Cooking at Home


We were introduced to sorrel soup by Justin Young, who was chef at the now closed La Tourelle (in Memphis) in the early 2000s. Not having had such a thing in years, we bought a pound of sorrel at the Memphis Farmers Market last Saturday — the market will not open again until April — and looked for a recipe, which we found in the essential Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996).

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a green leafy vegetable, accounted more as an herb that vegetable in some national cuisines, whose chief characteristic is a sour grassy character that derives from oxalic acid, which is fatally poisonous in large quantities. How large? Sources aren’t very specific about that point. More than a pound certainly. Perhaps a bale.

Anyway the issue that intrigued me was what wine to drink with sorrel soup. That notable sour quality, which possesses a hint of sweetness — LL likened it to pulling up a grass stem and sucking on the root, a memory from childhood — might be a challenge to any number of wines. (The sourness is leavened somewhat by the gentle stewing in chicken stock of diced potatoes, carrots and onions.) In the interest of research, I lined up five white wines, several of which seemed probable matches and at least one of which seemed doomed to failure by its very nature. These were the wines we tried: Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008; Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009; Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008; Mendel Semillon 2009; Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009. These wines were samples for review.
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Among this experiment’s surprises was how well, even how profoundly so, the Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008 went with the sorrel soup. The domaine was founded in 1840; the Burgundian negociant Louis Jadot acquired the property in 2008. The wine is, of course, made completely from chardonnay grapes; it ages half-and-half in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels and sees no new oak. I had doubts about chardonnay pairing with the earthy sourness of the sorrel, but the wine’s purity and intensity, its crystalline acidity and minerality created a risky synergy that practically vibrated in our beings. The wine is a medium gold color; aromas of roasted lemon are permeated by ripe peach and pear, with traces of quince and ginger and a hint of camellia. Befitting its pedigree and reputation — “the Montrachet of Pouilly-Fuissé” — the wine delivers wonderful presence and body yet remains delicate, fleet and racy. Citrus flavors dominated by lemon with a touch of lime peel are deeply imbued with baking spices but even more with depths of limestone-like minerality and scintillating acidity. Drink now through 2014 or ’15 (well-stored). Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Kobrand, New York.
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Let’s turn to the simplest of these wines, simplest yet definitely lively, tasty and appealing. This is Aveleda’s Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009, from the vast Vinho Verde region that stretches north from the seacoast town of Oporto to the river Minho and also east and southeast of Oporto. (You drive east through this area to reach the Port estates of the Douro Valley.) The wine is a blend of loureiro grapes (55%), trajaduras (32%) and alvarinho (13%). These “green wines” are fresh and vigorous and intended for early drinking. Made all in stainless steel, the clean, fresh Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009 bursts with scents and flavors of apples, pears and spiced lemons bolstered by heaps of earthy limestone and vivid acidity. There you have it, and you could not ask for anything more from such a fresh, delightful wine. Drink over the next six months. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $14.

How did this match with the sorrel soup? It didn’t. The sourness of the sorrel washed right over it, tromped on it, obliterated it, left it for dead.

Imported by Winbow, New York.
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Let’s go back to France for the Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008, from Alsace. The estate is the result of the joining of two venerable grower families in Alsace, the Manns and the Barthelmes, each of which has been cultivating grapes since the first half of the 17th Century. The Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008 is absolutely lovely in every aspect. The color is bright, shimmering medium gold; aromas of apple and spiced pear, with a touch of leafy fig and orange rind, all founded on the dominent presence of limestone, balloon from the glass. The paradox of a texture that’s both suave and elegant, on the one hand, and nervy and crisp, on the other hand, contributes considerably to the wine’s charm and fascination. It’s quite lively and dry, vibrant with limestone- and shale-like minerality, and its spicy, slightly earthy citrus qualities increase through the finish. The estate is organically managed and certified by Ecocert. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Closed with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $20.

This was lovely with the sorrel soup, having the interesting effect of bringing out the herb’s hint of sweetness.

Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Penn.
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Another very attractive match with the sorrel soup was the Mendel Semillon 2009, from the Altamira-Uco Valley area of Argentina’s Mendoza region. The vines, which stand at 3,600-feet elevation, are more than 60 years old, lending the wine irresistible depth and character. Fifteen percent of the wine aged eight months in new American oak barrels. Hay, honey and waxy white flowers, roasted lemon and lemon balm are woven in the seductive bouquet. If you can tear yourself away from these heady aromas, you’re treated to a wine that in texture and structure is as refined and ingratiating as you could ask for, though I don’t mean to imply that the wine is wimpy or over-delicate; in fact, it feels rather as if it had been honed from limestone and slate and burnished to a sheen with a little of that oak (and plowed by keen acidity). It’s sunny, leafy, with touches of fig and fresh-mown grass, hints of cloves and ginger, greengage and pear. Quite an experience, round, complete, balanced, complex. 900 six-packs were imported. 13.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $25 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
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Last, we come to a wine that was fine, you know just fine, with the sorrel soup but opened to more astonishment than the other wines because of its amazing quality and price ration. I wrote previously about the great bargain called Agustin Cubero Unus Old Vine Garnacha 2007. Today it the turn of that wine’s stablemate, the Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009, likewise from Spain’s Calatayud region, situated about halfway between Barcelona and Madrid (but closer to Zaragoza). The macabeo grape is also known, perhaps better-known, as viura, though clearly we’re not taking sauvignon blanc here. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is beguiling, intriguing and really pretty. Grass and hay, dried wild flowers, cloves and allspice, apple and pear, quince and ginger — all combine to charm and enchant. Now in truth these sensual qualities so seductive in the bouquet also characterize what goes on in the mouth; there’s no sense that flavors develop beyond the aspects of the bouquet (though the texture — the “mouthfeel” — is graceful and delightful), but who cares when the price is — ready? — a wallet-busting $9. Buy this by the case for drinking over the next year. The rating is Very Good+. A Bargain of the Century and Worth a Search.

Scoperta Imports, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
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Oh, yeah, the holiday is over but the turkey lingers on, so LL and I were thinking about turkey hash, but she did some Internet research and found a recipe for Turkey Shepherd’s Pie. You would think that this would be a pretty simple dish, but it ended up using so many pans and bowls that it well-nigh wrecked the kitchen. The result was good though. What’s interesting is that the recipe calls — in addition to turkey, of course — for peas, cauliflower, potatoes and carrots. LL, in one of her typical astute moments, said, “Wait a minute. That stuff is exactly what you find in an Indian curry.” So she dumped some curry powder in with the turkey and vegetable mixture, and I think the dish was improved considerably.

Curry? Well, the wine had to be riesling, so I opened a bottle of Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett 2008, from Germany’s Rheingau region.

Schloss Johannisberg is an ancient estate that occupies a magnificent site on a broad hill that slopes in a southerly direction down to the Rhine. Grapes have been grown there apparently since the 12th Century, during monastic days. It has been an all-riesling property since 1720 and was one of the first, if not the first, in Germany to make a late harvest sweet wine from grapes affected by botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot.” In 1816, Schloss Johannisberg was given to Prince von Metternich by the Austrian Franz I for services at the Congress of Vienna — which redrew the map of Europe after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo — and while the Metternich name still appears on the estate’s labels, it has been owned since 1974 by the giant conglomerate Dr. August Oetker KG, manufacturer of baking soda, dessert mixes, frozen pizzas and yogurt and owner of breweries, sparkling wine facilities, hotels and so on.

Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett 2008 is categorized as Prädikatswein, which is to say, Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), though aiming at simplified terminology labels are no longer required to state the whole term, only the shorthand of Prädikatswein. This top category encompasses what are potentially the finest wines made in Germany’s vineyards, though of course many factors enter into a determination of quality, especially the weather throughout the growing season and at harvest. According to germanwineusa.com, in an assessment of 2008 in all the country’s vineyard regions, in Rheingau “the 2008 vintage will be known particularly for high-quality Kabinett wines.”

