Sunday, August 21, 2005

Muscat love

Last week I went to the Ferry Building for some Hog Island oysters and a stroll around. As you might expect, I happened in to the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and browsed the aisles. Much to my delight, I came across a half-bottle of something most intriguing: Rutherglen Muscat by Chambers.

I vaguely recalled reading an article a couple of years ago describing the Rutherglen wine region in Victoria, Australia. Specializing in the Muscat grape and using the solera process to produce a rich, consistent non-vintage designated blend, the vintners in Rutherglen were trying to prevent the disappearance of the distinctively styled dessert wines in the face of general global disinterest in sweet wines. And here was a bottle of the very stuff! I quickly paid up and rushed home to find out what I could about the bottle.

With a modest amount of digging I unearthed the remembered article. For those who follow such things, the Wine Spectator said that this wine "...presents a tower of nut, coffee and black cherry flavors that keep building upon one another, culminating explosively with more cherry, caramel and coffee notes on the long finish." Okay, but what's the wine REALLY like? There's only one way to find out, so I pulled the cork and got my nose into the glass.
The color of the wine was a rich amber, suggesting the wine's years of repose in barrel oxidizing into decadent richness. Aromas of coffee, Brazil nut, apricot, clove, and grapefruit blossom danced around the glass. On the palate, the Muscat was rich and unctuous. Flavors of sweet raisin, caramel and apricot were, well, almost explosive, and the finish was majestically long. Mmmmm. I instantly felt remorse for not rallying to the cause of saving this style of wine sooner -- but fully intend to make up for lost time.

The back label of the bottle had quite a bit of information on it, and while I am not usually a fan of back label copy, a couple of things were of particular interest. First, it suggested that the Muscat could be enjoyed as a 'between dinner drink'. I'm not sure what exactly that is, but I intend to have one every time I dine from now on. Second, the label points out that, owing to the high alcohol content of the wine (18.5%), the half bottle I purchased could be re-corked and enjoyed over several months, much as a bottle of Port. As a little of this wonderful wine goes a long way, it's good to know that one needn't consume the entire half-bottle in one sitting lest it go bad.

Good on you, vintners of Rutherglen. Your Muscats are a little slice of sweet heaven.

Wine information:

Muscat Rutherglen
Rosewood Vineyards
Alcohol 18.5%

$15 for a 375 ml half-bottle at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

And one final note: I'd recommend tasting this wine in a Port-style glass, or at least a wine glass without a very big bowl. Due to the higher degree of alcohol, a big balloon glass or brandy snifter might accentuate the alcohol over the wonderful aromatics and that wouldn't be nearly as much fun. by (Matthew) on 8/18/2005 4:09 PM

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Do wines really get better with age?

Special to MSN

Ever wondered if those dusty old bottles of wine in your parents' basement have aged to a rustic perfection? After resting on their sides for 20 or 30 years, are they worth anything? (The wines, not your parents.)

Unless your parents are serious wine buffs, the answers are: "no," and "what do you get for glass recycling in your area?" Despite the conventional wisdom that older wine is better, only a very few wines improve with age.

If that doesn't deter you, here are some tips on how to choose a wine that will emerge from your cellar in a few years with a mature flavor while retaining a touch of youthful vigor. And even if you're not the aging type, I'll clue you in on how to store any bottle of wine after you open it.

Most bottles of wine are consumed the same day they're purchased, and wine producers support this trend by making barrel after barrel of wine that will never taste any better than the day you buy it.

The classic wine for the long haul is red Bordeaux and Burgundy, but barolos and barbarescos from Italy are cheaper at the high end of quality and have just as much aging potential. Another relatively inexpensive option is vintage port — but avoid "late-bottled vintage" wines (marked LBV), which are ready to drink now and won't benefit from aging. For an unorthodox and low-priced choice, consider Australian shiraz-cabernet blends for your cellar.

Not all wine with aging potential is red. "German riesling is extraordinarily well-suited to aging," says Andrea Robinson (formerly Andrea Immer), master sommelier and host of "Simply Wine" on the Fine Living network. "It gains surprising complexity and character with time." Plus, you needn't spend more than $15 or $20 per bottle to get started — look for a bottle marked "Spatlese" from a good recent vintage such as 2001 or 2002. It will transform noticeably in just two or three years. Other cellaring whites include sauternes and champagne.

