Maria – Beef Picadillo, Chicken Afritada, Fresh Vegetable Lumpia
  • Cluck It Up – Mini Mochiko Chicken Sliders, Won Ton Tacos with Honey Sriracha Chicken, Garlic Fries
  • Frozen Kuhsterd – Mini Dynamo Donut Sandwich, Napa Style Sundae, Boba Guys Sundae

There are fives titles to be won, including:  Most Delicious, Most Creative, Best Modern, Best Cocktail, Most Authentic. Stay tuned, because every week in preparation to the event, a new dish and truck will be revealed!
Now for the fun part.  Be your own judge!  The ticket packages below allow you to nibble your way through some, or all, of the tasty treats being offered, plus, beer!

  • Teaser Package: 6 Chef Dishes: $35 – Try six dishes with this package! (6 tickets valued at $5 each for food and/or drink). Includes Admission.
  • Gourmand: Chef Dishes with all 15 food truck chefs: $80 – Get your belly full by trying a full collection of dishes from all 15 chefs with this package! (15 tickets valued at $5 each for food) Includes Admission.
  • VIP: Dishes and Drinks at all 15 trucks, Beer Tasting, and swag bag: $100 – The VIP package includes 15 food dishes and 1 Beer Tasting, and swag bags.
  • Admission with Beer Tasting: $25 – This includes a drink wristband good for a 5-beer tasting as well as admission into the event.  (food packages sold separately)
  • Just added!  Wine Tasting Package sponsored by my friends at Uncorked Ventures!  For an additional $10 you can taste a flight of 5 wines.  Remember to use the promo code below!

What else could you ask for on a glorious late summer afternoon?  Yes here in Bay Area, it’s still summer.  Hey guess what?  I’ve been invited to be a judge!  Why is that so cool?  Well because I get to give YOU a super duper awesome discount!  Just enter “lusciouslushes” in the promo code for $10 off any package (or free entry).
See you there!

 

 

Heaven in a dish – Azienda Agricola Zoff

00000829Cheese – aromatic, beautiful, pungent, stinky, delicious cheese; there is more to wine tourism than just wine!  While I could spend hours a day exploring the micro regions of Friuli, I was excited to experience more of the food aspects of the diverse region.

Azienda Agricola Zoff is a small, local dairy that specializes in regional products from traditional sources.  The Pezzata Rossa cows deliver milk that is rich in butter fat, that helps the family do their job.  The Zoffs have been making cheese for 15 years, but have been raising cows here for generations, drawing on the cultural history that brings in the German, Swiss and Austrian cultures of northern Italy.

After we had a brief tour of the dairy, where we learned that happy cows do indeed make happy cheese, we sat down to taste the cheese.00000808-2

One of the more unique offerings was the Caciotta, which is a fresh cheese that can be enhanced with flavorings.  IN this case, the flavored version had rose petals and thyme.  The creamy fresh cheese is rubbed with the flavorings after about 10 days, when the new rind is perfectly ready to bind to the flower petals and herbs.  The fresh creamy cheese is a wonderful palate cleanser and snack.

Next, we tried the Latteria.  This time, we could taste both the fresh version, only 4 days old, and an aged version, which had been resting for 2 months.  As expected, the aged version was nutty and rich.

00000807We also were able to sample a famous offering:  the yogurt!  Those of us who are used to the tangy, tart, and thick American style yogurt might be confused by the creamy fluff that was served in a small dish.  but if you’ve traveled to France, and many other parts of Europe, the style of yogurt is younger and fresher, and much thinner.  Even commercial yogurts here are different than our palates are used to.  Here at Agricola Zoff, they make yogurt in the tradition methods; here, fermentation is stopped earlier in the process, allowing some of the natural sweetness of milk to remain.  The result, is a rich, naturally slightly sweet, slice of heaven.  As health nuts are aware of, yogurt is full of amazing health benefits, and this is no exception.  Beppino, the patriarch of the Zoff family, even touted that this is paradiso, heaven!  I’d be inclined to agree.  He also let us in on his secret for long life:  A spoonful of dulce de leche in a bowl of his yogurt, and you will live forever!  I’m ok with that.

