Saturday, September 18, 2021

Côtes du Rhône Wines and Perfect Fried Rice #Winophiles

Côtes du Rhône wines and
Perfect Fried Rice (left: vegetarian, ground beef, chicken, shrimp)

I was sent with six #sample - two Côtes du Rhône wines and four Côtes du Rhône Villages wines for the September Côtes du Rhône #Winophiles event, which was hosted by Wendy Klik from A Day in the Life on a Farm. The beautiful collection of Rosé, Viognier, and the Red blends like GSM (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) inspires me to pair them with a Chinese or Asian staple, fried fact five styles of fried rice I cooked, ranging from vegetarian, beef, chicken, shrimp, and SPAM. Before I share tips in cooking perfect fried rice, let's learn about Côtes du Rhône. 

Photo Credit: Wine Folly

Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Village Wines

Côtes du Rhône, which means the hillsides of the Rhône River, is one of the world's oldest wine regions. It is the second largest wine region in France, locating in south-eastern part of the country. Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages wines, a combined area which stretches across 98,000 acres, annually produce about 40 million gallons.The Reds and Rosés are primarily a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, and the whites are mostly Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The Côtes du Rhône AOC has 171 towns and villages, while the Côtes du Rhône Villages, a separate AOC, has 95 villages. Between these two AOCs, only 21 grape varieties are permitted to use for producing  wines. The Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC is a "step-up" in the Côtes du Rhône pyramid, where more stringent rules on quality and geographical sourcing of the grapes apply. 

Photo Credit:

Out of the 95 Côtes du Rhône Villages, 22 of them attach their village name to the label, a higher grade that shows more complex wines that are good for ageability and vintage collections. The wines from the named Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC can only use grapes that are grown within the named village. If grapes from other villages are used, the named Village can't appear on the label. Red Côtes du Rhône Villages wines must, as a minimum, contain Grenache and one of the two other main varieties, Syrah and/or Mourvèdre. 

Photo Credit: Côtes du Rhône

Why Drink Côtes du Rhône AOC and Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC Wines?

The sun-drenched Côtes du Rhône vineyards, located at both side of the gentle banks of the Rhône River, flourish along the River in the Mediterranean climate. The summer is hot and dry, but is refreshed by cleansing Mistral wind. There are multiple soil types in the AOC, including rocky clay soils, nutrient- and moisture-rich pebbles and stony deposits on hills and slopes. At night, the stones also release the heat stored during the day to the vines, creating  conditions that are well-suited to producing wines with good ageing potential. Loose and sandy soils on the other hand provide a less uniform water supply, which are more suited to making lighter Reds and Rosé. The climate and terroir of Côtes du Rhône Villages vineyards is similar to the Côtes du Rhône's. Grenache is the leading grape in both AOCs. In typical Reds, they are easy-drinking, full-bodied wine features flavors of wild berries, plums, and warm spices, with approachable tannins and a lingering finish. Some traditional Whites, such as Viognier, Grenache Blanc, and Clairette, are creating balance in acidity, floral-scented and full-bodied wines with peach, lemon, and honey notes. In addition, while some wines, especially the ones with cellaring and vintage-collection potentials, from these appellations can fetch top dollars, most of the wines are still affordable, starting from SRP$14. 

Six Côtes du Rhône Wines To Taste

Certified Biodynamic GSM - Domaine Les Aphillanthes Cuvée Les Galets 2019 (SRP$24) - Nose: blackberry, licorice, earthy, Palate: wild game, mesquite, herbaceous, Mouthfeel: rich, lush with a long finish
Domaine Les Aphillanthes, located near Gigondas - Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu AOC, is owned and managed by Daniel Boulle and his wife, Hélène, whose 98-acres vineyards is famous for practising biodynamic principles. The couple keep their yields low and take a hands-off and minimalist approach to their winemaking in the cellar, truly letting their wines revealing the terroirs.

