Wine and Cigars

Two of my favorite vices!   However, often fervent cigar aficionados avoid fine wine with their cigars.  As I travel around the US selling wine, I almost always find a local cigar shop to visit.  I frequently talk to the patrons conducting research on their favorite beverage to pair with their cigar.  The usual response is Scotch Whisky, American Bourbon, Port, or fine French Cognac.   I always try to influence the crowd to try fine wine.

There are many responses as to why some smokers prefer not to pair cigars and wine.  Usually it has to do with what can be dominating flavors in the cigar muting the flavor of the wine or the combination of bitterness that both cigars and red wine possess.   In both cases, I think they just have not had the right wine paired with the right cigar.

Truthfully, the proper pairing can be absolutely amazing.  The earthy tobacco notes of a good smoke can accentuate the same earth tones in a fine wine.  In addition, a properly aged red wine generally shows hints of cedar and spice similar to a great cigar.

The key to enjoying this play on flavors is finding someone knowledgeable enough on both wine and cigars to help put the right cigar in your hand for the wine you are enjoying.  I can tell you on my end that you can always find someone with the proper knowledge of one or the other.  Finding that rare aficionado of both smoke and wine is a bit more of a challenge.

I have had the good fortune of knowing a couple such professionals and always look forward to their recommendations.  Below are some of my favorite cigars to enjoy with our wines.  Yes, the wine selections are biased, but hey this is a winery blog!

Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc paired with My Father “The Judge”

This combination highlights the cedar and leather component to both the wine and the cigar.  The cigar is box pressed so it has a very slow even burn.  The smoke shows an earthiness that is perfect for Cabernet Franc.  This wine is a single vineyard CF that always displays a unique combination of floral perfume on the nose and rich earth on the palate.  The finish is smooth and reminiscent of cedar and tobacco.

Croze Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Olivia Serie ‘V’ Melania

OK, so this is a pairing that could change your life!   Make sure you have a solid 2 hours to enjoy the complexity of the wine and the cigar.  I also recommend a great playlist that will help you relax and take in all the glory.  Croze Cabernet Sauvignon is a deeply complex wine that showcases balance and elegance.  That same elegance is evident in the Melania.  Both showcase earth, espresso, and underlying spice.   The ‘V’ finishes with a touch of sweetness that is perfect with the acidity of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Smith Wooton Mélange paired with Ashton Sun Grown

This is another interesting combination.  The Ashton Sun Grown cigars have a pronounced Graham Cracker note along with course black pepper spice.  The sheer richness of the Melange can handle the spice and slight sweetness of the cigar.  Melange is a dense wine that is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The Merlot gives the wine an unctuous that highlights the creaminess of the Ashton.

If you are a cigar smoker, I urge you to try a well made fine wine with your next smoke.  The pairing can be ethereal.  For those who need help matching the right wine and cigar, I recommend the following:

The Pipe and Pint – Larry and Pete are the best in the business.  Great selection of cigars and wines, plus decades of knowledge.

Napa Cigars – Eric is fantastic and can offer great recommendations.  Wines served by the glass and a great selection of cigars.

 

5 Spring Food & Wine Pairings!

Spring has arrived and here are 5 of our favorite Spring food and wine pairings. There is nothing better than grilled meats, fresh garden vegetables and wine to make that spring day perfect!

  1. Smoked Trout and Croze Viognier-One of our favorite spring activities is dropping a line in the water and pulling in a fresh trout, if that isn’t your thing head over and ask your fish monger they will even pre-fillet it upon request. The richness of the barrel aged Viognier and its natural floral aromas and fresh citrus character will balance out the smoke and rich tender fish. Serve with a fresh tomato, basil & mozzarella salad.                   hotsmokedtrout-300x200
  2. Sea Bass and Croze Chardonnay-Fresh sea bass and a chardonnay that exhibits fresh fruit and acid qualities are a fantastic spring match. Our chardonnay is barrel fermented with no malolactic fermentation leading to a wine that shows bright fruit and acidity that adds to the fish while cutting through the fattiness. We like to use a simple preparation for the fish of olive oil, garlic and fresh parsley as these ingredients will meld with the chardonnay. The goal of the pairing is to bring out flavors that complement each other and here we are focused on freshness.                                                                                              Chard13
  3. Wild Mushroom and Burrata Cheese Bruschetta and Smith Wooton Pinot Noir-Burrata cheese has an amazing flavor and great texture that works well on crusty bread and when mixed with the flavorful mushrooms just melts in your mouth. We like to pair this entertaining dish with Pinot Noir as the earthiness of the Pinot Noir compliments the wild mushrooms flavor as well as the richness of the burrata cheese.      Mushroom-Bruschetta-2
  4. Lamb Kabobs and Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc– I think there is something special about pairing Cabernet Franc with lamb especially if the lamb has a drizzle of olive oil and a pepper component in the dish. We will leave the lamb marinade up to you as long as you have red pepper on your kabob. The Cabernet Francs characteristics of pepper, mint and slight spices make the wine a perfect complement to the lambs  succulent flavors and natural richness. We prefer to grill the lamb as this brings a heightened smoky flavor from the lamb into the wine. We like to serve the lamb kabobs on a bed of couscous.            lamb kabobs
  5. Seared Duck breast with Huckleberry Sauce and Croze Cabernet Sauvignon-Don’t be afraid of the reputation of duck being a tricky dish to handle, this may be the most wine friendly meat. Two main points to pairing duck 1.Duck needs a wine with a bit of acidity to counter the richness of the meat 2. Duck has a gamey quality that needs an earthy wine to act as a counterbalance. If you use a fruit sauce such as huckleberry you need a complex wine that balances fruit, earth and acidity. The Croze Cabernet Sauvignon medium body and elegance will not overpower the duck while the dark fruit will compliment the sauce accompaniment.                                                                                                                                                                      Croze Cab 2014                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Cheers & Bon Appetit!

