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Wine Club Newsletter - September 2017

Reflections on Cooking with Wine

Early on in my culinary career (we are talking about the mid 1970’s) I was energized by my new discovery and love of wine at my new position in the first French restaurant in North San Diego County, Mon Ami. I had just graduated to the glorious position of line cook, direct from my dishwashing duties, under the tutelage of a real French Chef, and I was on a tear.

None of the recipes I was dealing with involved the use of cooking wine, and pretty soon I was needed on the floor to help with service. This seemed like a natural calling to me, and I relished meeting people who loved exploring and enjoying the culinary arts.

That summer, Mon Ami was serving fresh lobster with a Beurre Blanc sauce. This was so good, it made me crazy, so then and there I learned how to make Beurre Blanc. It was easy, basically chopped shallots, fold in soft butter with reduced wine, and voila!

While serving, I met a delightful couple, a surfboard manufacturer and his lovely girlfriend, who shared the same enthusiasm I did for the lobster dish. I told them I liked it so much I learned how to make it. They invited me over to their place, saying they would buy the lobster, provide some Chassagne Montrachet, and I was to cook lobster and make the sauce. DEAL!

The appointed day comes, and I am standing ready with the lobsters at the grill. I ask the host for some wine to make the Beurre Blanc sauce, and it’s a choice between this sweet cheap wine he had called La Salle or the Chassagne Montrachet. No way, I’m drinking the Chassagne, and we’ll cook with the La Salle.

Big mistake. The resulting sauce bordered on sickly sweet, and there was no way to remedy that. I was embarrassed, but learned a valuable lesson about cooking with wine, which I later discovered has flexible dimensions of correctness.

A few years later I am the newly crowned manager of Mille Fleurs Restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe. (This was a couple of years before my good friend Bertrand bought the place). The existing chef insisted on cooking with better than average wine, generally about $15 a bottle, back in those days. The cooking wine bill was going into thousands of dollars a month. I tried a few of the same recipes with more reasonably priced wines, and could barely notice a difference.

After we sent that chef bye-bye, I brought in one of the top chefs in San Diego of that period. He held the same beliefs that I did, that cooking wine, if standardized, didn’t matter a great deal to the final resulting dish. Turned out he bought cooking wine by the jug, the kind that had a ring at the top, so he could grab it by his finger and gurgle down a liter before dinner service without having to use a wine glass. His food was excellent though.

A couple of very different ideas about cooking with wine, to be sure. There is a science behind all this, and it can become lengthy and more complex then we may need to consider.

So here are a couple things you want to think about regarding wine you cook with:

Imperfections in the wine, like too much wood, too herbal, too old, chemical, will not go away and they will haunt your dish.

Use a reasonable, decently priced wine that is not a standout with imperfections, that you would like to drink while cooking. Reduce the wine . . .

Drink, cook, drink, cook . . .

2014 Gewurztraminer, Dopff, Cuvée Rene Dopff

Growing Region: Alsace, France
Varietal Composition: 100% Gewurztraminer
Fermentation: Stainless Steel Vats
Alcohol Content: 12.5%
Suggested Retail:  $22.00
WineSellar Club Price: $19.79

Broad Strokes:                 
Gewurztraminer (gah-werzz-trah-meaner) from Alsace, France . . .  One of my all-time favorite wines. Rich, aromatic, thought-provoking, great with food.  The origins of the Dopff family can be traced back to the 16th century, when the original chateau was built and owned by the Prince of Wurtemberg. After the vineyard plantings and subsequent bottlings, the property became known as the “Pearl of Alsace”. I sincerely hope you share my enthusiasm for this special wine.

Nice, tall, typical Alsatian bottle, with a long, thin neck. The label reads pretty well, except for “Cuvée Rene Dopff” which is in a script that’s a little hard to decipher. Another screw cap, thank you very much! The wine has a very pretty, golden color, and as you can see, it is quite viscous, with the wine dripping down the inside of the bowl - almost oil-like.

The classic imprint for an Alsatian Gewurztraminer nose consists of racy, spicy, assertive tree fruit, honey, and flowers. That’s exactly what I am getting from the Dopff. Apricot, honey, and white flowers, like jasmine and honeysuckle. The aromas are clean and brilliant, rich, and full, and subtle and aggressive at the same time. I noted some Lychee nut, peanut, pine nut, ginger, and vanilla. It also reminded me a bit of a Riesling from the area, with a “feusel” character that I always enjoy.