Why, then, is this wine not better? Not that it’s not attractive and enjoyable. The first impression is of lovely fruit scents and flavors in the form of ripe peach and pear with a hint of apple; the wine is lively and refreshing, quite spicy, moderately sweet on entry but dry from mid-palate back. The texture is sleek and silky, though tingly with crisp acidity, and the finish brings in a tide of limestone. So, pleasant and tasty, indeed, and an entertaining match with the turkey shepherd’s (curry) pie, but what the wine lacks is ultimate verve and nerve, the depth of exhilarating stony/spicy/citric vibrancy that should characterize a QmP-category riesling (with a profound history and heritage) from 2008, supposedly a great Kabinett vintage in Rheingau; it quaffs much easier than it should. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices on the Internet range, ludicrously, from about $20 to $35.

Imported by Valckenberg International, Tulsa, Okla. A sample for review.

For the Thanksgiving dinner dessert, we had a luscious pumpkin chiffon pie, prepared by a local chef, and then I made an apple tart, using Julia Child’s recipe and procedure for puff pastry from our much stained and blotched copy of The Way to Cook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989). Basically, the process is a fairly tedious one of amalgamating six and a half sticks of chilled butter with four cups of flour using only a bare splash or two of ice water to help; ten “passes” with chilling in the refrigerator after every two. Miss Child would probably have been appalled at the rustic appearance of my pastry and the tart overall — the brown splotches are caramelized apricot glaze — but boy it certainly tasted rich and scrumptious. I patted and rolled the crust out on a cutting board and slid it carefully onto the baking sheet sprinkled with a few drops of water. Once on that surface, I used lengths of the dough to fashion the raised edges. The apples were Granny Smith, good for baking because of their tartness and firm texture.

I have a selection of half-bottles of dessert wine in the white wine fridge, but I decided to go with the oldest, the Renaissance Winery Late Harvest Riesling 1992, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. “Oldest” does not mean the oldest released. Though made from grapes harvested in the autumn of 1992, the wine was not released until 2008, that’s right, at 16 years old. Renaissance, as a habit and philosophy, holds their wines longer than any other producer in California. Add two years, and that makes the wine 18 when we tasted it at our table.

The Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992 is the color of faintly tarnished gold, like the back of an old pocket watch. Though closed at first, a few minutes of swirling brought up traces of peaches, orange rind and cloves, with notes of apricot jam and orange marmalade, and hints of quince and crystallized ginger, this gorgeous yet unobtrusive panoply melded with utmost delicacy and finesse. In the mouth, a sweetly faded and gentle quality, a repose of talc, lemon verbena, rose hips, melon drops and pomander reminded me of a sachet in an old-fashioned lady’s vanity. Essential acidity is certainly present, and in fact the wine gains succulence and vibrancy after some moments, elements that lay the foundation for a finish wrapped in grapefruit and limestone. A lovely dessert wine, filled with authoritative detail and dimension yet mild and mannerly; it was tremendously agreeable with the apple tart. 11.8 percent alcohol. If you have this bottle in your cellar, it should be consumed by 2012. Production was 364 cases. Excellent. About $35 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.

This was a sample for review.

Naturally we made — rather LL made — a deep rich broth from the turkey carcass and then used that for a splendid, hearty Turkey, Barley and Mushroom Soup from The Williams Sonoma Cookbook (Free Press, 2008, $35.95). I had to take a cleaver to those thick bones, but talk about rib-stickin’ earthy flavors!

We slurped up bowls of this concoction last night, perfect for the chilly weather, with glasses of the Artezin Zinfandel 2009, Mendocino County, a label from The Hess Collection. The wine sees no new oak and contains 8 percent petite sirah grapes and 1 percent carignan. Bright and appealing aromas of blueberry, black currant and black raspberry are woven with a touch of wildness, something like mulberry, red plum and dusty herbs with undertones of briers, brambles and black pepper. Unlike many zinfandels, the Artezin 2009 displays no annoying hotness, no cloying over-ripeness; instead, the wine is balanced, integrated and thoroughly drinkable, and I mean that assessment in the best sense. Black fruit flavors are permeated by baking spice and a bit of dusty shale-like minerality and nestled in a texture of moderately dense and finely-milled tannins. Give the wine a few minutes in the glass, and it brings up lovely notes of potpourri and thyme, sandalwood and smoke. Drink now through 2012. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $18.

