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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Looking For Sekt In All the Right Places

An eclectic group of Germans and Americans gathering for Sekt!
Everyone knows if you want to call a sparkling wine Champagne, it better be grown in the Champagne region of France.  Other places call it other things. Even in France, if it’s not from Champagne, it’s usually called Crémont.   In Germany, it’s called Sekt, and comes in the usual array of dry, extra dry,etc.  But, even within those general descriptions, there’s a lot of variety.  Different grape varieties, different soils, different amounts of rain and sun, and most of all, different vintners.

Last Saturday, I wandered vineyards on the hillsides overlooking the widest part of the Rhine River (the famous Rheingau region) and tasted a river of delicious Sekt.  Barth Wein und Sektgut is a family run affair, covering 30 hectares. How big is a hectare ?  Funny you should ask.  I had the same question.  1 hectare = about 2.5 acres  Yeah, fine, but I wasn’t born next door to a barn.  How big is an acre?  43,460 Sq Ft, or 4,047 meters, both of which are about the size of a football, or soccer field, but not quite as long.

As both of my faithful readers know, 30 hectares on German vineyards are spread out all over the place, a patchwork result of literally centuries of wine growing.  Vineyards are bought and sold, children split up their inheritances, and so forth.  Barth’s vineyards are no exception.  Not sure exactly how far apart their hectares wander, but the tour took four hours, including a short stop for lunch.   If you’re using a pedometer, that’s 7000 paces, more or less.  Tours are only twice a year, spring and fall.  And, with the first two hours entirely on gentle to steep hills, make sure you’re reasonably ambulatory.

In our wandering, we paused six times, both to hear about a particular area, check out the soil type, and sample Sekt from grapes grown right where we were standing. There were Riesling Sekts, both Brut and Extra Brut, Pinots: Ultra, normal, and Rose.  In short, Barth offers an excellent Sekt to suit any palate, all from grapes grown on 100% organic vines.

What about the taste?  Dry is probably the most popular, even among those whose lips have never touched sparkling wine.  News travels.  Barth’s Sekt Ultra, made from pinot noir grapes, is quite dry, full bodied, and with a fruity nose.  The Riesling Brut, on the other hand, is lightly touched with sweetness, equally full bodied, and with a creamy finish.  Which is best?  Well, you’ll have to answer a few questions and then draw your own tasting conclusions.  Are you drinking the Sekt with a meal, or just lounging on the beach enjoying the bikinis?  If it’s the latter, the choice really doesn’t matter, does it?

This Wein und Sektgut family is particular!  Many of the vines are over fifty years old, but there are also new plantings.  Soil management is of equal concern.  Some years vineyards lay fallow.  Quality is always at a premium.  If a crop doesn’t meet Barth’s high standards, grapes from that hectare will not be used for wine or Sekt.

Interesting facts about Barth Sekt:

-       50% of Barth’s product is sold through direct retail, the rest is sold to secondary sellers, such as restaurants, and also exported around the world.  That means you can probably find Barth wines where you live.

-       It’s not unusual to see wild boars harvesting grapes, depending on how much food they can find in the nearby woods.

-       Not all finished bottles are labeled right away.  Some remain unlabeled until they are shipped abroad and then labeled to meet the laws of the importing country.

-       The Rhine flows generally south to north, but where the Barth vineyards are located, the river flows east to west.

-       Having plots of land in different areas means Barth’s separate hectares have different soil compositions and therefore produce different flavors, even when growing the same variety of grape.

-       Riesling has always been the most popular variety, but now that tastes have changed, Rieslings are grown not only for sweeter wines, but for dry and extra dry Sekt as well.

-       Each year, grape vines are lightly trimmed and the vines trained on wires to grow flat instead of straight up.  This allows more sun, and also allows the wind to dry the grapes and prevent fungus.

-       Using the traditional methods of production, Sekt is allowed to ferment in the bottle for as long as 24 months (two fermentations) and turned (riddled) a quarter turn by hand for a month before the yeast is removed (disgorged).

-       During bottled fermentation, the bottles are capped rather than corked.

-       For the normal bottles, disgorging is done with a mechanical device, but with the larger bottles, it must be done by very quick hands.

Sekt ready to be disgorged.

-       Easy to tell which bottles are being readied for disgorging.  They’re standing on their heads, allowing the yeast to collect near the cap.

No better way to spend the day, wandering vineyards overlooking the majestic Rhine River and sampling Sekt from one of the region’s great Sekt producers.

As Barth notes on their brochure, “Wine is our discipline, sparkling wine our masterpiece.”  That’s not an exaggeration.  Just ask anyone who’s tasted their Sekt.

Want to read more and explore upcoming events at Barth Weingut?

Initial fermentation:  looking for 6 psi.

The final result of thousands of hours of work:  Sunshine in a glass!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I’m telling you, I used to love Tex-Mex enchiladas.  Matter of fact, they were my go-to quick check on how good the whole menu was likely to be.  Somewhere along the line, the test no longer indicated much, except that the sauce came from a can and the ground beef sold for a dollar a pound.  Also, the red sauce version got a little bit old.  I traded red for green, but soon that came out of a can also.

