Friday, May 17, 2019

Exploring Languedoc-Roussillon with Chateau Millegrand Mourral Grand Reserve Minervois + Chinese Charcuterie Board #Winophiles

It’s an old bottle that has been tucked away at the back of the cellar. It’s long forgotten until I recently signed up to blog about wines from Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, and checked my "inventory". The beat-up label of this 2010 Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve Minervois brought back the memory...excitement and a sense of intimidation of not knowing what these wines were, when I received this wine as part of my first case of wines from the WSJ Wine Club many years ago. This month’s #winophiles blog was kindly coordinated by L.M.Archer whose invite has a focus on Gérard Bertrand, a legendary producer in Languedoc-Roussillon. I detour a bit and explore Languedoc-Roussillon via the lens of the its subregion, Minervois and a taste of my forgotten bottle.
Minervois is an appellation in northwestern Languedoc-Roussillon and is famous for its red wines. Its terroir is not particularly complex. As part of the gently sloped vineyards around the Montagne Noire’s southern edge, the Clamoux, Argent Double, Ognon and the Cesse rivers all run down the Montagne Noire to the Aude, forming an amphitheater. Over time, a series of terraces are made from stones, clays, schiste (i.e., medium-grade metamorphic rock that has visible minerals) and limestone. The clay/stony soils make it prone to producing deep and powerful reds. 
Photo Credit: Benoit France
With an area of 5,000 hectares, around 1,300 producers in Minervois have been producing approximately 94% red, 2% white, 4% rosé. Minervois’s reds (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Lladoner Pelut, Carignan, Cinsault, Terret, Aspiran, Piquepoul) offer a variety of styles that make them excellent entry-level French wines, especially considering their relatively low retail price.

Looking at the larger picture, Languedoc-Roussillon is a large and diverse wine region in the south of France where the Mediterranean climate drives the long-standing heat and sun. It stretches from Nîmes and Montpellier in the east, around the Mediterranean to the Spanish border. Languedoc groups together various appellations including the all-encompassing Pays d’Oc, Languedoc AOPs (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) as well as the more geographically focused AOPs such as Corbières, Minervois, Coteaux du Languedoc and Côtes du Roussillon. 

With a continuous fame for reds, like Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault, the region does produce white wines that vary considerably in quality and style. 

Château Millegrand-Mourral in Minervois is owned by the Bonfils family, who spearheaded the recent quality revolution that transformed the region. Jean-Michel and his three sons undertook the renovation of the vineyard and cellar at this historic property, then brought in Olivier Bayle, from Bordeaux's legendary First Growth Château Lafite, to make the wine. Olivier sourced the barrels for oak ageing from another famous cru classé Bordeaux estate, Château Gruaud Larose.

The 2010 Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve Minervois is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah with an ABV of 13.0%. As it’s poured into the decanter, the color is deep violet. Given the age of the bottle, initially the notes and taste of the wine didn’t come through as much of anything other than tart cherries. Two hours into the decanter though, the wine seemed to be revived and started to release notes of cherry, bright acidity, light tannin and subtle oak. The finish is short and pleasing. Decanting also helps remove the visible sediment. Compared to the online tasting notes that were written a few years back, this wine was much more intense than the current version of it. Ageing does smooth out this wine! 
To pair with this lean wine, I did a Chinese-style charcuterie board that showcases lean protein like the Chinese cold-cuts that are available in larger Chinese grocery stores which have hot buffet table as well as the pre-made food stored in the open fridge section. Before we dive right into the cold-cuts, one thing I must mention is the concept of “master sauce”. This is the braising concoction (滷水)that is deeply flavored with soya sauce, 5 spices, Chinese licorice root, ginger, molasses, anise, Sichuan peppercorns…whatever that secret family recipe calls for, and is the broth base where all the meat (e.g., all parts of beef, pork and chicken) and shell-less hard boiled eggs are cooked and sit in there for hours to allow maximum flavor to develop. 

Before savoring, let’s take a look at what’s on the charcuterie board:

Shopping List: 
  • Beef shank cold cuts
  • Pork tongue cold cuts

  • Chicken liver pâté: home cooked chicken liver and gizzards in the braising concoction that are coarsely chopped and creamed up with a 1 tablespoonful of butter.