Storage conditions are important — but not as important as you may think. There's a reason they call it a wine cellar: The typical basement is a fine place to store wine. "The key thing you're trying to avoid is extremes and changes, spikes of temperature," says Robinson. "That can change the pressure in the bottle and causes the product to expand and contract." Bottles must be stored on their sides to keep the cork moist. A dry cork will shrink and allow air into the bottle, and your wine will start to evaporate and taste like leftovers.

Buy a case, or more. Wine aging is as much about luck as scientific precision, which means you need to pull a bottle and taste the wine before you expect it to be ready. Luckily, despite the stereotype of wine snobs dumping before-its-time Margaux into the storm drain, wine drunk a little too soon will still be delicious, just a little more flat-tasting or tannic than it could be.

What to do with an opened bottle
But the most-asked question in wine storage has nothing to with aging.

Now that you've opened a bottle of wine — old or new — how long will it keep and how should you store it? As Robinson puts it, "You buy a bag of chips, you don't feel like you have to eat the whole thing in one sitting. Most people don't feel so confident buying and opening and not finishing wine."

Oxygen is wine's mortal enemy, and unfortunately (for wine, at least), air is full of oxygen. None of the mass-market wine-preservation products offers much advantage over recorking the bottle and putting it in the refrigerator. According to Robinson, the best keepers are wines with a strong acidic component — wines like Sancerre, Chianti, and riesling (which will last three to five days), and especially champagne and sparkling wine, as long as you close it with a "clamshell" champagne stopper, available at any wine shop. "It holds for sometimes weeks at a time, believe it or not."

For the ultimate in wine preservation, buy a box. More and more quality wines are available in three-liter "casks," which don't let air anywhere near the wine, and they'll stay fresh in the refrigerator for months after opening. As long as your guests don't see what you're doing behind the fridge door, you're golden.

Matthew Amster-Burton, a Seattle freelance food journalist, writes frequently for The Seattle Times. His work has appeared in the "Best Food Writing" anthology in 2004 and 2003.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Medieval Cookery & Recipes

As a young boy, I remember going to the local theaters to catch weekend matinees with my friends. If we were lucky, they would be showing a triple feature (instead of the usual double feature) plus cartoons and news reels in between films. Regardless if it was a double or triple feature, I knew we were in for a real treat when they showed those epic Viking movies, starring the likes of Victor Mature or Burt Lancaster or any of the other greats. Not only was the over-acting impressive, but so were the magnificent Viking ships, the furry outfits, heavy armor breast plates, and of course the horned helmets. Classic!!

But, wait a minute. You're probably thinking "This is a culinary related site. Who cares about Victor Mature and company?" Well, even though watching those films on big screen were exhilarating times for any 10 year old boy, you are right this is a culinary related site. So, to this point, do you remember the outrageous feasting scenes in these movies (How's that for a smooth transition). You know, the gruff Viking laying on large furs, surrounded by nymphs, grasping a huge foul leg in one hand and a goblet of Grog in the other.

Well, I may have been a bit too young to care much about the nymphs, and I probably would have preferred root beer over the Grog, but those big, roasted bird legs sure looked great!! - Which brings me to the real point of this post...Ever wonder how food dishes were prepared during medieval times? Well wonder no more. There are several sites that offer authentic Medieval and Renaissance menus and recipes. One that I found even provides a glossary of medieval terms.

I am bit older now and I my gastronomic horizons have broadened considerably and I could probably enjoy the whole Viking feasting scene - including the nymphs and Grog. However, I am happily married, and if I want to stay that way I better just stick to the roasted bird leg.

Click on the title link and see for yourself. If nothing more, it is an interesting read.

Event Calendar for August 2005

Here are useful links that point to various national industry events taking place during the month of August...

August 2005

August 3-4 - 2005
Northeast Pizza Expo
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.
Call (800) 489-8324 or
visit their website at www.

August 5-8, 2005
Steamboat Springs, Steamboat Wine Festival. Featuring fine wines, cheeses and cuisine from around the world and the region.

