Saturday, June 5, 2021

A Dry Lambrusco from Riunite with One-Person Shabu-Shabu Dinner #ItalianFWT

Riunite Movendo Lambrusco Dell'Emilia: Dry, not sweet, ABV 11%, fruity with spice notes

Riunite Lambrusco has been a controversial wine in the US. It was a 'sweet' brainchild in the 70's and 80's by a few wine producers from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, catering to the export market of America and creating an amabile-styled Lambrusco wine that suited to American tastes of the time. While a lot of US consumers back then loved this wine for its sweetness, easy-drinking, affordability and popularity brought by its catchy commercials, some did not like this 'Kool-Aid' wine. Many Lambrusco producers from Emilia-Romagna denounced this marketing and export scheme and found it simply hurting the Lambrusco tradition which wines can also be dry or off dry. Putting all the controversies aside, Susannah Gold from Avvinare invited the #ItalianFWT bloggers to celebrate the National Lambrusco Day on June 21st, a bit ahead of schedule, with a glass of Lambrusco of our choice. I was so luck to find a 'surprise' bottle of dry, non-sweet Riunite Lambrusco Dell'Emilia and enjoyed it with a one-person Shabu Shabu dinner. 

Riunite Lambrusco with Shabu Shabu Dinner

This Riunite Movendo Lambrusco Dell'Emilia, which has a ABV of 11%, was a mystery to me as it was the only bottle, somewhat dusty,  sitting at the lowest shelf of a tiny wine store in southern New Jersey. The tasting notes at the back of the bottle offers big promises, "flavor in motion...each vivacious sip offers black-fruit flavor...spice notes." With my predisposition of what a typical Riunite Lambrusco was, the historic controversy around this brand, the very marketing tasting notes, and for a retail price of $9, I was sold on the spot!

Easy to do Shabu Shabu meal for one person with this small electric pot
This dry Riunite Lambrusco in fact is a decent table wine. It's a truly dry Lambrusco that has notes of cherry, plum and cinnamon. It is less fizzy than the other Lambruscos I enjoyed in the past. I would definitely pour it in summer parties. But for now, I enjoyed this Lambrusco with a one-person Shabu Shabu dinner. 

Fast-cooking food like sliced meats, seafoods, tofu puffs are great in hotpot
Shabu Shabu means hotpot meals in Japanese. The raw sliced meats, seafoods, noodles and vegetables of your choice are cooked in the boiling water right at the dining table, dipping the cooked food in a wide variety of sauces like chili oil, garlic and scallion infused soya sauce, and hoisin. The process of hotpot meal which cooks the food at the table and eats it at the same time may not make a lot of sense to some people. But hotpot culture especially in Asia such as China, Japan and Korea is a food tradition that is embraced in friends and family gatherings. All year around, people sit around the dining table at home or in hotpot-themed restaurants, spend time cooking the food in the large hotpot, and enjoy each others' company for hours. Practically speaking, when I traveled in China a few years ago, hotpot meals were the only thing that my family felt safe to eat at times.

Pre-made peanut butter based dipping sauce from Little Fat Lamb can be easily purchased in Asian grocery store
My family likes (vs loves) Shabu Shabu and can mostly eat it in the winter. I, however, love it, all seasons around, and there seems to be a lot of prepped work...taking out the family-sized large pot and the portable stove just for a one-person meal. I was so happy to find the electric one-person pot in Amazon. With the chilled Lambrusco and air-conditioning, my Shabu Shabu diet will be even easier this summer.

To celebrate the National Lambrusco Day, let's check out which Lambrusco my blogger friends are drinking:

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Learning Spain - Aragon's Four Wine Regions: Carinena, Somontano, Calatayud, and Campo De Borja Through Eight Wines #WorldWineTravel

Al Gairen Selection Sommelier's Garnacha Blend from Carinena with a Grilled Steak
Spain will be opening up to US tourists in June for post COVID 19 pandemic travel. People, who are itching to resume wine tourism, for just a little bit longer, will continue to have a bit relief on the virtual #WorldWineTravel to Spain. Wendy Klik from A Day in the Life on a Farm invited the bloggers to explore the wine regions of Aragon, an underrated wine region that produces quality wines at  great price points. Although Aragon may not be everyone's top places to visit in Spain, there are many sight-seeing spots in the capital, Zaragoza and nearby towns to explore, plus the bonuses of its diverse wine and food scenes

Photo Credit:

Aragon, which is located in the northeast of Spain, consists of four wine DOs (Denominación de Origen): Carinena, Somontano, Campo de Borja, and Calatayud. The climate in Aragon wine region is considered as moderate continental, but changes drastically from one end to another because of the mesoclimates (i.e., in-between macroclimate and microclimate) created by the terrains around and in-between the Pyrenees mountains in the north and the Iberic mountains in the south. The eastward-flowing Ebro River and the large Ebro Valley area lie in the middle of Aragon, sandwiched by the mountains.

