A business trip I took last month had me in downtown Miami, FL dining solo at a popular, bustling Peruvian restaurant going by the quirky name of CVI.CHE 105. I sought out this restaurant because of its lure of the variety of ceviche dishes on its extensive tapas-style dinner menu.  I even carefully plotted its coordinates in my iPhone so as I didn’t get lost walking to the restaurant from my hotel. 

Ceviche is in its most basic definition the Latin American version of sushi.  Raw fish “cooked” if you will in the tangy acidity of lemon or lime juice.   Peru apparently was the birthplace of ceviche, which in a way makes sense given that the South American country also happens to have a substantial population of Japanese immigrants.  However, nobody as far as I can tell can link ceviche’s invention to anything related to Japanese Peruvians. 

Ceviche holds a special place in my heart.  During May 2006, my wife and I had our first meal as honeymooning husband and wife in Puerto Rico where we were served ceviche appetizers and mojitos.  It was only fitting that the next time I was within a stone’s throw of Puerto Rico (well, at least a stone tossed out of an airplane) I’d have some authentic ceviche again. 

At CVI.CHE105, I was served a delightfully colorful, Jackson Pollock-esque plate of ceviche which was apparently an “appetizer size,” but could have qualified at a meal in itself.  Shrimp, calamari, mahi mahi, snapper – all prepared with lip puckeringly tangy perfection and served with roasted corn and peppers.  I savored every bite. 

Edible Art of Ceviche at Miami’s CVI.CHE105

The shear citrusy, acidic nature of ceviche makes it hard to recommend with a wine, although certain whites can definitely enhance a meal.  The menu at the restaurant had a house Sauvignon Blanc available by the glass.  There was also an Albarino (one of my favorite white wines ever) by the bottle.  A dry sparkling wine like a Prosecco or a Cava would certainly be delicious with ceviche. 

But my tastebuds prefer a nicely sour cocktail to counter what is already a fairly sharp-tasting dish to begin with like a whisky sour, Bacardi cocktail or a margarita.  Also, opposites attract with acidic dishes and you can match ceviche wonderfully with something sweet and tropical like the above-mentioned mojito or a  daiquiri. 

Ceviche, mojitos and memories of good times.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

This Butterscotch Pudding Confection Was Also a Highlight

 

On a recent grocery store run, I saw a bottle of Chilean Petit Verdot on the shelf of my local Trader Joe’s and was immediately intrigued.  Rarely do you see this grape given its own marquee on a wine lable.   It is primarily used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, where you find it in small amounts to add lip-puckering tannins to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.   At $6.99 a bottle, Found Object Colchagua Valley Petit Verdot was too good to pass up for a little experimental tasting.

I couldn’t find a website for Found Object – which leads me to believe it’s probably an American labeled and distributed wine of a grape vinted in Chile and then shipped to the States.  Other wine bloggers have written about it, however.  You can find some amusing anecdotes here and here

A textbook Petit Verdot is supposed to convey some heftiness in the glass.  Like another varietal with the French diminutive word in front of it (“Petite Sirah”), there is nothing puny about it.  The color is supposed to be dark, almost black ‘n blue.  On the palate, it is known for being deeply tannic and dry. The characteristics of this grape arise out of the fact that it ripens later than other grapes. 

However, in warmer climates, particularly in Portugal and the New World, you will see it grown more successfully on its own.  Hence, Chilean wineries have apparently succeeded in cultivating it as a sole-varietal bottle of wine. 

In California, you will also see Petit Verdot blended in what are called “Meritage” wines.   Although you don’t see it as often as you used to, “Meritage” – the label – is a nickname used to describe Bordeaux-style wines grown in California and featuring a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Clos Du Bois, for example, made a “Meritage” which included P.V.  Interestingly, the winery is phasing out the name “Meritage” in favor of the more refined “Bordeaux-Styled Blend.”