  • Spiced small dry tofu: slice, heat up in microwave and spoon some of the braising sauce or BBQ sauce over.
  • Pork salami: pan-fry like a hot dog and serve
  • BBQ flavored Tofu pieces 
  • Pop-Pan scallion crackers
  • Sweet Soya Sauce pickled cucumber
  • Muscat grapes
    A long-lost friend resurfaces and has a complete change of character, like this Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve. No drama queen or king…it’s still a pleasing fellow that we can cling to.  

    Check out our blogger friends' related posts!

    Friday, May 10, 2019

    Biodynamic Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Noir from Johan Vineyards Plus Surf ‘n’ Turf Dinner #WinePW

    by Pinny Tam
    Pinot Noir is near and dear to my heart as it was my first love in wines around seven years ago. Also, in the same year, I went to my first Wine Blogger Conference 2012 which was hosted in Portland, Oregon and showcased mostly Willamette Valley producers and wines. Without knowing anyone in the WBC#2012, all the Pinots poured in the conference kept me company for a day or two and made me friendly enough to make new friends for the rest of the trip. During that trip, I heard about biodynamic and organic farming, but didn’t pay too much attention as my focus was on the appreciation of the Pinots and mingling. Jade Helm of Tasting Pour recently sent out a #WinePW blog invite on biodynamic wines of Willamette Valley, which not only brought back some fond memory of the fantastic Pinots I tasted in Willamette Valley, but also opens a bigger-picture discussion - biodynamics and sustainability that wine lovers should really pay attention. 
    Photo Credit:

    Nevertheless, biodynamic farming is more than a new process of doing the old-school farming. It’s inherently a philosophy that vineyards need to buy in spiritually and actionably in order to be successful in it. Let’s see how Johan Vineyards does biodynamic farming in Wilamette Valley – their own way.

    Johan Vineyards resides on 85 acres of gently sloping estate vineyards in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Adjacent to the Van Duzer corridor, their vineyards are influenced by the daily temperature changes, contrasted between afternoon ocean breezes and cool evening temperatures - favorable to ripen the Burgundian grape varieties. The combined effects of the marine influence as well as the marine sedimentary soils craft the unique terroir of Johan Vineyards. 
    Photo Credit: Johan Vineyards
    While the terroir is “nature”, the vineyard management practices are “nurture” – to optimize the potential of the grapes. Johan's vineyard management is well-structured and methodical (click the Block number and "Back to the Map" to learn about what varieties are grown in the Block), breaking down into multiple blocks that feature 13 different varieties, with 10 clones of Pinot Noir and seven of Chardonnay, multiple rootstocks, across varying aspects and soil types. Overlaying the well-designed blocks are the biodynamic farming methods and accents of permaculture design that are implemented with discipline and an eye for sustainability, leading to Johan’s attainment of Demeter Certified biodynamic® and Stellar Certified Organic. Their biodynamic farming focuses on the entire farm as one living organism, which mimics the natural microbiological ecology of the soil. Healthy soil that is also cultivated through the assimilation of its own natural nutrients over time becomes the healthy base for more disease-resistant vines to grow. In short, the winning formula is: (good terroir + good farming practice) x (healthy soil + healthy vines + healthy grapes) + skillful but no overmanipulative winemaking techniques = good wines!

    I’m delighted to receive the 2016 Grüner Veltliner and 2015 Pinot Noir "Estate" as samples from Johan Vineyards via @wvwine. These wines are very different from the Austrian Grüner Veltliner and California Pinot Noir I recently tasted. In my Instagram post, I have used five words to describe each of these wines. 
    Grüner: rich, exotic, textured, earthy, medium-finish
    Pinot: refined oak, medium-bodied, nuanced, herbaceous, long-finish

    Johan Vineyards from Willamette Valley Oregon (US) practice Demeter Biodynamic, contributing to the impressive 47% of the Oregon vineyards that deploy BioD. Johan’s wines reflect their terroir and the focus they put into sustainable farming. Healthy soil yields healthy vines, bolstering a continuous cycle of quality grape harvests. 2016 Grüner Veltliner: rich, exotic, textured, earthy, medium finish 2015 Pinot Noir “Estate”: refined oak, medium-bodied, nuanced, herbaceous, long finish 🥢Recommended pairings: 🦐🦑seafood medley; 🐔curry ground chicken in phyllo dough puff; 🐷Chinese BBQ baby back ribs • • #chinesefoodandwinepairings #chinesefoodandwinepairing #johanvineyards #oreganwines #willamettevalleyvineyards #willamettevalley #wine #winelover #winelovers🍷 #winelover🍷 #biodynamicwine #stellarorganicwinery #biodynamicwines #biodynamicfarming #grünerveltliner #pinotnoir #pouringwine