Rotem and Mounir Saouma Inopia Rouge 2017 (SRP$31) - Nose: dark cherries, plums, lavender and a hint of brinines, Palate: lively, deep, silky, phenolic, weathered leather, Mouthfeel: layered, nuanced
Rotem and Mounir Saouma venture out in completely new directions, producing wines that are much more in the spirit of Rhône à la Burgundy in the Côtes du Rhône Villages. They have purchased around 20 acres vineyards which terroirs are like kaleidoscope. Some of their vineyards adjoin those of Chateauneuf du Pape's high-end Château Rayas, around the lieu-dit of Pignan. Barrels, concrete, eggs, and foudres are all in their playbooks for fermentation. The level of focus, precision and purity in their winemaking is unparalleled. The Inopia Rouge 2017 consists of mainly Grenache, plus Mourvèdre, Counoise, Syrah, and Cinsault.
GSM - Xavier Vignon Arcane XIX Le Soleil 2015 (SRP$29) - Nose: cherries, blackberries, graphite, violet, and a tad of cocoa, Palate: blackberries, minerality, chocolate, Mouthfeel: fuller-bodied, richer, long and lingering finish
Xavier Vignon, a northern French naive from Picardie, is proud of his roots and of his humble beginning. His encounter in Reims with an oenologist sparked his interest in grape-growing and winemaking. Xavier brings an impressively wide perspective to his dual roles as a "terroir hunter" and "master blender" due to his more than thirty harvests from diverse wine regions around the world. Each of the Arcane series emphasizes on a specific grape variety, terroir, or vintage. The 2015 vintage is crafted largely from old vines, and the Grenache grape (80%) is selected from nine parcels around the Côtes du Rhône Village of Vaucluse, plus 10% in each of Syrah and Mourvèdre.

Lavau La Décelle 2018 (SRP$14) - Nose: blackberries, red cherries, marzipan, Palate: hints of graphite, dark chocolate, violets, Mouthfeel: medium with a lingering finish

Benoît and Frédéric Lavau fell in love with this 205-acres estate in the Valréas and purchased it in 2010. Situated in the heart of the historic Enclave des Papes, the vineyards of Domaine la Décelle benefit from the perfect combination of diverse soils, microclimates and altitude. Having inherited their family sense of adventure, they have significantly expanded their holdings to additional vineyards in Valréas, Rasteau, and Côtes du Rhône, becoming a key player in southern Rhône. The Lavau La Décelle 2018, which has 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah, is a true steal for a complex, fresh and structured Côtes du Rhône Villages wine.

Chateau Beauchène Blanc 2019 (SRP$18) - Nose/Palate: honey, white peach, dried apricot, toasted almond and vanilla, Mouthfeel: rich and weighty, 100% Viognier

The Bernard family has been making wine since the 17th century, procuring their first vineyard after the redistribution of land following the French Revolution. Since 1971, the Château has been managed by Michel Bernard and his wife, Dominique, along with their eldest daughter, who joined the management team in 2004. Today, their land include 175 acres of prized Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages vineyards. Following their ancestral widsom, the family continues to farm in a minimalist way, and has long truly practising sustainability with the old vines to make the best wines the land could. 
Certified Organic Alain Jaume Bellissime Rosé 2020 (SRP$15) - Nose: thyme and lavender, Palate: dry, strawberries and a hint of white pepper 
The Jaume family has been growing grapes since 1826. At its fifth generation, Alain Jaume, and sixth generations, his children Christophe, Sébastien, and Hélène, the Jaume are skilled grape growers and winemakers who produce wines that are intense, rich and complex. To do so, they vinify the grape variety and parcel separately across their 225-acre estate. The Alain Jaume Bellissime Rosé 2020 is a Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah blend.

Perfect Fried Rice

Fried rice appears to be a very simple dish. Everyone cooks it, and what is the big deal? To cook perfect fried rice, there are four important things to remember:
  • Have dry cooked rice (e.g., one day old or left over rice) ready. Each grain of the cooked rice should be easily separated instead of soggy rice sticking together. 
  • Invest in a rice cooker, even though it is a cheaper one. You will cook constant good rice using it. Cooking rice over the stovetop not only requires a lot of work to stir, the rice is also so easy to stick at the bottom. Ideally, if you have a non-stick rice cooker, the rice will never stick to the bottom and turn out great every time. However, if you don't want to spend the money, there is a tip to  make sure the cooked rice come out easily from a regular rice cooker. Once the rice is cooked, just unplug it from the outlet and let it cool off for at least 1/2 hour. 
  • Chose the right rice grains. Long grains such as Basmati or Chinese rice are great for fried rice. However, the short grains Korean or Japanese rice provide more chewy texture. But the key thing is not to let the rice turn soggy.
  • Add fresh herb such as cilantro, spring onion, basil, and/or parsley to bring color and aromas to the fried rice. 
Let's check out how to cook one of my favorite fried rice dishes - SPAM Fried Rice. 

