Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County
Zinfandel in the Sun Shine
“Zin is the success story of Sonoma and it’s a tradition, it’s the original California grape brought to Napa and then here to Sonoma some 140 years ago by Italian immigrant families, many who are still around making great zinfandels especially in the Dry Creek region of Sonoma and that’s what makes Sonoma famous,” so summarizes Chris Sawyer the organizer of and palate for the Zinfandel Summer Series held recently at the Gravenstein Grill in Sebastopol, CA.
I will share some of Sawyer’s further thoughts a bit later; he’s off hosting 35 people on a cruise to Alaska as their wine guide as I write this. I thought it appropriate at this point to offer up some Zin history.
Zinfandel is Californians’ favorite wine grape and is clearly the darling of California, yet government has never seen fit to endorse the beloved grape; there is no state designation making the varietal, nor any other, the official wine grape of the California.
The Zinfandel we know and love originated from the grape known as Primitivo, with its ancestral roots coming from Apulia, in southern Italy.
It arrived in the U.S. as part of a large shipment of other species sent to a botanist residing on Long Island. The Gold Rush days of the 1850’s brought the botanist, his associates and their Zinfandel cuttings cross the country to its new home in San Francisco.
It was the perfect grape for the times, as the variety had a high yield and its high sugar content could be fermented into high alcohol wines in abundant quantities. Most sources place the first California Zinfandel wine production in Napa; being the first region with weather and soils that immigrants would have found suitable for cultivation and grape production. Future generations found Cabernet to be more valuable than Zinfandel and over the years replanted it – to their great success. I can tell you that Zinfandel still has a home in Napa and in fact the Sutter Home Winery, originator of the blight on quality wine known as White Zinfandel, is based the Napa County town of St. Helena.
We rejoin Sawyer’s remarks as we find that, “Zinfandel was here long before Pinot Noir and it’s fascinating where Zin can grow and has made us (Sonoma county) famous, yet strangely enough both of the varieties are hard to make. Zinfandel can be a tough grape to work with as it does not ripen uniformly and Pinot is so delicate and weather affected.” He offers.
“The Primitivo grape came to us from its Mediterranean climate,” Sawyer points out, “And we are blessed to live in a similar Mediterranean climate so that today’s Zinfandel thrives abundantly.”
I find that Zinfandel partners with a broad style foods, the easiest having a tomato base such as pastas and pizza that are easy matches but a good grilled burger with cheese, BBQ ribs, turkey, roast chicken and lamb with a red fruit sauce to tie back into the fruit flavors of the wine are also great matches. Sawyer says he enjoys lamb and grilled chicken with his zinfandels and finds that a raspberry vinaigrette with pinenuts and cheddar cheese shaved on it is quite the combination.
Sawyer concludes, “Zinfandel is a very satisfying food wine and works with food on many levels, “he states. “We tasted some terrific examples tonight showing that it can be produced at a quality level to match up with the best cuts of meat and poultry and deep flavored tomato based sauces.”
Good Dog, Good Dog
At a point in July it was “Hotdog Week” and the other member of the tasting panel decided to order some Vienna Frankfurters shipped from Chicago – so a tasting ensued.
My research came up with three or four national brands that rotated from first to second place in taste tests and I was able to find two of them but not one of the winners, Oscar Meyer – we do live at the edge of the earth you know.
Consumer Reports Magazine of all sources reported some interesting research and opinions that I thought I’d share a taste of – get it?
The CR writer felt that most of the hot dogs you find at the grocery store will taste perfectly acceptable on a good potato bun, especially if it’s heaped with relish, mustard, chili cheese, or whatever. But some truly are better than others, and while you can’t really go wrong, there are ways to go really right.
CR – Editor’s Choice: Nathan’s Famous Skinless Beef Franks
“The original, the best, the pinnacle of a hot dog.” This one comes from one of the oldest hot dog companies in America, founded by a Polish immigrant who worked at a Coney Island hot dog stand. “The Goldilocks of hot dogs: crisp skin, subtle spice, uniform texture, and juicy.”
