Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

As the inevitable march of time proceeds along a path that might be undefinable, humans choose to mark this any number of ways. We need events, dates and celebrations because they help us grasp moments, helps us feel as if we have stopped time's march. Our creations, which have no impact upon time itself, allow our minds to believe we're in control, even if only for a brief instance.

So 2011 will be here, for me it'll arrive in about 14 hours and my mind will recognize the pseudo-significance of a place on a calendar where one number becomes another.

In the past week I saw many bloggers write about their top wines of 2010, top posts, top stories, etc. Other bloggers chose to write resolutions, basically a statement of intent that until executed, remains something intangible. Each of those themes has merit and, when properly done, can be insightful and entertaining for the reader.

I want to make a list of resolutions, wine-related of course. Unfortunately any list I made would be incredibly long, boring, and be basically the same as any other wine blogger's list. So here's a concise breakdown of what I intend to do in 2011:

1. Educate myself on wine from places like New York, South Africa, Canada, Greece, Austria and other lesser known wine regions.

2. Read more books, especially educational tomes from Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. See how that dovetails into #1? I'm already going off on a tangent!

3. Get that "how important is this?" WSET certification going. I want a cool little image to put on this blog.

4. Write more (interesting) blog entries. Why is this so far down the list, you might ask? Simply because I love WINE before I love wine blogging and I like to think I have my priorities in order.

5. Educate myself on the wine culture here in San Diego and the County. I think there is the beginnings of something and would like to learn more about what's going on.

6. Write more about food. I like the food blogs I write, they're a good outlet for the frustrations I feel in the kitchen, mainly due to lack of knowledge and lack of skill. Only way to get around that is to cook more, and document it.

I think that's enough, and my coffee cup is empty so I should wrap this up. Some of the things not present on my list are: wine country travel, wine career, beer blogging, and cooking classes. They're things I want to do but in the interests of a short list, I had to end at six statements of intent.

Please have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and a prosperous, fun and wine-filled 2011. To most of you, I hope we meet sometime in 2011 and to those whom I have already met, I look forward to seeing you again.


Beau Carufel

Monday, December 27, 2010

Another Cooking Blog! Sans Smoke and Fire even!

Here we go again. That's what went through my head when, after a lot of urging from my friends, I decided to document another culinary (mis)adventure. I love cooking and creating food but I have no formal training, so with that serving as a disclaimer, we can proceed.

I suppose I should begin with the wine, a bottle of 2007 Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon that I had written about the night before. The wine tasted and smelled a bit tired on this night, but it was still completely fine for cooking. I firmly believe in cooking with good quality wines, the kind you'd drink. I feel if you cook with cheap crap like Charles Shaw, you're doing yourself and the food a disservice. That's my rant for tonight.

Inspiration tonight comes from a good friend of mine and I thank her for that. If I'd burned the kitchen down, I'd have blamed her though!

The ingredients here are pretty self-explanatory, I was going for a flavor profile of herbs, tomato with a spicy finish.
That large steel can in the picture above held some diced tomatoes and those were first into the pot. Obviously a pretty straightforward base for a pasta sauce. I like to get all the ingredients simmering together for as long as possible so I added a tiny bit of chili flakes and cayenne pepper, crushed garlic, the wine, salt, and fresh ground pepper.

If you look closely at these two pictures,
you can see something rising from the pot. I assure you, gentle reader, it's merely steam and not the beginnings of a Stage IV Kitchen Apocalypse. Capturing the rising steam (which happened to smell delicious) was not without it's own bit of peril though. Steam, as it turns out, is hot.

Also I will take a moment to remind you all that knives are sharp and should be handled with care. Getting cut with one does hurt but can leave a neat scar.
Sharp-eyed readers might wonder what the hell "Peri-Peri Peppadrops" are. My first experience was seeing them on the shelf at Trader Joe's. Since I'm a sucker for spicy foods, a jar soon found it's way into my fridge. From the front of the jar: "Pickled Piquante Peppers"and "Not too sweet and not too spicy". Good summation, there's a nice balance of heat and flavor here, perfect for adding another dimension to food. Texturally these are very soft and if you use them, be aware that it's somewhat difficult to get the skins to brown evenly, or it was for me. Perhaps that's just my lack of skill.

