Monthly Archives: July 2013

Perfect Pairings: The Principle of Place in Tuscany

1st course for xx
Pairing food and wine…simple, right? Chicken goes with white wine, beef goes with red. Cheese is great with anything. Easy!

For sure, it takes a bit more effort to create a “perfect pairing” than simply choosing between an entrée meat (or vegetable) and a white or red wine. But the principles are clear and the results are amazing!

This is the second post in a four-part series on matching food with wine using menus from the Spring 2013 “Perfect Pairings” series created with The Painted Chef at The Grotto in Mt. Adams.

The series is anchored in the principle of place: terroir.
TUSCANY is arguably the best known and most popular of Italy’s 20 wine regions. Dash those bad memories of mass-produced Chianti sold in a straw-covered jug (which made a better candlestick holder than wine vessel!). Expand your food horizons beyond spaghetti and meatballs. Tomatoes may rule in Tuscan cuisine, but try them on pici, a thick hand-rolled Tuscan pasta specialty, or with Florentine steak. Some of the world’s best wines are produced in Tuscany, and they marry so well with the simple and elegant flavors of Tuscan cuisine.

The names of Italy’s estimated 2,000 different grape varieties may be mysterious and mind boggling, but the king of Tuscany is the red grape Sangiovese. Vast vineyards of Sangiovese grapes anchor a golden triangle of amazing wines from the DOCG regions of Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico, all to the south of Florence and Siena. Often overlooked, however, is the white grape Vernaccia from the DOCG commune of San Gimignano to the west of Sienna. It is crisp and refreshing with bright citrus notes and a slightly bitter mineral finish owing to the soil on steep sandstone hillsides.

Chefs Dave Cioffi and Brady DeLong created a Perfect Pairings menu to showcase the deeply satisfying flavors of Tuscany with the region’s great wines, using the fresh approach that distinguishes their gourmet catering business.

Montenidoli Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Fiore” 2009
Fava been salad closeup
The crunchy texture of spring fava beans, flavorful toasted croutons and pungent Pecorino Toscano cheese is a perfect complement to crisp Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine. Olive oil and lemon bridge the entire dish to the wine with mouth-watering perfection.

Perfect pairing: Winemaker Elisabetta Fagiuoli, who is 87(ish), has been making wine in San Gimignano since 1971. Montenidoli produces three different styles of Vernaccia. The “Fiore” is matured for an extended time on lees to give the wine more flavor and complexity. Light straw yellow in color, the wine exudes elegant floral notes and earthy aromas followed by lemon grass flavors and a concentrated stony mineral finish.

Riecine Rosato 2010
Heirloom tomatoes
No Tuscan pairing would be quite right without tomatoes. And it couldn’t officially be springtime without rosé. We chose raw tomatoes to celebrate spring with rosé because they are more acidic than cooked tomatoes, and should be served with crisply acidic white or rosé wine. Fresh buffalo mozzarella, salty prosciutto and basil chiffonade completed the texture and flavor experience with the wine.

Perfect pairing: We started the march toward the king of Tuscany with a 100% Sangiovese rosé grown in Chianti Classico DOCG vineyards. A sweet perfume of wild strawberries, raspberries and blood orange citrus followed by an earthy, savory tartness was a “wow” with the tomatoes.

Tenuta di Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino 2004
Beef with mushrooms Tuscany
Red wine with beef…”you had me at hello.” It’s hard to find the right words to explain the exquisite lift that a savory combination of earthy mushrooms, truffles and creamy cheeses gives to the relationship between beef and Brunello. It is, quite simply, perfect!

Perfect pairing: 91 points from Wine Advocate. “A deceptively medium-bodied wine that nevertheless packs quite a punch in its perfumed dark fruit. This Brunello exhibits lovely balance, with notes of smoke, tar, licorice and new leather that linger on the refined, refreshing close.”

The Painted Chef

The Grotto
1101 St. Gregory St. Mt. Adams

Photo credits: Map of Tuscany; food and wine photos Game Day Communications.