    A post shared by Pinny Tam (@pairchifoodwine) on
    This 2016 Grüner Veltliner is rich and has nice chews to it and its acidity lingers and replays after each sip. It also has an unusually high ABV of 13.60% which is not typically seen in Grüner (for example, typically at 11.5% in Austrian Grüner). The grapes came entirely from their own estate and were crushed and destemmed before pressing. The richness of the wine is probably attributed to the knowledge in styling the wine with different type of oaks - barrel fermented with native yeasts in two 500-liter French oak puncheons and one 225-liter barrique, and aged sur lie for 10 months.

    While the Grüner has a big and great personality, the 2015 Pinot Noir “Estate” is reminiscent of a well-grounded person who has a strong track record of delivering good work and won’t disappoint! The goal behind the estate bottling is to make a wine that is representative of the entire farm. The grapes selection process is as rigorous as a college admission process that emphasizes on diversity, representation in all aspects, but also quality. Johan picked small parcels of grapes from every combination of rootstock/scion, slope, soil profile, and vine age throughout the property. They keep all lots separate through vinification and aging to evaluate and learn how each parcel performs over the different vintages, and then bring them together for a harmonious blend in the bottle. This Pinot is the most representative of the growing year and is the most accurate representation of Johan’s true terroir. For the 2015 Pinot Noir, it was made from all ten clones of Pinot Noir grown in their estate vineyards. The grapes were fermented using native yeasts. The wine was aged for 10 months in French oak barrels, 30% of which were new.

    While the wines may not complete me, they certainly inspire me to cook dishes that I usually don’t do at home. In light of the rich Grüner and the delicacy of the Pinot, I've devised three dishes, Surf ‘n’ Turf style, that can pair well with each of the wines and embrace its characters.
    The “Bird Nest’ is a Cantonese banquet dish. It is an intimidating dish to make specifically the “nest” part. I used a food processor to julienne a taro (a root vegetable that resembles the taste of potato but it’s starchier). I laid the julienned taro to cover a larger strainer and pressed it with another one down to the hot oil for a deep-fry. Well, the first trial was not a success as the shredded taro was stuck to the strainer and didn’t come out as a nest. It certain tasted good as taro fries though. I then used a smaller strainer and finally it came out like a smaller nest for baby birds. Atop the nest, I sautéed scallop, shrimp and latticed squid with vegetables like snap peas, carrots, bamboo shoots, baby corn and straw mushrooms. The “Bird Nest” works well with both wines as the Grüner complements the seafood while the Pinot cuts out the grease of the fried taro.

    The Curry Ground Turkey and Onion in Phyllo Dough Puff is a relatively simple dish. It doesn’t take too long to make but gets the best presentation on the plate. The Grüner enhances the exotic curry flavor of the turkey fillings, while the Pinot tames the buttery richness of the phyllo dough. See how it is made: 

    Curry Ground Turkey and Onion in Phyllo Dough 
    • 10 sheets of Phyllo dough 
    • Panko bread crumb
    • ½ pound ground turkey
    • 1 medium onion
    • 1 teaspoon curry powder
    • 1 tablespoon of Hoisin Sauce
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
    • 1 egg
    • Melted butter
    • Lemon juice
    • Pan fry the ground turkey and julienned onion with curry powder, Hoisin sauce and salt. Sprinkle the chopped parsley at the very end and dashes of lemon juice.
    • Cool the cooked turkey down completely before applying it into the phyllo dough.
    • Turn the oven on to 350 degree. Or follow the instructions on the package.
    • Roll out the phyllo dough carefully and lay two sheets of the dough on a clean surface. Apply melted butter on the dough - 2 sheets at a time, lightly sprinkle Panko bread crumb evenly onto the dough, and repeat four more times. Using 8 to 10 sheets in total is about right.
    • Arrange the ground chicken onto the long side of the retangular dough and fold it carefully until it meets the other end.
    • Egg-wash the dough and put it in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until it’s golden brown.
    • Cut stuffed phyllo dough in servable size and enjoy.

