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Archive for August, 2011

Dinner with a Couple of Locals from Across the Bridge

This past Fancy Dinner Friday sure felt a whole lot different from other Friday nights we’ve spent together as a family.  No mascots on this night;  instead, this past Friday evening we all felt a bit of anxiety and concern as Hurricane Irene continued to move furiously up the East Coast into our neck of the woods.  In spite of this, though, we still managed to have a pretty spirited chat with our boys that ran the gamut from, “What was your favorite thing you did this summer?” to “What was your least favorite thing?” and “Are you ready to go back to school?” 

As the pasta cooked to al dente perfection and the meatballs simmered in red sauce, Andrea Bocelli played softly in our dimly lit dining room.  It was the perfect setting to reflect on how fortunate we really are to have one another.  All this sense of home and togetherness got me thinking about a couple of wines that had been sitting on my wine rack waiting to be opened on a night just like this one:  Heritage Vineyards kindly sent two wines for my wife and me to try from their 2007 vintage.

I’ve written about New Jersey wines several times.  Some wine lovers may be surprised to know that New Jersey’s Outer Coastal Plain is similar to the Bordeaux region of France.  The soil itself has its differences, but in terms of climate, both areas are very similar.  Because of New Jersey’s climate and geological diversity, there are more than 225 different varietals being grown in the Garden State – ranging from Pinot Noir and Riesling in North Jersey to Italian varieties, such as Sangiovese and Barbera, in South Jersey.  

Heritage Vineyards, located outside the small town of Mullica Hill, NJ is owned and operated by Penni, Bill, and Richard Heritage.  The winery rests on 100 acres of farm land; of which approximately 22 acres are allocated for winemaking, while the remaining land is used for apple, peach and pear farming.  The family hopes to eventually transition its entire farm into wine vineyards and expand its winemaking program.

We started with the 2007 Heritage Station Estate Chambourcin (MSRP: $20.99).  Chambourcin, or “East Coast Zinfandel” as Penni and Bill call it, is a French/American hybrid that has only been available since the early 1960s.  It was planted in the United States in the 70’s and grows particularly well in the northeast and midwest regions.  This winter-hardy, vigorous and disease-resistant grape has found ideal conditions to flourish in New Jersey; and Heritage Vineyards, along with several other New Jersey wineries, are using it to produce some noteworthy wines.

As my wife and I tasted the 2007 Heritage Station Estate Chambourcin we remarked several times to one another how the berry flavors in this wine just jump out and smack you in the face – in a good way. :)   It’s a flash of juicy blackberry, blueberry and plum, with a hint of green pepper and a touch of roasted nuts.

3 Stars out of 4 for the 2007 Heritage Station Estate Chambourcin.  

Our second wine, was the  2007 Heritage Station Estate Merlot ( MSRP: $19.99).  Unlike the estate grown Chambourcin, which possessed soft tannins and pure berry bliss, the 2007 Heritage Station Estate Merlot was meant for those seeking refuge in the bigger, mouth-filling camp.  In this Merlot, one gets a big juicy mouthful of Jersey Fresh strawberries, along with green pepper, clove, vanilla, leather, black pepper, and licorice.  My wife was sensing some fennel seed as well – but then again, maybe it was the meatballs.  ;)

3 Stars out of 4 for the 2007 Heritage Station Estate Merlot.

Poor Man’s Chef: Replace the L with C

Does it get any better than a classic BLT sandwich on a summer day?  It’s pretty ingenious when you stop to think how a simple homegrown tomato, combined with crispy bacon, lettuce and mayonnaise, between two slices of bread can be so damn good. 

Last night, I was really jonesing for a BLT… but I thought I’d to add a touch of gourmet to the classic standard with my own no-fuss variation.

Ingredients:

  • 1 fluffy, soft sesame-seed bakery roll 
  • 1 homegrown super-ripe tomato 
  • 4-6 slices of fully cooked bacon (the pre-cooked kind like Hormel, Oscar Myer, store brand, yadda yadda) 
  • Monterey Jack Cheese with Hot Peppers
  • Balsamic Vinegar 

Split the roll in half and add a few drops of balsamic vinegar to both halves.  Place strips of bacon, a slice or two of the tomato, and top with a thick slice of Monterey Jack Cheese with Hot Peppers.