Summer Caught and Stoppered: Second in a Series

Posted by Amy Neyer, CSW, WSET Advanced Certified

One of the high points of summer for me is watching the annual Tour de France broadcast on cable early each morning and the wonderful three-week showcase of art, agriculture, history, and culture. The cycling’s pretty good, too.

So as the Tour rolled through Normandy last week, how fitting (and ironic) that I got a call from longtime wine friend, Katie Schoeny, to try a pair of new offerings from …you guessed it … Normandy. Some of you may recall Katie from The Wine Merchant and then Vintner Select. After a hiatus, she’s back in the wine business with Vanguard Wines.

When considering notable wine-making regions in France, Normandy is not top of mind. While grapes may not find a friendly home in the cooler climes of Normandy, orchard fruits of apples and pears certainly do. And where there’s apples and pears, deliciousness is sure to follow. Let me introduce you to French sparkling Sidre (the traditional spelling for cider in Normandy) and Eric Bordelet, a former sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris.

Bordelet wanted to return to the family farm and create a sparkler using what nature had provided – estate-grown heirloom apples and pears from old-vine orchards – and using old school techniques, reflecting the land’s granite/schist terrior. It also doesn’t hurt to have Didier Dagueneau, Loire Valley winemaking icon, as your mentor.

The result: a pair of delicious Sidres made in the approach and style of grower Champagne. These sparklers offer a fun and interesting alternative this summer but may be more so this fall as the warm days grow cooler and the bounty from the farmer’s markets turns to pears and apples. Made with little or no interference from the winemaker (i.e., native yeasts and no added sugars or sulfur) and low alcohol, the Sidres are a versatile pairing across lots of food occasions, especially charcuterie and cheeses. You’ll want to serve them ice cold to maintain freshness and fizz.

Sidre Brut: Bordelet hand harvests 15 heirloom varieties of apples from bitter to sweet that are left to dry and ferment naturally in the bottle after pressing. While the skins remain on to provide tannin and texture, the apples offer highly concentrated flavor and color. Not surprisingly, it is full of apple but also citrus and spice notes. While you might expect sweet, it is, in fact, a dry wine with just 2 grams per liter of residual sugar and 7% alcohol. Sidre Brut loves a little heavier fare such as buckwheat crepes and ham and cheese for summer brunch but should also pair wonderfully with roasted pork and apple dishes in the coming fall months. Price: $13.99.


Poire Authentique: Bordelet draws from 15 heirloom pear varieties and uses the same technique as in Sidre Brut while also abstaining from adding any  influences such as sulfur and sugar. Here, the fresh fruit does all the talking, drawing you in for the crisp, clean finish. I liked the Poire more for an apertif and perfect companion to a light bite, especially cheeses of the native lands such as Camembert and chevre. Add some sliced farmer’s market apples and pears and a fresh baguette. Mon Dieu! With just 4.4% ABV, you’ll actually have to work for that post-snack nap. Price: $14.99


Both of these Sidres are distributed by Vanguard Wines and can be found at selected stores around town, including The Wine Merchant, Dutch’s Larder, The Winds restaurant and the Dorothy Lane Market in Springboro.

Check back soon for the conclusion of Summer Caught and Stoppered. 



Perfect Pairings: Principle of Place in Latin America

Posted by Kathy Merchant, DWS, CSW

Perfect Pairings - low res

Pairing food and wine…simple, right? Chicken goes with white wine, beef goes with red. Cheese is great with anything. Easy!

But what if the tomatoes in a dish are stewed or sauced and laced with garlic? Their flavor and texture is completely different from freshly sliced juicy summer tomatoes. Red wine goes with cooked tomatoes, white and rosé with fresh. The reverse is pretty awful! Then there’s the vexing matter of what to do about the souring effects of vinegar, asparagus and artichokes on most wines.

For sure, it takes a bit more effort to create a “perfect pairing” than simply choosing between an entrée meat (or vegetable) and a white or red wine. But the principles are clear and the results are amazing!

This is the first post in a four-part series on matching food with wine using menus from the Spring 2013 “Perfect Pairings” series created with The Painted Chef at The Grotto in Mt. Adams.

