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‘Vin de Garage’ in Northern California

October 18, 2016

Some friends, known since youth, joined gangs, fraternities, rotary clubs, professional associations or workers unions.

A few became “garagistes.”

According to  French lore, garagistes, or garage winemakers, began producing, well, vins de garage in the 1990’s. They were reputed as slightly edgy, streaked with rebellious tendencies and prone to wander far from any pack. They produced (or procured) grapes to produce low-yield, small volume wines produced with new oak.

Consider Château Valandraud, in Bordeaux, France. This one hectare (2.5 acre) plot of vines produced such superior low-quantity wine that, in the eyes of wine critic Robert Parker – it ranked higher than the famed Pètrus wine for quality. In the 1990’s word of this silent rebellion spread to the Ribera del Duero in Spain, then to Australia. California garagistes, though previously unlabeled, had been producing such wines since the 1980s, with cult labels including Screaming Eagle and those from Harlan Estate.


Harvested grapes from Rattlesnake Ridge, California (photo courtesy Diane Steinberg)

What made these bottle desirable, and pricey?

The answer is simple: their lack of availability, uniqueness and quality.

Ah, the lure of exclusivity.

Today the term garagiste refers to individuals who produce limited wines, often doing much labor themselves. They rarely have links to large capital investment or deep pocketed wealth, are not beholden to traditional beliefs and are often wary of predominant mindsets. They are as much entrepreneurs as agriculturalists.

As written before on this site, Robert and Tiffany Tedesco Baumann have been making 100% Sangiovese in their Sonoma city front yard for some 10 years now.


Low volume, high quality, and never a need to mow the front lawn

They brought bottles to a recent gathering at Sheep Ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California (as well as their rosé). The red was wonderful – layered, complex, excellent with food, and the rosé crisp and delicious.


Beauty in Northern California

At the same gathering, Richard and Diane Steinberg from Los Altos brought their own bottles – including Syrah grown on their own acres using 19th century plantings from the Barossa Valley of Australia. Again, superb taste and professionally executed – balanced, full, well crafted.


Yes, their vineyard does have rattlers (photo courtesy Diane Steinberg)


Richard harvesting Syrah (photo courtesy Diane Steinberg)

To be honest, many wines I tasted after sampling these garagiste wines – bottles from professional winemakers in California – were surprisingly blunt in comparison. I found the handcrafted wines – honed from years of experience – to be a treat because they had an edge of individuality, and were not crafted to suit mainstream market tastes.

The point? When traveling, sample local wines when possible but also don’t be afraid to venture to a friend of a friend who produces small quantity, little known wine. I once tasted low volume Merlot produced by relatives of my nephew’s wife, Iris, in Italy – in the freezing cold weather of winter outside the shed where it was made. It was superb. Fortunately, Iris and her husband Malachi labeled the wine, then served it at their wedding.


Left to right – Domenico, Iris, Roberto…and that’s chilly delicious Merlot from the shed

Thanks for tuning in to this site again. My latest Forbes post includes a reason why spending time at LAX international airport terminal might actually be enjoyable.

California Versus France

October 4, 2016

During past weeks I’ve traveled from NoCal to SoCal, as they say – from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California to the gilded sand of Laguna Beach in southern California, stopping now and then to sample local wines.

The good news is that there are still ample great wines at decent prices (less than $20 a bottle) in California and that the styles – whether fruity or powerful – are usually well-balanced and delicious.

The rise of the ‘urban winery’ is also evident. I recently drank at a winery in Laguna Beach producing bottles using grapes taken from northern California (Napa and Sonoma), as well as at the inland Rancho Capistrano Winery – which also sources grapes from throughout the state.

California friends are also producing their own wines, including Corner Lot Winery’s Sangiovese from Sonoma County, and Rattlesnake wines from Los Altos (the vineyard includes 19th century vines from Barossa, Australia).

And good news – congratulations to Norm Benson of Dark Star Cellars for selling his winery – after years of dedicated, hard work.

When I tell California friends about France, they are intrigued by the notion of long afternoon lunches with good food and wine, walking to local markets for high quality cheeses and breads, and visiting ancient structures dotted throughout the countryside. For friends from France, the image of California beaches and a Beach Boys surfing lifestyle is attractive. When I asked my Spanish/French friend Monica in Bordeaux what she wanted me to bring her from California, she just said, “Malibu beach.” But of course!


Laguna Beach, California


Gironde Estuary, France

While getting a haircut in San Luis Obispo in the Central Coast of California, a woman who had moved to that town with her young child from Durango, Colorado, told me she loved the local lifestyle with good food, wine, free concerts and sunny beaches. She then made it quite clear that she also wanted to adopt the French lifestyle that included two-hour lunches with wine. (We used to have the three martini business lunch decades ago in the U.S….there must be a productivity related reason why that culture faded away.)

The openness and hospitality is quick and confident in California – including immediate invitations for porchside pizzas and Pinot Noir. In France, in contrast, it may take a more time to establish friendships, though once formed – the consequent depth and degree of camaraderie is solid and assured. And there will rarely be veneer with the people you befriend; what you see is what you get.


Civrac-de-Blaye, France


Sierra Nevada, California

But in this age of high-speed trains, AirBnb and relatively inexpensive flights – I mostly notice mutual curiosity between our nations.

We want to learn about each other. When over a glass of wine people describe memories of train trips and language courses taken overseas (whether in the U.S. or in Europe, or anywhere out of the country), their voices often take on emotion, as though they were describing a flood or hurricane or eclipse – that of wonder at having been exposed to new or unknown facets of reality.

“Vous êtes un énigme,” my French friend Annabelle once told me (“You are an enigma”) when she learned that I, an American, had moved to live in her rural town in France. No other US citizen then lived there. Why would I leave the beaches of California for the vineyards of Bordeaux? My reply, during a two-bottle lunch/language lesson, was – why not? As long as I can secure overseas contract work part of the year to pay bills, I am happy to be able to walk to open air markets, enjoy visiting the local park that is also a world heritage site, and purchase affordable and good quality food and wine in a laid back countryside atmosphere.

It works both ways. Other French musician friends – Laurence and Christian – left France to spend summer traveling around Wyoming and the Dakotas in the U.S. this year. Their pictures show them viewing bison, checking out ancient gun museums and dining casually off campground picnic tables (what a relief – just weeks ago Christian was visibly upset when, at a concert in France, he saw me drinking wine out of a plastic cup. He immediately replaced it with a stylish glass).


Malibu, California


Bordeaux, France

The French had their 18th century revolution soon after the U.S. war of independence. In the 19th century they graded their best Bordeaux wines in a way similar to how our third President Thomas Jefferson also ranked them. Their capital city has been a refuge and point of inspiration for many U.S. artists – including Woody Allen and author Ernest Hemingway, and Samuel Morse – inventor not only of a code, but a dedicated painter who thrived in Paris. Our curiosities are similar, our politics have parallels, and our mutual respect for the freedom of speech is enduring. In summary, there is no ‘California versus France.’ Differences do not divide us; mutual curiosities – instead –  draw us together.

Some French (and American) friends still believe I’m a spy, providing some mysterious degree of high level intelligence to aid our U.S. national security forces. I’m not sure what intel related to French wine production techniques could be translated into national defense policies. Still, if someone offers to pay for that information, I may take them up on it. After all, it may prove that the two-hour, two-bottle lunch really does provide excellent input for slowing any decline of civilization.

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My latest posts on Forbes are about wineries in California – including in Calaveras County, Malibu city, and Laguna Beach.



More Irish Wine

September 28, 2016

I’m traveling through California (sampling wines) – so this post will be short and light.

Years ago I wrote about Irish wine, as well as the history of wine being traded for sheepskins near the Dingle peninsula.

Now the same winery I wrote about is graced with serious reviews, as shown in the video below….

Thanks for tuning in, and please check out my latest Forbes posts about bread, Claus Meyer, and Calaveras County wine from northern California.

The Power of Food, Why Vets Turn Sommeliers, and The Taste of Zambela

September 13, 2016

First – friends who own La Galerie Restaurant recently hosted food and cuisine visionary Claus Meyer‘s flying visit from New York to Blaye, Bordeaux – which lasted less than 18 hours total. The buffet dinner was spectacular.


This visit is significant, because if this renowned food personality/philanthropist responsible for co-founding the 4 time recipient of the best restaurant in the world (Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark) embarks on a restaurant, it could become a worldwide focal point for innovation, quality, and respect for using local ingredients. Rather than inspect Paris or the city of Bordeaux, Claus has eyes on our little city (population about 3,000) of Blaye (pronounced ‘bl-YE’). Why? Perhaps because business partners suggested the benefits of this location, perhaps because his epiphany regarding food occurred decades ago in the nearby French city of Agen, perhaps because – like his restaurants in Denmark and Bolivia – the venue is not mainstream. Perhaps all these reasons contribute.