Here in the Bay Area, we are blessed with several micro dairies and creameries.  I have found that the closet product to the Zoff yogurt – which I had to replicate because it left me craving more – is the Saint Benoit natural yogurt.  Available at Whole Foods and other small markets, this French-style creamy yogurt is the closest approximation to heaven I can muster without making the yogurt myself.  A touch of homemade jam and I am set for the day.

Agricola Zoff also has a charming bed & breakfast, which includes the delicious farm fresh products.  With a bucolically quiet setting, I am ready to go back and drink it all in for a week.

Happy travels!

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Fresh from the sea, Konoba Batelina swims with excitement

IMG_3049  Meanwhile, back in Istria, we were exploring the countryside and small wineries that are producing some amazing wines, that are holding fast to traditional styles, such as at Konoba Batelina.  While there are certainly international varieties creeping in, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, the vast majority of production includes Malvasia and Teran.

Along the same note, Istria plays host to some of the most amazing food I’ve had travelling in many years.  After the lunch at Konoba Pineto, I could have died happily, but we were in for more treats at Konoba Batelina.

Arriving at this small tavern in a village outside of Pula, there is no menu.  Instead, the offerings are given to you verbally by your extremely enthusiastic waiter, who describes each dish with a lust that made my mouth water.  Hey, if Konoba Batelina is good enough for Bordain it’s good enough for me!

Image courtesy of Liza Swift

I was a little worried as we were told that we would not be getting a selection of dishes, but rather…ALL of them, but my worry turned to a fight for the last bite as they brought dish after dish of hot and cold appetizers from the Adriatic nearby.  I love fish, and I order it a lot when I’m travelling because a) I can’t cook it worth a #$(*& and b) coastal countries know what they are doing.

Chef David Skoko presented us with our menu (I undoubtedly forgot some dishes but there were something in the neighbor of 8 colds, 6 hots, pasta, and dessert):

  • Monkfish
  • Shark liver pate
  • Conga eel
  • Red Mullet in lemon
  • Marinated sardines
  • Octopus salad
  • ScallopsIMG_3050
  • Boiled spotted Dog-fish
  • Crab salad (yes, this one I avoided but BrixChick Liza got my share so she’s happy!)
  • Grey mullet
  • fish soup with a corn meal “scallop”, basically polenta that was cooked in a scallop shell which was a beautiful presentation
  • pasta with dried fish roe, a house specialty and famous.  The salty brininess of the fish roe was so subtle, and entirely amazing
  • Dessert.  Oh I can’t even go in to dessert.  There were 7 of them!  Each one was a
  • IMG_3053 different taste sensation.

More than the food, the conversation with the chef enthralled me.  David’s stories of his life growing up in Istria, and his father’s adventures as a fisherman, which inspired him to open the restaurant, as well as our conversations about how Croatia joining the EU on July 1st will impact the local economy were inspiring.  From the local fish to the politics of a region that has been influenced by a dozen cultures, Konoba Batelina is a stop you need to go out of your way to visit.

Special thanks to the Istrian Tourist Board, our guide Marko, and Chef David for a truly unique and wonderful experience.

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Get your passports ready!

It’s that time of year again!  The are APril showers, which means…bud break, wildflowers, and Passport!

It’s been 23 years of Passport to Dry Creek Valley.  Way back in  1990, the Winegrowers of DCV started this event to bring people together at a time of year when we can celebrate the vineyards, the families, the roots of DCV and of course – the wines.

I am so excited to be attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley again this year!  During the weekend of April 27-28, 50 wineries will welcome visitors with special pairings, wine, food and entertainment.  One of the special parts of Passport is that many wineries offer unique tours, and grape to glass stories of their property.