North: Pyrenees mountains, South: Iberic mountains, Middle: Ebro River and Ebro Valley; Photo Credit:
Although the temperature can drop drastically in the areas closer to the Pyrenees, the areas that are closer to the Monegros desert could have an unbearable heat spike. Given the wide range of grape-growing conditions attributed by the altitude spectrum, vineyards that are affected by the various mesoclimates, yield a diverse portfolio of wines in spite of all being under the overarching wine producing region, Aragon. The most typical grape in the region nowadays is Garnacha, due to market demand and strong adaptability of the grape to the local growing conditions. Other popular varieties grown in the region include Aragon-indigenous grapes like Carinena, Parraleta, Macabeo, Alcanan, Moscatel, as well as non-Aragon natives like Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Gewurztraminer. 


The majority of Carinena's vineyards are situated at relatively high altitudes, between 1,300ft and 2,600ft. The continental climate is coupled with extreme seasonal and daily temperature fluctuations - namely the the cold northerly winds and warmer summer temperatures. The climate builds intensity to the local grapes, especially the indigenous Carinena grape, which gives the name to the town. Garnacha, which is today's most flavored grape there, also expresses big flavor and intensity due to the landscape. Carinena is a black-skinned wine grape variety and has become a common grape for blending in other other Spanish wine regions like Rioja and Priorat or in France. While Carinena vines can usually produce very large yields, it’s somewhat vulnerable to damages caused by mildew and rot.  Wines produced from old vines of Carinena are of much higher quality than the ones made from young vines.  

Carinena grape clusters; Photo Credit:

Being in the mountain range, many mesoclimates emerge in Somontano due to the variation of altitudes. Vineyards that are located on high-altitude slopes benefit from intense summer daytime heat and low night-time temperatures, allowing their grapes to strike a balance of residual sugar and acidity. Vineyards at the foothills are cooled by winds traveling down from the mountains, but are also affected by the heat from the hot summer day temperatures that can climb up to 95 Fahrenheit. Unlike the rest of Aragon, Somontano is greener and lusher due to the more frequent and heavier rainfall and an abundance of rivers and creeks intertwined in the region. Enriched soils consists of clay, sandstone and reddish brown soil. Somontano is famed for rustic reds made of Moristel, Parraleta, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Syrah. Its whites, Gewurztraminer, Macabeo, and Chardonnay are also fancied by wine lovers.


The climate in Calatayud is continental, with extremely hot and dry summers. This effect, nevertheless, is moderated by the high altitude of vineyards that are situated on the south-facing slopes of the Sierra de la Virgen mountain range. Some of these vineyards reach 2625 ft above sea level. Frosts in extreme winters can set in for months, damaging the vines. Most vineyards sit on loose, rocky soils, and limestone, with naturally good drainage. Due to the harsh climate, yields are typically very low, which adds to the scarcity and quality of the wines. Calatayud is renowned for its big and bold red wines, mostly made from Garnacha grapes. Garnacha represents more than three-quarters of vineyard plantings in this region. Tempranillo and Mazuelo are the other main red varieties, while the region's fresh crisp whites are made of Macabeo, Malvasia and Chardonnay. The Garnacha-based rosado (rose) is also popular in this region.


Campo de Borja's altitude shapes the characteristics of the wines. Vineyards around Pozuelo de Aragon and Magallon, which are low-lying between 1150ft and 1500ft, have Garnacha ripened early and produce structured wines which have higher alcohol. Most of the vines, which are at middle-elevation between 1500ft and 1800ft, are planted on mild slopes with high exposure to the sun, producing juicier and intense wines. The highest vineyards, on the slopes of the Moncayo at elevations of up to 1800ft, are at the coolest climate, and produce wines that are delicate, leaner, and balanced. Rain is scarce throughout Campo de Borja. The vines are susceptive to damages from spring frosts and cold northerly winds. The soils of Campo de Borja, which all provide good drainage and nutrients to the vines, drive its wine styles. The low-lying areas have brown limestone soils. The middle areas' soils are made up of deposited stones and iron-rich clay. The highest elevations, in the Moncayo foothills, are rocky and rich in iron and lime. 