This is where I want you to pay attention, because people are often fooled by a wine that has ripe, balanced fruit, and mistaking it for a common “sweet” wine. This wine has a commanding, ripe fruit presence, allowing for a creamy, mouth enveloping richness, that is clearly not your standard textural experience. The key to its success is the youthful spritz of acid keeping the richness in check, providing a long, glorious finish.

Very ripe orange fruit, cumquat, ginger, white flowers, essence of ripe lime, pineapple, roasted nuts, distant notes of brown sugar, Mandarin, tangerine, sweet pear, and finishing off with a wonderful mineral and spice that sits in your mouth for nearly a full minute. Awesome!!!

Serving Suggestions:
An absolutely fabulous wine for food! Muenster cheese, blue cheese, pate, foil gras, and gravlax for starters. Asian cuisine is a natural fit, wok food, Thai, Chinese chicken salad (with peanuts of course), roast pork or ham. The wine will actually age another 2-5 years, but it is SO good now . . .

2014 Primitivo Del Salento, Feudo di Santa Croce, Tinazzi

Growing Region:  Public, Italy
Varietal Composition: 100% Primitivo (Zinfandel)
Fermentation:  Large Wood Barrel Aging
Alcohol Content:  13.5%
Suggested Retail:  $22.00
WineSellar Club Price: $19.79

Broad Strokes:                 
Receiving 90 points in Decanteur Magazine, here is a serious wine without the serious tariff. I declared, I could drink this every night. Made from the Primitivo varietal, which is the Italian father of the domestic Zinfandel as we know it. The Tinazzi family has just under 50 acres planned to Primitivo, at their farm located in Carosino which is in the province of Taranto. They also grow Negramaro and Malvasia, but unfortunately, they are not currently offered.

I really love the label, and in fact the whole package. The wine is medium garnet in hue, darkness at the center, and bleeding out to nearly clear at the edges. It has good viscosity, and leave red and gray tears as it coats the glass.

The aromatics are really cool, as I found myself discovering new scents every time I went back to exam it further. It’s a rich fragrance of black cherry, balsamic, brambles, cardamom, anise/black licorice, roasted walnuts, smoke, lead pencil, ripe plum, and BBQ meats. How about that!

Medium in body and weight, it has a smooth entry, and a rounded, agreeable middle-palate. I so appreciated the why this wine finished off, with some astringency to edge out the aforementioned balsamic sweetness.

Sweet, ripe plum, plum skin, blackberry, chocolate, and black licorice. Now for the middle palate sweetness, you will get the balsamic flavor front and center, almost like a cherry cough syrup without the thickness or sweetness . . . But yes, menthol too. I also love joyed the root beer and cola tastes it gives you, while, without missing a beat, delivering a note-worthy adult beverage, a truly fine bottle of wine.

Serving Suggestions:
This is GREAT with all kinds of foods. I had mine with some meatballs (recipe provided) over pasta with tomato sauce. Not to downplay the quality of the wine, but I must mention pizza, garlicky dishes, roasted meats, charcuterie, and hard cheeses ware lovely mates for this beauty.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Trios, B. Wise

Growing Region:  Sonoma Valley, California
Varietal Composition: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Fermentation:  New and Used Oak aging
Alcohol Content:  14%
Suggested Retail: $40.00
WineSellar Club Price: $33.25

Broad Strokes:                 
Well Club members, here is a novelty submission for you, a wine that is cruising well under the radar. We found this wonderful gem from one of our favorite sources for small or little known California wineries. We are not at liberty to discuss all the details of origin of this wine, but let’s just say it has great breeding. That also means it has not been rated in any publication, and that you won’t find it on the shelf at your local grocers, or perhaps any other wine shop. A scant couple hundred cases were produced. As far as ratings go, I am thinking 91-92 points. Write me and tell me your ratings.

Like its origins, the label itself is quite understated. The name B. Wise reminds me of an organic produce company we used for The Brasserie back in the 1990’s. That being said, the wine is black at the core, merging to a dark red cherry skin hue. Very pretty wine.