Since I'm not cooking in the kitchens of the French Laundry, dicing food doesn't need to be a precise exercise, the stuff just needs to be cut up into small bits.
In the picture to the right, you can see I've added in my diced sun-dried tomatoes and the Peri Peri Peppadrops. "Where is that steam?" you may ask, at this point I had turned the burner down a bit so that I would have more time to prepare the other parts of the meal. I know there are those who enjoy cooking at a fast pace, I don't enjoy being rushed in the kitchen though. Part of my philosophy on cooking at home is that when you make a dish, you should tweak it constantly, attempting to better some element here or there.

I've learned much by my (often disastrous) "experiments" with flavorings and the slow pace at which I cook lends itself to a trial and error methodology.

To the left you can see the sauce after two hours of simmering merrily away. Can sauce simmer merrily? Yes, or else I wouldn't have said it. About 20 minutes after the previous ingredients were added, I browned and seasoned some ground beef then added it to pot. Beef has wonderful flavor to begin with, but if you allow the meat some time to soak in the sauce and take on those flavors, the result is wonderful. I partially browned the beef then let it finish cooking in the sauce pot. At no point was I worried about raw beef, since the sauce itself was so hot and the stove was on low.
Ground turkey, venison, pork, and chicken are also choices. Continuing a theme, this is what I had on hand so it went into the pot. 

I chose penne because I had the pasta sitting in my cupboard and had not used it in a while. I wish I had a better explanation but there you have it. A guerrilla-cook can often just go with what he (or she) has on hand.
Next time, I will use spaghetti or linguine, or just go with something I've never used before. Penne for me always seems to take longer to cook than the aforementioned shapes, so it was a simple matter to cook this batch part of the way then transfer it into the pot to absorb and finish cooking within the sauce. Did I mention that in my last cooking blog? I think so, since I recall someone telling me of the technique earlier this year.

To the right is the outcome of all the words above. I'm not very good at using Parmesan cheese out of a tube, and since I lacked a chunk of cheese to shave over the pasta, it's all I had to go with. The results are right there for you to see. Way too much cheese, I even attempted to pick some off but that didn't work. Still, the sauce was tasty and the pasta did as I asked, absorbing a lot of flavors while it finished cooking in the sauce pot.

You can choose to add some more salt and pepper, maybe some more chili flakes if you desire. I never have used a lot of salt in my cooking but that's merely personal preference. I seek balance and based on the ingredients in this dish, more than just a touch of salt could have overwhelmed what I was seeking.

Home cooked, full of flavors, a bit of spice and very filling. That's how I'd describe this meal in a tweet or in a one-sentence blurb.

Another culinary adventure, keeping with the theme of pasta and red sauces. Yes, I can and do cook other things quite often, it's just that I rarely have my camera in the kitchen. Some of my San Diego Wine Mafia friends have suggested I buy a Flip video camera and record my cooking (and wine tasting) then post those videos. Maybe 2011 will see that happen.

Do I remember the wine I had with this meal? Nope. I know I had some wine and I think it may have in fact been the Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon, but somehow I doubt that. Too bad, because as I type this I can think of a couple of wines that would pair well. Obviously, something from Tuscany but beyond that, a Chateauneuf du Pape would also be fun to. From Austria, a St. Laurent also would have been a neat wine to try. Next time I'll do a better job of documenting the wine and food interaction. Thank you for reading and commenting!

Beau Carufel

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

As Christmas is upon is, I want to thank you all for taking the time to read my blog over this past year. I appreciate the comments, questions and all your feedback. Thank you for the encouraging words, suggestions, tips, hints, and tricks that help me become a better writer. Your wine recommendations, information, and insights have helped keep wine exciting and new to me, have tested my palate and evolved my outlook on this amazing drink.

Here's to a 2011 full of wonderful wine, friendship and a lot of fun on this blog. Cheers!

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Back to Navarra!

This week I finally had the chance to try the last of the three wines from Navarra that I was sent to sample. The wine in question is a 2008 Piedemonte (more on that later) Tempranillo-Garnacha.

When I first opened the box that these samples came in, I saw Piedemonte and thought "Umm why was I sent a Nebbiolo?", before my higher brain functions reasserted themselves. After doing more reading (and thinking), I realized this was in fact from Navarra and perhaps through some twist of fate just happened to have a name that's very close to my favorite wine producing region of Italy.

I've reviewed two wines from Navarra in previous blogs, here and here. Both were good, one was very good. I had high hopes for the Piedemonte as well, especially since I usually enjoy Tempranillo-based blends. The 2008 Piedemonte is a blend of 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha. After spending some time in oak barrels, this wine spent a few more months in bottle before being released upon the world.

Right away I liked the color, like garnet with an orangish hue, tres cool! There's a definite transition in the color density as you move outwards within the glass. Something I've often noticed in blends versus single varietal wines.

I enjoyed the nose though it seemed a bit muted. There were some ripe berries and earth, with oak making an appearance. Maybe a hint of graphite too, right at the end. Certainly intriguing but did anything captivate me? Yes and no, the oak and berry scents were to be expected, considering the two varietals in this wine. The flash of graphite, though fleeting, was fascinating to me and certainly added a dimension I hadn't expected.

After spending an hour sans cork (or is it corque?!) I took a few sips to get some impressions before I paired the Piedemonte with some pork tamales. At first, the fruit seemed to race out ahead of the other flavors, but with some time in the glass, things settled down and each flavor seemed to find it's place. Ripe red cherries, hints of spices and a woody flavor were framed by smooth tannins. I enjoyed the concentration of flavors, and was pleased to find the pencil lead flavors on the finish, just as I had when smelling the wine.

Where does that leave me then? I was torn, the Piedemonte wasn't bad wine by any means but it didn't "wow" me either. Sure, I found some interesting elements that caused me to stop and think. But did the wine as a whole have that certain sense of finesse, elegance, place or some other quality that would make it very good to exceptional? Tonight, the Piedemonte was a good wine, well deserving a B- and a BUY recommendation. While it won't blow you away, it's fundamentally a wine with enough fine points to separate it from the pack.

This wine was a sample for review purposes

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava, Wonderful and Inexpensive!

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Cava. Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method. Elaborating further, the "traditional method" means that the secondary fermentation (where the bubbles come from) takes place in the bottle. Said bottle is then aged, Spanish rules for Cava requiring a minimum of nine months. There is no "Cava" in Spain, the word means "cave" and refers to the caves which were (and still are) used to age Spanish wine, both sparkling and still.

Right now the demand for Cava is soaring, mainly because it delivers good quality at a great price. This compares to Champagne which often delivers good quality at a high to "OH MY GOD" price. The Cava I was sampled on has a new label, one that states this Cava is in no way related to the Cristal Champagne made by Louis Roederer. I can see how people would get confused, because the bottles look so similar and the difference in price is only $10 for the Jaume Serra and $250 for the Cristal. Still, the legal eagles at Roederer didn't want their brand's image sullied by a high-quality-just-not-expensive sparkling wine so they sued. And won, as it were.

The Cristalino Cava from Jaume Serra comes from fruit sourced via contracted local growers and the estate's own vineyards. Jaume Serra's roots go back to the 17th century, so they've been making wine for a long, long time. Within the Penedes region, the grapes Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo are used for Cava wine production. Penedes is in Catalonia, the region of Spain just south of Barcelona, the city which held those lovely Olympics back in the Summer of '92. Forget that I was nine years old, wasn't the original Dream Team cool?!

Have I held your attention until now? Hopefully the answer is yes, because now we get to talk about how the Cava tasted!