SRP: $10
Grape: red blend, mainly Garnacha 
Palate: Aromas of smoky wood, pencil lead, spice, lavender, black berries, structured, medium-bodied.  
Overall: a table wine that you get the best bang for your buck. It's ideal with a simple red-meat dish such as grilled steaks, beef stir-fried or cubed lamb skewer. 
SRP: $50
Grape: 60% Garnacha, 20% Vidadillo, and 20% Carinena, sourced from a single 100-year-old vineyard 
Palate: black cherry, cinnamon, clove, leather, black licorice, firm tannins, and bright acidity.
Overall: This is a serious red wine that will please a lot of wine lovers. 

SRP: $15
Grape: Garnacha
Palate: mineral, white pepper, lavender, and cherry, excellent depth and grip, and impeccable balance.
Overall: A serious wine at a bargain price 

SRP: $39
Grape: Garnacha
Palate: ripe black fruits, black licorice, smoky wood, and violets, full-bodied, concentrated, and opulent on the palate, a great long finish
Overall: A memorial wine that represents the bold reds of the region 
SRP: $12
Grape: Chardonnay
Palate: apple, peach, fennel, guava, passion fruit, with a tad minerality, fruity, and a long crisp clean finish.
Overall: A unique Chardonnay that pairs well with lightly spicy Asian dishes 

SRP: $16
Grape: Cab Sauvignon
Palate: dark berries, hint of vanilla, bright and vivid acidity despite of the vintage, toasty notes, medium tannins, long and persistent finish
Overall: A wine that goes well with aged cheese will be a crowd pleaser among red wine drinkers

SRP: $14
Grape: Garnacha
Palate: rich, abundance of raspberry, earthy, slightly smoky, a punctuating finish
Overall: A big and flavorful Grenache that goes well with meat stews

SRP: $24
Grape: Garnacha
Palate: cherry preserve, balsamic notes, cocoa and toasty flavors, oaky, rich, velvety, and balance
Overall: A great Grenache that expresses the style of wines from the region 

Let's travel with the rest of the #WorldWineTravel and see where in Aragon they are heading to 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

All Things #PureChablis with an Assortment of Seafood Snacks #Winophiles

2019 Vintage: Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis Vieilles Vignes, Domaine De La Cornasse La Chablis,
and Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis

What can sound better than pure Chablis in spring? Pure wines, imaginatively and visually, allow us to relate to white or rose wines that are crystal clear and clean. Chablis, which has prominent minerality and acidity, are the Chardonnays that are uniquely produced in Chablis, France. 'Pure' and 'Chablis', when combined, symbolizes a clean-start, a relaunch, and simply leaving the old and weighty behind. Jill Barth from L'OCCASION invited the French #winophiles bloggers to sip Chablis this spring and, I'm going to share some seafood snacks that will pair well with the #PureChablis 
2019 samples: Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis Vieilles Vignes, Domaine De La Cornasse La Chablis, and Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis.   
Chablis and Seafood Snacks Board


The Chablis wine region, which is famed around the world to produce unique Chardonnays, is in the northern part of the Burgundy region between Paris and Beaune, bordering the Champagne region in France. 
Photo Credit: Pure Chablis

There are four sub-appellations (AOCs), namely Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru in the wine region. Like all the regions of Burgundy, Chablis has a legally restrictive hierarchy that's driven by the quality of wines from the distinctive land and soil and scarcity of production. As a quick price reference point, a Chablis Grand Cru, the top-tier Chablis, retails for USD$65 or above, and a Premier Cru goes for around $45. A Petit Chablis or a Chablis averages $25 in retail.
Chablis Pyramid. Photo Credit: Pure Chablis


The Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2019 is produced on the flatter grounds with soils from the Upper Jurassic period (i.e., Kimmeridgean oil) for all their plots in Chablis. Their Petit Chablis is characterized by its purity, freshness, and minerality. The wine is aged in its natural lees for eight months in stainless steel tanks to preserve the purity and freshness before bottling in the Bernard Defaix Estate located in the village of Milly. Given the great structure, strength and thus cellaring potential, this Petit Chablis offers an excellent value for wines of this appellation. 
Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2019 (SRP$28) and Seafood Snacks


The Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2019 continues to speak to the unique terroir of Chablis and is a true expression of the soil. The Brocard, which is located in village of Préhy, is built atop the Chablis' famed Kimmeridgian soil, which was formed through the sediment of the sea during the Jurassic era. The visible seashells in rocks and grounds of Chablis are a perfect testimonial why the Brocard Chablis has the typicity of structure, minerality, power and complexity. The cool climate of Chablis produces Chardonnays with more acidity and less-fruity flavor than any other Chardonnays produced in warmer climates.

Location, location, location - the soil memory in vines is the heart and soul of Chablis. Photo Credit: Pure Chablis 

The Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis is lemony and white flowers on the nose. It has velvety and plump texture, and fuller body. There are notes of buttery macadamia nuts, apricot, and a long and saline finish. This is a vibrant Chablis that can go further than seafood - maybe a roasted chicken or a shepherd's pie in pairings!
Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis 2019 (SRP$25) - Certified Organic


An unusual early spring frost with sub-zero temperate has devastated some of France's vineyards in Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Champagne, and southeast regions in April this year. To deal with the unpredictability and adversity brought by Mother Nature, the Chablis vineyards have lit thousands of small fire in canisters to warm up the air surrounding the grapes at night. Some growers have sprayed water in the vineyards in the morning, creating an icy coating like small igloos over the grapes, in hope of protecting the crops. Some damages to this year's harvest is likely, but the extent of it is still unknown. One thing for sure remains is the resilience to countermeasure and bounce back.
Small fire was lit in Chablis vineyards as measures to fight the unexpected early spring frost. Photo Credit: Pure Chablis


Domaine de la Cornasse Chablis is an expressive wine that's rich and ripe with neutral oily and flower notes on the nose. As you are sipping the wine, the texture is weighty due to its slightly oily, and pronounced mineral and flint characters. The finish is long and saline, and has a lot of 'chews' to it. 
Domaine De La Cornasse Chablis 2019 (SRP$25)


To enjoy Chablis, the many ready-to-eat seafood snacks have come to my mind. The acidity of Chablis cuts through the oily fish or oyster and complements the saline taste of all these treats. Putting a seafood snack board together is pretty effortless. I did go to a couple grocery stores to acquire the snacks. 
Top left - right: smoky baby oysters, sardines in olive oil, inky calamares
Bottom left - right: fried small fish with roasted peanut, roasted eels, and fried small croakers

Another good news is that each snack costs around $3 to $4 so putting this snack board together to entertain crowds won't break the bank.
Seafood Snacks

Let's see what we've got here:
  • Roasted eels can be found in Asian grocery stores. It is roasted in rich Teriyaki sauce, sweet and salty but not too oily. One quick tip here...the eels are also perfect for making eel sushi at home. 
  • Sardines are one of my favorites to pair with the Chablis. They are lightly salty and have the strong fish taste to them, going particularly well with the lemony, green apple and seashell notes of all these Chablis. 
  • Smoked baby oysters are must-haves for the pairing as the smokiness brings out the 'fresh mushroom' element of a couple of these wines.
  • Inky calamares are an unusual find when I visited the Asian grocery store. I bet you can find them in regular grocery store as well.
  • The fried small croakers, found in Asian grocery stores, are super tasty with Chablis. Without much oil, the fish is crispy and seasoned with spicy salt. 
  • The small fried fish with roasted peanuts provide the nice crunchy texture to the board. 
Fried small croakers (left) and fried small fish with roasted peanut and chili flakes (left)

Disclosure: the wines in this post are samples. The ideas of the post are mine.

Check out other fellow #winophile bloggers' Chablis journey and find out what they pair the wines with...

My Amazon Picks

Friday, May 7, 2021

Drinking Serious Wine from Israel's Domaine du Castel and Eating Causal Israeli Food #WinePW

Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2016 and Shakshouka

The #WinePW bloggers are invited by Wendy Klik from A Day in the Life on the Farm to write about pairing Middle Eastern foods and wines in May. I'm particularly thrilled that this invitation makes me break the seal of the Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2016 Jerusalem - Haute Judee, a high-end wine that I thought I should reserve for special occasions. While the wine is serious, I want to prepare some causal food that I identify with Israel. Let's have a disclaimer upfront. What I do here is not so much about precise pairing the wine to the food per se, but if you are like me, eating the food, drinking the wine, not necessarily side-by-side, and repeat the sequence, I bet you'd have a lot of fun too.


