My top and best value wines for Thanksgiving 2014

27 11 2014

Many people come up to me and ask about pairing wines on Thanksgiving – and I like to keep it simple. As always, drink what you love, but if you really want to know what goes best – try out a few things to see. I happen to believe sparkling wine (my favorite) goes best with anything ;). But, many love Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel (red).

It really depends on what your sides and main course is – as there are some dishes that will make your wine taste sour or acidic – like asparagus. Some sides are sugary sweet like a sugary topped sweet potato or candied carrots, which will also affect your taste buds when paired with the wrong wine.

Try and see what happens with the below. My best bets for a great value 2014 are:

A) Chardonnay: A perennial favorite with turkey.

  1. Novellum (France). This is a very good quality French wine with deep flavor and less butter (oaky wood). It is light in style and very crisp (acidity). This will pair nicely with many of the dishes. $11-15 USA
  2. Kendal Jackson Reserve (California). This has all the butter you want, and more. It is very rich and coats your tongue. May be too much oak/wood for some of your sides, but will be great with the turkey and potatoes. $12-15 USA.

B) Pinot Noir. My choice for great Thanksgiving pairings. Try to stay with a light style per the below.

  1. Vina Leyda Las Brisas Single Vineyard (Chile) is my current favorite value priced Pinot Noir. Dark cherries, some mineral and herb and a long finish. Really excellent value and highly recommended. About $16 USA. I must get a case of this asap! A lot of complexity for the money.
  2. A to Z (Oregon) makes a consistently good value pinot noir. Light and earthy in style and has hints of raspberry and dark cherries, clove and lavender with some smooth oak/vanilla. About $20 USA. Also make a quality Chardonnay if you can’t find the above. Elegant.

C) Zinfandel

  1. Bogle, the Phantom. This comes in and sells out very quickly. Deep red with a great blend of 4 varietals (Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre) make this delicious. Also, aged in oak and will give you a smooth, mouth coating of deep berry with milk chocolate and vanilla and a hint of herb. About $17 to 22 USA.

And yes (as always) for value priced sparkling wine, I recommend the Raventos i Blanc – De Nit in rose or the Brut Cava (Spain). $14 to 24 USA. This is what I will be drinking on Thanksgiving. Both smooth and creamy, and stand up/pair well with so many things. If you can’t find this, I recommend the Charles de Fere or the Veuve de Vernay (France).

Cheers and enjoy – try new things and see what you like.

As always, be safe and be happy!

Steve from the Trellis

Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Suggestions Under $15 USD

23 11 2011

Here in the US, we are quickly approaching Thanksgiving and many of us are scurrying around in preparation for the big day. While many are cooking away and in advance, some have still not completed their wine shopping. So, for those that are still searching for the right pairing, I have a short list of suggestions for you.

Pairing wine with the traditional bird is fairly easy and I always reach for two varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sometimes Riesling. That being said, below are the best values for your money and from all over the globe.

Pinot Noir:

1) Gloria Ferrer, 2007 Carneros – California. This is light on its feet but has plenty of flavor (raspberry, plum, cherry) and a long smooth finish. Also, if you love bubbles – go for their sparkling wine, you won’t go wrong at under $20 for that at Thanksgiving! Check out my previous post on value priced sparkling wines that are excellent values and also perfect with whatever you are serving!

2) Leyda, Leyda Valley – Chile. Packed with dark fruit flavor and a touch of herb and earthy, fantastic value at around $11 USD.

3) Matua, Marlborough – New Zealand. Strawberry, plum and nice body on this excellent value wine. Light in style and simple with clean flavors and floral.


1) 4 Vines Naked, Central Coast – California. This has become my go-to house white wine. It is packed with flavor (apple, lemon) and has great acidity at the end that allows for better food pairing than buttery Chardonnay. Nose of peach, pear and apple. My favorite for the money.

2) Cupcake Vineyards, Central Coast – California. Though much more buttery, Cupcake is a good value and this is simple, easy drinking – though extremely buttery and less likely to go with the rest of the meal. Tropical fruit, vanilla, apple, BUTTER!


1) Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley – Washington. Great concentrated flavors of citrus (orange and grapefruit), pear and spices with some mineral. Nice acidity at the end, not sweet and low in alcohol (12.5%) that make this a great food wine overall. If you can not find this, try Chateau St. Michelle, also from Washington, though a bit less dry, still a solid alternate.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for your support of Tales From the Trellis!


Steve From the Trellis

Eating Local in Mt. Olive, NJ: Gabby’s II – the Review

10 03 2011

We heard about Gabby’s II  in Hackettstown from good friends Tara and Dan,  and I am pleased to welcome this new Italian restaurant to the area. Sure, we are flooded with so many pizza “joints” you can throw a rock and hit one in any direction on RT 46, mountain Ave, or RT 57 – but you won’t find this care of ingredients, preparation and quality of food in any of the rest.

Hector & Josh, Owners of Gabby's II

Gabby’s II resides were Carlena’s was – 190 Mountain Ave. in Hackettstown (to the right of the IHOP). It opened in December, 2010 and the owners are warm and gracious hosts Tricia and Hector Salazar (locals from Mount Olive) and partner Josh Harris (of Flemington). They come with a wealth of experience – this is their second restaurant (Gabby’s I is in Flemington, NJ).

By the way, Gabby is the name of Hector and Tricia’s little girl, which makes sense as this does feel like a family place.

We came in and sat at a one of the available tables early on a Tuesday night. A few people were already sitting and it was just after 5 p.m. We were given menus (nice selection) quickly and decided to order a few things to share – so we can see how they prepare some of our favorite Italian-American dishes (no Osso Bucco tonight).  We decided on Chicken Francaise, Eggplant Parmesan hero, and Penne in Vodka Sauce. Dinners come with the usual salad and pasta choices.

Gabby's II Dining Room

Tricia took our orders and returned quickly with bread and soon followed up with the salads. Nice crisp fresh greens, onion, tomato and olives, with a good balsamic dressing (not to heavy).

We were given both garlic and regular bread in a basket and I had a good feeling after taking a bite. Hot, crunchy, amazing. No bits of raw or overcooked garlic or over oiled. The bread itself is actually seeded French bread (as Hector explained) to give it the right texture. This was not the soft spongy bread that are the norm in these parts, it was crunchy outside with a great bite and taste, and just enough garlic and butter.

The food came out and the Eggplant Parmesan hero had the perfect combination of eggplant, tasty sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and of course – served on that excellent bread.

The Shrimp Parmesan dinner was equally good – with large shrimp breaded perfectly and topped with that delicious Marinara sauce and fresh cheese. Generous portions!

The Penne was cooked perfectly al denté and the vodka sauce was rich and thick – extremely creamy! Plenty to share all around.

The Chicken Francaise was the best dish so far, with a perfect blend of lemon, butter and lightly breaded, fork-tender, thin chicken. The ziti that accompanied it was also cooked perfectly al denté and served alongside (perfect in the lemon sauce too). This is my favorite dish and something I learned to cook from a chef many years ago and has become my “signature dish”. This was even better than my own – I love this dish.

We were too full order dessert, but they have a nice selection! The pizzas looked great too and we will certainly be back to try those!

Hector came around to the table and introduced himself, and asked how everything was. We  explained were really here to try his food and see if we liked it (which we did) and see about catering for an upcoming party. He was very accommodating and sent us home with a sample of the Sausage, Onion and Peppers to try  since we were interested in having it on our menu for the party. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly –with tender sausage (sweet not hot). It was so delicious that I ate the peppers and onions as ravenously as the sausage!

Hector’s care about ingredients is evident, as he told me they do not buy that frozen pre-breaded stuff that typically helps cut corners (time, money but most of all, quality). You can taste care in everything they do.

It is a BYO so don’t forget to bring something to pair with your meal. I had a Cupcake Vinyards Sauvignon Blanc that had nice lemon, lime and grapefruit flavors and paired well with the Chicken dish. I have recommended it in earlier posts. For $8 on sale, it is a great value. I wish I had also brought the Falesco Vitiano from Umbria (under $10 and always an easy drinking Italian Red Blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Sangiovese) that would pair well with the red sauce dishes).

