Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County
We recently attended “Zinfandel Live”, the most memorable tasting that we’ve ever been to, six well-chosen wines, a matching musical theme for the wines and vibrant host who you may recognize.
Zin Goes “Live”
The “Zinfandel Live” tasting session was hosted by Leslie Sbrocco as part of the Healdsburg CA. Wine and Food Experience that took place over a recent weekend.
The lovely and quite charming Leslie Sbrocco has been the host of the San Francisco based KQED public television “Check Please” show for 18 years and I’m sure some of you in the Chicago area will remember her as the original host of Check Please, the franchise that was created at WTTW as she was born and raised in Chicago.
It was the most memorable and well curated tasting that we’ve ever been to, featuring six well-chosen wines and a musical theme for each two wines that suggested their style and better yet performed live by a most talented young man on his way to major in music at Southern California University. Unfortunately we never learned who selected the songs ranging from jazz great John Coltrane to rock legend Jimi Hendrix and but it was a thrilling interlude between sips of Zinfandels as Sbrocco danced around the room – what a mood setter.
Each of the wines was represented by a winemaker or winery owner who offered insight to the style and history of their wines while the enthusiastic Ms. Sbrocco moved about the room.
For the record we thought the #2 wine, Seghesio 2021 Home Ranch Zinfandel was the clear winner, with lovely fruit and balance.
On pairing food and wine
“There is no wrong answer to pairing food and wine, whatever you like is the answer”, Sbrocco immediately stated, “But there are pairs where one plus one equals three that make it better and that means you have to play with acidity, the oak levels and the fruit character of the wine, and of course the alcohol.”
“You want food and wine to dance together, not wrestle,” she smiles, (I’m doing T-shirts) “So when you’re pairing a big, huge, fantastic Zinfandel it needs some food to stand up to it, so give it barbecue ribs, give it a chicken doused in a Mole sauce, give it a prime rib, or a grilled mushroom pizza,” Sbrocco inflects.
I asked her what she thought of the future of the wine industry as it faces an aging audience and a lack of younger wine drinkers.
“Wine is made everywhere in the world in fact I just had a lovely sparkling wine from North Carolina, of all places,” Sbrocco commented, “There are wonderful wines to be had and the challenge is just cultivating the right audience.”
Young people are just not drinking as much wine and my concern is how we bring wine to younger people? That is the issue the wine industry is facing and must figure out in the near future,” she stated.
A Wine Judges Thoughts
While the Rose’ tasting at a recent Gravenstein Grill event turned out to be a dud featuring mostly smaller wineries who were making rose from what I’d call obscure grapes, we did find one for you from the queen of Zinfandel, Carol Shelton.
Her 2022 Wild Thing Rendezvous Dry Rosé, Mendocino County, 95 points ($19) is created by bleeding half of the “pink” juice off of red Carignane, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grapes after about two days of cold maceration on the skins; it is fermented cold like a white wine to retain a delicious, crisp strawberry fruitiness. We found it refreshingly crisp and dry, mouth-watering actually. It should be great with almost any food, from sushi to salmon to BBQ!
Oh did I mention that it was a double gold winner at the North Coast Wine Challenge and it’s distributed in 42 states, so look around.
So while the tasting was a bit of a dud it did give me a chance to talk with my wine friend Chris Sawyer; wine savant, noted writer, critic and wine judge in demand having just finished judging the aforementioned North Coast Wine Challenge, his 14th event so far this year.
“All of the wine we judged was from the six local counties of the North Coast AVA’s (American Vinicultural Area) that is celebrating its 40th anniversary”, Sawyer pointed out. “All of the judging is blind with six to 12 wines in each flight, and we don’t get much information about the flights, such as price point, but we usually get the AVA so (for example) we’d be able to say that the wine has characteristics of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel versus a Napa Zinfandel and while we don’t get the price points we do get residual sugars,” he explained.
I asked him about what rules he follows for himself when challenged to taste so many wines; “My best advice for anyone who wants to do serious wine tasting is to not take the first taste seriously as it’s simply a recalibration of your palate,” Sawyer explained. The second taste is what you will really use to set the precedence as you don’t want a chemistry project going on in your mouth with different acids, levels of sugar and fruit.” (from the first taste).
And with his most strident thought Sawyer says, “I’ve been judging for 25 years and I have tell you to eat bland food, drink plenty of water and spit – spit all the time as you have to spit to be real”.
Foods That Beg for Rosé
Rosé is one of the few wines that work with springtime’s most difficult-to-pair foods.
One of rosé’s many charms is the crisp, perfumed refreshment it delivers on its own, making it a perfect apéritif. But many rosés also deserve a seat at the table, as these dry, vibrant wines are especially versatile with food. With the racy acidity of white wine and the fruit character and subtle bitterness of a red, rosé can complement an impressively wide range of flavors and dishes. In fact, rosé can be a pairing problem-solver: It’s one of the few wines that works with notoriously difficult-to-pair foods such as artichokes and asparagus.
Not all rosés are up to the challenge, of course. Seek out top producers from Spain, Italy and France to discover a stylistically diverse collection of gastronomic wines that are ideally suited to enhancing many classic springtime bites.