Check out this list of yummy wineries that I’ll be stopping by (partial list of all pouring)

  • Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves
  • Chateau Diana
  • DaVero Farms and Winery
  • Dry Creek Vineyard
  • Dutcher Crossing
  • Frick Winery
  • Fritz Winery
  • Göpfrich Winery
  • Gustafson Family Vineyard
  • Kachina Vineyards
  • Kokomo Winery
  • Malm Cellars
  • Martorana Family Winery
  • Mounts Family Winery
  • Papapietro Perry Winery
  • Peterson Winery
  • Quivira Vineyards & Winery
  • Ridge Vineyards
  • Roadhouse Winery
  • Seghesio Family Vineyards
  • F. Teldeschi Winery
  • Unti Vineyards
  • West Wines

I’m really excited to see all of the new names on the list!

In addition to these graet wineries, you can take a tour of Preston Farm and Winery on Sunday, and check out Grandpa’s Red jug wine – one of the last great jug wines produced.  You can also wander the gardens, and taste some of the delicious organic produce.   Or, on Saturday, take a ride up the hill to Gustafson Winery, with sweeping views of the valley, and learn about the unique soils while sipping the delicious Cabernet.

I can’t wait to see you there!  Tickets are $120 for the weekend, or $70 for Sunday.  This is event ALWAYS sells out, so make sure to pick up your tickets early HERE!

Does Zagreb have Open Table?

Bistro Karlo, was an elegant restaurant in an old house just off the main square of Zagreb.  Marcy had engaged her social media workforce to find a great place for us to eat on our free day in Zagreb, and @Visit Croatia had slyly indicated that it was, indeed, Zagreb Restaurant week.  What a find!  While Liza and I were getting post flight massages (yes, you can hate us now), Marcy went to work finding a great locale.

Our first choice was either closed, or booked, so our next option – Bisto Karlo, seemed liked a terrific choice.  The owner, a sommelier as well as chef, and his staff were top notch and greeted even my own sneakered feet with pleasure.  We were the only people in the restaurant, which wasn’t that surprising for a Sunday night, for a while and had all of their attention . This wasn’t really that much of a shock, since you have three American’s who are clearly wineaux.  The head waiter dabbled in acting, and was a charmer and a comedian.  All of the staff were absolutely enchanting, and we let our dinner linger as long as we could.

As it was restaurant week, we had our choice of two set menus.  I chose the Fish Menu, as did Marcy, and Liza chose the pork option (which she tells us about here).  Once our orders were in, we set about thinking about the wine.  One of the reasons Marcy chose this place was the extensive Croatian wine list, most of which were available by the glass.  Since I am a newbie to the wines of the region, I told Karlo to pick his favorite pairings, and I am epically glad I did.  Since Marcy and I ordered the same menu, Karlo made sure we had some unique wines between the two of us, and there was a riotous game of pass the wine glass between the three of us.

The first course was a pannacotta of cod fish, with freeze dried strawberries and beet sprouts.  Now, this is clearly not a pairing I would make myself, and I was not sure about the flavor of panncotta flavored with – dare I say it – my favorite <dripping sarcasm> bacalao (salt cod).  However, when it arrived, the creamy pannacotta only had a hint of the sea, and while creamy, was not sweet.  The strawberries were that unusual European variety that grows in the south of Spain, and while fresh and delicious, is not terribly sweet.  Coupled with the bitterness of the beet sprouts, it was a stunning dish.  This was paired with Karlo’s own Pink Elephant Posip.

Next up, a fresh salad of spinach leaves, with fresh sardines, lightly fried.  Now I am NOT a fan of the sardines we get here, but these little fishes – crispy and melt in your mouth delicious – were something to remember.  With this dish, Karlo served the  KrauthakerSyrah, which was so good I had to have another glass with the salmon!  Who says you can’t have red with fish?