I welcome Gabby’s II with open arms. I know we all get set in our ways and remain loyal to our tried and true dinning establishments we frequent with family and friends. I too understand how easy it is to fall into that, but quality and taste are what we are after right? Everyone in the area should give Gabby’s II a try one night – instead of the usual Frank’s, Branda’s, Mamma’s or Pietro’s. I think you will taste the difference, I know I did. Their tagline is “Love at First Bite”, and they deliver on that promise.

Oh, and speaking of deliver – did I mention they will DELIVER! Hard to find a great Italian place that will drive your food to you around here anymore!

Gabby’s II: 908 850 1803 • 190 Mountain Ave., Hackettstown, NJ

Gabby’s in Flemington: 908 237 9990 • 203 Main Street, Historic Flemington, NJ

More information on their website and there is a coupon when you click “Specials”.

Buon Appetito!

Steve from the Trellis

©TalesFromTheTrellis, 2011

Note: My reviews are always uncompensated and honest – based upon my palette. Your taste/opinions may differ. I base my opinions not only on taste – but always a baseline of quality that is factual. I have no affiliation with any restaurants or wineries. Full disclosure: I am known to be extremely picky, critical and often brutally honest about food and wine, taste and preparation. I welcome any and all comments on this blog.

Value Wine Alert: Wily Jack Wine for $5 – The Review!

5 03 2011





As I hinted at the end of my last post about the Three Wishes wines for $2.50, I had recently purchased 2 bottles of Wily Jack (pronounced Why-lee) wine in a local Bottle King (a large retail chain in New Jersey) for a sale price of $5 each. The label captured my attention first, as it was a bold and well branded wine – with Michael Schwab illustrated label (his name was right on the bottom of the label, interesting).

Though this bottle was purchased on sale for $5, it typically sells for anywhere between $7 – $10. These wines are non vintage, like Three Wishes, meaning they can blend different years together. The grapes were sourced from vineyards all over California, so a blend of many areas as well. They offer a Chardonnay, Cabernet, and a Zinfandel (was not available at Bottle King at my time of purchase). They have been around since 2009, and owned by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines. The brand is meant to be fun and approachable. These wines should be enjoyed now, not aged.

They had a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, so I took both and walked away for less than the price of a typical everyday drinking bottle. I thought this would be a good – post as it was twice the price of the last Three Wishes bottles – but was it twice the value?

I decided to bring the two bottles, along with some others, to a gathering at friends Chris and Karen’s home last night. Great cheeses and Karen’s homemade desserts like cheesecake, apple crisp, brownies and mixed fruit salad. All delicious, thanks Karen!

Wily Jack Wines ©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011

Wily Jack Wines ©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011

The Chardonnay:

Nice notes of apple and pear on the nose. Medium body,  with great pineapple and tropical fruit taste. Then, surprisingly, the citrus (acidity) kicks in on the dry finish– which is fairly cleansing and refreshing. Worked especially well with the softer goat milk cheese, and would recommend brie with this as well.  I was really happy about this wine for the price. It was not just worth double the price of Three Wishes, but the quality was substantially better. Again, I like this at $9 but love it at $5! This may be my new house white wine!

The Cabernet:

This was the second bottle that I opened, after the Chard disappeared quickly! It had cherry and dark fruit with violet on the nose. Plum, cherry and vanilla (oak) on the tongue. Smooth sailing from the first sip through the mid-palette, then the finish goes a bit tannic, but in a god way. It had some guts to it and more power than I expected. After some time in the glass swirling, it calmed down a bit and really smoothed out the edges. I enjoyed this with the brownies! Yum! Was this really $5? This wine also seemed to be a success, and it looks like this was a winner.

I’m shocked that I haven’t seen this wine in stores, or even heard about it until now. The web site is simple but well-organized and designed. Have a look.

I am excited to recommend these wines to you, an excellent value with great quality for this low price. Please go try these and let me know what you think!


Steve from the Trellis

©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011

Out and About: The Prickly Pear Restaurant Dinner and Pairing

22 11 2010

As I write this, it is 4:00 AM. I should be sleeping but here I am, writing about one of the best wine and dine experiences I have had since Napa earlier this year, and perhaps years before that.

