Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shiner Ruby Redbird - A Summertime Manifesto

Posted by Jamie

Okay, so maybe this isn't really a manifesto, but summertime is approaching, and I feel that I must mount a defense of my favorite summer beer.

Yes, the insufferable heat of New Orleans is ready to rear its ugly head.   I’m not looking forward to the next five months of heat and humidity. The only bright spot, for me at least, is that it is time for summer beer season.  Yes, it’s that time of year when beer makers decide to add fruit to beer.  I like fruit.  I like beer.  The two together is magic.  Okay, maybe not magic but I like it all the same.

This is the time of year that Abita Strawberry Ale makes its first appearance, as well as the lesser known Abita Satsuma Wit, a Belgian white, and the rather new Abita Lemmon Wheat of which I am suspicious.  But of course Abita is not the only brewery with fruit in its eyes.  You can find a dizzying array of fruit infused brews around the world such as:

Long Trail Blackberry Wheat -
Saranac Pomegranate Wheat
Southern Tier Cherry Saison
Sly Fox Raspberry wheat
Unibroue Ephemere
Banana Bread Ale
Dogfish Head Black & Blue

My favorite summer seasonal beer is Shiner Ruby Redbird.  Per its commercial, Shiner Ruby Redbird is brewed with genuine Texas Rio Red Grapefruit, the signature sweet citrus of the Rio Grande Valley, and ginger. This lager beer features grapefruit tartness and finishes with a ’lil kick of ginger. With Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit and Ginger, Shiner Ruby Redbird is a crisp and refreshing summer beer.

Ahhhhhh...Ruby Redbird, save me from the NOLA heat

Being a lover of Redbird, I assumed that others would love it as well, and I went online to find some helpful notes about how delectable this summertime libation is.  As it turns out, good ol’ Redbird has few fans among the armchair brewery experts that seem to thrive particularly well on the internet. A cursory search of the beer’s rating show that anyone who claims to know anything about beer rates my beloved Redbird somewhat low…or more like incredibly low.  Some have called it call it odd or gimmicky and others have described it as having the after taste of lemon-scented dish soap! 

Dish soap indeed.  I feel entirely confident that Redbird would stand the Pepsi challenge next to any lemon-scented dish soap out there!  Redbird is a fine enough beer, and I suspect that it only gets its bad rap because it is a fruit beer.  Snobbish, amateur brew-gurus seem to harbor a keen dislike for fruit beer of any kind.  The reason is beyond me.  I happen to quite enjoy a good fruit beer, and I would rather not confine myself to beers brewed solely with malt, hops, and yeast.

In all fairness, I may just be a victim of incredibly effective advertising

For me, nothing says summer like a Ruby Redbird, so despite what the critics say, I’m going to enjoy my favorite beer during the summer months and mourn its departure come fall.  Call me uncouth if you like.  Call me unsophisticated too.  At least I’m not drinking Coors!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pappa's Got a Brand New...BABY!

Posted by Benson

As some of you are aware, my wife Elizabeth and I just recently had a baby!  

His name is James Green, and he is about a month old now.  He was born on March 19th and weighed in at a respectable 7 lbs. 5 oz.  I thought I would introduce him.

James is my second son, so now we are firmly outnumbering Liz.  My oldest, Ieuan, is two and a half years old and so far he has been a very good big brother.  I have been assured that at some point there will be a massive freakout, but Ieuan has already gone a month with only minor attention-related fits.

Ieuan offers a gift to help smooth relations with the new member state

Is it weird to use geopolitical metaphors when describing a newborn?
I just found out from my wife that James is now 9 lbs. 8 oz., although I do not know where that puts him on the chart.  Suffice it to say that he is progressing well and is overall very healthy.

Little Visitor
Ieuan was a rather well-mannered baby whose only vice was taking a rather long time to sleep through the night.  Before James was born I had been very concerned that the new baby would wind up being super colicky, would spit up like possessed schoolgirl, or otherwise act in a manner vastly more troublesome than Ieuan was.  In fact, this eventuality had been prophesied by several individuals who felt that Ieuan was much too easy to handle for a baby.  Naturally, I was concerned about being subjected to some poetic justice.

It does seem so far that lightning can strike twice!  James is a very well-mannered baby.  He is not as majestically easy as Ieuan was, but on the whole is very, very easy to deal with.  This has caused some measure of chagrin, and naturally I have suggested to my wife that we quit while we are ahead.  A third child might wind up paying us back for both of these well-mannered babies!