For a chilly day, I took a package of four pork shanks from the freezer and looked around the larder for what I could do with them. Ah, a container of prunes, left from some other recipe that I do not remember, but there are always leftover prunes, and they last forever. And some fresh rosemary and sage. Things were shaping up nicely. I called LL and asked her to go to the store and get some turnips, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms, which she accommodatingly brought home at lunchtime. Well, I never used the mushrooms because one of the dogs kept stealing them from the counter. Anyway, I browned the shanks in olive oil in a large pot, took the shanks out and sauteed some chopped onions and garlic, scraping up all the little meat bits. To the pot, then, I added chopped turnips, potatoes and carrots — turnips and carrots peeled — and cooked them for a few minutes, stirring them around to pick up any olive oil and rendered fat left in the pot. Then back into the pot with the shanks, along with maybe 16 prunes (sliced in half), handfuls of chopped rosemary and sage, a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of pepper and a bottle of dry white wine. Put the lid on the pot and let those shanks simmer for three hours or so. When LL got home from work, she said, “Wow, something smells really good!” For dinner, I presented her with Braised Pork Shanks with Prunes, Rosemary and Sage. Green beans on the side. A little grated lemon peel on top. So freakin’ good …

Pork and prunes put me in mind of Alsace and Germany, which put me in mind of riesling, but the hearty meatiness of the dish also put me in mind of syrah, particularly the Northern Rhone Valley. In the interests of experimentation, I opened the Peter Jakob Kuhn Quarzit Riesling Trocken 2008, Rheingau, and the Philippe and Vincent Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage 2007. How did the wines turn out as matches with the pork shanks? Read the comments that follow. These were samples for review.
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I first tasted the Peter Jakob Kuhn Quarzit Riesling Trocken 2008 when I visited the biodynamic estate in July 2009; my post about that occasion is here. The property is graciously and fervently run by Peter Jakob Kuhn and his wife Angela; he, as winemaker, produces rieslings of remarkable character and dimension. The Quarzit designation is the second rung in the ladder of their roster of wines. My notes at the time: “V. stony, v. pure and intense, v. spicy; yellow flowers, yellow fruit, stone fruit; huge hit of minerals, slate and limestone; v. dry, crisp, vibrant, austere. This is, one admits, a little demanding; it needs a year or two.” Sixteen months later, the wine has opened considerably, but it’s primary motivation remains a scintillating expression of minerality in the form of crushed gravel and shaved granite. The floral element is more apparent; flavors of peach and pear encompass hints of dried thyme and a sort of Platonic grapefruit pithiness. The wine is indeed, as I wrote last year, “v. dry, crisp, vibrant, austere,” all qualities enhanced by acidity of startling vivacity. Ideally, a riesling to match the pork shanks would have halb-trocken — “half-dry” — or even a spatlese; the PJK Quarzit 2008 was simply too dry, too astringent for the richness of the dish, though there were moments when I took a spoonful of prune and turnip in the sauce and then a sip of the wine and felt a brief frisson of perfection. 11.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $28, but prices on the Internet run from about $25 to $40.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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Made from 100 percent syrah grapes, the Domaine Philippe and Vincent Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage 2007 offers a pungent and classic bouquet of smoke, wet dog, cloves and sandalwood, spiced and macerated red and black currants, and, in a few minutes, burning leaves, briers and brambles, moss, rose petals and violets; in fact, give the wine some time in the glass — I mean like an hour or two — and it smells as if you had somehow taken the whole of the Northern Rhone Valley in your hand, all its weeds and flowers and gravelly, loamy earth, and crushed it and rubbed it and inhaled the deep, exotic redolence. Austerity takes over in the mouth, but it’s the austerity of broad tannins rather than oak. Only 20 percent of the wine ages in oak casks for 10 months; the rest stays in concrete and stainless steel tanks, so despite the grainy heft of the structure there’s an aura of freshness and clarity. Still, this was too young, too dense and underdeveloped for the pork shanks. A better choice would have been, to keep with the Rhone but travel further south, a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, or more toward the home-base, a fruity zinfandel. 900 cases were imported. Excellent potential from 2012 or ’13 through 2017 or ’19. About $31.

