Our Love Affair with Everything but the Wine

As Wine Manager of Paradise Foods and a wine enthusiast, I spend a fair amount of time researching, sampling and enjoying wine on an almost daily basis.   This exposes me to a wide variety of wines and wineries from all over the world.  Over the years, it has become quite apparent that many wines seem to have strayed from their roots.  The last time I checked Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica (now free online!), the definition of wine was “fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes” or the “fermented juice of the grape.”  Whether it’s consumer demand or the winemakers playing with their juice a bit too much, there seems to be a preponderance of secondary flavors unrelated to this fermentation of said grape.

I hate to pick on one wine as it has certainly been beaten to death, but Chardonnay is the most obvious wine that seems to have strayed from its beginnings. Primary flavors like tropical fruit, green apple, or citrus have given way to vanilla, hazelnut, crème brulée, or toasty oak.  In the proper hands which allow the varietal to express itself, Chardonnay is beautiful wine.  When did it become dominated by other flavors, such as wood and butter?  Butter? Really?  That creaminess which is so popular comes from diacetyl, a by-product of a chemical reaction in the winemaking process and is the same flavoring used to butter popcorn.  Has Chardonnay just become a cocktail without the high booze levels?  Wine should be the expression of the varietal from which it’s made as well as the soil and climate from where it comes, what the French call “terroir”.  Sauvignon Blanc is known for its grassiness and grapefruit; Viognier its peach and honeysuckle; Gewurztraminer its lychee and spice; Riesling its lime and flinty minerality.  And these are pure flavors natural to the varietal, not unassociated secondary characteristics which just get in the way.

Wood is another component that is totally overused, especially with New World wines (any winemaking country outside of Europe).  I understand that for centuries wood has been a tried and true aging vessel, but how long is too long for a wine to sit soaking up all that oak?  This excessive woodiness leads to wines that are clumsy, heavy, and palate-fatiguing.  These days when assessing wines, the first thing I look for is wood.  Do I smell a lumber mill when I stick my nose in the glass?  Or do I detect just pure fruit?  It goes without saying there are oodles of terrific wines from the US, South Africa, and South America.  (As for Australia, the jury’s still out).  And don’t think that just because it’s European, it’s a superior wine.  Spanish wines often ooze excess amounts of cedar that is totally distracting from the wine.

So, if you’re interested in some wines that show off their true personalities, naked in all their glory, then try some my favorites.  I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

-Lenz Moser Gruner Veltliner Kamptal, Austria
-Domaine Pinson Chablis, France (Chardonnay!)
-Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc Alsace, France
-Cantina Terlano Bianco Classico Alto Adige, Italy
-Justin Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles, California
-Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier Clarksburg, California
-Botani Moscatel Seco Malaga, Spain
-Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Bourgogne, France (also Chardonnay!)
-Manifesto Zinfandel Lodi, California
-Henri Fessy Moulin a Vent Beaujolais, France
-Mencos Joven Rioja, Spain
-Planeta Cerasuolo Sicily, Italy

Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager, Paradise Foods

Marin Mama Cooks Broccoli Lemon Pasta

Looking for an easy, family friendly, one-bowl pasta dish?  Look no further because this pasta fits the bill.  This is my weekly go-to pasta because it’s super easy to make (I could literally make this blindfolded) and it’s a one-bowl meal. It’s one of those pastas that my kids request often and I happily make.  It’s our family’s favorite comfort food.

Zoe often brings the leftovers to school for lunch and I now have to pack a huge container as all her friends all want a forkful 🙂  This pasta is the dinner of choice at all sleepovers.  You have to believe this is good if a bunch of 12 year olds are preferring a bowl of broccoli pasta to pizza!
Broccoli Lemon Pasta:

recipe from Barefoot Contessa
serves 6

  • 4 broccoli heads – use as much broccoli as you want here, the more the merrier
  • 1 box of your favorite pasta – we like to use cellentani
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 2 garlic cloves)
  • zest of 1 to 2 lemons  – the recipe calls for the zest of 1 lemon but we like to use 2
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground pepper (for the grown ups)
  • optional – 1/4 cup toasted pinenuts

I love to prep all my ingredients ahead of time so they are ready to go when needed.  Wash and chop up the broccoli into small florets, zest the lemon/lemons, mince the garlic and squeeze your 1 tablespoon lemon juice; set aside in small bowls.  I put the lemon zest and minced garlic into the same bowl because they both get used together later.  Get out a small glass measuring cup and add the 2 teaspoons of salt and set aside.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil for the pasta.
Put your broccoli in a steamer over about and inch of water (or however you steam your broccoli), you can also blanch the broccoli in the boiling pasta water for about 3 minutes if you want.  Put the lid on and steam away.  I like to steam my broccoli while the pasta water is cooking so I get it out of the way.  We like our broccoli to be a bit underdone so it has a bit of a crunch.  You want to make sure not to overcook or undercook it.  Once my broccoli is cooked, I pour it in a bowl and put it aside.
Meanwhile, while the pasta is cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium low heat.
Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and lemon zest and cook for about 1 minute.
Pour this mixture into the glass measuring cup (that the salt is in) and then add in the tablespoon of lemon juice, mix the ingredients together.
Once your pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the bowl that the broccoli is in.  Add the lemon mixture (see above) and mix everything up together really well so all the pasta and broccoli is coated with the lemon mixture.
Serve the pasta up into individual bowls.  I make sure that each bowl gets a good amount of broccoli and then I add the pasta.  I top the kids pasta off with some freshly grated parmesan and I add freshly ground pepper and toasted pine nuts to John’s & my bowl.
The pepper just adds a bit of flavor and the pine nuts add a nice nutty crunch.

 The broccoli tastes amazing as the lemon gives it such a nice flavor and takes away the bitterness.  I can honestly say that I’m not the biggest broccoli fan when it’s just steamed, but I can eat a whole bowl of broccoli when its made this way.
You might even want to make this lemon sauce and just add it to a mess of broccoli one night.

My kids rate this dish a 10!
I hope this pasta becomes a family favorite in your house.

Did you know that organic broccoli is on sale this week at Paradise?  It’s the perfect reason to give this recipe a try.

Check out my blog at Marin Mama Cooks for more great family friendly and healthy recipes.