Place in toaster oven and cook until toasty and melty.

I decided to pair my little BLT BCT creation with the 2009 William Cole Columbine Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (MSRP: $18 US, Sample).

It’s not one of those big and bad, club-you-over-the-head Cabs, but it did show some attitude with its black cherry, plum, black current, vanilla and oak flavors.  It’s definitely the kind of Cab that demands a little food.

3 out of 4 stars for the 2009 William Cole Columbine Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  It showed some spunk, but fell in line perfectly with our BCT!

 

Get Out Much?

Get out much?  I get that question from time to time since most of my posts revolve around my food and wine experiences at home.  In all honesty, I’d have to answer that question two different ways:  yes and no.  I definitely enjoy traveling, dining and going out to new places (when I’m traveling), and meeting lots of new people (when I’m traveling).  But when I’m not traveling, I tend to stay at home and hang out with a small circle of friends – cooking, entertaining, drinking wine and throwing back shots (well, maybe not so much of the last one).  It’s not like I’m some freaky house hermit – I just enjoy being at home!  Call me simple, but there’s nothing more fun than hanging with your favorite peeps, having a good old time in the kitchen, and drinking a glass (or two, or three…) of wine. 

With that said, this past Wednesday, my wife and I were graciously invited to a special wine dinner at a nearby tavern, called James Street Tavern.  Voted 2010’s “Best Pub/Tavern” in Delaware Today’s “Best of Delaware” issue, James Street Tavern serves classic American Fare, along with your standard pub food.  Although the wine dinner wasn’t showcasing food from their standard menu, we thought it would be a great opportunity to try some place new.  So, even though it was a “school night,” we decided to get a sitter and give it a go.

Little did I know that the evening’s menu would be filled from top to bottom with ingredients that were “…all caught or picked in Delaware – except for the rice,” as Chef Matt Haley announced beforehand to the 50+ guests.  The menu, specially created for this event, was put together by local restaurant entrepreneur, Chef Matt Haley of SoDel ConceptsChef Haley is the owner and operator of five Delaware beach-area restaurants that includes Bluecoast in Bethany Beach, Catch 54 in Fenwick Island, Lupe Di Mare in Rehoboth Beach, Northeast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, and Fish On! in Lewes.  His approach is to use the freshest, locally grown, organic ingredients simply prepared, but with sophistication.

“I’m passionate about letting the natural flavors shine and combining the best local ingredients so that they complement each other.  Nothing beats the taste of locally grown ingredients—and the people who nurture them…it’s been great working with the terrific farms and local purveyors in Delaware.”

We started with a tomato gazpacho, topped with a pinch of micro greens.  The gazpacho had a great zip of spiciness, which proved a little much for some, but my wife and I loved it!  It was paired with a pink sparkler, Poema NV Brut Rose Cava ($11.99), which reigned in the heat with its fresh strawberry and raspberry flavors.

For the second course, Chef Haley and his team constructed a grilled mahi-mahi with local squash, red onions, grilled zucchini, shaved chilies, fresh cilantro and lime that was paired with Don Olegario Albariño ($20.99).  The acidity of this Spanish white wine, along with its slight sweetness, took both the fish and fresh garden vegetables to another level.

The third course was a roasted skirt steak with baby red onions, wilted wild greens, in a brown sugar vinaigrette, accompanied with the 2008 Abadia Retuerta Rivola Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.49).  Before I give you my take on the combo, I’ll share some of the comments I heard while eavesdropping on the table next us. ;)

“One of the best dishes I’ve had.”

“I LOVE arugula and this wine!  It’s OUTRAGEOUS with it!”

“Oh my god – I can’t get enough of this wine and the beef was fabulously cooked.  It’s all very delicious.”   