August 6, 2005
Denver, Cherry Creek North Gourmet Series. This summer series of cooking demos bring world-renowned chefs, including Martin Yan and Lidia Bastianich, to Denver's most upscale neighborhood on four Saturdays. Each date features a different celebrity chef at Fillmore Plaza. The final Saturday culminates with a grand tasting event featuring culinary delights from area restaurants, live music, and more than 100 fine wines and spirits. Contact: 877-359-5606.

August 6th -8th, 2005
Louisiana Foodservice EXPO
Make plans to attend the Louisiana Foodservice EXPO, the biggest, most comprehensive foodservice EXPO in the Gulf South area. For three days in August, more than 450 vendors in 580 booths will display a full range of food products, foodservice equipment, and allied products/services used in restaurants and foodservice operations - all under one roof. Whether it's food, beverages, furniture, equipment, tableware or uniforms, you'll find it on the exhibit floor.

Aug. 7-12, 2005
American Meat Science Association 51st International
Congress of Meat Science and Technology.
Baltimore, Md. Contact Thomas Powell at 217-356-5368 or or visit

August 12-14, 2005
Telluride Culinary Art Festival. This weekend festival will highlight the culinary expertise of acclaimed local and national chefs, including Marcus Samuelsson, Michael Lomonaco, and Bryan Moscatello; food seminars; a grand tasting; and a progressive dinner. A vast array of wine, spirits and coffees will also be showcased.

August 20, 2005
6th Annual Lafayette Peach Festival, South Boulder Road, Lafayette, 9 am to 4 pm. Morton's certified organic orchards of Palisade is supplying 34,000 pounds of peaches. The menu features peach cobbler, smoothies, pies and salsa.
Contact: 303-926-4352 or

August 18-21
Telluride Mushroom Festival. Mushroom lectures, forays, hands-on identification & cultivation workshops, 'shroom parade on Main St., and more.

August 27-28
Keystone Wine, Jazz & Art Festival. This weekend event showcases more than 300 award-winning wines from around the world and top culinary experts hosting food and wine seminars. The festival also features nationally known jazz acts including Nelson Rangell and fine artists from around the U.S. Contact: 970-496-4386 or

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Everything Italian

There is quite a useful site that I found called "Made-In-Italy-On-Line". It is a wonderful content-rich site containing the best of Italian fashion, food, wine, shopping, and travel.

Since "What's Cooking?" is a culinary blog, I point you to the food and wine section of their site. Here you will find a great section on the regions, viticultural laws & labels, as well as how to create a wine cellar.

The food section is equally rich, and it gets off to a great start with an introduction by no other than Marcella Hazan, author of "More Classic Italian Cooking". In her introduction, Marcella explains some of the reasons for the diversity in regional Italian cooking - primarily religion, divided kingdoms, land topology, and the many micro-climates that affect the agriculture at large.

Check out this site. You will be pleased.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Calling all Foodies...

KQED is hungry for guests to appear on the new reality TV series, Check, Please! Bay Area. Based on a show out of Chicago, it's a weekly restaurant review series in which Bay Area residents discuss their dining experiences in a TV roundtable.

Do you want to be a TV star? Do you have a discerning palate? Can you dish about food in front of a camera? Can you write appetizing restaurant reviews? Are you at least 18 years of age? If so, you may eligible to be a guest on "Check, Please! Bay Area."

To apply, fill out the online application form at

Bon appetit!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Pirogi anyone?

Russian Shopping Trip

Where in San Francisco can you find homemade sour cream, a pint for $1.51? Wild smoked salmon for $9.99 a pound, and fresh based pound loaves of raisin bread and Bavarian sour rye bread for $2.19 each? If you guessed somewhere on Geary Street you'd be right. Perhaps the onion dome of the Russian Orthodox church tipped you off, this is a Russian neighborhood. And there are quite a few Russian stores along Geary Street right around 20th Avenue.