Castel Grand Vin is Domaine du Castel’s first red wine. It is produced from the winery's 40 hectares estate situated at Yad Hashmona, west of Jerusalem. It's located at the renowned mountainous Judean Hills appellation with an altitude of 700 meters.
Castel Grand Vin 2016 (SRP$79)
The grapes, planted in high density and for small yields, are hand-picked at harvest and, after fermentation, are aged in new French oak for 20 months. The wines are estate-bottled to ensure quality and compliance with kosher requirements. 2016 was a perfect vintage, "where everything came nicely together… weather, phenolic maturation and bud size", which is a Wine Advocate quote from Domaine du Castel's owner Eli-Gilbert Ben-Zaken. 
Castel Grand Vin 2016: Cabernet Sauvignon 74%, Merlot 15% and Petit Verdot 11%
The clean oak smell of the Castel Grand Vin 2016 encapsulates the nostrils of the nose, shortly opening up to the fragrance of cedar. The palate features a concentrated and complex bouquet of blackberries, spices, and Bing cherries. The velvety smoothness still allows the tannin to peek through, leaving an extraordinarily balanced and sophisticated red wine drinking experience to reckon with. The taste of the wine was lifted if it is aired for half an hour. What a memorable wine it is that needs a WSET systematic analysis! 
Castel Grand Vin 2016 extracted through a Coravin
Appearance: deep ruby color
Nose: clean oaky, cedar 
Palate: dry, subtle oaked, blackberries, Bing cherries, spices, earthy, medium-bodied, medium-high tannin, long finish with hints of graphite and Bing cherry
Conclusions: smooth, elegant 


When I want to go easy on the food prep but don't want to detour from the Israeli theme, I think about Shakshouka, Dolma, and Tahini sauce. 
Shakshouka is a dish that poaches the eggs in the tomato sauce, with added ingredients such as chopped onion, red bell pepper, garlic, parsley, and spices such as cumin, chili powder, chili flakes, and paprika.

Shakshouka Recipe


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 chopped red onion
  • 1 chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flake
  • 3 eggs 

  1. Heat the olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Stir and cook in the garlic, onion, red bell pepper, spices until the onion and pepper have softened and turned translucent.
  2. Add the crushed canned tomatoes in the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  3. Crack 3 eggs onto the simmering tomato stew and cook for another 10 minutes.
  4. Garnish with parsley and serve it with pita bread.

Castel Grand Vin and Dolmas

Trader Joe's Dolmas Vine Leaves Stuffed with Rice is my favorite dolmas as it's lemony but not overly harsh. The rice inside the dolmas is soft and juicy. Dolmas are the perfect finger food that retains their taste no matter how long they are left at the party table. 

Finally, I'm adding tahini (sesame seed paste) to my honey quick-oat smoothie for a cold dessert drink. The tahini sauce and blended oatmeal form a hearty drink that seems to help recover from hangover.

Tahini added to quick-oat smoothie

These Israeli foods may not pair side-by-side that cohesively with the wine. But if you follow the flow to have Shakshouka for breakfast, Dolmas for light lunch, tahini smooth for dessert, and intertwine Castel Grand Vin sipping in-between, I bet you'll have a super fun day of food and wine experience...anywhere you are.

For more Middle Eastern food and wine pairings, check out my #WinePW friends' blogs:

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Elevating French grapes outside France at Texas's William and Chris Vineyards #Winophiles

2018 Carbonic Tannat, Hye Estate (SRP$35), 2017 Tannat, Hye Estate (SRP$50), 2017 Malbec,
Lost Draw (SRP$42) and 2019 Roussanne, Texas High Plains 

The #Winophiles bloggers are obviously passionate about wines from France. Does our passion fade when it comes to wines that are produced from French grapes outside France? Cam Mann from Culinary Adventures with Camilla invites us to look at this topic in March 2021. To me, I'll go a deeper-dive how Texas's William Chris Vineyards elevates Tannat, Malbec, and Rousssanne, which are grapes originated in France, and transforms these wines into local and national favorites.