The Whine Panel – 3rd place – Neither one of us were impressed with the Nathans’ Famous dog; “nice bite” was met with panel members “tough”, “decent flavor” was met with “nothing special”.
#2 CR – The Umami Dog: Hebrew National Beef Franks
This hot dog is so good that it’s almost unfair to classify it as second best. It is, in many ways, as good as a Nathan’s hot dog. This beef frank has a fatty, umami-rich flavor that tastes a little saltier than the Nathan’s and has a smoky, well-spiced complexity.
The Whine Panel – My #1, nice easy bite, terrific spices, good sized dog, could have had two. On the other side, “It was good” – that’s all.
Vienna Frankfurter -#1 choice of the panel member with wining points of; “a good soft bite and size” and the comment “I could eat more”. I think it was a “homer vote”. I thought it was an OK dog but it was third place for me.
Our WGWW tasting was hotdog only, with mustard for the second bite only and for the record I did steam our three contestants.
Consumer Reports did select the Oscar Mayer Uncured Original Wieners as third place; a kid-friendly hot dog that doesn’t skimp on flavor, with a slightly a smoky flavor and a tasty, delightfully bouncy texture, that’s simple to appeal to young, less sophisticated palates. So maybe we didn’t miss anything.
Fries With That?
And of course you all celebrated National French Fry Day on July 14th – what you missed it? While I didn’t have a day to be out sampling fries either, a young reporter from our local paper, the Press Democrat, spent the better part of a day doing just that and came up with the following ratings based mostly on the temperature of the fries when she got them.
I will admit to being a real fry guy and do in fact agree with her findings with the exception of listing Five Guys as a fast-food location. Their fries are in a different class, cooked to order and served in brown bags with the grease spots installed but it’s a get out of the car and go in place and their burgers are pretty terrific also.
A Rating range of 4.2 – 2.4 on a 5-1 scale
Five Guys “piping hot”, Burger King, Carl’s Jr. (Hardy’s) Chick-fil-a, Jack in The Box, KFC, In-N-Out, (they are the worst) Wendy’s, McDonalds @ only 3?, Sonic, poor temp, (I can’t stand any of their food). Curious for your thoughts?
Catsup, Catchup and Ketchup
So you’ve got your hot dog and your fries so you must need some catup, catchup or do you prefer ketchup?
I complete my trilogy by sharing a brief version of the very long and complicated story of ketchup and it starts and travels though time and many spaces. Keep in mind that ketchup, Worchester sauce and many other flavored sauces were used at time of their invention to cover taste of let’s call it, poor food storage, as there was no refrigeration.
Let’s start with a reference to Spanish, Chinese and Cantonese cooking, the British were in Southeast Asia and had these sauces were mushroom were a base possibly with anchovies and used as fish sauce. The Dutch in the 1700’s find a sauce in Indonesia called kecap.
The sauce returns to England and many versions and spellings appear in a book noted by a chemist of the time in 1831 who counted three popular spellings: ketchup, catsup, and catchup. “These three words indicate a sauce,” the author writes, “of which the name can be pronounced by everybody, but spelled by nobody.” In line with the times, the book notes that ketchup is the product of “the liquefaction of salted mushrooms.” It makes no mention of tomatoes.
A version of the sauce eventually arrives in the U.S. and then tomatoes show up in 1812 and with vinegar, salt and wine, sugar was a later addition after the Civil War. Cooks began adding more and more vinegar and sugar, each to balance out the other, until ketchup arrived at the sweet-and-sour flavor profile to which we’re accustomed today.
In 1876, the world of ketchup changed forever as a first-generation German American named Henry J. Heinz launched his bottled version of ketchup—spelled “catsup” and the rest is tasty history.
I like ketchup on burgers and hot dogs along with mustard and relish and especially on fries and even better if I can mix some into mayo, yum.