During a 6 am drive to the airport I managed to ask questions (included in my latest piece for Forbes). The man is straightforward, funny and energetic.

Second – Someone sent me a piece from The New York Post about how the need to impose order on stressful situation is why some military veterans are attracted to becoming wine sommeliers.

Third – a group of us co-own an exclusive 1 hectare (2.5 acre) vineyard near Blaye – previously owned by movie comedian Gerard Depardieu, and later by renowned artist Thierry Bisch. The red wine (Etalon Rouge; note this website is outdated) is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and the white is 100% Sauvignon Blanc.


Harvest is coming soon. If anyone is interested in bottles of 2015 (a stellar vintage), please let me know as my storage space is running out (shipping to the U.S. is for a minimum of 6 bottles).

Fourth – below is another recipe from the forthcoming book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion. It is a recipe for Zambela dough from Maria Galassi’s winery in the Emiglia Romagna part of Italy. This general purpose dough can be creatively used for all sorts of desserts. I recently made half-moon shapes stuffed with chocolate chips, pine nuts, raisins and powdered hazelnuts. Thumbs up.


Zambèla Dough

From Maria Galassi, Owner of Galassi Maria Winery, Paderno di Cesena, Emilia-Romagna Region, Italy


Preparation Time and Quantity –

15 minutes to prepare dough, 20 minutes to knead, 30 to 60 minutes to form pastries, 15 minutes to cook. Serves 10 people.


Ingredients and Amounts

Flour – 5 cups (500 grams)

Sugar – 1½ cups (300 grams)

Zested peel of 1 lemon

Baking powder – 1 teaspoon (5 grams)

Brown sugar – as needed

Eggs – 3

Butter – 7 ounces (200 grams)

Lard (or shortening) – 1 tablespoon (14 grams)


Preparation –

  1. Pre-heat oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).


Recipe –

  1. Put all ingredients in large bowl, then mix together. Start with dry powders and lemon zest, then add others.
  2. Now knead this dough until it is consistent and homogeneous—about 20 minutes.
  3. Regardless what you make below, the baking time is about 15 minutes, or 25 to 30 minutes for larger items.


Maria wrote –

“Now it’s up to you – with this dough you can put no restraint on your imagination! This is what I do – I prepare a double dose of the dough and prepare three or four things.

You can:

  • Prepare classic oven cooking by rolling out the dough until getting a thin pastry, cutting in any shape you like, and covering with sprinkles.
  • Make circles, fill them with jam, and fold them into half-moon shapes.
  • Add other ingredients, such as chocolate drops, raisins, chopped hazelnuts, pine nuts – then cut into any shape you want. My advice – raisins and pine nuts or chocolate and hazelnuts. Really excellent!
  • Roll out the dough, spread it with jam or cocoa paste or almond paste, then roll it into the shape of a strudel.
  • Add some cocoa powder – 1 tablespoon (50 grams) –and some milk to half the dough, and making huge cookies.
  • Using two pieces of dough (one with cocoa powder, one without) you can superimpose two rectangles of rolled out pastry, roll this into the shape of a cylinder, cut it into slices and get a ‘girella’ (Swiss roll).
  • Shape it into a ‘ciambellone’ or ‘zambèla (similar to a chiffon cake), and cover the surface with brown sugar.


Tom’s Comments –

These are delicious, both the crust and insides.

It’s not often you have the pleasure of being told to put all ingredients in a bowl and mix together, but that is how easy the preparation is. Start mixing with a wooden spoon, then use your hands. Instead of a rolling pin I used a wine bottle (a trick learned decades ago as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa). Because there are no moving parts, this provides greater control.

To make half-moons, first make circles about 5 inches (12½ centimeters) in diameter. Fold each circle of pastry over, and crimp the touching edges at one end and continue crimping forward along the semi-circle until the pastry is shaped first like a funnel, then like a half-moon. Before closing it, you ‘stuff’ additional fillings inside to make the pastries full and generous.





Claus Meyer’s New Venture, and Culinary Beauty from South Africa

August 30, 2016

In just over a week’s time, chef Claus Meyer will visit our small town of Blaye in the countryside of southwest France. Claus was a co-founder of the Danish restaurant Noma – which was ranked best restaurant in the world four times – and is also founder of the newly opened Great Northern Food Hall, as well as Agern Restaurant, in Grand Central Station in New York. He is a visionary regarding the importance of food to good living, has hosted several international cooking shows, and is quite the philanthropist – running charitable organizations in several locations, including Bolivia.