Imported by Wilson-Daniels, Napa, Cal. Bottle image by John McJunkin.
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By “My First Gnocchi,” I mean my first time to make gnocchi; I mean, I’ve eaten gnocchi many times, mainly in its manifestation as heavy, doughy little indigestible depth-charges. I’ve always avoided making gnocchi because it — really they, right? — felt more trouble than the effort could be worth, and truly the process is a kitchen-wrecker par excellence. Still, I decided to prepare Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter, from the October issue of Bon Appétit, for Halloween night because it seemed like an appropriate autumnal sort of dish. The recipe is from an article about New York Italian restaurant lynch-pin Lidia Bastianich and a typical Friulian meal.

As I said, this was a trek into virgin culinary territory for me, and I was certain as the prepping and mixing and cooking and rolling out and cooking and more cooking went on that I was doing everything wrong. Lo and behold, however, the things actually turned out pretty damned light and airy, just as gnocchi ought to be. LL allowed as how they were as good at the ones she had eaten at Cent’Anni in New York, eons ago. I’ll admit that they were — aw shucks, darnit! — delicious.

I thought that a good way to start — btw, we were watching the excellent Swedish vampire pre-teen love story “Let the Right One In” — would be with a bottle of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, a seasonal brew, from the well-known independent (and eccentric) brewery in Milton, Delaware, described as “a full-bodied brown ale brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon & nutmeg.” When I first read these words on Punkin Ale’s label, I shuddered; how, I pondered, could this be anything but too sweet? But no, the spicy “Thanksgiving-like” aspects are very subtle. There’s a sense of sweetness, but it’s encompassed by the ale’s nut-brown richness and balance and the thwacking touch of bitterness on the finish. It was wonderful with the gnocchi. Dogfish Punkin Ale is released early in September and is usually sold out by late November. I paid $3 for a 12-ounce bottle at a retail liquor store that sells “big” beer. I noticed that it’s available by the six-pack at the local Whole Foods. I think I’ll buy one.

From the Punkin Ale, we turned to a completely different but just as satisfying experience. Lydia Bastianich and her son Joe, also a very successful restaurateur (with partner Mario Batali), own a winery in the Friuli region of northeast Italy. The estate turns out well-crafted red and white wines, but recently, as in October, Bastianich released a new line of affordable wines called Adriatico. The wines in the line-up are a Friulano from Italy’s Friuli Venenzia Giulia region, a ribolla gialla from the Brda region of Slovenia, and a malvasia Istriana from Croatia, all of these areas linked geographically by their access to the most inland tip of the Adriatic Sea, as well as by history and culture.

I opened the Bastianich Adriatico Friulana 2009, Colli Orientali del Friuli, and was mighty glad that I did. Yes, it drank very nicely with Lydia Bastianich’s Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter — and only Bastianish wines are recommended with the recipes in the magazine — but even more, it displays gratifying quality and character for the price; in fact, let’s call it compelling. First impression is generally spicy and floral and minerally, while the latter element rapidly rises to the top in a tide of scintillating limestone that bears roasted lemon and lemon balm and a hint of almond and almond blossom. The wine is very fresh, crisp and lively, very dry, yet juicy (stopping short of luscious) and flavorful in a way that’s both fruity and savory; I swear, it felt as if the spareness of cucumber and dried thyme were balanced by ripe pear, lychee and bacon fat, the wine is that macerated and meaty. Yet — another “yet” — there’s nothing obvious, flamboyant or overwhelming here; all is serenity, poise and equilibrium. Drink now through 2011 or into 2012. Alcohol is $13. Excellent. About $15, a Phenomenal Bargain.

Dark Star Imports, New York. A sample for review.

Not surprisingly, we drink wine with every dinner, and if we happen to be home for lunch, that too. Often, probably most often, our reaction to a matching between the food and the wine will be “That’s good” or “That works” or “I’ll have a little more, please.”

Last night, however, was a zinger, a BINGO! moment that should resonate in the memory-file of food and wine pairing for years.