Every once in a while it will happen – when perfectly prepared food and excellent wine work together to elevate the experience into something magical and memorable. Saturday night I felt the magic again. I’m not talking about the basic parings that always help wine and food come together to help each other, I mean something to remember always!

There is a place in Hackettstown, NJ that is known by the locals as “THE” place to go for a special night out called the Prickly Pear. Since last night was that “special” night, I checked out the menu online to see if anything changed since my last visit and to plan the wine selections.

In New Jersey BYO is very much the norm (difficulty and costly to get Liquor Licenses) – which is perfect for people who enjoy purchasing in advance to cellar for the right time. As I read through the menu, my stomach and head told me…meat. Not sure about the type yet, so I went down to pick a Cabernet and a Pinot Noir. I already knew what we would start with, as I had saved this 1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparking wine for this. I had last had a bottle of this New Years Eve and wanted to see if or how it evolved since. I polished up my Riedel glasses and put them in the case (yes, I bring my glassware at times too and I will explain this later). I picked out the Waypoint 2003 Napa Cabernet from the Beckstoffer/To-Kalon Vineyard. Again, these are serious wine by themselves, and price on release was in the $50 – $75 range. I did bring a bottle of the 2006 W.H. Smith Sonoma Maritime Pinot Noir, in case I went with roasted lamb for my dinner entrée.

As we walked in, Linda Andes, the owner, host and “front of the shop” manager was there to greet us. It was around 6:00 PM and the line was already out the door as reservations are only taken for parties of 6 or more, so get there early! Smiling, she sat us and we were quickly served with fresh warm bread and butter. Simply but elegantly decorated, you would never know you were in a strip mall, or even in extreme west New Jersey for that matter!

As I turned around, I saw a few large empty tables and it looked as though a party was going to take place in the rear of the restaurant (we have been here with a large party before and that area is perfect to keep noise and privacy for all).

After perusing the menu (specials listed on the front) I spotted a 16 oz. T-bone, simply grilled, with roasted small potato and blue cheese. I was sold. The starter for me would be the smoked salmon flatbread with a jalapeño-spiked crème fresh and lightly dressed (house vinaigrette) arugula served on a flatbread. I was a bit concerned about the heat/spice against the sparkling wine, but it was not an issue.

As the party guests arrived and were seated, our service remained excellent and we were served our appetizers quickly. My wife opted for the goat cheese and caramelized onion and sage perogies and my daughter went for the Prickly Pear Salad (both were amazing and passed around the table to share).

1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparkling Wine

1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparkling Wine

Our Argyle bubbly that had been taken from us upon entry arrived back to our table opened, and I poured a glass for my wife and myself. The nose was a bit different from last time, and felt deeper. Plenty of yeast and biscuit. Tasting it, it had put on some “weight” and was definitely much fuller and complex. So smooth and creamy at the finish. Not overly heavy – but plenty of layers of flavor like pear, apple, melon, toasty brioche and vanilla. This has a very long finish and will dance in your mouth for a while after!

I feel this is one of, if not THE finest sparkling wines from the USA I have had. I would put it up with top champagnes and far most cost. This is the type of wine that you can have with your entrée, not just an appetizer. It has the weight and complexity to stand up to many dishes and guess what, it held up to my steak (but was perfectly paired with my salmon appetizer). Some of you reading this may balk at this, but there sparkling wines that can pair well with heavier fare.

This was rated the #18 Wine of the Year from Wine Spectator last year, and given 95 points. I would say it has improved and would go a bit higher. It has become smoother, seamless and if you have the chance to try this, you wont forget. Bubbles are the perfect wine, they go with almost anything and lighter style versions are great for starters while deeper and more complex iterations (like this Argyle) can take you through main courses.

Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet Glass

Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet Glass

I opened the 2003 Waypoint To-Kalon Cabernet and poured/swirled to prepare it for the upcoming entreés (my t-bone and my wife’s fillet). I brought my Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet glasses because they DO make a difference! If you don’t believe me, try and see. The thin crystal and gorgeous shape (tall with plenty of room to swirl) of the glass help enhance the wine and allows your tongue and mouth to get the best from it (hitting all areas). Think of thick beer mugs for instance and how that forces the beer in your mouth to the back. I did not believe this when I first heard of Riedel, but I can definitely taste the difference.

