What to do with a Jeraboam?

I received the e-mail....we have a large format bottle of wine from Italy, we are thinking about getting a group of people together to finish it off. How about a pizza party?

Well, I'm game for anything that involves food and wine. But, how big is that bottle of wine? My friends said that it was a five-liter bottle. If you read my blog about wine bottles, you'll note that there is no name (officially) for a five-liter bottle. A 4.5 liter bottle is known as a "jeraboam" and a 6 liter bottle is known as a "rehoboam". So, what is a 5-liter bottle called? In this case, it is a jeraboam. In the United States, they have dictated that bottle sizes be rounded up. So, no half liter versions.

A 5-liter bottle is equivalent to 6 2/3 bottles of wine, meaning, you can serve a good sized group of people and only open one bottle. In this case, we had five couples (and we still opened some more standard bottles before and after). This large format bottle was purchased (of all places) at Costco, for an amazing price. It was a Banfi Col di Sasso 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese from Tuscany (basically a "Super Tuscan").

To pair with the wine, each of the couples was to bring their favorite pizza toppings. Our hosts made fresh pizza dough, and had the ovens warmed with the pizza stones inside. I supplied the homemade pizza sauce and cheeses, and the toppings ranged from the standard pepperoni, sausage, and mushrooms, to Spam, anchovies, sundried tomatoes and Italian salami. Even pesto sauce was on the menu.

As we prepared the toppings and dough, the group finished off a bottle of Cremant from Burgundy, as well as a bottle of Prosecco (in keeping with the Italian theme). Each of us made our favorite style of pizza, and presented them on the table for all to try. There was plenty to go around!

The Col di Sasso was a perfect pairing for pizza. Normally, I would expect the tannins to be a bit harsh on this young of a vintage, but they were very reserved. The dark red color of the wine matched the fruity aromas of cherry and red plum, with only a slight hint of smokiness. The acidity worked perfectly with the acid in the tomato sauce, and paired particularly well with the salami and pepperoni. The finish was moderate in length, and pleasant. Overall, at only $45 dollars, for this large format bottle, this was a deal!

After the bottle was empty, we moved on to some heavier wine: Earthquake Petit Sirah, and some cheesecake topped with blackberries.

Large format wines are a fun way to spend time with friends, and create ideas for a party. A homemade pizza party was just the ticket, on this evening.

German Wine Pairing Dinner

It has been a few months, but our small gourmet dinner group finally got together for another wine pairing dinner. This time it was my turn to host, meaning I need to come up with the theme, and create the 5-course meal. As the Sommelier in the group, I always have the duty of determining the wine pairing for each course.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know the process...all the recipes are researched and made with authentic ingredients (even if we have to import them) and made in the traditional style. In the past we have done Sicily, Spain, Tuscany, Nicaragua, Chile, Norway, Burgundy, to name a few. This night we gathered for a full German Dinner, paired with German wine and beer.

We decided that rather than focus on a specific region within Germany, that we would create a meal that represented Germany as a whole, and with items we could have some fun with. I have always wanted to try cooking a Christmas goose, so the menu was developed around that idea. What follows is a recap of each course, and the wine that was paired.

The goal of our small group is not only to have a great dinner, paired with the perfect wine, but to also learn new cooking techniques. Our first course was the perfect example. While a soft pretzel with mustard may not be a "glamorous" opening course, it was fun and tasty. My friends, Jeff & Lisa took this as their course, and described the process of making a pretzel, plus the challenges of getting the twist...which they gave up on, and created straight pretzels (which worked better for dipping in mustard anyway). I paired this opening course with German Beer. Originally, I had only purchased a lighter Hopfen Weisse (Wheat Beer), but added a Black Lager at the last minute. I found that the original choice of the Hopfen Weisse paired best with this course, enhancing the yeastiness of the pretzels and allowing the German mustard to come through.

For our first "sit down" course, we had a dumpling soup, made by Bruce & Kathleen. The dish is known as Maultaschensuppe in Germany, and is basically a chicken broth, with homemade meat-stuffed dumplings. The dumplings are more like a ravioli, but made in a slightly different assembly process. For this course, I paired a German Rose of Pinot Noir: 2012 Meyer Nakel Rose from the Ahr region.

By this time, the goose I was cooking was not quite done, so we had a bit of a break. I opened a bottle of German Pinot Noir, to sip, as we waited. Due to the cool climate, German Pinot Noirs are very light, with fairly high acidity.

The main course was a 12 pound roasted goose, stuffed with brandied fruit. I served this along with homemade bread dumplings. If you have never tried cooking a goose, let me give you a hint...cook it like a duck, and not chicken or turkey. It is dark meat, very fatty and rich. It can be served medium to medium rare. My recipe said to cook to 180 degrees, but I took it out at 161. Next time, I would take it out at 140, as I felt it was a bit overcooked. It wasn't dry, but I think it lost something with the extra time. The brandied fruit stuffing was very good, as were the dumplings. I went straight for the traditional goose pairing: Riesling. I wanted something with some fruit, but a bit of age. I chose the Dr. Hermann 2006 Spatlese "Herzley" from Mosel. Now, before you question going from beer to rose to red, then to a white, let me explain...this is a full bodied white, and came across much heavier than the pinot noir. The slight sweetness and fruit flavors paired beautifully with the rich goose, and fruit stuffing. This is a classic that everyone needs to try at least once in their life.

Following the European tradition, the fourth course was a cheese course. I had purchased five German cheeses from igourmet.com. All were cows milk cheeses, and two were smoked. They were: Allgau Emental, Smoked Ammerlander, Cambazola, Rauchkase, and German Tilsit. Also on the cheese plate were blackberries, grapes, pecans and dark rye toasts. We paired this with a dark, fruity 2012 Dornfelder from Gerd Ansleman. This was a nice pairing, except for one cheese. The extremely strong and pungent Tilsit was overpowering, and I would leave that cheese out next time.

We ended the evening with  a dessert course of Frankfurter Kranz. My friends, Lauren and Mark created this dessert. It is a "crown cake" with layers of white cake and jam. The smooth, sweet frosting is covered with cherries and candied pecans. I paired this with a wonderful German sweet Riesling cross: 2005 Pfeffingen Beerenauslese Herrenberg Scheurebe. This worked great with the sweetness of the cake. We also ended the evening with Pharisaeer, and strong coffee, mixed with a sugar cube, Jamaican dark rum, and topped with whipped cream. Delicious!

I hope this simple recap of our German wine pairing dinner will inspire you to try one on your own. Either copy our menu, or create your own. Have fun with it. If you can't afford to go to Germany, dress up the table, buy a couple Oktoberfest music CD's and make an evening of it...just like we did!

Clones, Hybrids, and Crosses

This weeks' blog sounds more like a title to some type of science fiction novel, or something having to do with Dolly, the sheep, but is in fact an important part of wine study. While we don't often talk about hybrids and crosses, clones are mentioned more and more in the production of wine. If you have tried any Pinot Noir lately, you most likely encountered a reference to the clone used in the making of the wine. But, what are hybrids, crosses and clones?

Let's start with the most basic: "crosses". Essentially all grapes are crosses. A cross occurs when two varieties from the same species of vine "cross", to make a new variety. So, a cross is produced by fertilizing the flower of one variety with the pollen of another variety, thus creating a new variety. This is followed by the planting of the grape seeds that are the product of the cross-pollination. These crosses can be the result of human intervention, or natural. Most of the human made crosses have been less than spectacular, but the most notable would be Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault), or Müller-Thurgau (a cross between Riesling and Madeleine Royale - which is itself a cross between Pinot and Trollinger). Outside of Germany and South Africa, there aren't too many man-made crosses that stand out. On the other hand, natural crosses have created some of the finest wines in the world. Cabernet Sauvignon is in fact a natural cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Recent DNA research has led to a better understanding of a grape's parentage. In her new book, "Wine Grapes", Jancis Robinson has put together the most detailed research into the subject. Her book is a "must have" for those interested in grape varieties.

Vidal Grapes at Inniskillin
"Hybrids" are the same as crosses, but different. While crosses are between two varieties from the same species, hybrids occur when two different species of vine are crossed. Originally, hybrids were done due to the fact that some American vines are quite resistant to powdery mildew. American vines are not wine grape vines (Vitis Vinifera), so by creating a hybrid, the old world wines might be more resistant to certain diseases. There aren't many successful hybrids on the market, and hybrids are actually banned in Europe for commercial wine. But hybrids are important in some other regions of the new world, in particular in North America, where vitis vinifera grape vines struggle to grow. If you have ever tasted any wines grown in the midwest, east coast, or Canada, you may recognize these hybrids: Vidal (making some of the sweet dessert wines of Canada), Baco Noir, or Seyval Blanc.

Pinot Noir clone at Melville Winery
Cloning is different from both crosses and hybrids. A Clone is defined as “a vegetative propagation of a single parent plant”, and is a process where individual vines are selected from a grape variety on the basis of certain attributes. Do to genetic instability, most of the older grape varieties have a tendency to mutate, adjusting to their location, climate, terrain, etc. As these grapes mutate, the winegrower and winemaker may notice subtle differences in the growing process, or the taste of the juice. If it is a desirable change, then the natural instinct would be to encourage that mutation to propagate. One of the best known examples is Pinot Noir. Today, there are somewhere between 300 and 1000 different clones in Burgundy alone. Today, you can go to almost any Pinot Noir vineyard, and they will tell you what clones they have planted. Many will tout their clones on the label of their bottle. “Dijon”. “Pommard” and “Swan” give indications of where the clone was propagated (While Dijon and Pommard are in France, “Swan” is named after Joseph Swan who propagated the clone in the Russian River Valley). Others are simply called, “Clone 113” or “Clone 115”. Each clone has its own style and personality, and it is up to the vineyard manager and the winemaker to determine what best suites their needs.

“Selection massale” is the opposite of cloning, where growers select cuttings “from the mass” of the vineyard, or a "field blend". If you are a believer in terroir, then the question becomes, is clonal selection a good thing, or does Selection massale better reflect the terroir of the vineyard? Your taste buds and nose will help you decide. I'd like to hear your thoughts.