I chilled the Jaume Serra Cristalino in an ice bucket for about 30 minutes prior to opening, not because it helps me taste better but because I prefer my sparkling wines to be cold. In the glass, a pale golden color with medium bubbles, clear and looking delicious.

Clean citrus on the nose, like a faint whiff of lemon cream tarte and a bouquet of flowers. I admit that for a lot of us, smelling a sparkling wine and getting more than two or three main flavors is tough. Or it is just tough for me to do and I'm trying to feel less inadequate as a blogger. Take your pick! Back on topic, I liked the nose, a lot. There was no complex orange peel mixed with bread dough and hints of star anise there, just a lovely floral note and the citrus, for me lemon tarte.

I sipped a few times before jotting down my impressions, that often happens with sparkling wines because I like to let the effect of the bubbles dissipate a bit. This wine was creamy and rich across the front palate with a very nice finish, it is just dry enough to leave you wanting more but at the same that ripe, rich sensation gives the Cava some depth and complexity. Good interplay between the acidity and body, which I'd characterize as a yeasty note. That's a good thing by the way, something I really enjoy in sparkling wines.

So my conclusion was the Jaume Serra Cristalino is an accessible, very tasty Cava. I gave it a B+, strong BUY recommendation. For under $10, you can't get much better and I look forward to tasting more sparkling wines in 2011. I recommend this as a good accompaniment to those massive plates of holiday hors d'oeurves that are a common sight at holiday parties. If you're sipping this without the party, try pairing it with potato chips (I kid you not!) or..get ready for tacos! Seriously, I got a couple of fish tacos from the place up the street from me and it was wonderful! Just don't put spicy salsa on the tacos, try the green salsa.

This wine was received as a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wine Bloggers Survey, Check it Out

I received an email last week from some Canadian Professors who are conducting a survey about wine blogs and blog readers. They're from Carlton University and asked me to both take the survey and share it with my readers. I estimate it will take about five to seven minutes of your time and you could win a $500 prize.

If you have a few minutes of time and would like to help, please go to and take the survey. Since wine blogging is such a new phenomenon, helping with this sort of research is very important to me. To follow along with the results and if you have any questions, go to

Thank you guys and gals, I appreciate it!

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What is a Spicy Gruner Veltliner? 2008 Graf Hardegg vom Schloss!

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine who happens to be a Gruner Veltiner fan, and that's putting it lightly. She's in the wine industry and has sent me some samples before, notably the Grooner and Zvy-gelt wines I reviewed. Our conversation revolved around the subject of a "spicy" Gruner and what that would be like. She, having tasted much more Austrian wine than I probably ever will, was very enthusiastic about Gruner Veltliner produced in this style. Right before Thanksgiving, a sample found it's way (via FedEx) to my wine fridge and a few week later, I was impatient enough to open this Graf Hardegg 2008 vom Schloss over a meal of spicy orange chicken and rice.

First, a bit of background by way of my impersonation of a wine PR person: "This 100% Gruner Veltliner was hand harvested in the fall of 2008, then spent 25 days fermenting in 75% stainless steel and 25% new oak barrels. After bottling in April 2009, the vom Schloss spent some time settling in the bottle before it was unleashed on the Gruner-loving world"

That's all in good fun of course, but now you do have some (relevant?) information about what I tasted. Remember that this is an example of a "spicy" Gruner, as per my Austrian-wine-loving-also-in-the-industry-friend. If you're still reading this blog, the good stuff starts right now.

After being removed from my 54 degree (but of course!) wine fridge and being poured into a glass (did you think I'd use a straw?) I was about to see what the fuss is about. That fuss turned out to be pretty damn legitimate, at least in this blogger's opinion.

If Chanel produced a perfume with peach notes and floral aromas, subtle oak and a bit of a wet-stone smell, that's what the 2008 Graf Hardegg vom Schloss would smell like. What a nose! Absolutely beautiful, the aromas caught my attention right away. I hit on the white peach and wet-stone immediately, because those two scents don't necessarily go together. In this case though, there was no clash or discord, just harmony.