Riedel make several lines now from the top of the line Sommelier to the overture basic affordable glassware, but the Riedel O glasses emerged as a huge commercial success. They are those stem-less glasses that have now been copied by lower end producers like Libby. I love them and these have all the quality of their other lines, but without the stem (and less likely to break) they fit into the top track of the dishwasher (yes, these Riedel’s I do wash in there) and are like weebles, they wobble but the don’t fall down! I will create a post dedicated to stemware soon to get geeky/scientific on this topic, but do check out the Riedel website.

Our main courses were served and service remained excellent (even with 2 large parties going on in the back). Perfectly grilled to medium rare and seasoned simply to let the quality of the meat shine. The potatoes were amazing. Just enough melted blue cheese on them to give that tangy flavor but not too overpowering. Some fresh string beans were also served on the same plate.

Waypoint 2003 To-Kalon Napa Cabernet

Waypoint 2003 To-Kalon Napa Cabernet

The Waypoint 2003 Cabernet was a perfect complement to the meat. Extremely dark in the glass and when I swirled – cassis, dark berry, plum and vanilla cream on the nose. Initial reports on this wine were that it needed time to soften the tannins (too harsh on release) but it has aged very well and the tannins are totally integrated – all smooth sailing with dark plum, berry and oak. I was thrilled with this wine and the pairing was amazing. Kudos to Chef/Owner Joe Andes. He never fails to have something on the menu that exceeds expectations! The filet was also cooked perfectly and was wonderful with the Waypoint Cabernet as well.

Dessert consisted of a crème bruleé, crispy on top and perfectly smooth with rich vanilla custard. I was unable to try the Pumpkin Cheesecake (nut allergy) or the Chocolate cake (nuts again) but the word from the table was – thumbs up. My double espresso was the perfect foil for the rich creamy bruleé.

It was a great night out with family, made even more special with great food and wine. Truly a perfect evening with all the right ingredients.

Santé and have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday to all those celebrating. I will try to publish my top picks for Turkey Day Pinot Noir before Thursday!

Steve From the Trellis

Related Links:

The Prickly Pear Restaurant: 80-30 Main St. Plaza, Hackettstown, NJ                   908-879-0003

Riedel Stemware

Argyle Winery

Waypoint Wines from The Bounty Hunter

Pair It: Informal Chinese Take Out Night with Friends

22 02 2010
Chinese Take Away Dumplings

Dumplings 1 © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

First of all, a heartfelt congratulations to one of the first “vines” on this Trellis. Amy and Joey tied the knot this past Saturday and I want to wish them both a happy and healthy life together – full of love, peace and amazing times! Santé! Hope that the wedding wines worked out for you!

Also, Saturday was my nephews birthday (hope it was fun Alex) as well as my hair stylist Annie. Whew. It was a busy, busy day!

About 6 PM Saturday night, we had good friends Maria and Ryan along with their beautiful girls for an informal take-in dinner.  I don’t know about all of you, but my most favorite food in the world is Chinese and my most favorite of all Chinese dishes is the dumpling. Anytime I am taking in Chinese food, I know that it will always mean I will be enjoying my second favorite pairing with Pinot Noir.

Since we were having company and Maria is not a huge fan of Chinese food, I tried to select some dishes that had the same flavour profiles as other choices she enjoys in other cuisines. Lemon Chicken and prawns in garlic sauce were two of the many selections I made in this vein.

Also knowing that she is a fan of dry white wines, particularly Pinot Grigio, I wanted to offer up some choices to expand her wine palette as well. I selected some value-driven bottles that I felt would pair well with many of these dishes.

