My Dinner with Balthasar and Pedro

Last night we had friends over for dinner. She and I are in wine group together. Our husbands work together. So, we had lots to talk about. I felt the wives’ conversation was much more interesting than the husbands, but that may well be because I am a wine nerd rather than a computer nerd.

Our guests have some dietary restrictions, no meat or wheat. When they apologized for their specific requirements, I assured them that it is much more fun for me to cook within guidelines than to be wide open to anything. As Tracy Lee Karner puts it, ‘constraint spurs creativity.’ This is true in any medium, whether it is cooking, writing, or any of the arts.

Balthasar Ress Riesling

Balthasar Ress Riesling

For dinner we began with a gazpacho soup that tasted like a bowl full of summer garden. It paired well with Balthasar Ress Kabinett Riesling, 2007 which is very tart like a granny smith apple but juicy with just enough off-dry, honeyed richness to offset the spiciness of the soup. Full disclosure, I am distantly related to the Ress family. My maiden name is Ress. The owners of winery are my fifth and sixth cousins. But even if this wine were not the nectar of my ancestors, I would love its crisp, tart, honeyed richness. It is an elegant and beautiful wine. It also paired well, as a good Riesling will, with the spicy cauliflower ceviche that our guests brought, and the sweet and spicy bean and pineapple salad that I served. Riesling is a great match with spicy foods.

Our entrée was eggplant coated in cornmeal with basil, oregano and parmesan cheese, quick-fried in olive oil and butter to a golden crisp and served with fresh grape tomatoes tossed with basil, olive oil and salt. Paired with the eggplant we had Bodegas de la Marquesa Valserrano Crianza, 2010. Layered, crisp and lush with flavors of cherry, cedar, leather and pepper. Ninety percent Tempranillo and ten percent Mazuelo, this beautiful wine would pair well with any earthy foods such as eggplant, sausage, or mushrooms. Valserrano-Crianza

Osborne Pedro Ximenez Sherry

Osborne Pedro Ximenez Sherry

For dessert I made a pumpkin mousse and served it with Osborne Pedro Ximenez. This dark, thick sweet sherry had aromas of chocolate, caramel, coffee and raisins. It was perfect with the pumpkin spices.

I loved planning this menu. I will admit I had to google whether or not corn had gluten in it. But coming up with a menu that met some restrictions was more engaging than working without constraints.

It’s All About Pleasure


For my friends who love wine and food and art and music, which is most of you, I am re-blogging a post by Dwight Furrow, author of the thought-provoking blog ‘Edible Arts.’ I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Originally posted on Edible Arts:

whole-snapper-6526-520x346Bottom line. Food (and wine) has to taste good. Otherwise we won’t consume it no matter how interesting it is. We take food into our bodies, so we are very careful to avoid anything that might be dangerous or disgusting.

This fact about food consumption is often used to cast doubt on whether food can be an art. After all, the fine arts–painting, sculpture, music, or literature—have no such restriction. The fact that a painting depicts an unpleasant scene or a novel recounts a disturbing tale does not inhibit our experience of them. We readily consume the unpleasant when we can hold the object at a distance as we do with vision or cognition. We allow music to express negative emotions as well.


Kathe Kollwitz “War”

The violence of Picasso’s Guernica, the desolate personalities of Kathe Kollwitz, the brutal angst of Munch’s The Scream—all depictions of the horrible…

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I Value Wine; a Villanelle


I value wine
It is what I do
The value is mine.

Upright, in recline
From any view
I value wine

I will opine
to many or few
The value is mine

From Grecian pine
To an Alsatian Cru
I value wine

From flowering vine
To a perfect hue
The value is mine

From rough to fine
This one thing is true
I value wine
The value is mine.

This is my entry to the MWWC10.