Finally, the salmon.  This was most likely the best salmon I’ve had to date, and was cooked just to the point of setting; Liza described it as having a custard like consistency, and while I’d go a bit firmer, it was just perfect.  Paired with an odd sauce of white chocolate, the pairing was surprisingly delicious and playful on the palate.  The Syrah was perfect for this as well.

Just another fabulous day in Zagreb!  Oh and the cost of this epic 4 course dinner plus the free entertainment?  Less than US$50 each.

 

It's Dark, it's delicious, it's divine!

As I write this letter,

Send my love to you,

Remember that I’ll always,

Be in love with you…

In the words of the immortal McCartney and Lennon, yes- Petite Sirah – I DO love you!
The 7th Annual celebration of Petite Sirah, Dark & Delicious, will be held at Rockwall Winery in Alameda on February 22nd.  At this annual festival off all things Petite and food, over 30 restaurants will pair their dishes with Petite Sirah producers from all over California.  Some of them will be pouring some spectacular older vintages, and this is a not to be missed event!

As you might know by now, any wine blogger worth their salt is a poarkatarian.  Fortunately, the the National Pork Board is a major sponsor of D&D, which means…that’s right kids, lots and lots of bacon and other porky goodness!

Here are just some of the wineries that will be pouring their Petite Sirahs – in no particular order.  Ok fine they are in order, of my faves!

 

Wineries Wineries
Aver Family Vineyards Berryessa Gap Vineyards
Carica Wines Cedar Creek Ranch & Vineyards
Clayhouse Wines Concannon Vineyard
Crooked Vine & Stony Ridge Winery David Fulton
Delectus Winery Diamond Ridge Vineyards
Don Sebastiani & Sons Estrella Creek Wines
F. Teldeschi Fenestra Winery
Field Stone Winery Foppiano Vineyard
Grizzly Republic Gustafson Family Vineyard
Mounts Family Winery Ridge Vineyards
Robert Biale Winery Rock Wall Wine Company

And because you can’t live on inky Petite alone…some of my top picks for food pairings:

Foodies
Eat Le Truc Healdsburg Toffee Company
Il Posto Trattoria Lungomare
Mama Tina’s Raviol Sweet Things Bakery
Venga Paella

Tickets are $63.00 per person and worth it – if you like to eat.  However, I have been authorized to let my favorite winos in!  Please see below for your chance to win a VIP experience!  (More on that later…but it includes 2 tickets to the event and a special surprise before!)

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Inman Family Winery turns ten!

I have been fortunate enough to know Inman Fammily Wines, and by extension winemaker Kathleen Inman, and her husband Simon, for several years now.  Growing from a small industrial warehouse near the Santa Rosa, CA airport, to the current winery on Olivet Lane, Inman focuses on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay grown from the special grapes grown in the Russian River Valley.

Winemaker Kathleen Inman realized her dreams when she traded in spreadsheets for cover crops, to start Inman Family Wine.  She was recently honored with the Women for WineSense Rising Star award, which is presented annual to women who demonstrate extreme leadership, or are innovators in the industry.  Inman is a leading advocate of natural wine, and wine that possesses a more restrained and elegant style from the Russian River Valley, with moderate alcohol levels and healthy, natural acidity.

A Napa Valley native, Inman fell in love with wine as a student at UCSB, holding a summer job at Napa Creek Winery. After years as a finance executive in England, she and her husband returned to California to indulge her passion for Pinot Noir. She obtained the 10.45-acre Olivet Grange property in Sonoma County and began planting it following organic farming practices in the year 2000.

The estate vineyard, Olivet Grange, is organically farmed and sustainable practices are used to produce the best fruit possible.  Here on the estate, the focus on the environment is clear:  the winery itself is built of reclaimed materials, employing redwood, eco friendly labels, reusable wine bags, and renewable energy sources.  If you drive an electric car, you can even juice up in the parking area!