To start, I selected the Robert Mondavi 2007 Fumé Blanc (Napa, CA). Robert Mondavi, and his family,  have been pioneers in the American wine scene and education before wine was respected or widely accepted here in the states. Please click to learn all about Mr. Mondavi – his history, leadership and how he changed the way we all look at  the US-based industry. Mondavi invented (more like reinterpreted) “Fume Blanc” in 1966. He took Sauvignon Blanc, a varietal not appreciated at that time, from Napa and barrel aged it (usually it is aged in steel tanks). This added some richer, integrated oak character and mouthfeel that we had not seen before and he named it and created a new market with a huge following! Robert Mondavi passed away in May of 2008, at the age of 94, 4 years after losing power in a buyout by Constellation Brands in 2004.

Back to the wine! This 2007 Mondavi Fume Blanc is fairly dry, crisp, and light. It stands up well to appetizers and fried foods with a bit of acidity, minerality and a hint of lychee, melon, vanilla, lemon and lime. Very light in the glass and fast on the finish. I was happy to see the table enjoying it and I feel it works best as an apéritif with some light bites (nice with the shrimp toast). For the price, I feel it is a value  at around $12 USD, but I have seen some huge sales where I have purchased it for $10. The beauty of it is that this It is widely available due to huge production. Constellation has done a great job since gaining control, as the wines produced have been of excellent quality overall and the reserve wines have been consistently outstanding. They make a range of wines fat price points between $8 to $150 USD (for the higher-end reserve Cabernets).

Soon it was time for pork dumplings (I love them steamed) and of course Pinot Noir. I am saving (hording) what I have left of my 2006 Cambria Julia’s Vineyard to see how it ages, so I decided to open one of my two remaining Argyle 2006 (Dundee, OR) bottles ($18-25 USD). When last tasted a few months back, it was very nice, but felt a bit light and had a fast finish (count how long you can taste it in your mouth after you swallow). Well, I seems that waiting a few months has done this bottle good. It gained some weight (not as light in mouthfeel) though fairly light red in the glass – you can still see your hand through it (which is fine-I will get more into that on my next Pinot Noir post). I tasted black cherry, vanilla and cola (think Dr pepper but buttery), dark berry, dark chocolate with some spices – and it was smooth sailing with a long finish. This has arguably elevated itself to rival the Cambria. This also went extremely well with the boneless pork ribs and the 5-spice mixture that integrated perfectly with this wine.

As we were ready for main courses, I opened up what has become my “go to” house white wine at the moment. The 2008 Big House White (Soledad, CA) is an amazing value. For about $8-10 USD, it brings what could be the value deal of the year (yes, I bought a case of this after being blown away by the quality price ratio). Nice floral nose with flavours of peach, apricot, cantaloupe with just a touch of crisp acidity and long finish with a nice  mouthfeel. Big House Wines makes several amazing value priced wines and I recommend you check them all out. The Big House Pink and Red are solid, causal and fun. The branding is excellent and check out the website – which delivers on this whole fun concept.

This wine is a blend of several white grape varietals that are not usually on the tip of our tongues here in the US – Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Malvasia Bianca, Orange Muscat and Muscat Canelli (sometimes Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Riesling and Pinot Grigio). This wine worked well with the Lemon Chicken as well as the spicier Singapore Mei Fun (some sweet helps fan the flames of hot spice). For fans of blends like Conundrum ($20-25 USD) you will love this at less than half the price (Steve and Kevin, please try this) for your go-to house white wine.

To round off the night, our friends brought over a dessert plate with Napoleon, cannoli and several other mini pastries – so I decided to open the 2007 Trefethen Late Harvest Riesling (Napa. CA). This special bottle was dark gold and thick on the tongue with Raisin, spice and caramel notes and not cloyingly sweet.  This wine is really amazing. It is not cheap, but really excellent quality. This is like a cross between an Inniskillin Icewine (go Canada) and a French Sauterne and comes in a beautiful half bottle (375 ml) and typically costs $30-50 USD. It is really good, especially if you like the sweet stuff, and this is extremely high-end offering from Trefethen – widely known for their excellent Cabernet.

An excellent evening with good friends, good food and nice conversation. Wine brings people together but good friends and excellent food takes it to another level and enhances everything. Share some wine with friends and see.