    The last dish that I prepared for the wines is Chinese baby back ribs. I marinated the ribs in soya sauce, rice vinegar and Hoisin sauce and roasted the ribs at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. I reduced the marinating sauce in a sauce pan for basting purpose and to a dipping sauce. The baby back ribs are fall-off-the-bone and finger-licking good, which also pairs really well with the Grüner. The sweet Hoisin taste mingles with the exotic smell of the wine and the acidity of the white makes the ribs less heavy. The Pinot has enough complexity, which interacts amazingly with the soya sauce and rice vinegar baked into the mild BBQ ribs.

    A memorable pairing indeed…a surf ‘n’ turf dinner and two different wines that are very different and yet converge to complement the dishes. Thanks to Johan Vineyards and thanks to Willamette Valley!

    Disclosure: The wines in this post are samples. All opinions are my own.

    Check out our fellow bloggers' posts on their biodynamic Willamette Valley wines and food pairings!

    Tuesday, May 7, 2019

    Throw Your Mama a Señor Sangria and Chinese-Fusion Tapas Party for Mother’s Day!

    By Pinny Tam

    Taking your mama to a Mother’s Day brunch is fine but throwing her a Sangria and tapas fiesta is divine! Señor Sangria's pre-made Classic White and Classic Red Sangrias are going to be a big part of the party. I found out about Señor Sangria in the Jersey City Beer Festival in April this year and loved the quality wines and real fruit juices they use to make their Sangrias, both white and red. I saw the great “potential” of these Sangrias right away – how they can be served and how they pair the food I like to cook. Also, these Sangrias are Jersey-proud and were first made for the market by a New Jersey fellow around ten years ago. As a Jersey girl, I support local business and am very excited to share my pairings once I received the samples.
    The story of these Sangrias started off by a nice New Jersey guy, Rick Martinez, who always brought some home-made Sangria to the parties to share with his friends and family. It was such a hit that his friends started sharing it with their friends and giving it as gifts. The popularity of the Sangria gave Rick a light-bulb moment and he decided to commercialize it. The first batch of Classic Red Sangria was born in March 2009, following with the introduction of the Classic White Sangria in June of 2011.

    Unlike some of the Sangrias in the market, Señor Sangria is truly authentic by using the real-deal juices, concentrates and wines, without artificial flavors and added colors.  Looking at the ingredient label of the Classic Red, it contains "English” I can read – Merlot, orange juice, red grape juice, lime juice and cane sugar. While the Classic White may have different wine (Sauvignon Blanc) and tropical fruit juices (pineapple and mango), these Sangrias are drinks that are "honest" and have the balanced taste (not too sugary or too tart, but still have the alcoholic kick) that Sangria lovers seek. 
    No one wants to wait in line for a Mother’s Day brunch on Sunday. Instead, show your mama some love by giving her a treat of great Sangria and Chinese-fusion tapas fiesta in the comfort of her own or your home. Let's take a look at my Instagram post for ideas on decorating the glasses for the party.

    💐Mother’s Day is upon us. Throw your mama a Sangria fiesta 🎉with Asian fusion tapas and the Señor Sangria🍷. The Classic White and Classic Red are made out of quality Sauvignon Blanc (in White) and Merlot (in Red) plus real fruit juice. There’s no need to cut fruit and try to mix the right amount of juice and wine/liquor to get the best Sangria. Just open the bottles and pour it over ice - a tasty Sangria is ready for your mama! Sangria and tapas food are perfect match. 🥢Recommended pairings: Chinese meatballs with parsley and scallion; Bacon glazed with dark soya sauce and brown sugar; Shrimp and cucumber salad with rice vinegar sesame oil dressing. #chinesefoodandwinepairings • • • #chinesefoodandwinepairing #senorsangria #whitesangria #redsangria #wine #winelover #winelovers #winelovers🍷 #winelover🍷 #tapas #jerseysangria #mothersday #mothersdaygifts #mothersdayparty #tastelikehappy
    A post shared by Pinny Tam (@pairchifoodwine) on
    It has been a wacky spring with drastic changes of temperatures and humidity on a daily basis. To shake off the chills, give your mama a cup of warm mulled Sangria as a starter drink upon her arrival. To make mulled Sangria with the pre-made Señor Sangria, all you need to do is pour it in a glass and put it in the microwave on high for one minute. 