SPAM Fried Rice Recipe

  • Cook 2 cups of rice in a rice cooker. Dry it overnight in the cooker or in the fridge for ideal result. Rice needs to be completely cool down before use.
  • Cut one can of SPAM into 1/2 inch cubes. Brown it in non-sticking frying pan.
  • Fry three eggs and cut it in small pieces.
  • Pan-fry any vegetable you like. Frozen mixed vegetable is an easy choice too. 
  • Combine SPAM, egg, vegetable, and rice in the pan and stir until they are all mixed together. Add salt and pepper sparsely as SPAM has already brought in the saltiness.
  • Drizzle some sesame oil to add toastiness to your rice.
Extra Tip:
  • Freeze the extra rice for your or your kids' lunch. Add one tbsp of water to the frozen rice and microwave it on high for one minute.  

I found the SPAM, ground beef and chicken fried rice pair really well with the Domaine Les Aphillanthes Cuvée Les Galets, Xavier Vignon Arcane XIX Le Soleil, and Lavau La Décelle. The meaty fried rice is a balanced meal by itself that goes well with the medium-bodied Reds. The vegetarian and shrimp fried rice is a no-brainer for the Chateau Beauchène Blanc and Alain Jaume Bellissime Rosé. I didn't have a chance to enjoy the Rotem and Mounir Saouma Inopia Rouge with any fried rice as I already drank it all before I cooked anything!

*The wines are samples. The ideas of the post are my own.

If you need more ideas pairing ideas for your Côtes du Rhône wines, check out the #Winophiles bloggers' posts below:

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Organic White Wines: Bonterra Chardonnay, Cono Sur Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc Paired With Asian Vegan Dishes #WinePW

Bonterra Chardonnay (SRP$12), Cono Sur Chardonnay (SRP$11) and Sauvignon Blanc (SRP$11) Paired With Korean Japchae Noodle
I didn't start showing interest in organic and biodynamic wines until I got a lot more serious about wine blogging dating back a couple of years ago. Gwendolyn Alley from Wine Predator has been one of the subject matter experts who I learned about the theories in organic and biodynamic wineamaking. In recent months, her hands-on experiences as a "cellar rat" at Clos des Amis in Ventura County, California also bring in additional perspectives of making wines in a non-interventionist way. With this month's #WinePW theme of Pairings with Organic Wine, I received #samples from Bonterra and Cono Sur to #PourOrganic and to pair a few Asian vegan dishes. 

Organic grapes are typically grown without the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides

Growing Organic Wine Markets

We all kind of know the organic wine markets are growing. But how significant the growth truly is? According to the May 2021 report from The Insight Partners, "(worldwide) Organic Wine Market Size was valued at US$7,460.29 million in 2019 and is projected to reach US$16,647.81 million by 2027; it is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.7% during 2020–2027. IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record) projects the organic wine category in the US will grow to over $1 billion by 2024, from $54.5 million in 2021. So what and who drives the growth? The simple answer is consumers, in particular, the health-conscious consumers, who know about the use of artificial fertilizers, harmful chemicals, and man-made additives throughout the grape-growing and winemaking processes. In the end, all these chemicals will go to the wine, then to our body. Consumers demand “purity” in their wines. They want the wine to speak the terroir, not the chemicals that mask the true taste and identity of the grapes. The charm of local winemaking tradition associated with organic wines also becomes a powerful marketing tool that not only often resonates with consumers as a "feel-good" story, but also offers the "unique" reason why the purchase should be made.

"Green" Wine Certifications (Organic, Biodynamic, and Sustainable) from All Over the World (Photo Credit:

What is Organic Wine?