Steve From the Trellis

© 2010 Tales From the Trellis


Pair It: Salmon and Pinot Noir

7 02 2010
Chirashi Sushi bowl

Chirashi Sushi Bowl © Rebecca Li, 2009

This is my first post to this section (Pair It) devoted to pairing wine and food. Just so that you understand how insane I am, when I go out to a restaurant (except if it a BYO)– I do not behave the way most do. The first menu I look at is for the wine. I actually chose the wine I am in the mood for, then choose the best thing I feel will pair with it.

This post is about my most favorite pairing. My love for food is second only to my love of wine (but barely), but happily they both bring out the best in each other. Something happened to me about 18 years ago. Back in about 1992, I had just bought Joel Robuchon’s first English translated book (well before he was as popular as he is here now) and began to cook through his recipes. I had a lot of fun doing this, and each night, my mom and brother would come home to something different on the table. That year, I was experimenting with these recipes, and decided to cook a 5 corse meal in honor of my mother’s birthday (I believe it was her 45th). The main course was a salmon in a red wine shalot sauce. I had never had nor made this before, but it sounded both intriguing with options for a visually dynamic presentation. So I went for it.

The myth about fish being served only with white wine was already being debunked, and this meal changed it for me forever. Though it was more about the wine based sauce (lot’s of butter whisked in off the heat) that opened up my mind to this pairing – and happily, I have not been the same since.

These days, living in New Jersey has its benefits. The vast amounts of BYO restaurants is a boon to everyone that either collects and enjoys the benefits of pairing in advance, wants to save money by patronizing a local wine shop and not spending what are between 200 and 400% markups in restaurants with wine programs, or just knows what they want. For me, it’s all the above.

When I want sushi or better yet, sashimi, I have a clear picture in my mind both where and what I will be doing in the basement in preparation for this trip out. If I intend to go Japanese, and crave top quality, fresh out of the water salmon, I will be hunting in the racks for a Pinot Noir to create the magic that will soon follow.

In past years, I have enjoyed the 2005 Chandon Pinot Noir and found a great deal under $20 for these bottles by “going case” to receive a %20 discount. Let me say that this combination of the silky, sexy mouthful of pure and fresh velvety salmon –with it’s inherent rich fattiness that melts in your mouth – with the soft and subtle sour cherry, clove, vanilla and cola notes from the Pinot Noir create this sensation in my mouth and my brain that can only be describes as an outer body experience. When the perfect wine meets the perfect food – and reinvent the way we taste something as a whole…this is what really drives me to tell you to open your mind to some of the pairings I will talk about in this blog.

I have tried other Pinot Noir pairings since, some have been a bit overripe and the fruit a bit too much which throws off the balance and suppleness of the fish. I will explain in my next post – that with patience and the right conditions, we can store the wine and put some age on it so that that fruit (and sometimes high alcohol levels) may fade back to allow the pairing to work at it’s best.

Note, Pinot Noir not only  loves raw salmon, but grilled as well. I have enjoyed some Oregon based Pinot Noir with my cedar plank grilled salmon at home. Bergstrom, Chehalem, Ponzi and Adelsheim come to mind, but those can be on the pricey side from $25 to $65 USD. Pessagno from the Central Coast (CA) was just rated 94 points from Wine Enthusiast, and at around $25 USD, a steal. For more budget conscious, try the Cambria Julias Vineyard at under $20 USD. Australia has some values with Innocent Bystander 2008 achieving high marks for its strawberry/raspberry notes and a lingering trail of minerality. For around $15.00 USD, a steal. Castle Rock is the lowest price with best value at under $12.00, but with Pinot, it is a typically expensive varietal as it is a hard grape to work with and costs more to create (but worth it).

The other thing I love with salmon (raw) is sparkling wines. When you are having especially fatty Salmon or even Toro, the acidity cuts the fattiness of the salmon and really works to refresh your mouth and palette. But that post is for another time.

Question for all of you out there, have you had salmon (cooked or not) with Pinot Noir and if so, what was the dish and the wine – and your overall impressions of this pairing.

Thanks for reading and participating, as always!

Many thanks to Ray Chan and Rebecca Li for these excellent images! Good Friends and great foodies with a love for great wine too! Keep them coming!

Steve from the Trellis

© Tales From the Trellis 2010

Salmon Roe Sushi © Ray Chan, 2009