This year, Inman Family Wines celebrates the 10th anniversary since its first harvest in 2002.  In honor of the 10th anniversary, Inman Family has announced plans for a year of celebration, starting with an exclusive retrospective tasting featuring a complete vertical of the Estate’s Olivet Grange Vineyard Pinot Noir.  At this special tasting, a dinner paired to this wines will follow, which promises to be amazing.

Tickets are extremely limited for this exclusive event on October 13th at the winery, so get yours now for $125.  You can get yours by calling 707-293-9576.

Hope to see you there!

3 and Twenty Blackbirds

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to sit in the presence of wine royalty.  Joel Peterson, the founder and driving force behind Ravenswood Winery, hosted an intimate wine dinner where he poured and discussed his single vineyard designate wines.  What a treat!

Ravenswood is a formidable force in the zin world, and Peterson is one of the few men that can be called the Godfather of Zinfandel.  In the early 70s, he challenged the going jug wine mentality and tried to create wines that tasted of the place and rivaled European wines. Single vineyard designates aer Joel’s passion, where you can work with small lots reflective of the European heritage of winemaking.  Zinfandel is still somewhat of a mystery in terms of growing and manipulating, and experiments with Native yeast, open top fermentation and oak treatments have yielded some beautiful examples.

Most of these wines have very little manipulation, and are reflective of their terroir.  These wines allow the land to speak for them selves..  Zinfnadel is one of the few wines that is very unique to the area it is grown, and might be the most indicative varietal of terroir in the U.S.  there aer so many regions that produce zin, and each region is different in terms of sytle and flavor profile.  If you further refine that to vineyard blocks, you can start to see how the wine takes on the earth it is grown in.  The wide ranges of climate and terroir produces a higher quality over a wider growing region than any other varietal.

Over the course of the evening, we tasted 9 wines, paired with delicious foods from Spruce.  I wish I had saved a bit of each wine to taste with the food, but it was all so tasty!  Each vineyard has it’s own character, and each is from a different corner of Napa and Sonoma. 

2007 Dickerson – 1000 cases of this single vineyard were made of this 100% zin from Napa valley.  I found it light and bright, with juicy raspberry and hibiscus flavors.  I also found apple jolly rancher, with a tiny touch of evergreen.  This vineyard had an issue with leaf roll virus, which caused the grapes to have high acid and low sugar levels, somewhat mimicking the coastal environment of other vineyards.  The second taste I took of this showed black cherry and bosenberry.  My favorite sneaky little tidbit about this wine, is that the same wine, bottled under a different label, actually received different scores by certain influential critics.  How’s THAT for marketing!  This vineyard is located in Napa Valley, and was planted in sections between 1930 and 1985.  It is a classic example of an old, dry-farmed and head pruned example of Zinfandel in a valley dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. $35 This was the first zin of the flight and I would definitely BUY.

2007 Big River – also 100% zin, this vineyard was planted somewhere around 1880.  I tasted cracked pepper, dusty plums and blackberries, with a touch of bark and dark spice.  Joel thinks this wine displays the essence of what zin is.  It is due east of Healdsburg, and at the time fo the planting 100% zin vineyards were exceedingly rare.  Typically, fields were planted with the old Italian varietals in field blends, but this land was special.  It’s currently owned by Bella, who also makes a wonderful Big River zin, and it was formerly known as black Mountain.  The second taste gave me figs, blackberries, pepper and dark blue fruit, with a slightly hot finish. Big River is in the Alexander Valley, where many old stalwarts of Sonoma County zinfandel thrive.  Inland from the cool coastal regions where Pinot is king, Big River thrives with rich ripe flavors that are well balanced and not overpowering.  The soil is full of cobblestones and volcanic nutrients, and is influenced by the cool fog and the hot summer sun.  This was one of my favorites of the night, and is a STRONG BUY at $35.