Wines from William Chris Vineyards are not new to me. I tasted and wrote about their impressive sparkling Rosé and Skeleton Key Red before. What really resonates with me is their focus on growing quality grapes, minimally manipulating the wine making process, and being innovative every step along the way. It's the to-do and bold attitudes...everything that speaks for Texas! 

Texas Wine AVA (American Viticultural Area) - Photo

Born French - Tannat, Malbec and Roussanne

The three types of French grapes used to produce the 2018 Carbonic Tannat, Hye Estate, 2017 Tannat, Hye Estate, 2017 Malbec, Lost Draw and 2019 Roussanne, Texas High Plains are Tannat, Malbec and Roussanne. 

2018 Carbonic Tannat, Hye Estate, a much fresher interpretation of Tannat due to carbonic maceration

Tannat is a red wine grape, initially grown in the Madiran AOC, southwest of France. Tannat is a "tough" grape and adapts well in rugged terrains. The Hye Estate Vineyards, where 2018 Carbonic Tannat and 2017 Tannat were grown and produced, is located in the middle of Texas Hill County AVA. In the Hye Estate Vineyards, about 6.5 acres of vines are planted on soil marked by bottom layers of rocky riverbed that give way to limestone. The soil is rich in nitrogen due to the turkey farming that previously dominated the region. The warm 2018 summer offered exceptionally high fruit ripeness levels but still retained great acidity in the grapes. While, generally speaking, Tannat is intensely fruity, spicy and heavy in tannins, the 2018 Carbonic Tannat is a fresher exhibition of the fruit. On the nose, it smells like freshly picked dark berries. As you sip, it's aromatic, slightly spicy and runs a tad licorice that leaves fun and tingling sensations in your palate. The winemaking technique for this wine is to "let it be"...there is no fining, no filtration, no sulfur, but wild yeast in its fermentation. At harvest, the whole clusters were transferred into a terra cotta clay pot, which was added with dry ice in layers to create an anaerobic environment, free of oxygen, in order to facilitate carbonic maceration of the grapes. Carbonic maceration is to ferment grapes in whole clusters in a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing, fermenting the juice while it is still inside the grapes and yielding a juicer and low-tannic wine.

2017 Tannat, Hye Estate, a contrast to the 2018 Carbonic Tannat,
showcases a traditional and rich Tannat

The 2017 Tannat, however, is a much more traditional and richer interpretation of Tannat. Aging 26 months in five percent new French oak, this Tannat displays the aromas of pomegranate and leather on the nose and has a rich palate of smokiness, black cherries and leather. It's bright and tart and has elegant tannins and a long finish.

2017 Malbec, Lost Draw, oaky, smoky, love at first sight, a lot of depth... a "refined" cowboy!

Malbec is indigenous to France, and its growing is now found primarily in Cahors in the southwest of  the country. This is one of those French grapes that travels around the world and becomes famous as a single-variety wine else where such as Argentina, when at its birthplace, Malbec remains as a humble blending grape in Bordeaux wines. The grapes of the 2017 Malbec were sourced from Lost Draw Vineyards*, which is situated in Texas High Plains AVA. They grow many warm-climate varietals at high elevation in the well-drained, iron-rich red clay soils. The quality of the Malbec grape does make this wine stand out. It's full-bodied, oaky, and has chocolate notes and a lot of chew. After all, the acidity is still retained, striking a good balance of elegance and richness. The finish is long, with memorable replay of chocolate notes. This Malbec is like a "refined" cowboy, who may impress you with the bold and outgoing appearance but eventually charm you with his deep thoughts. 

*Lost Draw Vineyards merged with William Chris Vineyards in October 2020.

2019 Roussanne, Texas High Plains, which consists of 90% Roussanne, 5% Marsanne and 5% Picpoul Blanc, is a hearty white that is good for all year around.

Roussanne is a white wine grape grown originally in the Rhône wine region in France. The grapes of the 2019 Roussanne were grown in three vineyards (i.e., La Pradera, One Way and Timmons Estate Vineyards) that are known for their clay base, limestone sub-soil, fine sandy loam, and high organic matters. Due to the unusually long growing season in Texas High Plains in 2019, there were two separate harvests of Roussanne at the La Pradera Vineyards. The younger block, which is about 35% of the wine, was harvested a week earlier than the rest and was fermented in a concrete egg. The remainder of the wine was barrel-fermented. In order to add additional texture and body, Bâtonnage was added every two to three weeks during the six month ageing period. The end result of this Roussanne is richer, full-bodied and loaded with minerality. 