I really enjoyed the “Found Object.”  Although it was nothing like what Petit Verdot “should” be.  First, the color was almost Pinot Noir-like, and not the glass-coating purple the grape is known for.  Second, on the palate it was quaffably lighter bodied, with mild tannins and hints of baked red apples, quince, saffron and rosemary.  This is a very capable and tasty table wine to go with mainstays like pizza, spaghetti and with meatballs and roast beef sandwiches.  Given the characteristics of this particular wine, I don’t know if Petit Verdot is going to be an annual vintage workhorse shipped to your Trader Joe’s on a regular basis.  This is because it would have to be a rare vintage indeed to produce characteristics embodied in this wine. If it does become a “once in a blue moon” thing, I’d probably snatch a bottle and try it out before it becomes so rare as to fetch more kingly prices than $6.99 per bottle!

Here are exerpts from a soon-to-be published interview with yours truly on a blog specializing in event and wedding planning.  I actually assisted a couple of years ago in providing the wine pairings for the wedding of the proprietress of On The Dot Event Planning.  Recently, she asked me to be a wine consultant for her future events, which is a wonderful compliment.  Let’s hope her client’s taste buds are alligned with mine!

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When did your appreciation for wine start?  

I don’t think I really appreciated  wine until roughly ten years ago when I  enrolled in a “Wines Of the World” extension course at the  University of California in Irvine.   Our instructor was a lot of fun and his enthusiasm for the subject was infectious.  That was when I started to understand wine as an accompaniment or enhancement to a  meal, rather than just an alternative to beer or spirits.

 What are your favorite wine varietals and why?

 That’s a tough question, because there are too many varietals, too many geographic regions growing world class wine and too many good winemakers.  Ultimately, I have to look at this subjectively and say in the white category, I love Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Albarino from Spain.  They are both very unique white wines.  On the red side of things, I really enjoy a Pinot Noir from Oregon, or a Syrah from the Central Coast of California.  Also, I love Malbecs from Argentina and Cabernet Sauvignon from NapaValley.  I’m excluding favorite wine blends and thus I haven’t really talked about Bordeauxor red wines from Tuscany.    As for why I like these, I guess it brings back good memories of a dinner I had or the company I drank the wine with.

For brides that don’t know that much about wine, what are your  recommendations for a red wine and a white wine that would go with just about everything?

 I think you want to have the combination of an elegant, versatile and cost-friendly wine.  Elegant, because you want your guests to say “Mmmm. This  is good wine!”   Versatile, because you want something which will taste good with what you’re serving your guests for lunch or dinner.  Cost-friendly, because you really shouldn’t be worried about the wine overly impacting your wedding budget.  As a result, I’m always inclined to recommend a Riesling or an unoaked Chardonnay for white wine, because they fit these categories.  Pinot Noir,  Barbaresco from Italy and a French Gamay from the Beaujolais region of France are also versatile reds.

For brides who are holding weddings that are more ethnic in nature,  perhaps a Chinese wedding or Indian wedding, what would you recommend that they pair with their food?

The type of food served offers really fun pairings.  Both types of food benefit from a Riesling or Gewurztraminer as far as good white wines.   Zinfandel is a robust and slightly spicy red varietal which is very successful with heartier dishes.

 What’s the difference between Champagne, sparkling wine, and Prosecco?

The difference is primarily geographic. Champagne is made in a region of Franceof the same name.  Only wines from this region can legally be called “Champagne.”  “Prosecco” hales from Italyand is named after the grape from which it is made.  “Cava” is a name given to sparkling wines from Spain. “Sparkling wine” is what you name bubbly from places where there is no geographic designation. California and Oregon make world class sparkling wine.

For brides that decide to go the more casual route in cuisine, say a barbeque or comfort food, what would be the best wine to serve with that type of food and what brands would you recommend that would be at a reasonable price?

You definitely don’t want to invest in a complicated, high end wine, because the subtleties in flavors in these bottles will be lost when paired with a burger or with ribs.  It’s generally a good idea with casual lunches and dinners to get wines which emphasize fruit.  In wine lingo, they’re called “fruit bombs.” It’s difficult to give one or two suggestions, because of the variety of food and wine combinations.   One recommendation is to look in the Southern Hemisphere.  For example, Argentina produces an amazing white wine varietal called Torrontes which is aromatic and refreshing.  Most wines retail for less than $15 a bottle. Australia is well known for producing Semillon, which goes great with vegetables and salad. Again, you can find relatively inexpensive wines.  Chilean red wines like Carmenere are an even better value.  You can find excellent Carmenere which goes exceptionally well with hamburgers at $10 or less.