There is a distinct possibility Claus may open a restaurant here in an existing building in Blaye. Regardless, he’ll spend a casual evening with a group of about 70 locals at La Galerie restaurant, where a buffet featuring local foods will be served. Claus will also speak and share the value of learning about (and using) local ingredients when preparing a meal. From this region that includes our local oysters, estuary caviar, cèp mushrooms, seasonal asparagus and more (including, no doubt, our local Blaye and Bourg wines).

I’ll write more after the event and will post a Forbes article.


Sleepy vineyards around Blaye

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This week’s preview of a recipe for the forthcoming book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion is quite special in that it encompasses several facets of a main course, and was specifically designed and created for this forthcoming book by a chef of growing renown in South Africa – Carmen Muller. The dish goes well with Rupert & Rothschild Baron Edmund red wine (hence the recipe’s name). If this is unavailable, try a full-bodied, excellent quality Bordeaux blend. Thanks Very Much both to Chef Carmen Muller, and to Guest Liaison Manager Genevieve Dorman of Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons, South Africa.

Baron Edmund Braised Veal Brisket, Celeriac Purée, Crispy Sweetbreads, and Pickled Mushrooms

From Head Chef Carmen Muller of Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons, Franschhoek Valley, South Africa


Photo courtesy of Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons


Preparation Time and Quantity –

Baking time for the brisket 3 to 4 hours. Serves 6 to 8 people.


Ingredients and Amounts


Braised Veal Brisket Ingredients

Veal Brisket – 3⅓ pounds (1½ kilograms)

Onions – 3

Celery stalks – 3

Carrots (large) – 2

Garlic cloves – 4

Tomato paste – ½ cup (100 grams)

Red wine (Bordeaux blend, such as Baron Edmund*) – 2 bottles

Beef stock (homemade is best) – 1 quart, or 4¼ cups (1 liter)

Vegetable oil – as needed

Salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves – to taste


* Includes Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.


Veal Brisket Preparation –

  1. Pre-heat oven to 340 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius).
  2. Chop onions, celery stalks, and carrots.
  3. Crush olive cloves.


Veal Brisket Recipe –

  1. Heat a large frying pan over high heat and brown veal brisket on all sides.
  2. Remove brisket from frying pan and place in large, deep, roasting tray.
  3. Fry the mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery) in vegetable oil. When almost browned, add garlic, thyme, and bay leaves.
  4. Add tomato paste, and caramelize with vegetables.
  5. Add red wine, about 1⅔ cups (400 milliliters) at a time, then reduce down before adding the next 1⅔ cups (400 milliliters).
  6. Add stock, and reduce for about 10 minutes.
  7. Skim the surface, then place veal brisket in a deep tray and bake in pre-heated oven for 3 to 4 hours until tender, but not falling apart.


Celeriac** Purée Ingredients

Celeriac – 2¼ pounds (1 kilogram)

Milk – 1 quart or 4¼ cups (1 liter)

Cream – ⅘ cup (200 milliliters)

Water – as needed

Salt, white pepper – to taste


** Celeriac (also known as celery knob or turnip root celery) is a type of celery with a large root and lower stem that has little starch. In the U.S. this be found at some Asian markets. Substitutes include parsley root, chopped celery, or can even include carrots.


R&R Tasting Centre

The Tasting Centre where Carmen Muller prepares dishes – Photo courtesy of Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons

Celeriac Preparation –

  1. Wash and peel celeriac, then slice into thin rounds.


Celeriac Recipe –

  1. Put celeriac into a pot and pour milk and cream over. Add water as needed to cover the vegetable in liquid, and heat on grill.
  2. Season lightly with salt and white pepper.
  3. Simmer until cooked.
  4. Strain celeriac out, keeping liquid.
  5. Make a purée, adding a small part of cooking liquid if needed. Season to taste.


