Decadent, Creamy Cheeses From Vermont Creamery

Join us this weekend to sample four delectable cheeses perfect for the holiday season from Vermont Creamery.  Always one of our favorite artisan cheese producers, Vermont Creamery has been producing unique, artisan cheeses since the early 80s, long before handmade cheese was on grocery store shelves everywhere.  Starting from nothing but a small loan, they’ve grown into a hugely successful company, but still retain their relationships with local farmers to make their delicious cheeses.

Their Herbed Goat Cheese is the perfect ‘instant appetizer,’ for any party or holiday gathering, and it’s a slam-dunk pairing with two of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs: Bodegas Carrau‘s crowd-pleasing, tangerine-y take on the grape, and the crisp, citrusy, sophisticated-beyond its price-tag Henri Bourgeois.

Cultured Butter is another way to elevate the most ordinary dish or appetizer.  Last year at our Champagne class we served baguette rounds with butter, smoked salmon, and a grating of white pepper.  Super simple, and an amazing pairing with sparkling wine!  It’s good just spread on toast, of course, but it can really shine if used in an unexpected way.  Try some with a sip of the surprise Champagne we’ll be serving Saturday!

Cremont is always one of our most popular cheeses, especially when we have it out for sampling, and on Saturday, you’ll see why!  A mixture of cow and goats’ milk with a touch of creme fraiche, it’s decadent and creamy.  Its special, wrinkly rind gives the cheese a nutty flavor, and as it warms up it gets more and more oozy and delicious.  Try it spread on our cranberry or raisin walnut bread, or on a baguette with our apricot jam.  It’ll be perfect with the fun, fruity Villa Jolanda Holiday Prosecco we’ll have open for sampling.

Last but not least, you’ll be able to sample Bonne Bouche, the most popular of Vermont Creamery’s geotrichum-innoculated cheeses – what gives them their signature wrinkly rind.  When young, this goat cheese has fresh, citrusy notes, but as it ages, it becomes more nutty and complex.

Join us this Saturday to meet folks from Vermont Creamery and try their delicious cheeses, along with some great wines.  See you there!

Giving the Gift of Wine, Part 1: Host Gifts

For many of us, the holidays are that time of year when your social calendar goes from being populated mostly by Dancing With The Stars (maybe that’s just us) with the occasional birthday get-together to so packed just looking at it induces panic.  Whether you’re going for cookies and carols at the neighbor’s house or to a family holiday dinner hosted by your sister-in-law, it never feels good to arrive at someone’s house empty-handed.  Here are some ideas and tips that will make you a hit with any host.

Plan Ahead.  Make your life easy and buy a few host gifts at a time.  Have them wrapped and at the ready, tucked away someplace near where you get ready to leave your house.  You’ll thank yourself when you’re rushing to get out the door to a party and realize you forgot a gift!  Everything will be right there.  Keep a pen and a few cards in there, too for good measure.

Another benefit to having your gift bottle wrapped and at the ready is that it avoids the host thinking you expect the bottle you brought to be opened that night.  Usually people have what they want to serve planned out already, and you don’t want them to feel pressured to include your gift.  So, make it clear you intend your bottle as a gift, and bring it wrapped in a box or nice gift bag.

Don’t Overthink It.  On the other hand, at a more casual gathering, an extra bottle to throw into the mix will be appreciated and opened.  So, as much as we love to geek out around here, a neighborhood holiday party where you don’t know the host very well isn’t the time to haul out an older Rioja or that obscure bottle you took home from Greece.  This is the time for a crowd pleaser.  Think Prosecco or Champagne, a fruit-forward Pinot Noir or a bold New-World Cabernet.

Why Reinvent the Wheel?  If you have a lot of gatherings on your calendar, consider choosing one wine that you’ll give as a host gift this year.  Holiday party season is by nature a little raucous and frenetic – we promise the gesture will be appreciated just as much as if you agonized over each party.  Save the agonizing for your best friend, significant other, or close family members.

Think Outside the Bottle.  Though we love wine (OK, maybe we’re a little obsessed …), there are lots of other things you can give as a host gift that are a little more interesting than another scented candle. Cold weather is the time of year when many people enjoy heavier, bolder brews, so consider bringing along one of our Holiday Six-Packs if you know someone in the house loves beer.  And if you’re not sure alcohol will be appreciated, we sell all sorts of edible goodies, like handmade olive oil and a wonderful selection of gourmet spreads, jams, salts and cheeses and more that you can pick up while you’re wine shopping.

We hope these tips help you breeze through stocking up on host gifts so you can focus on the more important aspects of the holiday season, like what Champagne you’ll drink on New Years, or how you can get out of wearing that awful holiday sweater your cousin got you last year.

Turkey Day Countdown: Our Last-Minute Tips!

Still stuck on wine?  We've got these great Thanskgiving choices open all week!

So, you’ve got your wine picked out (and if you don’t, we have the wines above open all week!), and you’re pretty sure of your game plan for the big day, but how to take your Thanksgiving spread from good, to one your friends and relatives will talk about for years to come? We’ve compiled our favorite cooking and wine tips and provided you with a few helpful links to help you take Turkey Day over the top!

Make Your Wine Shine!

  • If you’re serving a fuller-bodied red, make sure your dishes are well-seasoned – salt softens tannins, so a little extra will help that big red go with turkey and sides.
  • Using lemon juice in place of vinegar in salad dressings will make them more wine-friendly.
  • For appetizers that will show off that great sparkling wine you bought, think texture: crispy, crunchy, or creamy are all great with bubbles.
  • If you’re serving a wine with earthy flavors, like an older Burgundy, (may we suggest this stunning 1991 Aloxe-Corton), mushrooms as a side dish or added into your stuffing can help tie your meal to the wine.

A Few Pointers From Us

Randy‘s essential Thanksgiving ingredients are homemade stock, and plenty of Champagne!  This year he’s going with one of our favorites, Guy Larmandier, but this is one Thanksgiving recipe where substitutions are welcome!

Diane says: First of all, take that tub of Cool Whip and hide it in the basement away from small children. Give your (real!) whipped cream that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ with a dollop of creme fraiche and a few drops of vanilla extract. Your pumpkin pie won’t know what hit it!  Here’s an example of almost the right amount of whipped cream (a little more would be better):

Meg handles Thanksgiving by focusing on what she likes to do, and letting Doug do the rest – good advice!  And according to Doug, it’s not Thanksgiving without Chateaunuef-du-Pape.  As our resident Grenache obsessive, we have a feeling he feels this way about a number of other holidays as well…

And Lauren, one of our more organized staff members, advises making as much ahead of time as possible and clearing space in your freezer ahead of time for leftovers.

Further Reading

The Washington Post has a great guide to area bakeries that have standout Thanksgiving desserts if you’re not the baking type, or you’re realizing you’ll run out of time or oven space on the big day.  You can never have too much pie – it’s a proven scientific fact that leftover pie with hot coffee is one of the world’s great breakfasts.

Food52.com is a great cooking Web site that has all kinds of tips, tricks and techniques related to cooking and beverages. This is a great article that gives you a few last-minute cooking tips that are easy to pull off even if you’ve already done your shopping and don’t plan on braving the store again!

Sometimes the recipes can be a little long-winded, but for techniques, product reviews, and food that just plain works, Cooks Illustrated can’t be beat.  Here is their Thanksgiving Survival Guide, and if you’re not a member you can start a free trial.

We want to hear from you – what are your best last-minute food and wine tips for Thanksgiving?

A Spectacular Night of Burgundy at 2941

Stunning wine, delicious food: these are, of course, important ingredients in a great restaurant experience, but as with so many things in life, it’s the people that make the most difference. The staff, chef, and sommelier at 2941 were so palpably, infectiously jazzed about the chance to do a wine dinner around the wines of Pascal Maillard, that the food could have been a disaster and every bottle corked, and the evening still would have been a success.

Of course, this was not the case, and Chef Bertand Chemel outdid himself from the very first bite, a sashimi of snapper in a savory vinaigrette that paired perfectly with Pascal Maillard’s Chorey-les-Beaune Blanc 2010. Both elements shared a richness buttressed by snappy freshness that made them even better together.

As the meal went on, we were more and more impressed with the risks Chef Chemel and sommelier Jonathan Schuyler took with the menu, like this gorgeous venison with poached figs, served with the 2009 Aloxe Corton:

For example, most foodies would scoff at chicken as a main course, but Chef Chemel wowed us with a spin on a traditional French dish of chicken cooked inside a cow’s stomach. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your feelings on offal!), cow’s stomach is illegal in the US, so the chef created a rich, tender texture by cooking the chicken sous-vide and layering it with truffles. The heady aroma of truffles was the perfect counterpoint to the woodsy, almost feral aromas of Pascal Maillard’s 2008 Corton Renardes Grand Cru. Renarde is French for fox, and we are always surprised at how apt the name of this vineyard is.

Even dessert was elegant and unexpected. Poached quince with a chèvre sorbet left everyone feeling refreshed rather than weighed down and overfull, an all-too-common consequence of a multi-course meal like this.

Thanks to Pascal Maillard, Olivier Daubresse of Vinifrance Imports, the entire staff of 2941 Restaurant, and everyone who attended, for an incredible evening of wine and food.  Browse the links below to see what you missed!

Maillard Chorey-les-Beaune Blanc 2010

Maillard Corton Blanc 2009

Maillard Volnay Les Combes 2009

Maillard Aloxe-Corton 2009

Maillard Corton Renards 2008

Wine Spectator Top 10 for 2012

It’s that time of year again – Wine Spectator is releasing their picks for the top 10 wines of the year in advance of the full Top 100 that appears next week. As usual, most of the wines on the list are either long gone or just silly expensive (or both!). Here’s what the list looks like as of Thursday, November 15. The Wine of the Year will be announced tomorrow – it seems pretty likely to be Ch Latour 2009, but who knows!

#10. Achával-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Finca Bella Vista 2010 – Solid Malbec, don’t have it.

#9 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino 2007 – IN STOCK!

#8 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley Reserve 2009 – Sold a ton of this, but the last bottle went out last week.

#7 Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard Estate 2009 – The 2009 is sold out.

#6 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien 2009 – Crazy price!

#5 Château Guiraud Sauternes 2009 – This is probably available; if you’re interested, let us know.

#4 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 – Not available in Virginia.

#3 Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2010 – Don’t like the selling price here in Va.

#2 Château de St.-Cosme Gigondas 2010 – Sold out!

#1 TBD!

What We’re Tasting: Bold Brews for Blustery Nights

We tasted two delicious new dark beers today, perfect for the holiday season.  First we tried an organic chocolate stout from Bison Brewing.  Based in Berkeley, CA, this organic brewery makes their Chocolate stout with real cocoa.  Rich, smoky and creamy with a dry finish, this would be perfect with bleu cheeses, cheesecake, or any chocolate dessert.  It would probably be pretty great with leftover pumpkin or pecan pie, too!

Next up was the Dragon’s Milk from Michigan’s New Holland Brewing company.  Part of their High Gravity series, this beer packs a serious punch, both flavor and alcohol wise!  Aged in oak barrels and vintage dated (2012 is the current release), Dragon’s Milk has a sweet, malty flavor and is rich and full-bodied.  The oak flavor really comes through!  This would be a great, unexpected match with pungent cheeses or rich pates, and would also shine with a variety of desserts.  Anything you pair with this needs to have an assertive flavor, though, because this dragon isn’t for the faint of heart!

Fall and winter always put us in the mood for bolder, richer flavors, and a dark beer like one of these can be a great way to satisfy that craving.  Stouts like these are great with desserts that have a full-bodied, nutty or smoky flavor.  Think chocolate, carrot cake, oatmeal cookies, and pumpkin or sweet potato pie.  Cheesecake is a winner, too!  What’s your go-to beer?  Do you have a favorite beer and food pairing?

Thanksgiving Food and Wine Festival!

We had an exciting weekend here at our Thanksgiving Food and Wine Festival.  In addition to the friendly faces we see almost every week, we were thrilled to see so many new faces.  The store was hopping, wine was flowing, and Jacques Imperato of Mediterranee outdid himself making delicious Thanksgiving bites for us.  We had stuffing, gravy, turkey, and fabulous pastry rolls filled with butternut squash.

We also got to try both dried and fresh Asian pears alongside pungent Stilton – a fantastic combination!

Thanks to everyone who came out this weekend for a great afternoon of wine, food and conversation!  We hope we helped you find some new favorites for your Thanksgiving table.

What to Drink on Thanksgiving

So this year it’s your turn to host Thanksgiving, and it’s already a week into November – where did the time go?  What are you going to do?  And how are you going to choose wine that will please everyone from your cousin Larry the wine collector to your aunt Betty who finds white Zinfandel too exotic?  Never fear!  We’ve got you covered this year no matter what size group you’re hosting.  If you’d like to try the wines listed in this handy article for yourself, stop by the shop this Saturday for extended tasting hours (12-5pm), 15 wines to try, turkey, and other delicious food samples!

Large groups
If you’ve hosted or even been a part of large group events before, you know that the larger a group, the slower it moves.  It’s like a law of nature!  It seems counter-intuitive, but we recommend fewer choices for larger groups.  Less dithering.  More eating, drinking, and being merry!  (At least, in theory.  If the turkey’s dry or a fight breaks out, you’re on your own.)

For the restless nibbling that occurs while everyone’s milling around waiting for the main event, we recommend something crowd-pleasing that’s dry but not too austere like this unusual white blend from Clua.  This style of wine complements things like canapes, nuts and cheese, and has lots of delicious, easy-to-love fruit flavors.

Having beer on hand isn’t a bad idea, either.  We have a great selection of craft beers with a seasonal twist, like the Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, which is festive and spiced, but not over the top.

Since at most people’s Thanksgiving celebrations, all the food, from turkey to stuffing to cranberry sauce, goes on the table at once, choose one red and one white to go on the table at the same time and let people either pick one or try both.

Food-Pairing Challenges. The main challenges when choosing wine for traditional Thanksgiving food are the relative lack of fat and moisture in most turkeys and the abundance of dishes on the table that have a bit of sweetness to them.  Cranberry sauce in particular poses a challenge, as it’s sweet and sour.

A white from the family of grapes we like to call aromatic varietals is usually a good solution to all of this.  Aromatic varietals like Gewurztraminer and Riesling have lots of flavor and aroma, so they won’t get lost in all of the variety on the table.  The Rudi Weist Riesling has a touch of sweetness, but don’t be scared!  Once it’s paired with all of the sweet, spiced fall flavors on the table, it’s not at all overt.

Staying Away from Tannins. When it comes to red, it helps to stay away from anything with really grippy tannins.  Fat and protein soften tannin and allow the fruit to shine through, but when your main protein is lacking a little bit in the fat department, at least compared to a ribeye, you don’t want to bring out a big, tannic monster.

Beaujolais at the Thanksgiving table has become a cliche in large part because the release of Beaujolais Nouveau around the same time of year, but a soft, fruity red like this unoaked Tempranillo from Bodegas Laukote is definitely the way to go.  Instead of tannins that dry, you want ripe, bouncy fruit and bright acidity to make your mouth water for another bite of turkey and stuffing.  An added benefit to wines in this style is that their youth and lack of oak make them inexpensive, which is great if you’re serving a crowd.

Smaller Groups
A smaller group, especially one of wine enthusiasts, is where you can really go crazy with creative pairings if you want to, and can consider serving the meal in courses, too, to allow each wine to really shine.

Start with a Sparkler. A foolproof way to start things off would be Pierre Paillard’s single-vineyard Blanc de Noirs, made from all Grand Cru Pinot Noir grown in the estate’s most prized vineyard.  No mere aperitif quaffer, this is serious Champagne where the Pinot Noir character really shines through.  We’d recommend buying more than you think you need, because no one will want to stop drinking this!