I shall endeavor to avoid flooding this blog with baby photos in the coming months, but a few may sneak their way in.  In our 21st century world the cameras are always abundantly at hand.  I think the days of being able to torture your children by enthusiastically displaying old photo albums to girlfriends and fiances might soon be over.  By the time Ieuan and James are old enough, any significant other will probably have such readily available sources as this for incriminating data.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

DGA Wine Club: La Fonte d'Oro 2008

Posted by Benson

La Fonte d'Oro is an interesting wine, and not something that I am used to.  As near as I can tell (what I know of Italian comes from French and Latin), the name translates to something along the lines of "the fountain of gold," which reputedly refers to a legendary spring where warriors would place spoils of war in order to bring themselves good fortune.  Warriors aside, the wine itself has a deep, almost black color, and the intriguingly austere label is enigmatic in its simplicity, making for a visually striking bottle, which is what initially drew me to La Fonte d'Oro.
It does look eerily like the Eye of Sauron 

Le Fonte d'Oro is an Italian wine from the Puglia region, which comprises the 'heel' of the Italian peninsula.  The north of the region is slightly hilly, whereas the southern tip is entirely flat, which caused the two areas to develop distinctive cultural identities.  The southern 'spur' of Puglia retains a strong connection to the region's Greco-Roman past whereas the northern portion has much more in common with the viticulture and winemaking customs of central Italy.

Puglia is particularly associated with the cultivation of the Primitivo grape, more commonly known as Zinfindel in the US, and the region has had a reputation for producing cheap, highly alcoholic, large batch wines.  As global demands for higher quality wines have risen, Puglia has sought to reinvent itself, working to secure several DOC classifications and importing winemaking talent from throughout the EU.

They weren't kidding when they said "perfectly flat"

La Fonte d'Oro is an example of the success of this campaign.  The wine is the brainchild of Gaetane Carron, French by birth but a lively force throughout Italy's wine regions, and a "mover and shaker in the wine world" according to wine writer Jancis Robinson.  With La Fonte d'Oro Carron has given us a blend of Primitivo and Negroamaro varieties, crafted in the Amarone style; drying the grapes prior to fermentation.  This is an expensive process, but yields extremely powerful flavors.  What is surprising about La Fonte d'Oro is that Carron has been able to give us the flavorful addition of an Amarone production technique at a very reasonable price.

Fresh picked Primitivo grapes

The wine is extremely smooth, rather in spite of the harsh, savory, and tannic grapes from which it is fermented.  It has an intense plum flavor backed up by spicy oak that suffuses your palate.  The aroma is as enigmatic as the label, with hints of mocha and subtle fruit aromas that I can't quite put my finger on.  Neither Primitivo nor Negroamaro are particularly aromatic grapes, but the subtle scent of La Fonte d'Oro is intriguing, and provides an additional 'whiff' of interest, if you will.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Restaurant Meadowood

Posted by Matt

There are exactly two Michelin three-star restaurants in the Western United States – Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry, and a lesser known gem that is quickly rising in recognition.  The Restaurant at Meadowood is located on a 250 acre resort in the heart of California wine country.   

My wife Julie and I were married in Napa ten years ago.  After the ceremony we had our wedding dinner at the Restaurant at Meadowood.  We decided to revisit this exquisite restaurant for our tenth anniversary. 

The Restaurant at Meadowood is headed by Chef Christopher Kostow, who came to Meadowood in 2008 after stints at Chez TJ near Palo Alto and working as sous chef under Daniel Humm at Campton Place in San Francisco.  For those of you in New York, Daniel Humm is currently the chef at the highly regarded Eleven Madison Park. 

Chef Chris’ style would best be described as contemporary French – combining traditional French methods with modern techniques of molecular gastronomy.  Chef Chris’ cooking is incredibly creative, yet remains comfortably accessible.  A key reason that the dishes remain approachable is the staff’s eagerness to provide a thorough explanation of each course that adds to the excitement of the dining experience.  The ingredients are a fascinating mix of the familiar and exotic.  For example, one of the meat courses starts with a simple cut of beef, but adds morel mushrooms (a first for me), manzanita, and spicebush.  The combination takes the traditional beef and mushrooms combination and makes it something memorable.   

The décor in the newly renovated dining room is simple and elegant.  The space is open and airy with high ceilings and big picture windows that provide a stunning view of the surrounding estate that, as Meadowood’s website describes, “Showcase Meadowood’s natural, tranquil setting.”  Indeed, the beautiful views enhance the dining experience and offer an additional sensory pleasure.

As one would expect from a Napa Valley establishment, the Restaurant at Meadowood offers an extensive wine list with a strong California representation.  The wine list is almost overwhelming – covering 50 pages and over 1100 bottlings.  The prices range from relatively modest to absolutely extravagant.   Fortunately, the skilled wine steward provides excellent guidance at any price point.  A pleasant surprise is the fact that markups are relatively modest for a restaurant of this stature. 

The Restaurant at Meadowood offers a chef's tasting menu each evening of nine or 10 courses, which changes seasonally. The ingredients are sourced from both The Napa Valley Reserve Garden, at the entrance to the Meadowood property, and the St. Helena Montessori school garden across the Silverado Trail.  The tasting menu takes the diner on a journey of complex, unique flavor combinations. 