Crispy Sweetbreads Ingredients

Sweetbreads – 10 ounces (300 grams)

Cake flour – ¼ cup (20 grams)

Butter – 4¼ tablespoons (60 grams)

Salt, pepper – to taste


Crispy Sweetbreads Preparation –

  1. Fill a large bowl with iced water.


Crispy Sweetbreads Recipe –

  1. Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Blanch the sweetbreads for 2 minutes.
  3. Place sweetbreads into large bowl filled with ice water.
  4. Remove sweetbreads and place on paper towel.
  5. Pull outside membrane off, and slice into serving portions or cubes of about 1 to 1½ inches (3 centimeters).
  6. Dust sweetbreads lightly in flour, then season with salt and pepper. Dust excess flour off.
  7. Heat butter in a large frying pan over medium high heat, then gently fry sweetbreads until golden and crispy (about 5 to 7 minutes).


Pickled Mushrooms Ingredients

Wild mushrooms – 18 ounces (500 grams)

Sherry vinegar – 5⅓ tablespoons (80 milliliters)

Olive oil (extra virgin) – 1½ cups (350 milliliters)

Thyme and rosemary sprigs – 2 each

Garlic cloves – 2

Chili (dried) – 1⅓ tablespoons (1 gram)

Salt – ⅘ teaspoon (5 grams)

Ground black pepper – 2 teaspoons (5 grams)


Pickled Mushrooms Preparation –

  1. Chop mushrooms into desired shapes.
  2. Crush garlic cloves.


Pickled Mushrooms Recipe –

  1. Place all ingredients, except mushrooms, into a large pot.
  2. Heat on medium until just below boiling.
  3. Remove from heat and add chopped mushrooms.
  4. Let marinating mushrooms stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
  5. Refrigerate mushrooms for up to 3 weeks.


 Serving –

Place some celeriac purée on a warm plate and ‘smear’ with a large spoon into a desired shape. Place some of the glossy veal brisket on top, and the crispy sweetbreads around. Place the pickled mushrooms as desired. Garnish with parsley micro-herbs.

Comments –

Carmen writes –

“What we serve is not fine dining, though a lot of French influences and techniques are present. There’s ample room for creativity here, and we really do have a blast in the kitchen.”

Carmen’s other culinary creations include grass-fed mac ‘n cheese, braised springbok shanks with wild mushrooms…and seared tuna with chipotle caponata and chickpea ‘chips.’

Genevieve Dorman (Guest Liaison Manager) writes –

“Carmen created this amazing food and wine pairing for your book. She creates delicious masterpieces and won the EatOut Nederburg ‘Rising Star Award’ and was acknowledged for her ability to create astounding dishes with a small staff or two and a rather small kitchen. She is known for creating a variety of inventive, delicious and ever-changing dishes designed to pair with, and show off, the excellent wines attached to the estate.

“Carmen insists on limiting wastage in the kitchen and making everything, where possible, from scratch. This includes a daily dose of stocks, jus and sauces; jams and flavored butters – even the crystallized ginger that accompanies her Valrhona Chocolate Negus…She designed a recipe that could be easily produced in a small space that resembles a traditional South African ‘mosbolletjie’ [sweet brioche made with grape juice and flavored with aniseed]…that might be served with butter flavored with truffle duxelles, or homemade free-range duck liver parfait.”

R&R-chef-5 (1)

Chef Muller – Photo courtesy of Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons


Tom’s Comments –

This is a hearty, rich dish where taste and texture sensations are balanced—the fat of the meat with the vinegar acidity of mushrooms, the crunchy sweetbreads with smooth celeriac purée. The complexity and timing of this dish requires relative confidence with cooking skills before you try it out for a dinner party. Consider the ingredients, make substitutions accordingly if necessary, and plan out your sequence and timing.

Serve with an excellent quality Bordeaux blend, possibly the same you cooked with.





International Nomads Changing The World

August 17, 2016

I.  The Cookbook – 

Friend Denise Chang-Yen wrote from Calgary last week to say she successfully cooked the empanada recipe provided on the last post here. It’s great to hear that a recipe from Chile, formatted and photographed in France, was tested by a friend in Canada. The internet continues to connect us – as do wine and food…

The cookbook The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion is still being prepared. Recipes have been collected and formatted for consistency. Measurements have been provided in both Imperial and Metric units. All dishes are now being test cooked and photographed. I’ll keep contributors informed as progress moves forward. And yes, I will be cooking those South African recipes soon and shall include some of the stellar photographs you sent me (with attribution) on this website. In the meantime, a recipe for delicious chicken and mango curry couscous from British Columbia is included below.