As I sipped the wine, that spicy sensation was present, I liken it to a burst of fresh green jalapeno pepper, and lime juice. The acidity was tempered by the added fleshy mid-palate that oak barrels can introduce, a very, very nice touch. The vom Schloss coats your palate while at the same time teasing the edges of your tongue with fresh peach, minerals and bright citrus. Clean, compact, and effortless finish, I was left waiting for the next sip.

Impressive wine, considering the SRP of $20, just another example of why Austrian wines deliver a quality to price ratio that is among the best out there. I was able to find the 2008 Graf Hardegg vom Schloss for as low as $12 on the internet, do your research! One of the rare times I've awarded and A- to a wine and a STRONG BUY recommendation. Do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle or two, even in the winter weather a lot of you are experiencing, this is a delicious sipper to keep around the house.

As for the pairing, a success. The citrus elements of the chicken played off against the spice and white peach flavors in the wine, while the mid palate body of the gruner helped restrain some of the spicy flavors in the dish. Unfortunately I was out of wine by the time dessert came around, because I really wanted to taste it with the mango mochi I had. Next time!

This wine was a sample sent for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Winner From Navarra: 2006 Bodegas Ochoa Tempranillo

We go back to Spain tonight, back to Navarra. I opened this 2006 Tinto (Tempranillo) after receiving it about three weeks ago. As I wrote about previously, Navarra has some seriously ancient wine making traditions and is now making a concerted effort to get back into the consumer consciousness as a wine region. As a fan of Spanish wines in general, I was happy to get some samples and see how Navarra compares to more well known regions like Rioja or Priorat.

Bodegas Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza is 100% Tempranillo from a single vineyard, called "El Bosque". Alcohol by volume is a modest 13.5%. Under Spanish labeling laws, Crianza means that the wine (red in this case) must age for at least two years with a minimum of six months in oak barrels. Historically, the Spaniards have use the ageing time to classify wines rather than other methods like the Cru system in France. Of the three major categories, Crianza is the lowest level. That isn't to say it's an indicative of a cheap or sub-par wine though. As it happens, Ochoa aged their Tempranillo for a year in oak and two years in the bottle before releasing it.

One hour went by, agonizingly slowly, after I opened Ochoa. Very nice purple color in the glass, not quite opaque. If red wine has a generic color, I strongly suspect this would be it.

Aromas of cherry pie, dried herbs and leather came to the party tonight. Alcoholic heat tickled my nostrils (I hate that word!) but only just so. This wine needed more than an hour to open up, which I found oddly pleasing. Wine like that always carries itself more elegantly and often tastes more structurally sound, it has gravitas even.

Dried cherries, tannin, and a touch of oak all rounded out by a streak of classic Old World minerality. The '06 Ochoa is very well put together wine and now, four years after it was made, is perhaps drinking at it's peak. Admittedly I'm biased towards Old World wines, just ask my wine-geek friends. Still, for someone who is more familiar with New World wine, the Ochoa Tempranillo is very accessible and a good way to get acquainted with wine from Navarra.

For a wine geek like me, it's hard not to be impressed by the structure and balance considering the Suggested Retail Price is $14.50. Easy B for me and a BUY recommendation, it isn't often we get to find such an affordable Tempranillo with some bottle age on it. Try pairing this wine with some Iberico cheese shaved over an omelet that you've put some fresh tomatoes, jalapenos and mushrooms into.

This wine was a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Do You Have a Pinot Moment?

Do you drink Pinot Noir? Was there a singular moment where you experienced a kind of Pinot Noir epiphany?

There wasn't that moment for me, not for Pinot Noir at least. For Cabernet Sauvignon, yes. For Zinfandel, definitely. Even for white varietals like Viognier and Chardonnay, there were moments where the heavens opened up and angels blew their trumpets. In those moments, my humble wine drinking soul was exposed to something special and I knew it.