Organic wine is produced from grapes cultivated without the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Organic wine is free from additives such as sulfur, yeast nutrients, and fining, and it is produced by using yeasts that are indigenous to the fruit. For US, sulfites must not be added to the organically grown wines.

Affordable Organic Whites for Daily Asian Vegan Food

Bonterra Chardonnay is produced with certified organically grown grapes from throughout California including a large portion from Bonterra's estate vineyards - Blue Heron Ranch and McNab Ranch, in Mendocino. Fermented in stainless steel tanks and American oak barrels, Bonterra Chardonnay strikes the balance of freshness and creaminess. Taking a much fresher approach, this Chardonnay won't leave you with an overwhelming and confusing, aka, the dated "buttery" taste profile of some California Chardonnays had. I truly enjoy the tad toasty vanilla and creamy notes, but the uplifting zest of bright citrus and green apple notes perfectly links the wine to the Korean Japchae noodle. Let's make this vegan dish in four simple steps.

  • You can purchase the Korean "glass" noodle at Amazon and cook it in boiling water by following the instructions on the package. When the noodle is translucent and al dente, it should be removed from the hot water and wash under cool tap water to remove the residual starch. Toss the cool noodle with a bit sesame oil while preparing the vegetables.
  • You could cook whatever vegetable you desire for the dish. I usually use shelled edamame, shredded carrot, sliced mushroom, and bak choi. In my Japchae this time, I added brocoli and fried egg (sorry, eggs are not considered as vegan by some people) as my kids like them. With carrot and mushroom, I did stir-fry it with a little soya sauce and a pitch of sugar to add flavor. For edamame and brocoli, just blanch them in water.
  • The taste of Japchae comes from the sweeten soya sauce (i.e., diluted soya sauce sweetened with sugar). Depending on your preference, I made mine with 1/8 of a cup of light soya sauce, 4 tbsp of dark soya sauce, 1/2 cup of water and 4 tbsp of sugar, cooking it in a small sauce pan until the sauce can coat the back of the spoon. The sauce doesn't have to be syrupy though.
  • To serve, toss the noodle and vegetable with 2 tbsp of sesame oil and the sauce (don't need to have all the sauce in and adjust it to your taste). The noddle tastes best in room temperature or when it's lightly chilled.
Chile's Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc is a bright, clean and young Sauvignon Blanc that's made 
from organically grown grapes. The nose is intense, with aromas of white flowers, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and garden herbs. The palate is fresh, vivid with acidity and minerality. 
Suggested Asian Vegan Pairings:

Cono Sur Chardonnay is a fun wine that has aromas of orange, grapefruit, lemon, pineapple, and quince on the nose. The palate is young, fresh, and has a tad minerality undertone. This is an affordable Chardonnay that goes well with a lot of simple Asian lunch flairs.
Suggested Asian Vegan Pairings:
🌱Asian Coleslaw / Avocado with Ginger Salad Dressing 
🌱Vegan Mapo Tofu
If you are still not convinced that drinking more organic wine is good for you, look at what the kids have been drinking - organic grape juice!

*Disclaimer: the wines are samples. The ideas of the blog are mine.

Check out what my #WinePW blogger friends are pairing their organic wines with:

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Querciantica Verdicchio - A Gem from La Marche's Self-Made Wineamaker Angela Piotti Velenosi #ItalianFWT


Querciantica Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi: structured, weighty, long finish
Floral scents from honey, apple, peach and freshly cut grass on the nose,
citrusy, fresh, fruity, vegetal on the palate, (SRP$17)

For September’s #ItalianFWT, wine bloggers are invited by Marcia Hamm from Joy of Wine to explore Verdicchio. The tasting of Querciantica Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico, a sample from Le Marche's Velenosi Vini, provides me the opportunity to sip one of the most structured and best-bang-for-the-buck Italian white wines in my recent memory. While the Querciantica Verdicchio is intriguing taste-wise, the producer of this wine, Angela Piotti Velenosi's journey to become one of the leading wine women in Le Marche is equally engaging and inspirational. 
The Velenosi Mother (Angela - Right) and Daughter (Marianna) Duo continue to make their mark in Le Marche wines (Photo Credit: Velenosi Vini)