IMG_0411 TM photo

Chicken and Mango Curry Couscous

From Denise Brass, Co-Owner of Camelot Vineyards, Kelowna, Okanagan Valley Wine Region, British Columbia, Canada


Preparation Time and Quantity –

Total preparation time including cooking – 40 minutes. This includes 10 minutes to grill the chicken and 3 minutes to toast almonds. Serves 3 to 4 people.


Ingredients and Amounts


Chicken breasts – 2

Couscous (cooked) – 1 cup (160 grams)

Mango – 1

Raisins – ½ cup (75 grams)

Spring onions – 3

Almonds (sliced) – handful

Curry powder – 2 teaspoons (5½ grams)

Salt – ½ teaspoon (3 grams)

Stevia* – ¼ teaspoon (2½ grams); or ½ cup (100 grams) sugar

Cumin powder – ¼ teaspoon (½ gram)

Olive oil – 3 tablespoons (45 grams)

Pepper – to taste




Lemon (large; squeezed into juice) – 1

Agave or honey – 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters)

Salt – ¼ teaspoon (1½ grams)

Curry powder – ½ teaspoon (1 gram)


*Stevia is a plant-derived sugar substitute without calories. Alternatively, ¼ teaspoon of stevia extract powder is approximately the same as a ½ cup of sugar.


Preparation –

  1. Cook couscous.
  2. Peel and slice mango.
  3. Dice spring onions.


Recipe –

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet on low to medium heat.
  2. Combine curry powder, stevia (or sugar), cumin, and pepper in a small bowl.
  3. Coat both sides of chicken breasts with this mixture.
  4. Grill chicken on a skillet until cooked through, turning over as necessary – about 7 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness (cut open to ensure meat is cooked before taking off heat).
  5. After it is cooked, cut the chicken into small, bite-sized pieces.
  6. Toast almonds in a separate pan (to provide them with a crunchier taste) – 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together – chicken, couscous, mango, spring onions, raisins, and almonds.
  8. Prepare dressing, then pour over other ingredients and mix.


Serving –

Denise wrote –

“Sometimes I add a bit more lemon, curry powder, or cumin at the end for more flavor.”


Comments –

Denise wrote –

“This is one of a few personal favorite recipes, provided by my daughter Timika Brass who now resides in Austria.”


Tom’s Comments –

This is a delicious smorgasbord of flavors. You may want to make the dressing first so that you can serve the chicken while it is still piping hot. Remember to cut the mango slices small enough so they are bite size. Serve with a white such as a Riesling, or a dry rosé.


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II. International Gypsies: Charlene’s Story – 

Yesterday I visited the town of Mirambeau – midway between the cities of Bordeaux and Cognac in France – to check out the renovated 5 star hotel Château Mirambeau. I posted that article on Forbes.

On the way home I took a 15 minute detour to the town of Montendre to eat and visit the newly opened wine bar called Le Cha’bernet – which is a play on words from the name of the owner (Charlene) and the grape (Cabernet Sauvignon).


Charlene at her store wine bar

It turns out Charlene opened her wine bar only a month ago, and apparently neighbors are enthusiastic, especially during the summertime Tuesday ‘night market,’ when plenty of locals swarm around the town square buying food and wine and listening to live music.

Charlene is a sommelier who studied at La Rochelle and worked in one, two, and three Michelin star restaurants in France (including, coincidentally, at Château Mirambeau, where I had visited earlier), Switzerland and England. She also worked at a wine store in Saint Émilion.


She now sells wine from all over France, as well as non-French wines, including Argentinian Malbec, Chilean Carmenere, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Sicilian Zibibbo (the label calls it a ‘meditation wine’ – intriguing).  She runs the store alone for at least ten hours a day, and sells food as well as wine – cheeses from Limousin, Charentes, and the Pyrenees mountains, as well ham and charcuterie.


Charlene is one of many roaming nomads met in recent years who travel the world to learn their trade, then return home to use their knowledge to gain income and share their experiences with others. It is this incessant flow and tide of intelligence and experience that improves the world, opens minds, broadens cultures and keeps innovation churning. In preparing the cookbook mentioned above, I found recipes for Italian gnocchi from Tasmania, Australia; for chicken masala from Chile, and for chimichurri from Italy. The boundaries of the world are fading as new generators of innovators travel far from what is known and comfortable to seek excellence and experience. Bravo.

Well done neighbor, and good luck with business.

My other recent Forbes posts are included here.



Spanish Intrigue and Austrian Appetizer

August 2, 2016

During the past months a lovely Spanish neighbor has gifted me twice with fare from her home country: Salamanque ham and bottles of unfiltered wine made from hand-picked Prieto Picudo grapes. These grow in tight, pointed clusters in the Valdeleña vineyard of the Ribera del Cea, Spain.

Always eager to sample wines from lesser known grapes, I uncorked this puppy and sampled it with the Spanish ham, sliced tomato (fresh picked from her garden) and organic comte cheese. The wine is like a sweet Merlot on the nose, round in the mouth, and includes tastes of charcoal, smoke and jam. After months of drinking low-alcohol Bordeaux French wines—this packed a punch with 14 percent alcohol. Although I don’t agree with the label’s saying it has a ‘long charming aftertaste,’ it’s easy drinking, and grows on you with time.

Which is why I’ve just poured a second glass.

IMG_0733 (3)

Prieto Picudo grapes in this wine from northwest Spain

Aged 12 months in oak, this wine is decent to drink with red meat or charcuterie. It originates within the Castilla y León region of Spain (in the central to northwest portion of the country) and is produced by Bodega Melgarajo—which is basically a late-1990’s sustainable rural development program, now run by a group of 170 winegrowers. Incidentally, Wine Spectator Magazine mentioned this wine producer in the final paragraphs of a 2013 article.

IMG_0677 (1)

Gracias, Monica!

While on the topic of Latin culture, I recently cooked a batch of 50 empanadas from a recipe provided by Lapostolle winery in the Colchagua Valley of Chile. This stunning multimillion dollar winery was carved out of a granite mountain and enables the production of gravity fed wines – inspired by French Bordeaux blends, but including the local Chilean Carmenere grape.

The production of these empanadas took plenty of preparation time, but were well appreciated by all who sampled them. A recent dinner gathering (thanks Jonathon and Danielle) included guests from the UK, Holland, South Africa, Germany, Canada, and the U.S. enjoyed these nibbles. My Spanish friend also sampled them (and approved) while seated outside our local Cave de La Citadelle wine bar with a glass of local French wine: a melding of two amazing food and wine cultures.

Here is the recipe.

Cheese and Mushroom Empanadas

From Wine Team and Winemaker Andrea León Iriarte at Casa Lapostolle, Colchagua Valley, Chile


Preparation Time and Quantity –

2 to 3 hours to prepare (depending on your speed with forming individual empanadas), and 30 minutes to fry. Makes 50 empanadas.


Ingredients and Amounts



Vegetable shortening – 3½ ounces (100 grams)

Salt (kosher) – 1½ teaspoons (7.5 grams)

Warm water –⅔ cup (160 milliliters)

Flour – 3 cups (300 grams); plus extra for rolling out dough



Olive oil (extra virgin) – 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters)

Onion – 1⅓ cups (200 grams) [about 1¼ medium size onions]

Button mushrooms – 12 ounces (340 grams)

Dry white wine – 3 tablespoons (45 milliliters)

Egg – 1

Cheese (Gouda) – 6 ounces (170 grams)

Vegetable oil – as needed for deep-frying

Salt and fresh black pepper – to taste


* Rather than make pastry dough, you can use good quality pastry dough purchased from a store. It’s better to make your own if you have time.


It takes a few hours to make these – but is worth it

Preparation –

  1. Remove stems from mushrooms, then dice caps.
  2. Dice onion.
  3. Beat egg and add 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of water.
  4. Shred Gouda cheese.
  5. Heat water.

Recipe –


  1. Heat vegetable shortening in a small saucepan over low heat. When it begins to melt, add salt and warm water.
  2. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. Put flour in a food processor. While it is running, pour half the set aside melted shortening liquid inside. Stop the processor, set to pulse, and while on pulse slowly add remaining liquid. (Alternatively, you can mix by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon.)
  4. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead briefly for a few minutes – until smooth.
  5. Form dough into a disk or a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, until cool.


  1. Heat oil in a 12-inch (25 centimeter) skillet. Add onion, then sauté on medium heat until soft.
  2. Add mushrooms and sauté until ingredients begin to brown. Add wine and cook until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Lightly flour a surface and roll dough out as thin as possible. Cut 3-inch (7.5 centimeter) diameter circles out of dough, saving scraps (which can be re-rolled, but only one time). The easiest way to do this is place a glass onto the rolled dough and twist.
  4. Place a small pinch of cheese on each circle and top with about ½ tablespoon (2 to 3 grams) of mushroom mixture, leaving a ½ inch (1 centimeter) border around the filling.
  5. Brush egg wash around edges and fold dough over to make a half-circle.
  6. Tightly crimp edges by folding them over or using fork tines.
  7. Heat vegetable oil in a 2-inch (5 centimeter) deep fryer, sauté pan, or wok. When the oil reaches 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius), slowly drop the empanadas inside, 6 at a time.
  8. Cook for a few minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool before serving.