If you are looking for unusual ingredients like Russian pastrami, frozen pelmenyi dumplings, kefir, caviar, farmers cheese and lovely honey with pine nuts look no further than New World Market. Because many of the packages lack English labels you can be as adventurous as you like. Some of my top discoveries have been a sour plum barbecue sauce, marinated mushrooms, Russian bacon, and frozen packages of puff pastry squares.

But even if you just want to stock up on "basics" you'll find lots of great stuff here. With a deli counter running the length of the store you can try one thing after another whatever your tastes may be. There are prepared Russian salads and entrees and tons of packaged goods that are priced very reasonably almost without exception.

New World Market
5641 Geary Blvd. @ 21st

Thursday, June 30, 2005

What's cooking this Fourth of July weekend?

The barbecue season is in full swing, and if you've got an all-American cookout planned, bring an all-American bottle of wine to the table: California Zinfandel.Zin's robust and spicy character make it a good partner for all sorts of grilled food, from hot dogs and hamburgers to Cajun spiced chicken and tri-tip. And with no shortage of producers offering a broad range of styles and prices, there's sure to be a good match for every palate and pocketbook. Here are a handful of my favorites.

Nalle Winery is a small producer in Healdsburg who makes what I'll call an old school Zin. By not bowing to the current trend of hyperripeness, the wines showcase some of the subtler and compelling nuances of the variety which can at times be dominated by jamminess and high alcohol. Check their website or give them a call to find out where the wines are currently sold - I've found them at the Sonoma Market. Cheers to Nalle for not letting this breed of Zinfandel fall by the wayside!

Rosenblum Cellars, right across the bay in Alameda, is a great place to go to taste a broad range of Zinfandels. These folks produce a staggering array of them, giving you the opportunity to try wines from many different growing regions in the state under one roof. With prices from around 12 dollars for the well-received Non-Vintage Vintner's Blend on up, there's something for everyone. And the winery is easily accessible from the Alameda ferry station, so if you're coming from San Francisco, you don't even have to drive.

Renwood Winery, located in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, makes an intriguing Fiddletown Zinfandel. Wines from the Foothills tend to have distinct flavors and aromas which set them apart from other California bottles. Differences in soil types and growing conditions play a big part, and the result can be quite good. Compare a bottle of the Renwood Fiddletown Zin to one grown in Napa or Sonoma, and let me know if you get the same impression.

Turley Wine Cellars is immensely popular for their Zinfandel bottlings, so much so that at times it can be difficult to find a bottle, and they can be pricey. If you're looking for a bottle of Zin to splurge on, consider any of their offerings. I recently had the opportunity to taste through their range of Zinfandels and was quite impressed. They are big wines, to be sure, but possessed a complexity and a degree of refinement which I hadn't expected.

Premier Cru wine shop in Emeryville has a good selection of current and previous vintages.

Ridge Vineyards rounds out my list of favorite producers. The first bottle of their Lytton Springs Zinfandel I tried, many years ago, made me stop and take notice of this variety. I'm partial to their York Creek bottling as well. Look for them online or in the city at K&L Wines or the Jug Shop (and say hello to Chuck).

Have fun with the Zins this weekend, and have a great 4th!

Hollywood and Food

In creating my profile, I listed various movies that are either about food or take place in and around the dining table or kitchen. Big Night, Soul Food, and Tortilla Soup, for example, are three that ride high on my list of favorites. Writing down the titles also made think of gourmand Actors who are serious about their food and gastronomic experiences - Michael Palin (Monty Python) at, Robert Deniro (Tribeca Restaurant), and the long-gone, but never forgotten horror film star, Vincent Price and many others.

Mr. Price and his wife, Mary, were true gourmands. They actually authored one of my favorite cookbooks of all time: A Treasury of Great Recipes (circa 1965). It is a collection of menus and recipes from some of their favorite restaurants all over the world. It included recipes from the Tour D'Argent in Paris, Hotel Danielli in Venice, Tre Scalini in Rome (not my restaurant, Tre Scalini), Sobrino de Botin in Madrid, Ernie's in San Francisco, and on and on. As far as I am concerned, it is one of the best compilations of recipes to be had. By clicking on the title of this entry you will be linked to a site that offers multiple copies of the out-of-print book. Prices range from $50 to $150 (USD). If you can find it, latch on to it. It is a gem.