I made a mushroom risotto, and there’s not much food-wise that’s simpler than that. The mushrooms were crimini, shiitake and chanterelle — about one ounce of the latter since they were $30 a pound, thank you v. much — sauteed in butter until slightly browned. Minced leek likewise sauteed in butter with a bit of olive oil. Then the arborio rice. Half a cup of white wine, cooked down. And then the slow progress of adding warm chicken broth half a cup at a time, stirring, stirring, stirring until each portion of broth is completely absorbed. The whole thing took about an hour, with the stirring part about 30 minutes. A grating of Parmesan cheese goes on before serving.

A bottle of Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuissé 2007 had been standing quietly in the refrigerator in the kitchen for about nine months, offering me sly admonishment every time I opened the door to get some lettuce or mustard or cheese. Last night, it occurred to me that this wine, now three years old and possibly nicely mellow, might be terrific with the mushroom risotto. Normally, I would have wanted a lighter red, say a Dolcetto d’Alba or a Fleurie, but something told me to reach for the Pouilly-Fuissé.

The wine, 100 percent chardonnay made from grapes bought under long-term contracts, was a radiant medium straw-gold color with a faint greenish cast. It fermented and then aged in stainless steel and oak barrels for six to eight months, seeing no new oak. The wine is spicy, smoky, savory, with a decidedly mellow woodsy quality about it. Scents of roasted lemon with a scant hint of buttered toast are infused with a bit of bright pineapple and grapefruit, the floral influence of little waxy blossoms, and a limestone element of piercing intensity. That penetrating minerality finds expression in the mouth, too, along with acidity of bow-string tautness — making the wine feel almost fiercely animated — and lovely roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors; a strain of autumnal mossy earthiness lends bass notes to a beautifully balanced and integrated wine. This could go another three years, well-stored. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices on the internet range from about $20 to $28; look for the median.

Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. A sample for review.


I had more dough than I needed for last night’s pizza, so I sliced off a hunk, wrapped it and put it in the refrigerator. LL said, “You should make a breakfast pizza tomorrow.” I thought, “O.K., why not? Another first achieved in a lifetime of ever-higher yet moderately attainable goals.”

This morning when I arose from my slab of slumber to make my tea and toast and grab the newspapers from the end of the driveway, I retrieved the bit of pizza dough and left it on a cutting board to come to room temperature. Later, I turned the oven on to heat to 500 degrees and pondered how to make a breakfast pizza. The maxim “Keep it simple” came to mind. So, I diced one stalk (or whatever you call it) of green onion and the same to a handful of fresh basil leaves. We had some Newman Farms country ham in the fridge, so I sliced a small portion and diced that too; this is btw the BEST country ham I have ever eaten. I rolled out the little piece of dough really damned thin and scattered the ham, basil and green onion mainly around the circumference and then dotted that with some ricotta cheese. Carefully, carefully I broke two eggs into the center, grated on some Parmesan cheese and sprinkled on some salt and pepper. C’est tout.

As you can see from the image, the result was as pretty as a picture, and it tasted great too. The eggs had set just into the hard stage, beyond sunnyside up, and there was this conjunction of the solidified egg whites and the ricotta that was not far from sublime. We snacked on the breakfast pizza at about 10:30, so it made a handy brunch, at the time when brunch is supposed to occur. I mean, what’s with this “We Serve Brunch All Day” stuff? Remember, the “b” in “brunch” stands for “breakfast.”

To answer the question posed by the title of this post, what became a breakfast pizza most was a bottle of Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2007, North Coast. This sparkling wine is a combination of 74 percent pinot noir grapes (the noir part) and 26 percent chardonnay (blanc) and is a four-county blend: Napa (32%), Sonoma (31%), Mendocino (30%) and Marin (7%). The color is pale gold; the abundant bubbles surge upward in a constant stream of gold-flecked glints. Lordy, this is a big, dense, full-bodied sparkling wine, yet it has its delicate, elegant moments, too. The bouquet teems with notes of roasted lemon, pears and mango, with a backwash of biscuits, smoked almonds and sauteed mushrooms, all set against a foundation of limestone. In the mouth, it’s nutty and yeasty, with zesty acidity bringing liveliness to lemon peel and lemon drop flavors, with a hint of caramel, ensconced in a chewy texture. The finish brings in spice, limestone and damp gravel. Final call: Delicious, savory, sophisticated. Alcohol content is 12.8 percent. Winemakers were Hugh Davies and Keith Hock. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.


We felt ambivalent about the Butter Bean Risotto with Chard and Fried Okra — it’s more complicated than a risotto ought to be and it has, um, okra — but we made it anyway, and after a few bites, LL said, “You know, this is pretty good.” The recipe comes from Cotton Row, a restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama, and was carried in the September issue of Bon Appetit in a story called “Daily Specials.” The recipe calls for a can of butter beans, but I had bought fresh ones at the Memphis Farmers Market, so I cooked those the day before. LL made the risotto part while I fried the okra in a buttermilk-cornmeal crust. As you can see in the image, the fried okra is a garnish, while the beans and chard are in the risotto. It occurred to me later that the dish is an upscale variation of Hoppin’ John, the traditional Carolina preparation of rice and blackeyed peas.

For wine, I opened the fresh and appealing Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. Made partly in stainless steel (65.7%) and partly in oak barrels (34.3%), the wine entices the nose with scintillating hints of lime and lime leaf, lemongrass and grapefruit, with undertones of dried thyme and tarragon and a powerful current of pungent limestone-like minerality. You may be thinking, “Lime? Grapefruit? Sounds pretty damned New Zealandy to me,” but what the Oberon SB ’09 avoids is the sometimes overbearing Kiwi characteristics of green pea, fennel frond and gooseberry, playing the game much straighter and to better profit. In the mouth, the Oberon SB ’09 retains the grassy lime and grapefruit element but adds roasted lemon, spiced pear and a touch of melon, all swathed and jazzed by crisp, snappy acidity that’s balanced by a tinge of lushness provided by that modicum of oak. Expert winemaking by Tony Coltrin. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2011. Very Good+. About $15, a Raving Bargain.

The truth, however, is that whatever this wine’s myriad virtues, it wasn’t the perfect wine for the risotto. We really needed an off-dry riesling, a Kabinett level wine, say, from Rheinhessen.

Oberon is a label from Folio Fine Wine Partners, the company started by Michael Mondavi and his family after the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to Constellation at the end of 2004.

A sample for review.

Well, of course the simplest pasta would be a bowl of naked noodles, but one step up in complication and yet remarkably delicious is the Roman dish Spaghetti a Cacio e Peppe, that is, Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano cheese and Black Pepper. You cook the pasta — as you can see, I used farfalle because I love those cute little bow-tie shapes — and when the pasta is cooked, reserve a little of the water and then drain the pasta as usual. Put it back into the pot, grate on a bunch of pecorino cheese and fresh cracked pepper and stir in a bit of the pasta water to help it all cohere. That’s it! I added — please don’t curse me, you sweet old lady goddesses of Roman cuisine! — a dribble of olive oil. It’s great stuff, and one bowlful made a more than adequate lunch for me yesterday.

For wine, I opened a bottle of the Argiano Non Confunditur 2007, a Rosso Toscano blend of 40 percent cabernet sauvignon and 20 percent each merlot, syrah and sangiovese. Argiano, whose winemaker bears the unexpected name of Hans Vinding-Diers, is a viticultural estate in Brunello di Montalcino that goes back to 1580, though the present ownership, of Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano, began in 1992. Non Confunditur is a Latin tag that means something like, “not to be confused,” and if the point is that this wine should not be confused with Brunello, well, don’t worry, small chance of that.

The wine is dark, ripe and robust and seductive with its aromas of macerated and fleshy black currants, black cherries and black raspberries, along with a whiff of black pepper. The wine ages one year in a combination of French barriques and Slavonian vats, so the oak influence manifests itself in the wine’s framing and foundation, exerting a sense of subtle, supple woodiness and blond, slightly exotic spice. Notes of red currants, orange rind, lapsang souchong tea, tobacco leaf and a tinge of cabernet’s graphite-like minerality develop in the glass. A stream of taut acidity keeps the wine lively and enticing throughout its soft almost plush ripeness, while dry, dusty tannins contribute to a build-up of briery and brambly austerity on the finish. Impressive character and confidence. The alcohol content is 14 percent. Drink now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. National prices are all over the map, as in about $16 to $24.

Vias Imports, New York.

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