The series is anchored in the principle of place: terroir.
Map Latin America
LATIN AMERICA is a broad geographical term encompassing Mexico in North America plus all of Central America, the Caribbean Islands and South America. The cuisines of Latin American countries share many similarities, yet have distinct regional differences in ingredients and flavors. But because the equator runs straight through Ecuador and Brazil in South America, the areas just to the north and south of the equator are too hot to grow wine grapes. While the cuisine is expansive, the wine is concentrated.

Only Chile and Argentina have conditions suitable for making quality wine. Chile developed a wine industry over 150 years ago. Wine entrepreneurs locked out of vineyard ownership in France in 1855 fled to a perfect growing climate in Chile where the export economy was booming. Though Argentina’s wine industry is much younger, its leaders are equally entrepreneurial and definitely making great wines.

Chefs Dave Cioffi and Brady DeLong created a Perfect Pairings menu to demonstrate the great flavors of Latin America, and showcase the great wines of Chile and Argentina, using the fresh approach that distinguishes their gourmet catering business.

Alma Negra Sparkling Rosé of Malbec 2010
Watermelon salad Latin America
Light and refreshing, with a hint of sweetness from the watermelon sufficient to shake off winter doldrums in early April, the salad offers a parade of contrasting flavors. The creamy and slightly salty queso (cheese) was an able partner for heat from jalapeño peppers, cool and refreshing watermelon, the sparkle of the wine, and the clean herbal notes of chopped cilantro.

Perfect pairing: traditional method sparkling rosé from Argentina made from 85% Malbec and 15% Pinot Noir. Its pale orange-pink color was a beautiful companion to the deeper red color of the watermelon. A fruity flavor profile of sweet strawberries, raspberries, minerals and brown spices followed by a lingering rose petal perfume helped to meld the cool watermelon with the heat of the jalapeno, lift the savory notes of the cilantro, and provide a bubbly contrast to the creamy cheese.

Viña Santa Ema Amplus Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Tomatillos originated in Mexico and are a staple of Mexican cuisine. Surrounded by an inedible husk, when cooked the small green fruit makes a deeply flavored savory salsa verde that can range from mild to hot depending on the ingredients, and is a brilliant complement especially to delicate fish, chicken or pork. When cooked, the vibrant acidity of a tomatillo is released, making it an excellent partner for garnishes such as pickled red onions, and acidic wines such as Sauvignon Blanc. Braising the meat lifts its savory elements in tandem with the tomatillos.

Perfect pairing: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Leyda Valley in Chile. Bright straw yellow color. Crisp, expressive and complex aromas of lime and mineral with flavors of herbs and green chiles typical of Chile’s Leyda Valley, followed by a citrusy finish. Unoaked.

Bodegas Salentein Portillo 2011
The term “barbacoa” originated in the Caribbean, meaning grilling meat over an open flame, and is the source of our North American term “barbecue.” Mexican barbacoa is different in that meat is smoked and steamed at the same time. This dish used the Mexican method, and dissecting its ingredients is almost as fun as putting the whole thing together in a bite. Most of the main ingredients made perfect sense from a wine pairing standpoint: corn tortillas, braised shortribs, cilantro and sour cream. The pineapple salsa was the potential spoiler: sweet fruit with red wine vinegar (and a bit of diced red bell pepper) threatened to sour the dish with a sip of wine. What a glorious surprise that it all worked together!

Perfect pairing: 100% Malbec from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina. Red-violet hues of a young wine. Rich with fruit, aromas of plum and blackberries, fresh flavors of red currant and black cherry. Sweet, round tannins. Long finish with notes of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. This wine received the International Trophy from Decanter World Wine Awards in 2012.

The Painted Chef

The Grotto
1101 St. Gregory St. Mt. Adams

Photo credits: Map of Latin America, “Modern World History Hoffblog”; food and wine photos Game Day Communications.

“I can’t drink wine. It gives me a headache.”

Posted by Kathy Merchant, DWS, CSW


Is this you?

