Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Girls Night Done Right

So I decided to go down to Richmond to visit my best friend and have a wine and dinner night. This being the first day I’ve had an appetite in two weeks, I decided to cook something simple that I haven’t tried before and drink one my favorite Virginia wines, Toscarora Red from Rockbridge, a vineyard on the way to Charlottesville. Since the recipe was a light pasta dish I also decided to pick up the Toscarora White as it is semi-sweet and goes well with most pasta dishes. It also happens to be my best friend’s favorite.

Toscarora, for both the red and white, is both semi-sweet and semi-dry. I love the red because it has a subtle spiciness that awakens your taste buds but the finish is sweet yet clean. Being medium bodied, I would be hesitant to pair it with a heavily seasoned steak, but it’s great with burgers.

With the white wine we were too impatient to allow it to chill, so instead of its usual crisp finish it took on sweet buttery notes. I’ve had both wines many times before, and I recommend the white version paired with pasta and potato salads. Both wines are great for bbqs and summer outings.

The recipe that we tried tonight was a garlic, basil and goat cheese pasta. I was craving something with bell peppers and goat cheese and I found this recipe online, but I’ve altered it some. Here is what we came up with:

On low heat, brown two minced cloves in two tablespoons of olive oil for one minute. Throw in half a cup of chopped onions (I used sweet onion because I’m not a big onion fan and would normally go with green onion but I thought it would be too light) and sauté until softened. Take one red and one yellow bell pepper and cut to your liking (I chose strips, but chopped would have worked) and cook on medium heat for five minutes. Take 1/3 a cup of your favorite dry to semi-dry white wine… such as Toscarora White, and throw it in the pan to boil and reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper to your liking and shred about half a cup of fresh basil into the mix and let the basil wilt. Meanwhile you should be cooking your pasta, and we used rigatoni. When draining your pasta, save 2/3 cup of the water to mix with approximately 2 oz of goat cheese so that it’s a creamy consistency. I made the mistake of throwing all the water into a bowl with the cheese rather than adding the water slowly, which made it very soupy. Mix everything together (creamy cheese, pasta and sautéed veggies) and top with as much goat cheese as you like. We threw in some extra garlic pepper and oregano, but it was almost overkill on the seasoning, so use your seasoning wisely.

Since we used the wine in the food, it paired fairly well, but switching to the red felt right to me because it’s spicy and it finished off the meal quite well. Later on we switched to Horton Vineyard's Raspberry wine, which is a Cabernet blended with fruit juice and the best flavored wine I've ever had. The best part is that it's not too sweet and it comes in quite a few different flavors, such as blueberry, strawberry, blackberry and peach. It was the perfect switch because after a few glasses of the Rockbridge we weren't going to be able to fully enjoy the flavors of another wine, but it was like dessert.

So within the next few weeks there are wine festivals and seminars that I plan on attending, so stay tuned because if I take anything good away from them you’ll be the first to know!

-Wine Chic

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The James River Experience

The James River Experience

A few weeks back a few of my friends and I took a trip down to Richmond to spend an afternoon at James River Cellars. I’ve been to festivals and other events at James River, but with booth tastings you really don’t have time to talk to the employees in detail about food and wine.

We arrived a little late in the afternoon, about half an hour before the winery was closing, but at least we weren’t the only group that came in right before they called it a day. James River has a patio where they have events during the warmer months and an upstairs for events when it’s chilly out. For information about their events, visit http://www.jamesrivercellars.com/events.html. Of course, if you are able to visit James River Cellars they’re not shy about sharing their upcoming events in or outside the vineyard.

James River has a wide selection of reasonably priced wines. Most of the reds share common notes of black cherry and spices while the white wines tend to be either buttery or slightly acidic, but there’s something for any wine lover and even a few for those that may not be big wine drinkers. Unfortunately when we visited they were out of my favorite white wine, their Chardonel. It’s a very buttery wine, perfect for picnics or lazy summer afternoons just lounging by the pool. They were, however, expecting the new batch to be ready for the spring, so I’m looking forward to going back next month to pick up a few bottles.

My absolute favorite wine that they make is their Chambourcin. It’s a medium bodied red that’s similar to a port. When you first take a sip it’s full of dark cherry notes, followed by a sweet, almost sugary after taste. I compare the finish to taking a scoop of pure sugar after each sip, although it’s really not what I would consider a “sweet” wine. It’s perfect with soft cheese or fresh berries. The folks at the vineyard recommend trying it mulled, but I have yet to try it that way. At $14 a bottle, it’s well worth picking up a few bottles to keep on hand for any occasion.

They have a Chardonnay and a Reserve Chardonnay, the difference being the aging process. The Chardonnay is aged in stainless steel, so it has a crisper taste than the reserve which has very oaky, almost nutty notes, which comes as no surprise as it is aged in oak barrels. Both are very good and reasonably priced ($16 for the reserve, $12 for the original Chardonnay).

Two other wines to note are their Hanover and Hanover White. The Hanover White is sweet but crisp and great with desserts. The red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and Chancellor, which gives it notes of black cherry and currant that make it a tart but satisfying table wine. Both are only $13.

This is definitely a great vineyard to visit since it’s right on the edge of Richmond in Ashland, Virginia. The people are very friendly and knowledgeable about their wine and the gift shop has all sorts of goodies to spend your money on. I picked up “The Wine & Food Matching Wheel,” which has proven to be quite useful. It even has pairings for popcorn (Chardonnay for every day and sparkling wine for special occasions).

All in all it was a good day. Afterwards we went back to my friend’s house with the bottles we had purchased and I made my specialty: Fettuccini Alfredo. The recipe is simple… so simple in fact that sometimes I’ll make it up as I’m going along. Generally I start with half a stick of butter or margarine, 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and ¾ a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese. The key is to use fresh parmesan, otherwise your sauce will come out clumpy. I melt the butter, then heat the cream (don’t let it boil!). Then I slowly add the cheese, stirring the sauce as it melts. Don’t be shy to taste as you add… I’ll usually end up adding a little extra. Once all the cheese has melted, lower the heat and add in whatever seasoning you feel like. To me, garlic and oregano is a must, and to give it a little kick I’ll throw in some red pepper flakes. The sauce should thicken as it stands (once you’ve removed it from the heat) but if you’re like me, I don’t have the patience so I’ll cheat with a pinch of flour. Just toss the sauce with your noodle of choice (and maybe some chicken or shrimp) and your set.

So there you have it, a little bit of wine talk, a little shared recipe, and it only took me a few weeks to get my act together and actually post it. I can only promise that it won’t take as long for my next post assuming my computer doesn’t completely give out on me and that nasty cold doesn’t come back. So thanks for reading and keep checking back!
-Wine Chic