Artichokes have gotten a bad rap for being difficult to pair with wine, but they are more so the key is choosing a wine that is bone-dry with high acidity and no oak. The answer – Rosé. Because artichokes have a meaty texture, and can develop a nutty richness when fried, roasted, braised or grilled, they can stand up to a more flavorful, spicier rosé.
Like rosé, asparagus is synonymous with the spring season. It’s a versatile ingredient in the kitchen—in pastas, salads, and soups or with anything grilled. But asparagus is famously difficult with wine along with Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and garlic, so try a citrusy, herbal, unoaked rosé.
Choose a rosé that is crisp and vibrant and low in tannins which will complement, rather than conflict with, the distinctive and pronounced vegetable flavor.
Given their high sulfur content, eggs call for wines without too much tannin or oak.
Sparkling wine and drinks featuring bubbly lay claim to the brunch throne, but rosé may be even more deserving of the crown. Eggs are also rich, and in brunch dishes often combined with cheese, cured meat or smoked salmon—strong flavors that could mask a delicate white. Rosé has the flexibility to bridge this gap, think rosé that is bright, fresh, but not too light in texture such as Italian rosatos.
Etna and d’Abruzzo (Italy) names to know: Benanti Etna Rosato, Graci Etna Rosato, Salvo Foti Vinudilice Etna Rosato, Masciarelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Villa Gemma, Valentini Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Half a Glass
Champagnes US Value Jumps 19% to $1 Billion
While Champagne’s shipment volume to the U.S. declined slightly last year, 2022 was another record year for imports in value terms, surging 19% to $998 million, according to the Comité Champagne. Globally, shipments exceeded €6 billion Euros for the first time ever, while worldwide volume reached 27.2 million 9-liter cases, second only all-time to 1999, in advance of millennium celebrations.
The Comité Champagne credits the popularity of Champagne consumption in the U.S. to continued emerging trends. These include by-the-glass pours, along with a growing thirst for rosé, low-dosage, and prestige cuvée Champagnes. The U.S. ranks first among all export markets for rosé Champagne, and prestige cuvées represent the second-largest segment by value. In addition, U.S. imports of low-dosage Champagne exceeded one million bottles in 2022, an increase of over 50% from the year prior.
Moët Hennessy dominates the U.S. market, commanding over a two-thirds share of all Champagne consumed, according to Impact Databank. Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon remained the top two wine brands overall by retail dollars last year among all wines priced at $25 and over in the U.S. market.
Shanken News Daily
KFC Sold 100 Million Nuggets in Less Than Two Months
KFC added nuggets to its nationwide menu on March 27. (I reviewed them in the April edition) Less than eight weeks later, the chain is reporting that over 100 million nuggets have been sold thus far. The company wouldn’t disclose if this number is in line with expectations, however a spokesperson said, “We’re very excited with the success we’ve seen to date.”
Perhaps this early success should come as no surprise given the performance of the nuggets in its Charlotte, North Carolina, test last summer.(where my buddy Pat reported for the “Whine”) CMO Nick Chavez recently said the nuggets generated over 10% of the sales mix in that test, and 60-to-70% incrementality.
“So we’re confident they’ll help us reach younger consumers and be more relevant to them,” he said.
Reaching younger consumers and becoming more relevant has been KFC’s priority with the launch of handheld, boneless products, starting with its sandwich in early 2021. Late last year, the company brought back its wraps, which helped generate traffic and a 2% same-store sales increase in Q1 despite lapping strong sandwich-driven numbers.
The Hawk Has Flown
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants is closing its sole Chicago location in mid-July, citing underperformance, i.e. lack of business.
Esquire by Cooper’s Hawk originally opened in the Gold Coast just months before the pandemic shut restaurants down. It stayed closed almost two years, reopening in March 2022. It will close July 17.
“In order for Esquire to be truly viable and successful in the city of Chicago, it needed to become something that was outside of how we think of our business model,” said CEO and founder Tim McEnery.
The restaurant was meant to be a draw for Cooper’s Hawk’s 600,000 wine club members. It featured rotating chefs, and has a collection of more than 3,000 wine bottles. The tastings of rare and luxury wines that are available go beyond the company’s typical offerings. Patrons need not be wine club members to dine at Esquire, but like at Cooper’s Hawk’s other restaurants, wine club members are tantalized with rewards and discounts.
McEnery said wine club members flew in from around the country to scope out Esquire. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough.
“It’s a 24,000-square-foot restaurant,” he said. The “type of volume we have to do in a space like that is huge.” (Really?)
The sprawling restaurant took up residence in the former Esquire Theater space at 58 E. Oak St., replacing Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House and its Esquire Champagne Room bar with a three-story wine tower, open kitchen and Cooper’s Hawk signature retail store selling truffles, wine and other gifts. McEnery declined to comment on how much Cooper’s Hawk invested into the restaurant.
My thought; “they got in a little over their shoes.”
The Great American Burger Book
How to Make Authentic Regional Hamburgers at Home
Thoughts from the book:
WSJ summer review of cookbooks
That’s My Whine and I could be wrong…
Here are my recipes for Mac & Two Cheeses with Cream & Mushrooms
And A Turkey Smashed Burger with Secret Sauce are in fact right here. Enjoy!
Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA. At