Half a Glass
A Glass of Red Wine May Fight Frailty
Researchers reported findings that key antioxidants present in red wine may reduce the likelihood of frailty in adults over 55. A team of scientists found that nutrients in wine and foods could help prevent the onset of frailty in adults over the age of 55. Their research suggests that adults who consume high levels of flavonols—antioxidants found commonly in wine, green tea, dark chocolate, citrus fruits, apples, berries and coffee—have a significantly lower chance of developing frailty as they age. They found particular benefits from the flavonol called quercetin, which is found in red wine.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
They Picked My Favorite
The question of who has the best beef sandwich in Chicagoland is only second to who makes the best pizza and WGN radio hosted the inaugural Chicago’s Best Beef Tournament, sponsored by Turano Baking Company. It started with 16 competitors and after four weeks and more than 150,000 votes later, they have the 2023 champion.
I must interject here to mention the pizza contest was won by a franchise outlet, Giorgio’s in Barrington, a tony northwest suburb of Chicago and I can’t quite understand that, they must have had some interesting motivation to beat out all of the other fabulous pizza places in the region.
On the other hand the beef contest came down to two great favorites of ours and we didn’t get a chance to vote.
WGN reported that Buona went head to head with Johnnies Beef to get into the finals against Jay’s.
“Congrats to Buona for winning it all! A great run by Jay’s, as the championship came down to just 1% of 70,883 votes being the difference.”
I was so thrilled upon reading all of this as I had local connections to, WGN, the contest sponsor and two of the finalists.
I have had/have friends at WGN, Turano bread in Berwyn, is one of the major suppliers of Italian bread in the Chicagoland and regional area and I was a client as the bakery is three miles straight south from our Chicago home and I used them for my catering work.
Johnnie’s Beef, “over by da” in Italian family dominated Elmwood Park, was is about two miles west of our house on North Ave. and Buona my favorite, was only a mile west and their headquarters were again only three miles south of us, quite the delicious, foodie neighborhood. I really do miss it all as we were surrounded by ethnic food stores and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a nice Cabernet this may be the one you want at less than $35
According to Airbnb We Moved to The Right Place
The list comes from a San Francisco Chronicle newspaper analysis of the most common word used in Airbnb listing descriptions in 72 of the Bay Area’s largest cities. The data comes from about 6,000 Bay Area listings The Chronicle collected from Airbnb.
In San Francisco, “restaurants” was the common word to show up, appearing in 44% of Airbnb listings, a nod to the city’s excellent dining scene. North Bay cities including Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Novato are dominated by “wine”, as is Livermore in the East Bay. “BART” is in 42% of Oakland listings, making it number one and perhaps reflecting how many visitors are traveling from there to nearby San Francisco and Berkeley.
Most common words and phrases on Airbnb for Bay Area cities
City one word two words
|golden gate (30%)
|wine country (28%)
|washer dryer (28%)
|san francisco (44%)
|Wine country (54%)
|san francisco (47%)
|san francisco (46%)
|hot tub (32%)
|wine country (51%)
|stanford university (43%)
|santa cruz (46%)
|san francisco (33%)
|san francisco (45%)
|street parking (29%)
|wine country (32%)
|Half Moon Bay
|coastal trail (37%)
|san francisco (58%)
|silicon valley (41%)
|san francisco (31%)
|street parking (31%)
Come on out and we’ll show you why!
That’s my Whine and I could be wrong…
I’m putting a shout out to my long time buddy Greg Baise who claims he always reads the “Whine” so I’m checking to see if he gets this far.
I’m repeating my Smash Burger , Smash Burger Secret Sauce recipes as I saw the need to edit it for content and clarity it’s still delicious and in light of the Zin story here’s Crispy Pan Seared Duck Breast with Zinfandel Raspberry Sauce in fact right here. Enjoy!
Woody Mosgers, cooks, custom caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA.