Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wines of Croatia Tasting

First a few maps, because, I like them. The first shows Croatia's location within Europe, important to those of us who are old enough to have grown up with a very different map of Europe, and the second, some detail of the country itself. As for the country itself, the CIA World Factbook (I couldn't resist) tells me that "The lands that today comprise Croatia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the close of World War I. In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929 as Yugoslavia. Following World War II, Yugoslavia became a federal independent Communist state under the strong hand of Marshal TITO. Although Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it took four years of sporadic, but often bitter, fighting before occupying Serb armies were mostly cleared from Croatian lands. Under UN supervision, the last Serb-held enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998. In April 2009, Croatia joined NATO; it is a candidate for eventual EU accession."

As for the wine, Croatian wine is not something I know very much about. I've tasted a few here and there, but not enough to reach and conclusions. I would guess that statement puts me in with the majority of wine consumers. So pre-tasting I did some research. 
The internet told me that: Croatian wine has a history dating back to the Ancient Greek settlers and their wine production on the southern Dalmatian islands some 2,500 years ago. Today there here are over 300 geographically defined wine regions with 17,000 registered vine growers, 33,000 hectares of vineyard surface area and 61 million liters of wine produced each year. Although there are more than 200 varietals grown, 60 of them indigenous, the major three, Grasevina (welschriesling), Malvazija (Malvasia Istriana) and Plavac Mali account for 47% of what is planted.
With that background it was time to head to Sebastapol for a tasting courtesy of Marcy Gordon and Frank from

1. CORONICA -- Malvasia--Istria  2009
2. KORTA KATARINA--Pošip--Island of Korčula 2008
3. KRAJANČIĆ--Pošip--Island of Korčula 2009
4. ENJINGI--Venje--Slavonia 2003
Graševina, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Traminac
5. TERZOLO--Teran--Istria 2008
6. PIQUENTUM--Teran--Istria 2008
7. MILOŠ--Stagnum Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2005
8. KORTA KATARINA--Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2006
9. SAINTS HILLS--Dingač Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 200
10. BURA--Dingač  Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2007
11. ZLATAN PLENKOVIĆ--Crljenak Kaštelanski--Island of Hvar, Makarska 2008
Plus 3 add-ons: both a Grgic Pošip and Plavac and a Korta Katarina rosé

So what did I think? Well, in general, I found the whites and rosé more to my taste than the reds. The whites were fragrant and herbal with lots of minerality and acidity. Refreshing and crisp, they were perfectly suited to a warm day on Marcy's back porch.

In contrast, the reds were big wines. I found them very fruity, but also hot." Frank mentioned that some of the entry level reds have alcohol levels around 13% but everything we tasted was over 14% with some 15% and above. Indeed, the Saints Hills, with a 15.5% abv was designed as "designed to be the cult wine of Croatia."  Otherwise put, not a Sunday afternoon sipping wine. I thought they called out for a meal and think they probably show better with food, though am suspicious of the suggested pairing of the MILOŠ--Stagnum Plavac Mali and oysters. They were concentrated wines, reminiscent of zinfandel, which is not surprising given that researchers have found a connection between the grapes.
In all, an excellent introduction to a region. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On Not Drinking the Wines of the Vuelta

The Vuelta starts today. The third of the cycling Grand Tours, it follows the Giro and the Tour de France. For both of other tours, I pair a wine to each stage. I've done it for several years and very much enjoy the planning and the opportunity to drink outside of my comfort areas. Though, I admit to Riesling cravings. 

This year, l thought that perhaps I should try the wines of the Vuelta. Because, to be completely honest, I know very little about Spanish wine and I figured it would be good to learn. I even thought that this might be the tour to pair food and wine. Something that some year I will be organized enough to do.  But then my position was eliminated at work. So there went the wine budget. And despite a wine rack reorganization project and a careful search, it became clear that I did not have a single bottle of Spanish wine in my home. That is right, of the of 400 or so bottles here, not a single one is from Spain. Which, is kind of odd and something I should probably rectify. But, not today. I've got a Street Food Festival to attend after all.

So like the cyclists who sometimes do the double (two tours) but never attempt all three, I'm taking the Vuelta off. I'll be watching, indeed, I am watching the Team Time Trial as I write. But there will be no wines to pair. Perhaps next year? Or maybe what I really need is a trip to Spain.

Note: It has been pointed out to me that I do have two bottles of rioja in the stash of 2002 wines I am saving for K. I had put them away and forgotten all about them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cocktail Party Suggestions

Party Cat Willow after a long night.

A confession: I have about 12 posts partially written, but K is off of school and camp this month and I am job searching and well, avoiding reality by planning a cocktail party. Which is exactly the sort of thing I tend to be slightly ocd about. So, I'd love some thoughts on things like :

• Your favorite cocktail party recipes, make-ahead if possible.
• Little plates or just fingers and napkins?
•  Is a cocktail party dinner (for me, usually) or not?
• How many kinds of pickles are too many?
• Many bottles of one kind of wine or a mixed case or so?
• Cheese: Crackers or bread?
• Is there ever too much pate?
• Am I the only one who truly loves deviled eggs?
• Pimento cheese: Is celery really the best option?

Your questions and comments very welcome!

K's favorite parties involve cookie decorating

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chicken Liver Pate

So after skipping Charcutepalooza for a few months due to travel commitments, this month we planned on participating. A terrine sounded doable and indeed, I may still try one by deadline day. But today, we opted for pate, indeed, three different chicken liver pates. Because, well, we generally choose multiple options. There were two basic variations: the Chicken Liver Mousse from The Balthazar Cookbook and the Chicken Liver Parfait from Michelle Bernstein's Cuisine A Latina, involved combining ingredients while raw and then baking in the oven in a hot water bath and before chilling. The second technique involved sauteing the chicken livers and additional ingredients before combining and then chilling, used in the  Bourbon Chicken Liver Pate from Epicurious. The Epicurious recipe also used butter as a binder, whereas the other two used egg, in the case of the Bernstein recipe, 12 yolks and half and half, making almost a chicken liver custard. The Balthazar version was a hybrid, using one egg and butter, although we substituted duck fat for part of the butter. We also used Charcutepalooza bacon for the Bernstein recipe. 

My favorite, happily, turned out to be the simplest of the bunch, the Epicurious recipe. 

Bourbon Chicken Liver Pâté
Gourmet  | November 2003 

Unlike usual, we made the recipe as described, though we did eliminate the clarified butter covering. 
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 pound chicken livers, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
Melt 1 stick butter in a large nonstick skillet over moderately low heat, then cook onion and garlic, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add herbs, salt, pepper, allspice, and livers and cook, stirring, until livers are cooked outside but still pink when cut open, about 8 minutes. Stir in bourbon and remove from heat. Purée mixture in a food processor until smooth, then transfer pâté to crock and smooth top.

Chill pâté until firm, about 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours more. 

I simply could not take a pretty picture of our pate. Alas.