Trips and Tips – Europe and California on the Horizon

As you may know, we are about to embark on a month-long trip to Europe with our kids – our boy/girl twins turn 10 this summer, and we wanted to immerse them in the food and wine lifestyle and culture.  (Wine for us, not them!)

Sophia - ready to hone her cooking skills in Italy!
Sophia – ready to hone her cooking skills in Italy!

It’s been interesting to try and book the trip – I may get a little ahem, feedback, here, but our experience has been that for all the need for jobs and tourism in Italy, people are VERY slow to return emails and requests for reservations – if they respond at all.  We are finally in the home stretch of our planning, and we want to thank one of our blog friends who steered us away from staying in an area that would have required quite a lot of driving for the types of wineries we want to visit.  This blog certainly has its benefits!

In a few weeks we’ll be posting less often as we travel, but you may have noticed that our posts have slowed down a bit in the meantime anyway…

I suppose this is also as good a time as any to announce that we are about to make a big move –  to California.  Christina has accepted an amazing job at Yahoo, so we’re moving to Silicon Valley from Seattle this summer for at least a few years.  We’re excited for the adventure, and I guess it means we’ll be reviewing more California wines in the future!

Now to figure out how to move the wine cellar…why don’t more houses in California come with wine cellars?  Maybe because they don’t have basements?  And where are the wine storage units in Silicon Valley?  I don’t want to drive an hour into San Francisco for my wine!  Tell me if you have tips on that, please!  Or anything else that we should know about living in California or touring in Tuscany…

We are looking forward to all of our big adventures and sharing them with you!

O Solaia Mio

One of the things I always like to do when I can, is save special bottles that are given to me and open them with the givers.  I had been saving a bottle of the 1998 Solaia to drink with our dear friends Heidi and Angel Diaz, who gave me the bottle for my birthday several years ago.  Recently, we got to re-gift it to them. (It’s the best kind of re-gifting!)  Of course, the Solaia wasn’t the only wine we tasted that night.

Bob Watt and Heidi Diaz with the re-gifted Solaia.
Bob Watt and Heidi Diaz with the re-gifted Solaia.

The main course for dinner that evening was Italian inspired and something of my own creation.  It has been named by some friends of ours “Bacon on Bacon”.  It is essentially a prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin and is fairly simple to make (see recipe below!).

With Italy being the main theme, we started the evening off with white burgundy, then a dry rose, followed by the Solaia, a Flaccinello and a Crongnolo.

Great friends, great wines.
Great friends, great wines.

2011 Olivier Leflaive – Bourgogne Les Setilles, France – Very bright lemon mineral nose.  Strong lemony stony fruit that is very clean with bright acids.  This just makes your taste buds sing in the mouth on the nice medium length finish.  I really liked the 2010 version of this wine, but I think the 2011 beats it.  This wine is young, vibrant and could age if you can keep from drinking it.  (90 pts.)

2013 Julia’s Dazzle – Pinot Grigio Rose, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington – Bright copper color, with sweet/tart fruit nose.  In the mouth, the wine is slightly off-dry as the sweet melon and strawberry fruit comes through with decent acidity.  The wine finishes with a sweet strawberry note on the clean, but slightly short finish.  I liked last years 2012 vintage slightly better, because it had higher acidity and a longer finish, so it didn’t come across as quite as sweet as the 2013 does.  I also noticed that on the 2012 bottle, it stated on the back label that the wine was made by the Long Shadows Winery in Walla Walla Washington.  On the 2013 bottle, the name of Long Shadows isn’t on the bottle, but on the back label in really tiny print it says the wine is produced by Dolan & Weiss Cellars.  I am not sure what happened or what the difference is.  Maybe the wine was being made in partnership or it was sold or something.  Anyway, it was my first rose of the year and will be a good wine for the summer.  (88pts.)

1998 Marchesi Antinori – Solaia, Italy – Beautiful nose of dark black fruit and baking spices.  In the mouth deep dark red and black fruit, baking spices, burnished wood and a hint of tobacco.  There are still some tannins, but they are fine-grained and unobtrusive.  The beautiful sweet dark fruit and spice carries through to a nice long, slightly tannic finish.  This wine is still young and only at the beginning of the maturity plateau.   There isn’t any rush to drink these.  Well stored bottles will continue to improve for another decade.  This is a wonderful wine.  (95 pts.)

2001 Fontodi – Flaccianello Della Pieve, Italy – Dark red and black fruit with a little spice and a freshness on the nose.  In the mouth, sweet dark red and black fruit, spices and a damp earthy aspect (but in a good way).  Very good acidity makes this wine lively in the mouth.  Nice sweet dark fruit and spice on the long still slightly tannic finish.  This wine still has some slight tannins to shed, but it is drinking really well right now and has a good decade or more of life ahead of it.  Flaccianello is a benchmark wine for what Sangiovese can achieve.  This is a beautiful wine.  (94 pts.)

2007 Tenuta Sette Ponti – Crognolo, Italy – Sweet dark blackberries and red pie cherries on the nose.  In the mouth, the black fruit and red pie cherries combine with a slight bit of coffee and very good acidity.  The wine is still young, with tannin to shed, but the sweet dark berry fruit comes through on the medium finish.  Given time, I am sure there will be more secondary nuances that will come through.  This is a nice Italian wine to pop and pour.  (91 pts.)