No, for me, Pinot Noir has been more a gradual seduction, about learning as much about the grape as about my own palate. I know, for example, that the first Pinot Noir I tasted was from California. For the novice Pinot drinker, a California example is a great introduction. At the time, I was heavily into Merlot and Zinfandel so when that first sip of Pinot hit me, I marveled at it's subtlety and that bright, lively streak of acid. Still, such wine was often too light, without flavor and the intensity I enjoyed. Saying that now causes me to shake my head in amused amazement. Oh what little I knew!

Nowadays, I know for a fact that Burgundy makes the best Pinot Noir on the planet. I mean, that's conventional wisdom right? Please note I'm being just a touch sarcastic. Getting to know Burgundies took my wine geekdom to new heights where it shows no signs of slowing down.

The more Pinot I was exposed to, the more I began to love it's finicky nature. A wine that can go from  tasting like fresh baked strawberry cream tarte to a mix of forest floor and crushed black cherries fascinates me. I feel that Pinot Noir is a great grape with which to express terroir, it's very nature begs to be undiluted, cries out against bastardizing the wine with Syrah or Petite Sirah.

Yet even when mixed with those varietals, Pinot Noir remains seductive, tantalizing. The fact that we wine geeks argue for an against blending other grapes with Pinot speaks volumes to it's effect on our collective palates.

My journey isn't some cinq a sept dalliance, I ucontinue to explore Pinot with an open mind and palate. For example, a trip to Oregon earlier this year exposed me to a new (to my palate) class of Pinot Noir that carried powerful notes with such grace and composure that I was often left a bit speechless. Another example is tasting through a very interesting lineup with my San Diego Wine Mafia friends, the debate over style, region, even label design were enthusiastic and passionate.

Yet I can't drink Pinot every day, I cannot feel it's touch too often or some of the magic is lost for those special times when only Pinot Noir will do. Maybe if I was rich and had a cellar stocked with the best France, Oregon, and California had to offer, but that remains merely a dream. When I do open the subject of tonight's discourse, I feel seduced all over again and I feel like no matter what, I'll only get a taste of what Pinot can be. Never will the grape give up all her secrets.

In the end, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

P.S. I Love You, Especially if you're a 2007 Parducci!

P.S. stands for Petite Sirah, the red-headed stepchild of California red varietals. I happen to be a big fan of Petite Sirah, for me the grape can combine the structure of a great Cabernet with the intense fruit of a delicious Zinfandel. Some wineries in this state blend Petite Sirah with Cab or Zin while others like Parducci and Stag's Leap produce single varietal bottlings. I was sent the 2007 Parducci Petite Sirah to sample, along with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon which I reviewed here. If you're interested in learning more about Petite Sirah, click here to visit the P.S. I love you advocacy group.

I wanted to open this bottle tonight and had to plan a meal around it, but I took some time to taste and think about the Parducci before I began to cook. Right away I love the color, like purple velvet drapes pouring into my glass. There was a weighty feeling, the wine seemed to command my attention and let me know in no uncertain terms that it had some presence in my glass.

After talking about an hour to do laundry, assemble dinner's ingredients, email, and tweet, I was ready to taste the Petite Sirah. Juicy blueberries, cocoa powder, violets and earth all played with my olfactory sense. Nothing was too intense, but each note lingered long enough to make itself known. I sensed that if I was more knowledgeable, I'd have allowed even more time to open, Parducci's Petite Sirah could even use a decant!

That first taste reminded me why I love Petite Sirah, power and finesse. Graceful even, because none of the tobacco, cedar or berry notes weighed down my palate. They didn't stay too long, exiting after what felt like the right amount of time. Quantifying the "right" amount of time isn't something I can do, rather it's a sensation I get after having tasted a lot of wine over the years. My friends, the tannins, built the wine, keeping it in shape so to speak. The finish was clean and simple, which worked perfectly.