On the Edge of Wine

Don’t just swirl your wine, roll it. Hold the glass at an 85 degree angle and roll the stem, so the wine circles around the whole bowl of the glass. As you’re rolling the wine, look at the meniscus, that is, the edge of the wine. Notice the color difference? There’s a lot of information in that color difference. An orange meniscus means the red wine is acidic, a brown meniscus implies an aging wine. Purple at the edge tells you it is a young wine. Now, hold the wine glass upright and plunge your nose into it. Inhale deeply. The aromas should be plentiful after rolling the wine in this way.

As I sit on my deck, the sky is transforming itself from the light bright blue of a summer day to a deep, pearly blue of evening. The birds, that had a minute ago been chirping riotously, as if warning all the world that night was imminent, are now, suddenly and definitively silent, hushed at once by the darkening sky, settling down along with the sun.

My deep, red wine with its orange meniscus looks darker at dusk. The garden in front of me is as still as the birds, still and lush, a remarkable teeming of life brought about by the artificial and extremely convenient drip system, a necessary life-support here in the desert. No blooms, yet, the plants are rich and lovely in their dark green, ebullient leaves.

As I sip my wine, I go over in my mind all I need to do in the next few weeks to get my son ready for high school graduation and then the big step off to college. Sad and proud and all that goes with that, I will miss him, but am excited for him as he sets off into adulthood.

On the edge of transitions, from day to night, from spring to summer, from mother of a boy to mother of an adult, this is the place I love most. Not my deck, not my garden, but the edge of transition, the meniscus of life. It is where I feel most alive and alert; most sentient to the world around me and all that it brings.

The Evolution of Language…in One Night

Chenin BlancWhen tasting wines with my wine group, I am confident of my facts. What are the qualities of Chenin Blanc, someone asks. ‘ High acidity, high yielding, climate adaptable. Its famous regions are Loire, South Africa, California and Argentina,’ I can recite without taking a breath. Oh, yes, I have mastered my 719 index cards. But when it comes to tasting, I am still learning the language.

In the Jean-Claude Bougrier Vouvray V that retails for $13, I taste pear, lemon, grapefruit and wet stone. I congratulate myself for picking up on four aromas in a chilled white. Then someone says, ‘beeswax!’ What? ‘White flower,’ someone else calls out. ‘White flower?! Which one?’ I go in for another sip. I’m just getting warmed up. Then we’re on to the Reserve that retails for around $16…’pear…grapefruit, wait, those are the same aromas, I mean words I used for the last wine. Make it pink grapefruit and something tropical. How about guava? Yes, and wet stones. It must be from France.

The Chateau Mossé Magic of JuJu at $21 is just like biting into a tart, juicy apple with a hint of almond. I like its simple, direct crispness.

$10 Spier from the Western Cape of South Africa offers up…can I say pear, yet again? Oh, yes, and…guava, wait, here’s something new…white peach. Yes, white, decidedly not a yellow peach, not at all, but the sweet, subtle fragrance of a white peach.

By the time we get to the $19 Protea, my lexicon is gaining some momentum. I’ll see your white peach and raise you some lime, make that lime zest and a flower…lets say honeysuckle. And there’s some creaminess to it. I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve heard the word ‘lanolin’ bantered around, but I don’t know what that smells like or feels like, so I’ll just say a creamy finish.

The $12 Dancing Coyote out of Clarksburg, California hit us all immediately with a strong earthy aroma, then came the wet stones and some citrus. Good, we were all smelling the same thing…and thyme I offer. No one concurs. Well, silence is acceptance. I’ll jot that down. Then out of the group come the words, ‘gun smoke.’ What?! I’m just getting the hang of the fruits, flowers, herbs and earth. Gun smoke? Like the musket fire in Market Square? Well, that one is getting stored away for a future tasting.

The $6 Sea Ridge is bitter/sweet…grapefruit skin and candied pineapple and honeysuckle with a mild oak influence. I know I’m repeating my words, but these are all Chenin Blancs after all. There must be some commonality, yet, each so different, like fingerprints all with whorls, loops and arches, but each in a different combination. The aroma prints are what make wine so endlessly fascinating.