The impeccable food presentation further enhances the dining experience.  At The Restaurant at Meadowood, all dishes are served on locally sourced pottery and woodwork.  The overall effect is that each course acts as its own vignette.

As elegant as the surroundings may be it is the food that is the star of the show.   I will highlight some of the highlights.  Our meal opened with a dish called “Whipped Yogurt Black Sesame Plum Shiso.”  This initial offering provided an exciting preview for the courses that would follow.  The combination of sour, creamy, spicy and earthy flavors was a fantastic way to begin the meal. 

We also enjoyed a warm asparagus salad.  Two sous chefs approached the table and proceeded to assemble this beautiful, delicate salad tableside.  The edible flowers were grown on the Meadowood grounds.  My wife commented that the salad was too pretty to eat. 

The next course was called “Tuna Venison Kohlrabi Sorrels Caviar.”  Again, the presentation of this course was lovely.  This was my first introduction to kohlrabi, which is a vegetable similar to a turnip with a flavor similar to broccoli stem, but milder and sweeter.  The sorrel adds a bit of sour to the equation; its taste is akin to sour wild strawberries. 
One of my favorite courses was the “King Crab Uni Cauliflower Kanimiso.”  The crab was sweet and tender.  The roasted cauliflower added a smoky, earthy flavor. 

I am not normally a fan of foie gras, but the “Foie Gras Radishes Seeds Hibiscus” was wonderful.  The fois gras was wrapped in a crisp tube coated in seeds.  The complex layering of flavors and textures made this dish interesting and memorable.

Another highlight of the meal was the “Grilled Duck Hearts Chrysanthemum Fresh Chickpeas.”  It seems that every course of this meal introduced me to something new.  As many times as I have eaten duck, I have never had the opportunity to try duck hearts.  The heart tastes similar to duck breast, but with an intensity that I have never experienced.  The heart is denser and a little chewier than duck breast.  The fresh chickpea puree added brightness to the flavor and appearance of the dish.  This course was definitely one of my favorites. 

This was a fabulous meal from the amuse-bouche through the post-desert mignardises.  After our dinner we were invited to tour the newly renovated kitchen.  The kitchen was almost as beautiful as the dining room. 

If you are interested in a truly unique dining experience near the Napa Valley, the Restaurant at Meadowood will not disappoint.  Every element of the meal is executed to perfection from the beauty of the surroundings, to the professionalism of the staff, to the daring creativity of the food the Restaurant at Meadowood is a world-class restaurant worthy of the accolades it has received.  When Julie and I had our first meal here as husband and wife over a decade ago it was a magical experience.    

Special thanks goes to everyone at the Restaurant at Meadowood for making our tenth anniversary a night to remember.    

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

DGA Wine Club: St. Supery Elu 2008

Posted by Matt

The Winery

I will always have a soft spot for St. Supery. This is one the first wineries that I ever toured. I recently revisited St. Supery and the staff continues to be approachable, informative, and entertaining. I think this winery is a perfect stop for those new to the wine world, as well as a rewarding stop for everyone else.  St. Supery was named one of the top 100 wineries for 2012 by Wine and Spirits magazine and I must say it is a well-deserved honor.

The Wine

Made with fruit from St. Supéry’s estate vineyards in Napa Valley, Élu is a blend of classic Bordeaux red grape varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Élu exhibits beautiful red and purple hues with deeply concentrated color through to the wines edges.   The wine has thick, slow legs that move very steadily down the glass. Aromas of black plum, toasted oak and hints of crème brulee and espresso are very pleasing.  Élu is a finely textured wine that is seamless from the first sip to the last.  Élu, like most of my favorite Bordeaux blends, is mouth-coating and rich with firm, yet elegant tannins that fade to reveal wonderful follow-on flavors.  The finish is long and clean ramping down smoothly, while continuing to reveal new flavors as it tapers off.   My wife and I enjoyed the St. Supery Élu with some homemade Chicken Parmesan, but this wine pairs well with heartier fare such as braised short ribs or roasted veal chops.  

About the Vineyards

St. Supery has two vineyards - one in Rutherford at the heart of Napa Valley's Cabernet Sauvignon country, the other, Dollarhide, in a serene corner of Napa Valley.   St. Supery Vineyards Winery is owned by the Skalli family of France. Robert Skalli's family has made wine for several generations in South of France. While traveling in Napa Valley during the 1970s, Robert was inspired to create an estate winery in Napa Valley to make wines of distinct and respectable character. Dollarhide, an historic cattle and horse ranch nestled among the hills of Napa Valley, was planted with the noble grape varietal.  One of my favorite Chardonnays is the St. Supery Dollarhide Ranch.  Look for a review of that in the coming months!