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 Make sure you check with Angie’s site for more of the interview. Thanks to Angie and On The Dot Event Planning for the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject!

A Low-Key, Red Bordeaux Like Chateau Brillette Actually Tastes Great With Fish

Sorry I’ve gone a few weeks without writing.  The excuse this time is my day job, which had me traveling to the various corners of the Continental United States.  I’m headed back to Idaho (of all places) at the end of the month and hope to get a post off the ground about the restaurant experiences I’ve had there.  But here I am teasing you when I should be writing, so onward….

Robert Parker once tweeted about how food and wine pairings have become  “overlegislated” and I tend to agree with him.  This blog really isn’t about providing you with a slide-rule or some other method to pair food and wine or food and drink. I’m mostly just writing about my memorable personal experiences.  And if there’s one thing I have learned is that the old “white wine with fish or chicken” or “red wine with red meat” rule has many exceptions.  So many exceptions, in fact, that I think the “rule” should be viewed more like a general recommendation.  When it comes to eating and drinking, it’s sometimes a good idea to forget the rules.    

A couple of years ago I blogged about a dinner in France where I had the audacity to try a red Bordeaux with raw oysters.  Damned if I can figure out what was wrong with that pairing.  True, I’ve had oysters with vodka and with sparkling wine and with Sauvignon Blanc and have been blown away at the deliciousness of these pairings.  But in this case, the dry red wine with only a subtle nob of fruit on the palate did not make the pairing with oysters revolting.  It was actually sort of pleasant. 

Recently, my wife cooked some cod in some bacon fat and served it with brussels sprouts and root veggies.  All I had laying around was a fairly inexpensive Bordeaux I purchased from Trader Joe’s.  Again, I was not only surprised but impressed by the pairing.  I think it was essential that the wine was a bit shy on fruit.  If it had been a big, robust New World wine (the proverbial “Fruit Bomb”) it would have been too icky.  In this case, it evoked memories of my French meal – a subtle wine which didn’t upstage a dish. 

Pinot Noir shares that same quality as a European Cabernet or Merlot.  It’s versatile and elegant.  A wine for all seasons and all occassions.  This is among the reasons whyPinot has exploded in popularity with American wine consumers over the past 10 years.  Best of all, Pinot Noir is a divine pairing with chicken, duck and other fowl.  Also, paired with the drier, steak-like fish such as tuna and swordfish, it’s never proven me wrong. 

Another recommendation: try Pinot or a red Bordeaux with grilled tofu.  Tofu tends to soak up the tastes of what’s around it and play it back in your mouth with a little bit of yeasty pleasantness.  I doubt you will find this pairing a bust. 

Another pairing which seems counter-intuitive but makes total sense is pairing something very fatty like foie gras with a sweet dessert wine, like a Sauterne, Sherry or Hungarian Tokaji.  Holy mackerel is Sautnerne with foie gras delicious! It’s the dinner equivalent of pouring maple syrup on your pancakes slathered in melted butter.   

There simply isn’t any “shoulds” in the world of personal taste.  True some things just don’t taste well together. Pickles ‘n ice cream are best left for the pregnancy cravings.   Ultimately whatever works is what you’ll end up remembering (and writing) about years later!

A Sauterne - Primary A Dessert Wine - Such As Chateau Suduiraut Is A Don't Miss Pairing With Foie Gras (Until Foie Gras Gets Banned, That Is)

I grabbed my “Wine Lovers Companion” book to find a good starting point on which to provide you with a description of a Southern French white wine grape called Picpoul de Pinet.  Under the slightly variated term “Picpoule” the book says says “See Folle Blanche,” which literally translates to “Crazy White Lady.” 