Some of the nitty-gritty details about this tasty wine include the fact that it spent 22 months in oak with 40% of that being in neutral American oak barrels and 60% in redwood tanks. Parducci bottled this Petite Sirah a little over a year ago. At 13.5% alcohol by volume, my loyal readers will note that this pleases me to no end.

At the suggested retail price of $10.99, Parducci nailed the QPR. A quick internet search found some merchants selling the Petite Sirah for as low as $7.99. That's a roundhouse kick to the QPR, sending it into rarefied air and making the B rating and strong BUY recommendation that much easier to bestow. Go buy this wine.

Food Time:

Tonight's pairing was steak sandwiches and let me tell you, by some miracle I didn't screw up dinner and the pairing worked perfectly. Quick and dirty recipe: in a cast iron pan on medium heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the following: diced sun dried tomatoes, diced bell peppers and diced onions. Add salt and pepper as well as a pinch of cayenne pepper and cook for about eight minutes or until the pepper skins are browned. remove to a bowl.

Next, slice steak into thin slices, pour two tablespoons of soy sauce and a teaspoon of barbecue sauce over the steak, then about a half teaspoon of crushed garlic and some salt and pepper. Stir all of this together then throw it into the cast iron pan. Watch out because it'll cook quickly.

When the meat is browned, throw it into the bowl with the veggies and cover all of that back up. Preheat your oven to 400F and get those dinner rolls out, the long torpedo shaped ones. Slice them open and stuff in the mix of meat and veggies, then stuff some shredded cheese in there too, I used smoked jalapeno jack.

Wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil and cook it for ten minutes. By this time you will be starving so have some more wine. After the cheese has begun to melt, partially unwrap the sandwich so the open face is exposed to the air and put it in for another five or six minutes, to gently toast some of the bread.

Remove from the oven and drizzle a little more barbecue sauce on the sandwich. then cut in half and eat. Enjoy the way the tannins from the wine and the protein from the meat complement each other and how the ripe fruit of the Petite Sirah plays well with the richness of the seasoned steak.


This wine was sent as a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cleavage Creek Merlot Shiraz Blend

  I've written about Cleavage Creek before, about their mission and accomplishments in the fight against breast cancer. Previously, I reviewed their Chardonnay and a red blend , their "Secret Red". This bottle, the 2007 Tracy Hills Merlot Shiraz, unfortunately got lost in the shuffle of wine in and out of my samples stockpile.

About four weeks ago though, I found it and was excited to taste a blend like this. Merlot is much maligned unfortunately, and Syrah/Shiraz appears to be trending downwards in the market. Truly unfortunate because California can and does produce some real gems from both of those varietals. Cleavage Creek created this blend of 67% Syrah and 33% Merlot.

Great purple color in the glass, nice depth in the middle. It's light purple around the edges, gaining color towards the center. Fairly straightforward for this kind of red blend.

Big ripe fruit rushes up at me as I take a whiff. Aromas of blackberry jam and spices, the barest hints of herbs dance around the edges of that concentrated fruit. Straightforward, nothing crazy or too esoteric. I noticed an effect; the Syrah and Merlot were jockeying for position instead of complementing each other.

On the palate, I get a bit of heat and more of those ripe fruit notes. There's also something going on with a baking spice and cedar. Silky tannins mix with some baking chocolate, it all feels too fleeting though. I got a sense that this wine struggled with it's identity, the Syrah clashed with the Merlot, leaving me wishing for a more harmonious integration of flavors.

Out of the three wines Cleavage Creek sent me, this was the one that disappointed me, I suggest that perhaps the blend needs tweaking, maybe adding in another varietal like Petite Verdot would give some structure and ease some of the clashing flavors I struggled with. Alternately, perhaps this is a wine that simple needs a few more years to come together. At this time though, I give it a C+. I love what Budge Brown is doing at Cleavage Creek and have high hopes for their wines. They even opened a brand new tasting room in Napa Valley recently, you should go visit them if you get the chance.

This wine was a sample from the winery for review purposes.

Beau Carufel