    I add a couple slices of ginger and an anise in the Classic White and voila – this is probably the best mulled white Sangria you have ever tasted. The ginger gives the drink a spicy kick but also helps fight allergies and colds. The anise is aromatic and goes well with mulled drinks. The Classic Red is a bit more traditional with a cinnamon stick, an anise and some cloves, which is infused with these warm spices that warm your heart and soul. The “add-ons” can be put in the Sangria while microwaving it for a stronger taste.
    After having a warm drink, your mama is probably ready for a feast and more Sangria. I froze some table green and red grapes and dropped them in a glass of Classic White or Classic Red respectively for fun and the look. I also added a giant ice cube in the serving glass to make it extra icy cold. Drinking the Sangria cold is a no-brianer as it’s meant to be cold, refreshing and boozy, to around ABV 8% in Señor Sangria’s case.
    Sangria + tapas (a collection of small portion dishes that are traditionally served in Spain) are the perfect match – like Yin and Yang or peas and carrots! When I cook…to the wine, I like to kick it up a notch, and this time it’s to give a twist to these tapas dishes to make them equally good as the Spanish counterparts or maybe even better.

    Well, I have prepared ten different Chinese tapas for mama to enjoy. It may seem a bit overwhelming to cook so many dishes. But the trick is to improvise your dishes with some ready-to-eat, fresh ingredients added on to pre-cooked food, or cooking from scratch - but always adding a bit of Asian flair to your dishes! A trip to the Chinese grocery store is ideal to get all the authentic Chinese ingredients, but flexibility to substitute is great too – whichever way works for you and your taste buds!  

    Chinese-Fusion Tapas
      1. Cha Siu on Toasty Artisan Buns: “Cha Siu” (Chinese Roasted BBQ Pork) is sold pre-cooked and by the pound in Chinese grocery stores. Substitute with BBQ roasted pork loin or chop if you can’t find Cha Siu. After toasting the artisan buns, brush the BBQ sauce that comes with the Cha Siu, or from a bottle, on both sides of the bun, lay cut-up pork slices on the buns, and make multiple sandwiches.

      2. Deviled Egg with Chinese Salami: Cut up the Chinese salami (i.e., uncooked savory and sweet dry sausages) into bite-sized pieces and pan-fry them until the grease releases. Flow in in the egg yolks from the hard-boiled/halved eggs, and mix them with real mayo and a bit of rice vinegar until a creamy texture is reached. No salt is needed as the Chinese salami is quite salty. Roll the mixture into small balls and put them back to the halved eggs.

      3. Bacon Glazed with Dark Soya Sauce and Brown Sugar: Spray oil on a baking rack prior to laying the thick cut bacon on it. Brush on dark soya sauce on the bacon and sprinkle brown sugar right after. Bake it in the oven for 20 mins until they are brown, but not burnt.

      4. Meatball with Minced Garlic and Scallion: Make meatballs with your favorite recipe minus any cheese, salt and herb. Add minced garlic, scallion, 2 tbsp of dark soya sauce for 1 pound of ground meat, and mix all the ingredients together until it’s formable. Roll them into balls and bake.

      5. Pillsbury Croissant Roll-Out Tart with Farmer Cheese and Ginger Honey Lemon Marmalade: Add one pack of farmer cheese to ½ cup of ginger honey lemon marmalade, and mix them well. Roll out a can of Pillsbury croissant to a square shape and in the center spread out the mixture but leave 1 inch borders so you can fold the border in. Bake 375 degree for 15-20 mins or until the croissant is brown.

      6. Chicken and Vegetable Egg Rolls: Get them from any grocery stores and bake according to the direction.

      7. Scallion Pancake: Get them from the frozen section in a Chinese grocery store, heat up a frying pan with some oil, put the frozen pancake in the pan, and fry both sides until golden brown.

      8. Shrimp and Cucumber Salad in Rice Vinegar and Sesame  Oil Dressing: Cook the shrimp in boiling water or use defrosted pre-cooked shrimp. To make the salad dressing, mix rice vinegar, salt and sugar to the taste you prefer. Toss the shrimp and cube-up cucumber in the salad dressing. Drizzle a little sesame oil on top.

      9. Pineapple Fruit Boat: Use the pineapple as a serving bowl and top it with cut-up pineapple, strawberry and grapes.  

      10. Mochi ice cream: I got mine in ShopRite and Wegmans and choose any flavors you would like.

        I’m sure your mama is as happy as a clam when she enjoys all the tasty tapas food you make for her and the great Sangrias, but her true happiness probably comes from simply spending time with the people she loves!

        Disclosure: The Sangrias in this post are samples. All opinions are my own.