Want some Mexican food worthy of the wonderful cuisine of Mexico?  Use fresh ingredients and make it in your own kitchen.  There are some exceptions.  I went into a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan (NY not Kansas!) and saw a sign over the kitchen door:  Our kitchen has never seen a can!  Now, that’s the kind of Mexican cuisine that ranks alongside the best in the world.

Ok, there are some limitations at home.  I confess I do not make my own tortillas, either flour or corn.  But, I have experimented and found the best packaged brands that suit my own taste buds.

Secondly, I do use jars of pickled jalapeños, although I also use fresh jalapeños in the summer, right out of my own garden.

So, with true confessions nakedly displayed, let’s get on with making some terrific Grilled Pork Tenderloin Enchiladas that will please your loved ones and your family.

The Ingredients:

1-2 Tablespoons Oil (I use safflower oil)

1 Medium onion diced

3 mild green jalapeños, seeded and diced (if you must, use a small can of chopped, mild green chilies, drained)

1 Heaping Tablespoon chili powder (for the meat)

1 Pork tenderloin (about 1 pound or a bit more)

1 Package cream cheese

1 Heaping cup peppered Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

6-8 Flour tortillas (depending on size)

3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2/3 Cup half and half cream

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC)

Prepare the Pork Tenderloin:

Sprinkle salt, freshly ground pepper, and chili powder generously on the pork.  Grill the meat, or cut it in half, add a little oil and brown it on all sides in a pan.  Note: The meat will not be cooked through, but not to worry, you’ll fully cook it later.  Cut the meat into fairly thin slices and either chop it, or put it in a food processor and give it a few spins.  The result should look like a course grind, not finely ground like hamburger.  Set the meat aside.

Prepare the Sauce:

Put the chopped cilantro and the half and half in a bowl (or food processor) and blend well.  Put the cream sauce aside.

In the same pan you used for the meat, add the diced onion and a bit more oil.  Sauté over medium heat until caramelized.  Add the diced jalapeños, or the canned chilies, and cook until soft. 

Combo:  Add the meat to the onion/diced chili mixture and stir to cook the meat.  As soon as the pork loses its pinkness, it’s done.  There’s not much fat on a pork tenderloin, so if you overcook it, the meat will be dry.  Now add the cream cheese to the meat/onion/diced chili mixture and mix until fully blended.  Your enchilada filling is ready!

Put it all together:

Put a couple of heaping tablespoons of filling on a tortilla, wrap it and put the enchilada seam-side down in a baking dish.  Make the remaining enchiladas in the same manner and add them to the baking dish.

Pour the cream/cilantro sauce evenly over the enchiladas.

Sprinkle the shredded Monterey Jack cheese over the enchiladas and cover the baking pan with aluminum foil.

Bake for 35 minutes in the 350ºF (180ºC) pre-heated oven.

I served mine with refried beans.  The story has a happy ending.  My wife extended our marriage contract for another year, my son smiled at me between bites, and the next day he offered some to his friends.  High praise that warms an aging father’s heart.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Before I Go to Sleep, a mystery by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep is Steve Watson’s first novel, published in 2011.  Ingeniously plotted, it’s the story of a woman who’s lost her memory.  I don’t mean memory loss as in can’t remember the latest dance step, or the words to the ‘Hokey-Pokey.  This is serious shit.  It’s more on the order of “What the F is my name and who is that bastard who just boinked me?”

A nightmare?  Not quite.  She knows from her body and how she dwells on trivial things that she’s a woman, but after that?  She can’t remember last night, or yesterday, or anything past today.  The next morning is more of the same.  “What’s my name again?  You say you’re my husband?”

Of course, when you’re being boinked, being with a stranger has some erotic benefits.

But, plain panic turns to panic-and-angst, twin riders on a motorcycle of confusion, going god only knows where.  I don’t mean a real motorcycle, idiot, that’s a metaphor.

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, doubt jumps onto the page like an unsolvable calculus problem you never understood in the first place.  I’m talking ‘confusion’ with a capital T.  In a world with no absolutes and no yesterdays, whom can you trust.  Lots of people tell you things, but where do truth and trust unite?  You learn.  You forget. Suspicions creep into your life.  You embrace them, then doubt them. 

Every morning gives not a hint of who you are, or where you are, and “Why does that stranger refer to himself as my husband?”  I suspect a lot of women would like that question answered.

Before I Go to Sleep rides on a fiendish plot that sucks you in and glues you to the sharply drawn characters.  This well and smoothly written novel will keep you flipping pages faster than a preacher who’s dropped his Bible in the middle of a sermon.  Once you pick up this extraordinary mystery, don’t plan on getting much sleep.

Before I Go to Sleep is also a motion picture, which I do not plan to see, not wanting Hollywood to tell me what the characters look like and how they act.  I already know.   Nobody gets to mess with my memory.

Monday, April 13, 2015

London: Various Pubs, Various Pleasures

I admit I have my favorite London pubs.  It’s not because they know me there, or because women flock when they see me grin and pull out my wallet.  I come to London often, but not that often.  But, I do have a pattern, which sometimes appears to be more like a tangled web.  Have faith. Read on and follow my lead to the jocular sport of tipping a few in some fabulous locations.