If you’re reading this blog, then I assume you at least like wine! Read on for an excellent natural solution to your problem. Non-sufferers? This solution could be a fun discovery for you too.

I learned about natural wines from my dear friend Mary. A fellow wine geek, Mary was devastated to learn she had developed a serious allergy to wine. For the record, I was devastated too. It’s something we really enjoyed together. She was told (insufferably) by absolutely everyone – her doctor, sommeliers, restaurant wait staff, probably even me! – that the problem was a simple sulfite allergy. The only viable solution at that moment was to stop drinking wine entirely because all wines contain sulfites. It says so right there on the label!

When Mary grew weary of this trite response, she started researching sulfites and discovered something amazing. Not all wines are made equal! Here’s what Mary (and I) learned from our research: the main culprit is the sulfur dioxide (SO2) used as a stabilizer and preservative in wine. Called sulfite in wine parlance, the additive leaves behind a sort of residue in the finished wine – free SO2 not absorbed into the wine – that causes problems for many people when its level exceeds 100 parts per million (PPM).

Any wine containing more than 10 PPM must include the label warning “contains sulfites,” so it is hardly helpful information… But according to regulations, the label doesn’t have to inform consumers how much sulfur dioxide was used in winemaking or exists residually in the finished wine. And the label doesn’t tell you anything at all about the use of allergy provoking chemicals in the process.

Full disclosure in the spirit of labeling requirements: sulfites do exist “naturally” in wine as a by-product of yeast metabolism during fermentation. They are present even if the winemaker doesn’t add chemicals.

Imagine yourself asking a sommelier to attest to the PPM of SO2 in your restaurant wine selection. S/he would think you were either brilliant or crazy. Ask Mary. She’s gotten both reactions, which is very frustrating to her and to those of us who are cheering her on to a workable wine geek solution. The one thing you can do independently is familiarize yourself with wines made organically and/or biodynamically using sustainable farming practices. Send us a note if you would like some specific wine recommendations to try!

To help you sort through your options for solving this headache problem:

bio pyramid

“Natural” wines must limit chemical intervention. They have no, or very little, added sulfur dioxide.

Sustainable agriculture defines an integrated system of vineyard practices that are environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable. The grapes are healthy, the winemaker makes money, and you can enjoy wine (generally) without getting a headache.

Organic farming emphasizes conservation and renewable resources, a rational approach to growing crops with the least amount of harm including the use of chemicals.

100% organic wines must have less than 20 PPM sulfite content in order to qualify for that designation. There are other certification levels, such as “made with organic grapes,” that can also be beneficial to people who tend to suffer ill effects from wine.

Biodynamic winemaking is based on the theories of Rudolph Steiner who believed 100 years ago that vineyards are organisms. Articulating vineyard individuality meant to Steiner that farmers would manage each one according to the rhythms of the day, seasons of the year, and the effects of planets on plant biology. Some may call this “woo woo” viticulture, but this cosmic respect for the forces of nature almost guarantees that the use of chemicals is limited and your wine will be headache-free.

As a closing note, there may be other reasons why wine gives you a headache, so please proceed with caution. In addition to chemical pesticides and fertilizers used in the vineyard, other contributors could include tannins (from oak) in red wine, alcohol levels, histamines, and commercial (rather than indigenous) yeasts used in fermentation.

Where to shop for an excellent range of natural, organic and biodynamic wines:
D.E.P’s Fine Wines 424 Alexandria Pike, Fort Thomas, KY 41075.
Cork ‘N Bottle 501 Crescent Ave., Covington, KY 41011.
Chambers Street Wines in New York City “committed to stocking the best natural, organic and biodynamic wines from small producers around the world.”

Vintner Select’s David Dubou has developed some very approachable educational workshop materials on “Sustaining the Vine.” Available with wine selections at D.E.P.’s
• “Oh Natural!” by David Lynch in Bon Appetit May 2013
Biodynamic Wines Demystified by Nicolas Joly
Authentic Wine by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop, MW

Photo credits: NASA; “Biodynamic Wines Explained,”