As for my take, I just wanted to stuff my mouth with these tender* little pieces of heaven and wash it all down with this very elegant and silky wine!

Lots of people were diggin’ on this combo…’nuff said.

We topped this meal off with rice pudding.  Wha..what!!??  –You’re gonna serve us all up rice pudding and cooked raisins after treating us to three delicious courses?  That’s what was going through our minds when we first found out this was the dessert.

I’ll be honest with you:  1.) I’m not a big dessert person; and 2.) The idea of rice pudding with cooked raisins was not sending me into a sugar frenzy.  But when I tell you that this couldn’t have been more of a “happy ending” to a delicious meal – I kid you not…really!!

My wife and I sat there scraping every last morsel of the rice pudding, laced with golden raisins, honey powder and sea salt; and polished off every sip of the Savory & James Manzanilla Deluxe Pale Dry Sherry ($10.99) paired with the dessert.  I heard voices from other tables, including ours, oohing and ahhing about how delicious the nutty, sweetness of the sherry complemented this very adult dessert.

Chef Haley and Jen Blakeman, the person responsible for creating possibly the greatest rice pudding ever, were kind enough to share the secret recipe with WL365:

Ingredients

3 cups cooked rice
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup water
2/3 c sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. orange juice
1/2 T ground cinnamon

Mix all but rice in a pot. Add rice and simmer stirring often until almost all liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat and add raisins (1/2 cup). Serve warm or chilled.

A big special thanks to Jen Blakeman for sharing!! 

After the dinner was over, Chef Haley was quick to give credit to his team who prepared the entire meal; and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the servers at Delaware’s James Street Tavern – they were terrific!!  We look forward to going back to check out their regular menu…hopefully they’ll add the rice pudding!  :)

*  Sorry Linda – I had to use this word.

Sex, Wine?! and Rock-n-Roll

It’s not too often that one gets an opportunity to sit down to afternoon tapas, drink fabulous wine and hang out with a guy that once played bass guitar in front of 20,000 screaming rock fans night after night.

1,000+ empty wine bottles and 350 posts later, I find myself sitting across from a dude that played bass guitar for the 70’s supergroup Bad Company and thought – does it get any better than this?!    I grew up listening to Bad Company and playing air guitar to songs like “Can’t Get Enough,” “Rock Steady,” “Bad Company,” “Run With The Pack,” “Silver, Blue & Gold,” and so many other kickass songs;  so when Paul Cullen asked me if I’d care to join him for lunch, I said, Hell yeah!”

Over the course of lunch, Paul and I certainly talked a lot about his time in Bad Company, but I was curious to know how he caught the wine bug, and how his love of food, music and wine has turned his world into a Sonata.

WL365:  Paul, how does a kid born and raised in Buffalo, NY go from being a sports nut, just learning to play bass guitar, make the decision to become a full-time musician?

Paul Cullen: I was always into music…I was the guy everyone looked up to for what the cool new music was. I also had mind blower speakers in home stereo cabinets in my Ford Pinto with a Pioneer Super tuner 8-track.

WL365:  Naturally Paul, all of us once-mullet-sporting, air guitar heroes wanna know:  how in the world did you land such a sweet gig with the legendary rock band Bad Company?

Paul Cullen: After 9 years of playing bass on the road, I went back to Ft. Myers, FL and started up a band called Boys of Summer, which ended up being a very popular band in the area.  Songs played on 97 Rock radio station and we eventually opened up for Molly Hatchet, REO Speedwagon and other rock bands.  The guys from AC/DC and Bad Company lived there and used to come out to see us and sit in all the time. Well, the job came up for Bad Company and Cliff Williams, the bassist for AC/DC threw my name in the hat for the job. I went to London for the audition and got the gig the same day.

WL365:  How would you sum up your experience of living and breathing the life of a rock star?

Paul Cullen: It was dream-like…Playing with my idols growing up was amazing.  Hard to imagine if you haven’t been in that position.

WL365:  Most of us envision rockers with a bottle of Jack or a 1.75 liter bottle of rum clutched in their fist on the brink of collapse.  How did you find the passageway into wine?