2019 Roussanne with a pan-fried fish cake on rice

Smoky Pork Belly, Salmon Rice Burger and Pan-fried Fish Cake

I can't remember since when pork belly becomes very popular in Asian restaurants in New York. May it be a Japanese ramen shop or a 5-star fusion Thai-French restaurant, pork belly is cool and defies the all the low-fat diet trends. What I paired with my William Chris wines was slowly smoke-roasted pork belly strips that were marinated in nine different sauces or seasonings. The 3/4" thick strips were roasted in an oven at 350 degree for 1 1/2 hours. The sauces I used were simply a mixture of what I have in the pantry and a splendid showcase of diverse Asian flavors. From the left to the right (or top to bottom), the marinating sauces I brushed on the strips are: 

  • Japanese Miso sauce with paprika
  • Soy sauce with grinded up ginger (spicy)
  • Fish sauce with coriander
  • Montreal steak seasoning
  • Korean Gochujang red chili paste (spicy)
  • Chinese fermented tofu paste
  • Ginger honey salad dressing 
  • Soy sauce with rice vinegar
  • Miso sauce

Pork belly strips marinated in 9 different types of sauces and seasoning, slow-roasted at 350 degree in the oven for one and a half hours

Prior to the roasting, I did lattice-cut on the up side pork belly to allow easy absorption of the sauces into the meat. To let the fat of the belly drain out, I put a rack above the tray to catch the fat. The smokiness came from the soaked apple wood chips. I also added half a cup of water to the wood chips to prevent any burns during the roasting. 

Lattice-cut the pork belly to achieve better marination and maximum flavor

The pork belly is perfect for the Tannats and Malbec. I chilled the 2018 Carbonic Tannat for 20 minutes before drinking it, and it turned out it was the most fun and perfect for the pork belly, especially for the ones that are a bit spicy. There is no doubt in my mind that this wine will be a big hit red wine for summer BBQ pairings. The 2017 Tannat and 2017 Malbec were also a solid match with the ones that have rich, savory and creamy flavors like the miso paprika, Montreal steak seasoning and the fermented tofu. 

Crispy, juicy Pork Belly bite

For the 2019 Roussanne, I opted for a pan-fried salmon patty on a rice burger. This Roussanne is a substantially solid white wine that is very enjoyable with a heavier fish like salmon. I made an egg-yolk garlic aioli sauce to cream up the salmon and add extra flavors to the rice. I found that this Roussanne went very well with pan-fried fish cakes that can be made of any ground white fish.

I think it is fair to say that drinking French wines made from French grapes are fine. You kind of know what you are getting into. But tasting the wines made from French grapes outside France, like Texas is a wild card, and with William Chris Vineyards, it is an awesome and rewarding experiment that elevates my palates, experiences and spirit!

Disclosure: the wines in this post are samples. The ideas of the post are mine.

Check out other #Winophiles bloggers' pursuits of French grapes outside France below:

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Farina Amarone della Valpolicella with Ground Pork in Karela Rings #ItalianFWT

Farina Amarone: Ruby red color with garnet hues. Mildly bitter, spicy, cocoa, sour cherry, raspberry, currant, and balsamic notes. Warm, full-bodied, structured, fine and balanced

It feels so good to kick off my Italian wine bloggings for 2021 with the topic of Italian Wines to Go With Meat Braises and Stews, thanks to the invite of Cam Mann's Culinary Adventures. With two feet of fresh snow outside my New Jersey home, I crave for a bit comfort food and wine, but want to go outside my comfort zone. Let's take a "bitterly" wild journey to taste the 2016 Farina Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and Ground Pork in Karela (Indian bitter melon) Rings.

Farina Amarone della Valpolicella 2016, SRP $30, ABV 15%, 
70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 10% Molinara

Farina Amarone della Valpolicella

Fairna was born and lives in Valpolicella, a land of deep-rooted and excellent winemaking tradition. Farina’s century-long expertise uniquely interprets the terroir of  Valpolicella. Valpolicella is the most famous red wine district in northeastern Italy's Veneto wine region. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico wines in particular are intensely rich, red Amarone wines from the traditional Classico viticultural zone of Valpolicella. 

