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Archive for November, 2011


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At some point in this lifetime, I see myself falling head over heels in love with South African wines.  I want to love them – I really do – but it sure is difficult when you feel like you’ve been shot out of a hookah pipe when tasting them.  However, I’ll be damned to write off an entire varietal, let alone the wines from an entire country!  My tastes have evolved over the years, so I won’t let my reservations – most notably towards smoky South African wine - stand in the way of finding some exciting South African wines to share with you.

Last night…

There we were, the two of us in our little bat cave in the basement, enjoying a stack of burritos topped with charred and fried sweet corn niblets (I’ve been dying to use the word niblets in a post :) ), green chilies, spicy salsa and a mound of sour cream.  Not a pretty sight for a Kodak moment, so I’ll spare you the picture.

I grabbed two South African wines from Partnership Vineyards.  Partnership Vineyards is the result of a partnership between farmers and Riebeek Cellars in South Africa’s Riebeek Valley. Since 2004, they have planted nearly 60 hectares; 15 hectares dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc plantings on the farm they aptly named Partnership Vineyards.  This fair trade venture is divvied up 40% farm and cellar workers, 40% farmers and 20% Riebeek Cellars. Riebeek Cellars serves as the marketing and production arm of this unique, empowering initiative.

Our first wine was the 2009 Partnership Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (Sample, MSRP: $13).  I’ll sum this wine up in a few words:  a mouthful of fresh pineapple laced with an herbaceous smoky undertone.  A piece of advice:  don’t over-chill this Sauvignon Blanc like I did.  Once it warmed up, the flavors really shined and paired well with those spicy burritos.

2 Stars out of 4 for the 2009 Partnership Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.

The second wine of the night was the 2008 Partnership Vineyards Shiraz (Sample, MSRP: $13).  Unfortunately, this red gave me flashbacks of my less than stellar encounters with other South African reds.  Right off the bat, its savory smokiness had me gasping for air.  The combination of Slim-Jim, tobacco, vanilla, menthol and a slight hint of plum was all a bit much for me at first.  This wine needs a lot of time out of the bottle to let off some smoke before consuming.  It was much more approachable and appealing on the second day.

2 Stars out of 4 for the 2008 Partnership Vineyards Shiraz.


Fall Back

We also have a great spirits section, shop today!

I have no idea what to call the fall feast that went down at my good friend Bruce’s house.  In a nutshell, it was a nosh-up of towering proportions that can only be summed up in one word – EPIC.

While the kids were running rampant, dancing and roasting marshmallows around the bonfire, and elbowing one another to get the most candy from the broken piñata, there were several adults having some fun of their own! 

Supervised, of course! :)

Every kid for themselves!! 

Earlier this year, I received several samples from brothers, James and Mark Blanchard of Blanchard Family Wines.  Located in Healdsburg, California, Brothers Blanchard operate a small family winery that produces and sells hand-crafted, limited production wines – only 1500 cases to be exact.  I took a real interest in their personal journey into the wine business, and thought it would be fun to share their wines with friends.

Our first selection on this beautiful, chilly fall evening was the 2009 Blanchard Family Sauvignon Blanc (Dry Creek Valley) (MSRP: $20 US).

Our group of tasters described it as being “citrusy, tart, possessing a grassy New Zealand-esque quality to it with very good acidity.” A few detected an “oniony” quality.  However, the group was unanimous and rated the 2009 Blanchard Family Sauvignon Blanc (Dry Creek Valley) 3 Stars out 4.

Onto the delights that had us all practically licking our bowls and plates all night long!

First up… Arugula, Apple, Pear with chopped Pecan and crumbled Blue Cheese Salad topped with an Apple Cider Vinaigrette.

I paired this simple, yet terrific salad with what turned out to be one of the favorite wines of the night – the 2010 Blanchard Family “Peoria Pink” Pinot Gris (Russian River Valley) (MSRP: $30.00).

2010 was the inaugural vintage of the Blanchard Family’s Russian River Valley Pinot Gris.  Its special name “Peoria Pink”  is inspired by the wine’s color, which is a light pink.  Another thing worth mentioning is 20% of all sales from 2010 Blanchard Family “Peoria Pink” Pinot Gris go to breast cancer awareness.  How great is that!?

Here’s what people were saying about the 2010 Blanchard Family “Peoria Pink” Pinot Gris (Russian River Valley)“Nice body, citrusy, sexy color! Great match with this salad!  Medium acidity and good structure.”  Tasters were split – some gave it 3 Stars, while others (including me) gave it 4 Stars out of 4!  Overall, it was a crowd-pleaser.