2007 Belloni – another old planting, in the true field blend style.  Patches of Carignang, alicante, Greanche, Petite Alicate, and zin produce this dark bruiser with blackberry juice, leather, anise, and baking spices.  Thsi is a wine to chew on.  The second taste revealed figs, more cloves adn spice, as well as some tobacco. The Belloni vineyard is on the edge of Santa Rosa, and was planted around the turn of the century.  The 90 year old vines thrive in the cool foggy Russian River climate, adn the classic field blend componants of Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet were mixed in to create a great blend that is fermented together creating a complex zinfandel based wine, with layers of red fruit flavor from the other players.  This was a complex wine that was much better with a food pairing to bring out the earthy leather and chewy characteristics.  I would BUY this again if I saw it, but there were others I liked more.

2007 Barricia – was planted in 1888 and became a vineyard designate wine in 1996.  This may very well be one of the oldest continuously planted zinfandel vineyards in America and the wine is quite an interesting little number.  Dark spcies, plumes, stewed prunes, and a slightly tannic backbone were very well integrated.  This wasn’t my favorite of the flight but still a very well balanced wine that went well with the pork loin I was eating.  The Bariccia Vineyard is named for partners Barbara and Patriicia, which also means wine barrel in Spanish.  The vineyard is planted on alluvial depositsa nd volicanic soil which washes down fromt eh moutains surrounding the vineyards.  100-year old vines were planted in 1892, while later plantings of zin were planted in 1995 accompanied by Petite Sirah in 1998.  The complexitiy of this wine did not taste like a classic zin, and really opens your eyes to the possibilities of terroir.  It was subtle and interesting, and worth a BUY for $35.

Old Hill (1995) – This older vintage was a fun wine to taste, with a firm structure and dark fruit.  There was a tocuh of lavender, bright raspberry and chocolate as well.  the most interesting thing about this wine that i found was a dusting of chili pepper in the palate.  The Old Hill is technically a zinfandel, but it has at least 13 other vaireies in it, making it a bit of a mutt and very old school in style.  The second taste brought more smoke and dirty forward, with a lot of cocoa powerder adn cinnamon followed but a touch of vanilla inflused coffee.  The Old Hill Ranch was ressurected in 1981, when the land was abandoned and overrun with brush and blackberries.  A determiend farmer ignored conventional wisdom and chemicals, and clearned the land the old fashioned way, stumulating the vines back to life.  The Sonoma Valley vineyard was planted in 1880, makingit the oldest vineyard that Ravenswood uses.  the clay loam is planted once again, with the classic Italian field belnd of Zinfandel, Carigninae, Mataro (Mouvedre), Grenache, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah and who knows what else, giving the resulting wine a complex flavor.  I LOVED this library selection, which proves that you absolutely CAN age a zinfandel if it has the structure and strength to do so.

As a point of comparison, we also tried the 2007 Old Hill. This was big and bold, with a log of spcie.  I also tasted the essecne of violets and roses, followed by raspberries.  It has the classic blackberry notes, and grows in intensity as you leave it in the glass.  I enjoyed this wine, as the others, but it wasn’t my favorite of the night.  $60

2007 Teldesci – This vineyard has been farmed continously by the same family since 1910, in the heart of zinfandel country, Dry Creek Valley.  There is something to be said for farming continuously for that long, especially in an environment where family farms often change hands or break in to pieces.  This zin was dark adn robust, with dusty red pepper (spicy) and black raspberry.  The Dry Creek benchland gives it a coffee and molasses flavor that on Decanter Magazines best red wine in America award.  22% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignane are fermented seperately, and then blended to create teh final wine, which varies slightly every year, depending on the fruit.  $35 STRONG BUY

The moral this zinfandel story is that you can find  everything from A to Z in this wine.  Zinfandel CAN be aged well, and develop fascinating characteristics.  There is more to zinfandel than jammy overblown examples that are a dime a dozen.  Go out and look for some single vineyard designagtes and perform an experiment in taste sensations!

Happy Drinking

*Wine and food provided by Ravenswood Winery and Folsom & Associates marketing.

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