And under “Folle Blanche” the book says……?  Nothing.  That is, there is no “Folle Blanche” in my edition of the reference guide.  It goes from “Foil Cutter,” to “Fondillon.”  Moreover, it turns out that Folle Blanche is unrelated to the Picpoul de Pinet grape, which hails from the Languedoc region of France in the Southern Rhone.  Conversely, Folle Blanche is apparently a blending grape used in Cognac and comes from a completely different section of France.

The literal translation for Picpoul de Pinet is “Lip Stinger,” if you’re wondering.   And it is undefined in my definitive pocket book on wine.  The editors of my “Wine Lovers Companion” couldn’t even be bothered to follow up on the fact that the definition is missing.  

I nevertheless must write about Picpoul de Pinet.  This is because I want to suggest to you that if you can find it, pick up a bottle.  I purchased one bottle at a local wine specialty shop, and another bottle at a Bevmo.  So I know they’re out the bottles are out there if you look for them. 

P. de P. reminds me a lot of an Italian Orvieto - or similar Italian white varietal which is high in acid and citrusy notes.  The common taste on the palate is one of lemon and green apple.  The better of the two I had also possessed a hint of a briny quality which would have made it a rapturous pairing with white fish. 

2008 Domaine Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet

Not Your Household Name Wine (Yet?) - 2008 Domaine Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet

The more complex version of Picpoul I purchased was from a 2008 vintage of Domaine Feline Jourdan (about $12 if you can find it).  We had it with a roasted chicken with root veggies and a creamy mushroom sauce.  Delicious. 

The other bottle was a charming and still young 2010 Hughes Beaulieu Coteaux de Languedoc which retails for around $11. The wine was young enough to still show a greenish hue from the grape skins and had a lip-puckeringly tart quality.  We tried this one with a roasted vegetable and couscous dish which my wife conjured up (roasted carrots, sauteed mushrooms, and pistachios on a bed of baby spinach and couscous).  The wine probably would have worked better with something not so veggie-centered, but the mushrooms balanced the acidity in the wine decently enough.

Hughes Beaulieu

A Very Young Example of Picpoul de Pinot from 2010. Producer: Hughes Beaulieu.

 The wine is worth looking for, especially if you like your white wines with a lot of lip-stinging tartness.  I’d stick to creamy or buttery dishes to offer a nice combination of flavors from opposing sides of your palate.

So Dainty. So Cozy. So....Tea House-Like.

If you’re here searching for a political blog about or against a certain political craze, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.  I’m here to write about the stuff you drink — you know, like the British do.  We recently spent a delightful Sunday afternoon at a tea house in San Juan Capistrano sipping some home-brewed tea and eating generous helpings of finger sandwiches.  And I do mean generous! Who would’ve thought that tea houses were such food havens?

Incidentally, why do the ladies love tea houses so much?  I wonder if it has to do with bringing them in touch with their little girl roots, when they’d play dress-up and pretend to have tea with their friends.  The tea house we went to brimmed with old-style feminine charm and evoked memories of Grandma’s house, with her lace table cloths, sun hats, potpourri and fresh-cut flowers.

You Man Enough To Eat A Scone The Size of A Cannonball?

Tea houses are so …I don’t know…dainty and feminine.  While my wife loved the flowery and frilly ambience, I was really there chow down.  A 2:00 p.m. reservation found me ravenous and cranky from the get-go.  But I should’ve been careful what I wished for.  I was not prepared for a five course meal of gastronomic excess beyond my wildest dreams!  First course:  the proprietor’s homemade soup of the day, a slightly piquante chicken tortilla soup. Second course: a salad of fresh baby greens and a light dressing.   Third course: a scone the size of a softball.  Fourth course:  (wait a second, while I catch my breath)  a rainbow array of finger sandwiches – albacore tuna, egg, brie, chicken salad and – of course – cucumber.  Fifth course: dessert, which in my case was a triple layer delight of trifle, custard and ice cream.

Overwhelmed At the Choices of Teas. What To Choose?