After finishing the 2010 Blanchard Family “Peoria Pink” Pinot Gris, we headed into hedonistic ecstasy when bowls of homemade pumpkin soup made their way out to the dining room table.

This soup, I tell you, was absolutely INCREDIBLE!!

I asked my friend Bruce to share some of his insights, secrets and tips for making this bountiful bowl of orange goodness, and this is what he had to say:

“In preparing the pumpkin soup, I found out very quickly that pureeing pumpkin is not as easy as it sounds.  Seems like it should be simple, right?  Place pumpkin in the blender/food processor; turn it on and instant pumpkin puree –right?  WRONG!  As it turns out, pumpkin is too dense to puree on its own, at least in my blender.  So my brilliant solution was to blend the pumpkin with chicken stock (the soup’s other base ingredient).  The trick, as I learned after much trial and error…and cleaning up pumpkin splatter on the walls, cabinets and ceiling is to have the right pumpkin to chicken stock ratio.  Oh yeah, two other notes: 1) Don’t lift the blender lid to peak in as pumpkin is being pureed unless you like wearing pumpkin and 2) Don’t wear a white shirt while trying to puree pumpkin.”

Thanks Bruce for sharing!

Now where were we?  Oh yeah, here’s the killer recipe for that pumpkin soup:


  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 cups cubed, peeled, chopped fresh pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley and fresh chives
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chives
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups milk or heavy cream


  1. Cut pumpkin into small pieces.
  2. Heat the chicken stock and the other ingredients *(minus the 2 cups of milk and/or cream)   on the list in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes uncovered.
  3. Puree the fresh pumpkin in small batches (1 cup at a time) using a food processor or blender and stir in with the other ingredients in the large pot.
  4. Return to pan and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 30 minutes, uncovered. Finally, stir in milk/heavy cream. Pour into soup bowls and garnish with fresh chives and parsley.

I’d suggest pairing this soup with a Chardonnay; but if you’re an ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) person, give it a go with a Viognier or Dry Riesling.

Our next course was Alaskan Copper River Wild Salmon from 2 Sisters Alaska Seafood.  Nothing like the real deal!

Check out the thickness of this salmon!

My pal Bruce used this recipe Salmon en Papillote from Julia & Jacques.

While he was on the fish station, I was in charge of cooking the side dish that he selected, which was a Herbed Quinoa Pilaf with Vegetables courtesy of

*Note: You may want to deviate a bit from the recipe and add more vegetable stock, butter and other interesting spices that you can find in your buddy’s spice rack to really make this recipe pop!!  Just a suggestion.  :)

We downed it all – “deadliest catch” and “ancient Peruvian grain” – with a couple of Oregon and French Pinot Noirs.

And were we done yet?  Heck no!  After going to Alaskan heaven and back, we had to have some beef, right?  In the words of Sarah Palin, “You Betcha!”

So we did.

Yup, we were gluttons for punishment!  This delicious Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Basil-Curry Mayonnaise is courtesy of Food Network’s resident hottie, Giada De Laurentiis.

We had such good fortune with the first two wines from Blanchard Family Wines that we decided we’d give it a go with both the 2008 Blanchard Family “Amber Monique” Syrah (Russian River Valley)(Sample, MSRP:$25) and 2009 Blanchard Family “Red Scarf Blend” (Sonoma County) (Sample, MSRP:$26.50).

The 2008 Blanchard Family “Amber Monique” Syrah (Named for Sylvia and James Blanchard’s daughter) packed a good punch of cherry-vanilla, black pepper, dark chocolate and light smokiness.  The group was divided on the 2008 Blanchard Family “Amber Monique” Syrah; some awarded it 2 Stars, while others gave it 3 Stars out 4.

Our last wine of the night from the Blanchard brothers was the 2009 Blanchard Family “Red Scarf Blend” (Sonoma County).  This wine was created to honor the men and women of the MH-53 Pavelow helicopter.  10% from all sales of this wine is donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, whose mission is to provide full scholarship grants and educational and family counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die in operational or training missions and immediate financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personnel and their families.

The 2009 Blanchard Family “Red Scarf Blend” consisting of Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel was a very successful mission with the entire group.  We found lots of explosive black fruit and a long finish that complemented every last bite of Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Basil-Curry Mayonnaise.  The group again was split, yet again; some awarded it 3 Stars, while others gave it 4 Stars out 4.  Another great wine for a great cause.  Note:  This is a very limited wine – get it while you can.  

And what would a dinner like this be without dessert?  For those that could hang, it was lights-out with Fresh Figs with Mascarpone and Warm Spiced Honey.

Night, Night…

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