Paul Cullen: Mick Ralphs, guitarist for Bad Company, turned me on to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a Rhone Red from France, and I have been a huge fan ever since.

WL365:  After leaving Bad Company it seems as if your own ‘winelife,’ as well as your career in music, really evolved.  What led you to the decision to become a solo artist; and, besides your love for wine, what motivated you or gave you the courage to release your first private label wines?

Paul Cullen: Being a bassist you have to depend on everyone else for a gig, and the only thing I had to compare playing bass was when I was with Bad Company:  I needed a new outlet to rejuvenate my music career.  I have always been interested in Latin jazzy nylon string guitar. I think it comes from my parents listening to Jose Feliciano and Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 when I was young.  I figured I didn’t pick up bass until I was 20,  so I could pick up guitar when I was 46. :)

The private label was a combination of knowing that wine and music go hand in hand and from being successful as a wine representative for an Italian wine importer for 3 years. I figured, why sell some else’s wine when I could have my very own. I love the fact that I can make all the decisions on what I think is best for my company – other than getting my wife’s approval..ha-ha!  :)

WL365:  Congratulations on the release of your third solo CD, Eleven Sundays.  How did the title of the CD come about and what is the significance behind the number eleven and Sundays?

Paul Cullen:  It’s a culmination of songs I wrote on Sundays.  Eleven has been a favorite number of mine since my sports days. I always had #11. Plus, in numerology, the number 11 represents: Higher ideals, invention, refinement, congruency, balance, fulfillment and vision.

WL365:  You’re either crazy or extremely passionate about the things you love.  In addition to releasing a new solo CD, you’ve also released your first private label wines called Sonata.  Can you tell us a little bit about the wines?

Paul Cullen:  The wines come from The Sierra Foothills, east of Sacramento, CA.  Drytown Cellars is a family run vineyard that grows 14 different varietals, many from Italy.

WL365: What can people expect when they try your Sonata Bianco and Rosso?

Paul Cullen:  Balance!!

WL365:  What is your definition of “balance,” as it relates to music and wine?

Paul Cullen:  Not one thing hits you in the face…a lot of quality aspects fill your mouth and nose.  Just like my music does to your ears. Nothing obtrusive …just sexy wine sippin’ sounds.

WL365:  Do you have any favorite musical artists?  What is your all-time favorite CD? 

Paul Cullen: Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live, David Gilmour’s On an Island, Jesse Cook and Sting.

WL365:  There’s one track from your first CD, Dreamdance with a very provocative song title that immediately caught my attention:  “Friends Don’t Kiss.”  What’s the song about?

Paul Cullen:  I knew this really cool girl for a long time and it was obvious that we were attracted to each other, but we were both in relationships.  After my relationship ended, we hooked up one night by chance.  After some passionate kisses I thought I was in. The next day she said we should just be friends and I said, “Friends Don’t Kiss like that!!”

 

WL365:  I’ve heard that you love to cook at home for family and friends.  Will you share a few of your favorite recipes that taste out–of-this-world delicious with your Bianco and Rosso wines?

Paul Cullen:
Grandma Tag’s Fast Sauce paired with Sonata Rosso.

Pan Seared Diver Scallops on Cheesy Polenta in a Tarragon Pancetta sauce paired with Sonata Bianco. 

WL365:  If you could have dinner with any living celebrity or well-known public figure while sipping on your wines, who would it be and what wine would you want to share?

Paul Cullen:  Chef Mario Batali…Both of my Sonata Wines with homemade pasta and gnocchi dishes my Grandma Tagliaferro taught me to make.

WL365:  Ok, last question Paul: Is there any chance that you might end our interview by performing your rendition of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games”?

Thanks Paul!  Please check out Paul Cullen’s new CD, Eleven Sundays and his delicious first private label wines called Sonata.

Editor’s Notes:

Paul’s wines can be purchased online through Boutique Wine Room.
A big thank you to our friend, Holly, for whipping up the scallops recipe for us!

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