Serving –

Lapostolle recommends drinking Sauvignon Blanc wine with the empanadas. Alternatively any white Bordeaux blend works.


Tom’s Comments –

These are excellent and attractive vegetarian appetizers.

It takes about 1½ hours to have the dough ready to press, and ingredients all ready. Assembling the empanadas should be an assembly line process. I put three bowls before me: shredded cheese, mushroom/onion mix, and beaten egg. After putting a pinch of cheese and a half spoon of the mushroom/onion mix dead center of each dough circle – one at at time – I folded the dough over, crimped the edges, dipped the semicircular edge in the egg mixture in a rolling motion, then finally crimped each side with the tines of a small fork.




Now another recipe, taken again from the book I am assembling: The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion. These Austrian breadsticks are another appetizer/nibble to enjoy with a glass of wine.


Salzstangerl Bread Sticks

From Ariane Umathum of Umathum Wines, Frauenkirchen, Burgenland Wine Region, Austria


Preparation Time and Quantity –

15 minutes to prepare bread stick dough, 30 minutes for the dough to rise. Another 35 minutes to knead and form bread sticks, and 20 minutes to cook. Total time—1 hour 40 minutes. Makes 64 bread sticks.


Eat with beer or wine in the sunshine

Ingredients and Amounts

Flour (fine) – 2¼ pounds (1 kilogram)

Salt – 2½ teaspoons (14 grams)

Water (lukewarm) – ¼ cup (60 milliliters)

Milk – 2 cups (½ liter, or 500 milliliters)

Yeast – 1 package

Sugar – 3 tablespoons (40 grams)

Cream – ⅘ cup (200 grams)

Salt and caraway seeds – as needed

Preparation –

  1. Pre-heat oven to 480 degrees Fahrenheit (250 degrees Celsius), or wait until after step 2, below, to do this.


Recipe –

  1. Add yeast to lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar.
  2. In a bowl, make dough by mixing flour, salt, milk, yeast mixture, cream and sugar. Mix with a wooden spoon, then with hands. Knead for 2 to 3 minutes. Then put in an oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and leave in a moderately warm place, such as near the pre-heating oven or in sunshine. Let it rest and rise for at least half an hour.
  3. When dough is ready, cut into 8 parts.
  4. Knead each of 8 dough pieces for 2 to 4 minutes each on a floured surface such as a table. Then then cut each of the kneaded lumps, one at a time, into 8 more parts.
  5. To knead this dough, roll each of the lumps between your hands to make 6 to 10 inch (15 to 25 centimeter long bread sticks.
  6. Take each bread stick and roll it in a plate in which olive oil has been placed, then roll this oiled bread stick in another plate where salt and caraway seeds have been sprinkled. With practice, it will take about 30 seconds to coat each bread stick this way.
  7. Put some olive oil on a baking tray and place bread sticks on the tray. Reduce oven heat to 390 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius).
  8. Bake bread sticks for between 15 and 20 minutes.


Serving –

Ariane writes –

“To give you a typical Austrian recipe, I chose salzstangerl. They fit wonderfully with wine and are so easy to prepare. In Burgenland they are often served at wine tastings.”


Tom’s Comments –

These salty delights will keep you reaching for more, and will make you thirsty enough to reach for more wine. You can choose how long or how thick you want the sticks, though ¼ to ½ inch (⅔ to 1¼ centimeters) thick works well. The use of two plates with olive oil and with the combined salt/caraway seed mix is my idea—just to provide assembly-line efficiency to the process. The alternative is to sprinkle the sticks on the baking sheet, but unless they are oiled, the seeds will not stick.

This recipe provides plenty of breadsticks, so you can halve the recipe if you want. However, even if you halve the recipe, you will need two baking sheets.

These sticks go well with red or white wines, preferably dry rather than sweet.



Finally, my latest Forbes posts are here, including a tribute to winemaker Denis Dubourdieu, and a piece on how Romans enjoyed luxury in western France.

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