Grapes drying at Remo Farina (Photo Credit:

This 2016 Farina Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is made from a careful selection of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes dried in the typical fruit drying sheds for about 4 months, and is matured first in barriques and then in Slavonian oak barrels. 

Grapes kept in drying rooms, known as appassimento in Italian, for 3 weeks to 3 months
(Photo Credit: Whole Food Market Wine)

Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara are the typical Italian indigenous grapes used to produce Amarone della Valpolicella. Corvina, with the classic bitter note, is generally considered as the finest and traditional grapes of the three. Rondinella's popularity picked up since 1960s because of its prolific yields. It is hardly ever produced as a single varietal wine, but rather is used to add herbal flavors to the Corvina base and to flesh out the blend. Molinara, which is super-acidic and easily oxidized, is a light-bodied Italian red grape that is used as a minor blending partner in Valpolicella, Bardolino and IGT Veneto wines. On its own, Molinara is fairly characterless and ultimately rarely appears as a varietal wine. 
Farina Amarone with Ground Pork in Karela Rings

Amarone - Bitter Plus Enormous Size in Italian

Amarone comes from the Italian word amaro, which means bitter, completed by the one suffix which denotes enormous size or volume. Amarone della Valpolicella is an intensely flavored dry red wine concentrated its flavors from dried grapes. This style was invented as Veneto's winemakers searched for a way to increase the body, complexity and alcohol content of their wines. The grapes are picked in whole clusters and are kept in drying rooms that have warm temperatures and low humidity (i.e., the process is known as appassimento in Italian) for anywhere from approximately three weeks to three months. When the drying process is complete, the grapes are gently pressed and the must is fermented to dry. The grapes' high sugar content translates into a higher potential alcohol, so a complete fermentation results in a powerful wine of 15 or 16 percent alcohol by volume. This is subsequently aged in larger barrels and smaller Slavonian oak barriques for at least two years before commercial release.

Indian Bitter Melon - Karela helps manage diabetics and gut health

Ground Pork in Karela Rings 

Karela, Indian bitter melon, is considered as one of the most bitter vegetables. This vegetable has a distinct "spiky" look and an oblong shape. It's hollow inside that's filled with flat seeds and pith, which are to be removed. While I care more about the bitter taste I like about Karela, this bitter vegetable is packed with therapeutic benefits such as managing diabetics and gut health. As you could tell, Karela is not for everyone - either you love it or you hate it. It is an acquired taste! To lighten up the bitterness, you could blanch the cut-up melon in boiling water for a few minutes. However, the freshly green color will turn dull. In comparison to Chinese bitter melon, which is bigger, longer and less spiky, Karela is milder in terms of bitterness. When I could handle Chinese bitter melon all my life, Karela is perfectly blanching required. 

Seasoned Ground Pork Stuffed in the Karela Rings

To retain the shape so that I can stuff the ground pork in easily, it's better just to cut up the fresh Karela in rings without softening it up by blanching. Although the seasoning of the ground pork is entirely up to you, I recommend using dried herbs, and maybe a bit garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper in my case. Try not to make the meat filling too wet so it won't be "mold" inside the round rings. First, pan fry the Karela rings in the hot pan until golden brown on both sides. Then add a bit water and put a lid on the pan to slow cook it for five to ten minutes, depending on how soft you want the Karela to be. I personally liked it more crunchy and am obsessed in looking at the vibrantly green color of the Karela. So I only cooked it for five minutes. But to make it into a "braised" dish with the softer Karela, I cooked another version of it for 15 minutes after the pan fry, and added a light cornstarch glace to wrap up the dish.

Obsessed in looking at the vibrantly green color of the Karela!

Bitter Wine with Bitter Food

Describing wines as "bitter" seems to be shooting yourself in the foot. However, this is only true when you consider bitterness as a turn-off and there's no right food to pair it. While sipping my pleasantly "bitter" and spicy Farina Amarone, which is attributed by Corvina's  signature bitter note and Rondinella's herbal characters, my taste bud was also bombarded by the stuffed Karela...bitter, juicy, spicy, porky and savory. I'm truly indulged in self-bitterness!

Indulged in "Self-Bitterness"

Check out other #ItalianFWT bloggers' Italian wines and braised meats or stews below: