Simple Pasta Dinner & San Greal

What could be more satisfying after a busy day than tossing together pasta, cheese, and pepper, and grasping a half hour of personal reflection before delving into homework? I played off of a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite culinary blogs (porn for foodies), and cut it in quarters–dinner for one!

Gemelli With Cheese, Garlic, and Black Pepper
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 2/3 cup gemelli pasta – Boil, cook, and drain, but reserve 1/3 cup of the water.
  • Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a pan on high heat until it is steaming hot.  Add 1/4 cup finely-chopped onion, a couple cloves of minced garlic, the cooked pasta, the reserved water and 1/4 cup white wine; turn heat to medium-high and allow liquid to evaporate.
  • Toss in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup finely-shredded low-skim mozzarella cheese and remove from the heat. Finish it off with a generous sprinkling of fresh cracked pepper and sea salt. I added a cup of steamed broccoli on the side. This dish looks like it came out of a magazine and is so satisfying!

A bottle of San Greal 2007 set me back seven or eight dollars at Trader Joe’s, and the wine guy compared it to cult-cheap-wine-favorite, Gypsy Chariot, a wine I have tried and failed to find in any of the TJ’s in Eugene or Portland. San Greal is a play of words from the French phrase for royal blood: sang real. The wine is produced in Mendocino County in California, has 13.8% alcohol content, and is a 25-25-50 blend of Merlot, Sangiovese, and Syrah. The San Greal Winery uses grapes from 100% organic or biodynamic vineyards.

The label terms it a “Red Supper Wine,” and this table red is nothing to shun. The color is beautiful and rich, the taste is tannic and full of overripe berries. Its inherent boldness is not expertly paired with my more delicate pasta dish, but would be a welcome companion to a bowl of homemade spaghetti and meatballs.

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My Last Tango with Lo Tengo

Lo Tengo Malbec 2008 beckoned to me from the shelf in my local grocery store, a great little place called Capella Market that sometimes features ridiculously good wines at ridiculously good prices. This Malbec hails from Argentina, is produced by Bodega Norton, hand-harvested, with 13.5% alcohol. Well-known wine critics dubbed this a great value and if you go by the point system, is easily mid-80 point wine. Basically, it’s drinkable and sports characteristic Malbec features. More alcohol on the nose than I like to sniff and somewhat tart on the mid-palette. I get cherries and raisins from this, but the wine is not as well-balanced as I hoped. For less than $10 it’s a steal, sure, but it needs food to cut down on its lingering sourness. Hey, at least the holographic wine label is pretty!

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Day Trip to the Dundee Hills Wine Country

Good friends? Check. DD? Check. Gas in the tank and yummy munchies? Check. Plenty of cash to spend on wine tasting in Dundee Hills? CHECK.

This past Saturday, the boyfriend and our friends, Travis and Amanda, trekked to the northern part of the Willamette Valley in Oregon to soak up the sunny weather and drink world-class vino. It was fun taking newbies to wine taste in this region, but Travis is an expert at this stuff, knows his wines and his Washington wine country like the back of his hand. They were the perfect companions for our wine adventure. I have to warn you, if you like wine posts that are all technical and jargon-filled, this is not going to be one of them.

First, we stopped at Rex Hill. The tasting room features a table of water glasses filled with a variety of foods to wake up the senses in preparation for wine tasting. The Pinot Noirs were superb and Aris had fun snapping pictures of all the quirky elements in the place.

The sniffy-sniff table at Rex Hill

Our next stop was Argyle Winery. The tasting room sits just off the 99 in Dundee, an adorable farmhouse structure that features the perfect Oregon garden in the front during the summer. Thank you to the employee who allowed me to sub out the dessert wine for a taste of the amazing 2006 Spirithouse Pinot Noir. We splurged on a bottle of Argyle’s Black Brut, a sparkling wine made from 100% pinot noir, sporting a dark, luscious purple-ruby color and tasting like heaven in a glass. I now have a bottle sitting in my kitchen, waiting to be opened with my parents after I present on my research in May.

Eager to continue our journey, we moved on to Domaine Drouhin, a place I have written about before on Vininsane. With the sun pouring over the vineyards, a scene Amanda likened to the English countryside, we sat outside on the porch enjoying the view. As I had done the full tasting here before, I settled for a glass of chardonnay, a crisp wine with hints of pineapple, vanilla, and minerality.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to break out our picnic things at Domaine Drouhin or our next stop, Sokol Blosser. The bees are already an issue! That didn’t detract us from enjoying flights of Sokol Blosser’s best. Travis opted for red, while the gals went with the flight of white, which started with a showing of two pinot gris and finished with a taste of SB’s famous blend, Evolution. While not the small-time operation many people like to equate with the idealism of the Oregon wine country, SB never fails to offer me a fun, palate-pleasing experience when I visit. Travis scored two bottles of the Big Tree Block Pinot Noir, one to take home and one to open up back at the hotel as a thank you for taking the trek to Dundee Hills. It isn’t cheap and you can’t purchase it through the website anymore, but if you have the money to spend and find yourself near Sokol Blosser, pick up a bottle of this pinot noir. It is what a pinot should taste like, a touch of red fruit, well-balanced tannins and acid, smooth and subtle on the alcohol content. We agreed you can’t really find a $10 pinot and get this kind of quality for your money.

The night ended with a streetcar ride to the Pearl District in Portland to partake in cocktails at Olive Or Twist. The Spicy Peach cocktail is a muddle of peach vodka and serrano chiles, and was the perfect way to top off a beautiful day!

Posted in Chardonnay, Oregon, Pinot Noir, Tasting, Travels | 4 Comments

Homework and Wine

Art law reading, museum theory, and research paper writing are even more enjoyable when done with a glass of Perrin Réserve Côte du Rhône Blanc 2008! A blend of Grenache blanc (50%), Bourboulenc (20%, Marsanne (10%), Rousanne (10%), and Viognier (10%), the wine is light on the acid, easy to drink, and the perfect study buddy after a long day. It has been open for about a day (I’m only one person after all!) and is not as flavorful as it was when first opened, but pairs nicely with the complexities of Foucauldian theory, that’s for sure!

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Viognier and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yes, I paired white wine and dark chocolate. Unconventional maybe, but after a stressful week it was really nice to bake up a batch of delicious cookies (recipe) and share a glass of vin with my roommate. We went old-school last night and hit the local mall on a Saturday night…then soon vacated the premises because, frankly, that was way more fun back in high school. But we followed it up with a trip to CostPlus World Market to scavenge for all those fun candies and specialty foods from other countries, and browse the wine section, something completely non-teenagery. My roomie settled for feta-stuffed olives, Nutella, and spices, and I picked up a white wine from Australia and a bottle of curry powder. Things you would probably never buy in one store somehow seem okay when you’re shopping at the “World Market.”

The 2008 Yalumba Viognier possesses that wonderful, diluted, lemon-yellow color, smells like lemons without going overboard on the citrus, and tastes like a burst of lemon drops. It is very acidic, perhaps a little too much for my taste, but it was also refreshing, light, the perfect wine for a summer picnic not munching on chocolate chip cookies in the middle of February. I think the butter in the cookies actually helped to cut down the acid slightly. Being cooped up in my warm cozy home last night had its perks though. I got to read a little about Yalumba, which boasts it is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery. According to the winery’s website,  the viognier varietal was once grown extensively south of Lyon in France, but is now found in the smaller regions of Condrieu and Côte Rôtie, with the best wines form Château-Grillet, a tiny appellation of Condrieu. It was a visit to France that inspired Yalumba’s people to plant viognier and the rest is history.

Barossa Valley in Australia

What is viognier? According to Vino Diversity, the flavor of varietal white wines made from viognier are often described using comparisons with the aromas of flowers, peaches, stone fruits, and spices. In Australia, the Barossa Valley is a hub of wine making activity–think Australia’a Napa Valley!–and this is where Yalumba is situated. While reisling is by far one of the favored white wines produced in Australia (chardonnay reigns supreme as number one), the Rhone varietals like viognier and rousanne do fairly well. Wine expert extraordinaire Kevin Zraly writes in his wine school book that viognier grows best in warmer climates like California and the Rhone Valley, but it is nice to see that other countries are experimenting with this varietal, which happens to be one of my favorites. (A bit off topic, but Chile makes some great viognier!).

I recommend picking up a bottle of Yalumba for $9 at Cost Plus and pairing it with something buttery and delicious, slices of cheese perhaps and homey crusty bread.

Posted in Australia, Tasting, Viognier | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dexter Red

My plan last night consisted of watching too many episodes of a television show I am now absolutely addicted to: Dexter. The character development is superb, and so was the wine I paired it with. To complement the show, I chose a red from Washington: Maryhill Winery’s 2007 Winemaker’s Red, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, and cabernet franc. This baby was dry and dense, tannic on the tongue and heavy on the alcohol to the nose, but it opened up nicely after about an hour. A blend like this needs time and it tasted young, if that is even the correct term. However, I gave it a chance after the initial WOE and it paid off as it gradually began to share hints of spice, dark chocolate, cherries, and blueberries. Not so great? The Eola Hills Pinot Noir from Oregon. I had been dying to try a pinot noir that was less than $20 and at half that price, it fit my budget perfectly. But one glass of watery, tasteless, and boring Oregon pinot later, my tastebuds voted and Maryhill reigned triumphant last night, possessing some character even at its ripe young age.

The first time I tasted Maryhill was at The Restaurant at the Historic Reserve, a converted historic house by the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington that features wine tastings hosted by local winery reps. It was a gorgeous sunny day, my mom was visiting from Arizona, and we took advantage of the weather by eating an early dinner in the restaurant’s garden. The Maryhill Winery expert poured us tastes of the rosé, some of the reds, and a pinot gris, I believe. Very knowledgeable and exuded a passion for the place he worked. It was a wonderful experience and I recommend this wine as a great accompaniment to dinner…or while you watch your favorite “good” serial killer.

Our Maryhill wine tasting experience in Washington.

The lovely Restaurant at the Historic Reserve in Vancouver.

Posted in Red Blend, Tasting, Washington | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A List of Under-$20 Oregon Pinot Noirs…You’re Welcome.

A dash of Tuscan charm at King Estate.

The Seattle Times posted a list of under-$20 Oregon pinot noirs…have you tried any of them? The Erath was the vineyard I immediately recognized and was pleased to see an offering from my next door neighbor King Estate. A cash-strapped graduate student with a penchant for expensive wine hearts lists like this.

Westland 2008 Pinot Noir ($18). The second label of Methven Family Vineyards, this light, fresh pinot offers pretty scents of rose petals, cocoa and baking spices, with tart cranberry fruit.

Phelps Creek 2008 Le Petit Pinot Noir ($18). On the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge, Phelps Creek makes this soft and fruit-forward bottling. It’s scented with crushed strawberries and violets, with the fruity freshness of a good Beaujolais.

Erath 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir ($19). Widely available now that it is owned by Ste. Michelle, this is tight and herbal, with flavors of tart red berries, hints of citrus rind and fine balance.

Coeur de Terre 2007 Pinot Noir ($20). Soft and plush, with spicy cranberry and cola flavors. Forward, textured and very appealing.

Acrobat 2008 Pinot Noir ($20). Acrobat is a new label from King Estate. Cranberry, raspberry and black cherry fruit is backed with moderate tannins, baking chocolate, caramel and toasted hazelnuts.

Illahe 2007 Pinot Noir ($20). Forward and fruity, with a core of sweet cherry and raspberry. It’s round and ripe, very nicely balanced and supported with bracing acidity.

Carabella 2007 Plowbuster Pinot Noir ($20). Plowbuster is Carabella’s second label. Wild berries and cocoa powder, along with tannins tasting a bit like green tea.

Thistle 2006 Pinot Noir ($24). The one wine here that breaks the $20 barrier, this is still exceptionally fine for the price, several cuts above the other wines on this page. This is Oregon pinot at its best, with great purity of fruit, tremendous focus and concentration.

This is how much I love this list. And also how much I love wine tasting in the Willamette Valley.

Posted in Oregon, Pinot Noir | Tagged , | 2 Comments