Beaujolais is still a great way to go for the main course, and if you have anything involving mushrooms on the table, we have a serious Beaujolais from Dom de la Chappelle that would be a fabulous pairing.  It’s  a delicious reminder that Beaujolais is indeed a part of Burgundy!  For a more traditional spread, consider the adventurous-sounding, but easy to love Lagrein from Muri Gries.  Its bright acidity and exuberant fruit make it a great choice to serve throughout the meal, or as a 2nd-course wine before a more substantial main course.

Some More Powerful Reds. And for that more substantial main course, we’ve got some suggestions that are powerful, but not too much of a stretch with turkey or other poultry.  This gorgeous young Priorat from Vinedos de Ithaca has enough mouthwatering fruit to balance its tannin and power, and for a more traditional choice, we’ve got a fantastic Zinfandel from Tin Barn.

Best of all, for after-dinner sipping or to go along with a wide range of desserts, Port is an excellent choice.  The ports of Quinta Dona Mathilde are the most vinous, balanced, and complex we’ve had in ages, and it’s what we’ll be sipping from dessert to dishes this year!

Be sure to stop by this Saturday for Thanksgiving treats and all these wines plus more! Happy planning, chair-arranging, and recipe clipping!

What Are You Drinking On Election Night?

No matter what the results this election day, it’s a great excuse to break out of the usual weeknight routine and drink something special while watching the coverage!  We’ve all got bubbles on our minds today – except for Doug, who will be drinking the latest vintage of Jean Michel Guillon’s Marsannay for ‘research.’  Meg says she’ll be sticking with Champagne, though.

Diane will be drinking Pierre Paillard’s Brut NV, no matter which way the election goes.  That’s the great thing about Champagne – it can cheer you up when you’re sad, and there’s nothing better when you want to celebrate.

Randy’s got bubbles on his mind as well, but says he’ll be drinking Gruet, a delicious, great value sparkler from New Mexico.  It was the wine he sold Sonia Sotomayor on the day she was sworn in – now if that isn’t a great ‘only in Washington’ story, we don’t know what is!

What are you drinking this election night?

Powerful Priorat With Jonas Gustafsson

   

Priorat, a small region in Northern Spain, has only recently gained notoriety among critics and wine lovers.  Though it’s home to some of the oldest vines in Spain, most of them weren’t being used to make premium wine until a few decades ago.

In telling the story of Priorat, Jonas Gustafsson of Vin de Terra Imports wove in the story of his own import company, as Priorat was the first region he began importing after falling in love with it and its singular wines.  Though when he started his company he aimed for only two producers per region, for Priorat he had to make an exception.  We tasted the wines of three different producers: Vinedos de Ithaca, Celler Cecilio, and Billo, and they all fit his more important criteria for each expressing something different about the region.

Though Priorat is known for its powerful reds, the evening started with two whites, one from the humble Macabeo grape, and the other a Garnacha Blanca that was like an even more mineral white Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Both whites were from Sylvia Puig of Vinedos de Ithaca.

From there we delved into the reds, starting with Sylvia’s purple label Priorat 2009, and following it up with a different take on the same vintage from Celler Cecilio.  Though the two wineries are close to each other geographically, the similarities end there.  The Vinedos de Ithaca Priorat was exuberantly lush and full bodied, while the Celler Cecilio was a leaner, earthier take on Priorat.

   

The wine of the night for many was the Vinedos de Ithaca Odysseus Black Label 2007.  If you want to taste a wine that exemplifies the kind of power and concentration people associate with Priorat, this is the wine for you.  Powerful and inky but never heavy, with a finish that just didn’t quit, it was a wonderful way to end the evening.  Thanks to Jonas Gustafsson for sharing his expertise and beautiful wines – be sure to check out the links below to see what you missed!

   

Vinedos de Ithaca Odysseus Priorat Garnacha Blanca 2010

Celler Cecilio Negre Priorat 2009

Vinedos de Ithaca Akyles Priorat 2009

Vinedos de Ithaca Odysseus Priorat 2004

Billo Desnivell Priorat 2009

Celler Cecilio L’Espill Priorat 2004

Vinedos de Ithaca Odysseus Black Label 2007