And, by the way, if I mention a specific beer, it’s because I truly enjoyed it!  Along the way, you’ll see links to previous blogs I’ve written about specific pubs, which you have no doubt neglected to read for far, far too long.  Buck up, Buttercup! 

I always go to The Hereford Arms for my first pint.  Comfortable.  Old enough to seem proper, but not so new as to shine like freshly polished brass.  Lots of old, dark wood inside.  An eclectic and cheerful crowd that sways from old to young by the hour.     Besides, it’s the first pub I took my parents to.  Their memories sparkle when I open the door.

Hereford Arms

Hereford Arms

The Hereford Arms (Gloucester Road Tube) is a Fuller’s pub, meaning the brewery owns at least a part of it. Fuller’s owns several hundreds across the U.K.  In a Fuller’s house, I lean toward their best seller London Pride.  But, no need to limit yourself.  Other Fuller’s choices, Front Row and Spring Sprinter tantalize the palate as well.  All are 4.5% alcohol or less.  All are brewed in the time-old English method of top fermentation.  Great flavor.  Little fizz.  Little to non-existent head.  Quite a different beverage from their continental or American cousins.  Need something to nosh while you guzzle?  The Hereford Arms cheese platter is superb.

By the way, if Brit beer really interests you (and by that I mean if you walk upright), while in London try taking a tour of Fuller’s Brewery:

Besides being low in alcohol, Brit beers are generally smooth as a slide into paradise.  I’ll leave the definition of paradise up to you. The only thing that’ll stop you from having that fourth pint is the size of your stomach.

Queens Arms

About a twenty minute walk from The Hereford Arms is The Queens Arms.  Two things to remember about the Queens Arms:  Sharps Doom Bar beer, my favorite, and superb pub food, from meaty burgers to exotic roasts and steaks.

Suppose I want to wander farther afield?  How do I mine for pubs unknown?  Simple.  I use the book, FancyaPint (Amazon), which lists pubs and their location around each Tube Station.  Maps included.  Also rates pubs from one to five pints, but I’ve found the ratings somewhat misleading, having truly enjoyed several pubs rated only two pints.

Part of my pattern is to also grab a tube map and pick a tube stop where I don’t know the pubs at all.  This time I picked Holborn. The Ship Tavern hasn’t joined the favorites list yet, but it may.  The nearby, Princess Louise is a Victorian pub, reeking with atmosphere. Lots of cut glass room dividers, and even more dark, carved wood.  It’s a Smith Brewery pub.

Ships Tavern

Ships Tavern

Ships Tavern

Princess Louise

Princess Louise

Two more pubs I have to mention:  The Lamb and Flag (Leicester Square), and The Old Bank of England (Temple). 

According to The Survey of London, The Lamb and Flag is first mentioned as The Cooper’s Arms in 1772, and was renamed in 1883. It’s sometimes called The Bucket of Blood because of the bare-knuckle fights that used take place there.  Now days, tourists join locals to keep the place crowded, especially in the evenings, and I haven’t noticed any bare-knuckle brawls, or even loud and angry words.

Lamb and Flag

Bank of England Pub

The Old Bank of England pub, as you would guess, was once a branch of The Bank of England, serving the Royal Courts of Justice, just next door.  It’s a Fullers pub and absolutely spectacular, replete with soaring ceiling, a balustrade that overlooks the bar, and huge, ornate windows.  A must visit, even if you just want a glass of water.

Almost next door to Twinning’s Tea Shop and across the street from The Old Bank of England is The George.  You’ll recognize it immediately.  Old, almost black half-timbered façade.  Lengthy bar and a great selection of brews.

And, if you’re in Notting Hill, you must visit The Churchill Arms.  It’s said the Churchill family began to come here a few hundred years ago, and Sir Winston himself visited on occasion.  It’s another Fuller’s pub and I enjoyed a Chiswick Ale (3.5%).

Churchill Arms

The Uxbridge Arms is small pub near Notting Hill Gate.  A very traditional local.  It’s here we had an interesting conversation with the female barkeep and an older gentleman.  Between them, they knew of “sailing ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.”  (Tribute (4.2%) and Sussex Best Bitter (4%)).

Uxbridge Arms

Uxbridge Arms

Near The Uxbridge Arms is The Windsor Castle, a unique spot, with tiny rooms, separated by door that appear to be made for people four feet tall.  Bend down, keep going.  It's worth it!

Windsor Castle Pub

In a week’s stay, I usually hit from twenty to over thirty pubs.  That’s right.  Four to five pubs a day, and sometimes more.  A few years back, my companion and I set a goal of 50 pubs in five days.  We managed over 30, which I do not recommend, and not only because of the possibility of cirrhosis.  After a madcap race or two, downing pints and sprinting to the next watering hole, I’ve learned to take my time, enjoy my pint, and the atmosphere, and chatting with locals.  Far more rewarding, and what’s the rush anyway?  London’s not going anywhere and you can bet your last Pence I’ll be back to slack my thirst.

Queens Arms