The tea menu was as extensive and overwhelming as some wine lists I’ve seen. Most teas were made on premises.  I picked a rosewater tea, which was essentially a homebrewed English breakfast tea infused with rose petals cut from the the property’s garden.   Honestly, not being much of a tea drinker, I could only detect a few subtle differences from my tea and my wife’s tea, the “Tea House Private Reserve,” which was like tasting a liquid potpourri sachet.

Savory Sandwiches with a Cup of Fresh Fruit In Which You Pour Cream And Add A Spoonful of Brown Sugar

So what was it about the experience of the teahouse which made it blogworthy? For one thing, I noticed that tea is not as filling as coffee.  You can drink a lot of it without getting full. Hence, I was able to keep down the pounds of food I ate that day.  Second, tea is a very civilized social beverage.  The tea house’s website even boasts of tea being a beverage which “builds relationships one cup at a time.” Unlike pub-fare and alcohol, which I imagine creates a different social atmosphere high in conviviality and drunken satisfaction, the caffeine in the tea makes for more intense conversations.  And when you’re a lady wanting not to be spared any detail of the latest gossip or travel stories about passages to India, you want to stay as caffeinated as possible.

Is There Some Room For Dessert? Probably Not, But Make Room Anyway

Otherwise, I didn’t see any magical taste combination between the flavorful and aromatic teas and the food we ate.  The overall experience was one in which you enjoyed your fare along with your environment and your company.  And after having to loosen my belt a couple of notches, all I can tell you is that this tea house wasn’t for wimps!

When my son was born, I spent three days and nights in the hospital with my wife. Supposedly, I had the “easy part” since I was there lending support as she had to endure twenty hours of labor.  But neither of us slept – or ate – much during those harrowing hours.  And then our baby boy was born and the euphoria began to wear off, new mommy and daddy looked at each other and wondered, “When do we eat?”

Hospitals have come a long way in terms of living up to their image of hospitality (forgive the pun).  The maternity ward at the hospital where we delivered had its own common area kitchen containing freshly brewed coffee and a refrigerator stocked with cold drinks.  Also, I was quite pleased that the hospital offered me one complimentary meal a day as a “guest” of the patient. One meal in particular was the hospital’s congratulatory dinner offered to the new parents and complete with a menu of choices, with gussied up culinary bon mots as “julienned carrots” and “hand whipped potatoes.”  The admirable goal of the hospital was to provide a dining experience somewhat resembling a fine dining, special occasion meal.  Yes, when it comes to hospital food, “fine dining” is a very generous term.  However, in all candor,  after having slept 4 of only 48 hours, I was gleeful eating anything even passing for nourishment.

Notably, the hospital’s dinners were better than their generic breakfasts and cafeteria style lunches.  I would like to think that the kitchen manager helming the stove in the evenings may have been a recent graduate of the Cordon Bleu. Maybe? Perhaps?  Take for instance my “guest dinner” below.  The spinach and ricotta cheese raviolis were not bad! The side of broccoli – okay a bit over-steamed, but I didn’t mind eating something I knew was going to help cure my energy deficit amassed from the past couple of days.

Hospital Dining At Its Finest. All I Can Say Is, Thank You For Feeding Me.

I was so hungry that I really could have eaten anything. I couldn’t even wait a few seconds to take a photo of the meal, as you can see by the bite mark on the bread.  The salad was surprisingly fresh, although the dressing was one of those corn syrupy packaged pouches of “Italian” ooze.  The dessert, which was a chocolate mousse cake tasted like chocolate – and that was good enough for me.

Not pictured was my chosen drink option for the night – Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider (product slogan: “Drink Your Apple A Day”).  Aside from water and juice, the drinks were limited to sparkling fare, like club soda or non-caffeine soft drinks.  However, the hospital also had its own “specialty” drink which I actually would recommend as a good accompaniment to hospital food.  They made cranberry spritzers on demand for my wife, essentially cranberry juice and club soda.  Nicely refreshing and hydrating! And maybe that was the point?

"Since I Can't Eat Solid Food, I'll Sleep This Dinner Out, If You Please."

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