It’s always fun sharing some good wines with our great longtime friends – especially when the evening ends with a rousing game of ping-pong and a little karaoke (sung by the kids, thank goodness!).  Here’s my savory pork recipe now – it’s not very precise, but you’ll get the picture:

Bacon on Bacon

Finely chop a bunch of sage and rosemary.  Add several heaping tablespoons of country mustard (with the seeds), and mix in the sage and rosemary.  Add a fair amount (several tablespoons) of olive oil to make the mustard and herbs not so dry and pasty.   Then salt and pepper the tenderloin to taste on one side and spread the mustard/herb mixture over the tenderloin.  Spread capers and pine nuts over the tenderloin as well.  Now cover the top of the tenderloin with two pieces of prosciutto and spray it with olive oil.  You will want to spray the bottom of the dish you are working in as well, otherwise the prosciutto will stick to it.  Turn the tenderloin over and repeat the process.

Heat a large oven-proof frying pan and sear the prosciutto and tenderloin on all sides (approx. 2 minutes per side).  Once the searing is done, put the tenderloin in the oven and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 30 minutes, pull the tenderloin out of the oven and remove from the pan to rest for 10 minutes.  The tenderloin will continue to cook from the internal heat.

While the tenderloin is resting, add some cheap Madeira to the pan (Full and Rich if they have it, but Rainwater will do), approximately 1 cup.  Use the Madeira to deglaze the pan you cooked the tenderloin in, so you are scraping all of the little brown bits off of the bottom.  Add one piece of torn up prosciutto to the pan as well.  Reduce down the Madeira so you end up with only 1/4 of the liquid, approximately 10 minutes.  Cut up your tenderloin, put it on the plates and then spoon some of the Madeira sauce over the tenderloin and serve.  I prefer to use Madeira over red wine; because it has a much higher acidity that works well with the oil/salt content of the prosciutto.

Bon appetit!

Cellar Gem: 1998 Dievole – Novecento Chianti Classico Riserva, Italy

The last time we were in Italy was in 2002, a year after we were married.  We drank a lot of wine on that trip, because the 1997 Brunellos had just been released that January, and I brought a few bottles home with me as well.  Christina had found this clever hard-sided, metal case box for me with wheels and a handle – it was a great idea, but at the end of the day, every airline treated it differently, and so every time we landed we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out which carousel the wine box wound up on.  We don’t use the box that much anymore, but we still like to schlep home good finds every now and then.

One of the bottles we brought home from Sienna was called Dievole.  We spent a nice afternoon tasting in their well-designed little wine shop – the wine isn’t anything over-the-top, but we enjoyed it then, and more than a decade later, we enjoyed it again.

1998 Dievole
1998 Dievole

1998 Dievole – Novecento Chianti Classico Riserva – Spicy dark red and black fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, dark red berries, baking spices and some dry leaves, with a lot of wood spice (but without the wood).  Nice long spicy dark fruit finish, with the tannins kicking in on the end.  This wine is drinking well now, still young with some tannin, but I don’t think the fruit will out last the tannin.  If you have this in the cellar, I would think about drinking them within the next 5 years, as it will start to decline after that.  I don’t think it will get any better than where it is right now.  (92 pts.)

Not sure if any wine will make it home with us from our next trip, but there’s always room for the possibility…

Cellar Gems are reviews of bottles that are aged in our cellar.

Italy Bound! (And a Great Italian Barolo)

We’ve been in the mode of Bordeaux for a long while, but all of that is about to change!   This summer, we are taking the family to spend a month in Italy (with a few days in Paris).  This trip was on Christina’s “bucket list,” as she wanted to immerse the kids in the laid-back culinary culture of Italy at an impressionable age.  They love food and adventure, and they’ll be nearly 10 when we go, so not only will they be able to enjoy cooking classes with us, they’ll also be well-behaved as we visit a winery or two…!

To get in the spirit of things, I pulled out an Italian Barolo to drink on Valentine’s Day.  I know this is not from the region of Tuscany where we will be traveling, but it was calling to me.  I hadn’t had this wine in quite a while, and I was pleased to see how well it was drinking:

Great Italian Barolo.
Great Italian Barolo.

2000 Domenico Clerico – Ciabot Mentin Ginestra – Deep dark brooding red/black fruit nose with a little bit of rose and cinnamon adding character.  In the mouth, the deep dark red fruit flavors and spices, combine with a little tar and balsamic on the long, tannic, dark-fruit finish.  This is a very nice Barolo, that is still young and in need of another 3-5 years in the cellar, but it can be enjoyed now with some air time.  I feel that this wine has a lot more to show, if it is only given the time to bloom.  I am very happy to have more of this in the cellar.  (93 pts.)

As for the trip, we’d love your food and wine recommendations.  We don’t leave for a couple more months, so we have just enough time time to make some reservations.  We’ll be asking for your opinions – starting with wineries in Tuscany.  We’ll be in Sovicille (near Sienna) and Cortona (near Montepulciano) for about two weeks.  We have a short list going, and we only have a few days we can actually devote to it with the kids, but we want to hear any favorites you have.  What are the top places you’d go?  We want to know!

Ciao for now!