There is More to Bread than Bread

Ferrari Carano Siena

Ferrari Carano Siena

‘Why are you bringing her a meal? What good will that do?’ my daughter was asking me as I put the stew in a travel container. As people often do in this situation, we were taking food over to a neighbor, who had recently lost her husband. My daughter had a point. Looking at it from her perspective, my bowl of stew seemed a futile consolation and of little consequence. It is human nature, though, to feel as if we are doing something worthwhile, helping in some way. If nothing else, the meal would let her know we were thinking of her.

Just off the picturesque Dry Creek Road outside of Healdsburg is a winery that is the pride of Reno. Don and Rhonda Carano are both from Reno with continued vested interest in the city as owners of the Eldorado Hotel. They are also the founders of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery.

Ferrari Carano Winery

Ferrari Carano Winery

Rhonda’s love for gardens is manifested as a warm and stunning welcome to visitors. The paths through the gardens are irresistable and make the first glimpse of the Chateau on the hill worth the delayed anticipation. Ferrari-Carano is one of the most spectacular wineries in Sonoma County in both landscape and architecture. The experience can only be outdone by a visit to the Loire Valley. But rather than Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, the varietals are more Bordeaux, Burgundian and Tuscan.

The Classic tasting includes a Sauvignon Blanc as a Fumé, that is, oaked. Its aromas are tart apple and green grass with hints of vanilla. The Merlot is lush with woody, cherry-berry aromas. The Pinot Grigio is both earthy and minerally. The Siena is a beautiful blend of 65% Sangiovese with some Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is well-integrated with aromas of earth, oak and tangy cherries. They make a popular dessert wine that is a chocolate-infused Zinfandel. It really does taste like a chocolate covered cherry with a dusting of cocoa.

Ferrari Carano Winery

Ferrari Carano Winery

Just like a nice glass of wine, or a peaceful walk through a garden, a good meal can do more than sustain us. It can remind us sentiently of the bounty and beauty, the simple pleasure of life. For someone who is in mourning, a few minutes of pleasure that a good meal can provide can offer a small escape from the darkness of sorrow, and a gentle reminder of the pleasures of life.

Shut Up! I Know It!



One of the most famous wine blends in the world is the Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Considered one of the world’s greatest wines, it is even replicated in California and called, ‘Meritage.’ But have you ever wondered why these two grapes were thrown together in the first place? Yes, they both grow well in the climate and soils of Bordeaux. But there’s more to it than that.

Something I’ve noticed with my teenagers, but it is also a common trait among people of all ages; we have trouble accepting compliments. When faced with a positive statement about ourselves, we often hide behind dismissiveness or self-deprecation, as in, ‘You have a lovely singing voice.’ ‘Oh, no I don’t! Unless by lovely you mean cats and bagpipes fighting to the death.’ When I pointed this out to my teenagers, I also gave them my unsolicited advice on how to accept a compliment. A compliment is like a gift and should be accepted with the same gratitude and grace. A simple ‘thank you’ is always appreciated.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a late blooming, late ripening grape. Merlot has many of the same aromas as Cab with a similar structure, but the difference between the two grapes is that Merlot is an early blooming, early ripening grape. The two grapes reflect each other in characteristics, but complement each other agriculturally. Grape farmers in Bordeaux are in a sense hedging their bets. If there is a late frost in Spring, no problem. They still have their Cabernet. If there’s a heavy rain in the fall, no worries. They still have their Merlot. The wine will be made no matter the weather. It is important to the industry that they cultivate grapes that complement each other in this way.

After my small lecture to the children on how to accept a compliment graciously, I turned to my son and said, ‘That shirt is a nice color on you,’ to which he scowled his face, channeled his inner-Bender and replied, ‘Shut up! I know it!’