Velenosi Vini - 100% Self-Made Wine Entrepreneur Since 1987

Unlike some of the Italian winery stories we are often told...when children who were born into the winery business passing down from their parents and ancestors, Angela and Ercole Velenosi - the wife and husband duo went down the winery path with no passed-down ancestral wisdom, no knowledge, no capital, or no land. However, what they had back in 1987 was sheer enthusiasm, energy, passion, and willingness to trial and error, building their dream from scratch...a family house on a 23-acre vineyard, a couple pieces of used equipment, and an unsure plan to make two wines as their pilot. Today, Velenosi Vini is the second largest family-owned winery in Le Marche, expanding to owning 363 acres of vineyards, producing 2.5 million bottles of wines annually, and offering one of the most diverse grape profolio of the region. As a famous quote from Angela, “Wine is an art capable of making you dream”, Velenosi Vini definitely is living this dream after their determination to make matter what...37 years ago. Angela becomes one of the leading female winery producers in Le Marche and was selected as the testimonial to represent the region in the Milan wine expo back in 2015. Velenosi Vini is named the top 100 wineries in Italy by Wine Spectator and is proud to offer wines that have the best quality and price ratio.
Photo CreditL Wine Folly

Le March, Where Verdicchio Shines

The Marche region is known for growing Verdicchio, an Italian indigenous grape. Verdicchio, which presence could date back to the medieval time, is especially adaptable in the areas of Castelli di Jesi and Matelica.Verdicchio from Castelli di Jesi, is grown in a large area, stretching from the hills at the west of Ancona, along the long Esimo river passing Jesi Arcevia Arcevia, and down to the Musone river. The soils are linestones in general, ranging from sandstones to clay with compositions that are different from one area to another. The altitudes of the vineyards start from 260 feet to 1480 meters, which provide the cool mountain air and still allow the winds from the east-front Adriatic sea bringing in the moisture. Verdicchio di Matelica, however, is farther from the east coast and is grown in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains which is at a higher elevation than the area in Castelli di Jesi. Verdicchio di Matelica is often a bit weightier on the palate, and has more acidity and minerality than the one from Castelli di Jesi.

(Photo Credit: DiWine Taste)

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC

Verdicchio is quite susceptible to mildew and other illnesses and only grows well on exposed and breezy hills. It ripens in Castelli di Jesi regularly between September and the beginning of October. Through altering the timing of harvesting the grapes, a wide range of expressions of the wine can be achieved. If it is harvested in advance, greener grapes will give birth to a spumanti-style Verdicchio which captivates fresher citrus sensations. When it's harvested right at its ripeness, the fruity sensations offer the expected and traditional profile of this wine. Verdicchio is also suitable for late harvest, where hints of candied fruit and aromatic herbs would be present deriving partially from the dried grapes. Verdicchio can be fermented in steel tanks, but also tolerates aging in wooden barrels. Its versatility and cellaring ability earns this grape a nickname, the "Barolo" (i.e., the King) of Italian white wines. 

Verdicchio Grape (Photo Credit: Velenosi Vini)

Food Pairings 

The food pairing choice for Querciantica Verdicchio is limitless. While I think braised or stewed red meat dishes or a grilled T-bone steak may be a bit too much, the structure and weight of this wine, even it is white, can handle stir-fried meat dishes and deep-fried poultries like sweet and sour chicken nuggets. Since it's also fresh and lemony, any seafood will go too. What I found pairing exceptionally well with this wine is carb...a side of buttery rice pilaf, stir-fried flat rice  noodle with thinly sliced beef, or chicken lo mein. My conclusion for this Verdicchio is: When you see it, stock up as many as you can drink if all year long!
Top Left: Sweet and Sour Chicken Fingers, Grilled Shrimp with Buttery Rice Pilaf
Bottom Left: Stir-fried Flat Rice Noodle with Beef, Chicken Lo Mein

*The wine is a sample. The ideas of the blog are my own.

Check out which Verdicchio other #ItalianFWT bloggers is sipping...