The vanilla fumes high above the glass tells you right away we have new wood used, probably at medium toast. Lovely! Big black cherry and dark berry fruit is spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon. The nose, while muted at first, really gets going at the 45 minute mark. Generous, great aromatics, fresh wood, smelling like that smell of being inside a winery.

Medium to medium-full in weight and palate feel. It’s just feels delicious. It is quite elegant for how rich it is, sort of a brash elegance. Bold, mouth-coating, balanced, fabulous feel in the mouth, perfect astringency, kind of creamy, kind of really cool! Long, harmonious finish and is rewarding. Makes me feel great about my passion.

Gorgeous red and black fruits. Black cherry, very ripe, with black and blueberry chiming in. Sweet vanilla oak, and its, as you identify the toasted barrels were of high quality. Vanilla, some smoke, with toasted almonds and the meat of ripe red cherry. Chocolate ice cream and dairy on the finish. Major wow.

Serving Suggestions:
What can I say, other than just drink as much of this as you can! What a pleasure. I am going to have mine with a grilled steak, and save six bottles for another ten years. Bordeaux!

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Robert Foley, Purple Label

Growing Region:  Napa Valley, California
Varietal Composition:  100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Fermentation:  French Oak Barrels, New and Used
Alcohol Content:  14.7%
Suggested Retail:  $86.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $67.49

Broad Strokes:                 
Wow, look at the savings on this spectacular Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon! You’ve got to love the deal, like no other, as much as you’ll like the wine. Achieving a 90 point rating from The Wine Spectator, I think it is better than that. From the winery. . . The exposure provided by high elevation, slopes, and extreme drainage combined with fundamental vineyard practices produced exceptional grapes for the 2011 vintage. This is a blend of ridge top Atlas Peak fruit and the stony Calistoga vineyard where the high rocks there create thermals, drawing warming air through the vine rows, working the magic of ripening.

So, ok, it does have a Purple Label like it says, and I think it is a beautiful looking package. Nicely weighted bottle, very good font selection, and it has the looks of a winning Napa Valley Cabernet. The wine is nearly black at the core, barely getting lighter towards the edge of the glass. Lovely dark red hue, long, nearly black/red legs meandering down the glass.

Reminding me of the B. Wise Cabernet in basic aromatics, yet you can tell by the nose that this wine is built a bit differently. The vertical structure, meaning the tannins and acids, reign in the dark cherry fruit and vanilla notes, but you know they are going to pop up soon, and be very relevant 10 years ahead of now. Intoxicating!

Even though the structure of the wine is taller than it is wide, it still offers expansive fruit that is lip smacking and saliva producing. The tannins are supple and smooth, and do not provide harshness associated with a wine that has massive fruit like this. And not massive as in inky, just well extracted juice that please your senses.

Lovely dark fruit, especially black currant, and boysenberry. Sweet vanilla oak, cedar, See’s candy, the kind with nuts and chocolate and caramel. Hints of white and black pepper, some fresh herbs, red bell pepper and pine needles. It’s got it all folks!

Serving Suggestions:
This wine will be awesome in 2027, you know, ten years from now. Call me, I plan to still be around, and I’ll come over and tip it with you. Should be remarkable!!!

Turkey Meat Balls

After a number of attempts, I think I have a really good recipe for making meatballs out of turkey. Use your favorite tomato sauce or pesto recipe prepared ahead of time.

Serves six, with the 2014 Primitivo Fuedo di Santa Croce


  • 1 lb ground turkey, 15% fat approximately
  • One slice firm bread (I used Trader Joe’s multi grain gluten-free bread)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • One whole egg
  • Tablespoon Harissa
  • Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon herbs, chopped basil, sage, and rosemary
  • Teaspoon pepper
  • Salt to taste


  1. Cut bread into ½ inch cubes
  2. Place milk in bowl and add the cubed bread, letting soak at least 30 minutes
  3. Using the food processor, add egg, harissa, olive oil, herbs, pepper and soaked bread
  4. Blend until ingredients have just become mixed.
  5. Evenly distribute ground turkey in processor
  6. Pulse gently until just mixed with the liquid
  7. Form mix into 1 ¼” balls
  8. In a large sauce pan, cook the meatballs on very low heat by placing them in your favorite tomato sauce or pesto recipe and stew SLOWLY

Gary Parker, 9-2017

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