Buffalo Hanger Steak

Buffalo was once considered an exotic protein, but has become much more available in the last ten years.  7.5 million pounds of Buffalo meat is consumed annually in the US.   Many local gourmet grocery stores now carry various cuts of buffalo in their inventory.  If you cannot find buffalo at your local purveyor, you can easily order it online. I like to use #D’Artagnan.  The product is shipped frozen or fresh and arrives on ice within a day, depending on order date.

Buffalo has gained in popularity due to fact that it has a rich flavor similar to beef, but has reduced fat and cholesterol.  It has roughly 80% less fat than beef and 22% less cholesterol in the same serving size.  When cooking Buffalo, it is important not to over-cook it.  Without the large amount of intramuscular fat, the meat can dry out fast and goes from beautiful to dull with even slight over-cooking.  So, make sure you keep the meat medium-rare.  I also like to marinate Buffalo steaks, which I normally do not do with Beef.

One of the things I love about Buffalo is that it lends itself to a number of wine pairing possibilities.  While it has the richness to stand up to deep reds, it can also pair beautifully with less tannic red wines.  I love to pair classic varietals, like Merlot and Cabernet Franc with it.

Merlot has a bright fruit character that seems to lift the richness of the Buffalo.  The right Merlot will offer a  balanced acidity that helps cleanse the palate.  This creates a sensation that stimulates the appetite and opens the taste receptors.

A varietal that is even better with Buffalo is a well made Cabernet Franc.  This wine has a beautiful herb perfume with spice and darker red fruit undertones.  With the right aging, this wine is elegant and silky on the finish.  The flavors play perfectly with the finesse of the steak.  I also love our Smith Wooton Mélange with Buffalo.  As a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, it brings the best of both worlds to the party.

We cook and serve Buffalo many different ways here at the CROZE Kitchen.  Hanger steak has become a favorite, but we also braise Buffalo short ribs, and sear Buffalo tenderloin.  I highly recommend you add this flavorful and versatile protein to your arsenal and have a blast researching wines that pair perfectly with your creations!

Cheers

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Buffalo Hanger Steak from D’Artagnan
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Buffalo from the CROZE Kitchen, with Oyster Mushrooms, Smoked Onion and Asparagus
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Smith Wooton Melange

Pesce Spada con Pomodoro

Swordfish in a fresh tomato sauce is a great dish when you can find extremely fresh, high quality swordfish.  The bright acidity of the tomato highlights the rich flavors of the swordfish.  This is a dish that surprises many people as you do not generally think of fish cooked with a “red” sauce.  However the combination is fantastic.

Start by selecting a great piece of swordfish.   The flesh should be firm and the steak should smell like sea water.  I like to get a steak that  is at least 1 inch thick.  Cut the skin away from the flesh and dice the fish into 3/4inch cubes.  Toss the cubes in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Saute over medium high heat in a non stick skillet until just barely cooked through.  Remove the fish from the pan and place on a plate to rest.

Add you pasta (use what ever shape of pasta you like) to a large pot of salted water that is boiling and give it a stir.  While your pasta is cooking you can easily prepare the Pomodoro sauce.  In a non-reactive saute pan, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and add finely diced onion.  Saute the onion over medium high heat for 4-5 minutes.  Once the onion is soft, add fresh chopped garlic, salt pepper and a littler crushed red pepper flakes.  At this point I like to add a ladle full of the starchy pasta water.  Once that reduces, add crushed fresh plum tomatoes (I peel the tomatoes prior to use and crush them by hand.  You can peel the tomatoes by scoring the top and dropping them into boiling water for a few seconds.  Remove them from the boiling water and drop them in an ice water bath)  Of course you can use high quality canned tomatoes if it is not tomato season.

Re-season the sauce and toss in a little fresh basil. Add the cubes of swordfish and bring the sauce up to temperature over medium heat.   Drain your pasta when it is still al dente and add it to the sauce.  Cook the pasta and sauce together for 2-3 minutes to bring the dish together.  Serve in a deep bowl and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.  Serve the dish with a white wine that has generous acidity.

I like to pair this with our Croze Viognier, as the bright acidity on the finish really compliments the dish.

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Food, Family, & Wine

With the holiday season in full swing, it is time to start thinking about three of my favorite things:  food, family, & wine (not necessarily in the correct priority order).  Over the years I have read so many opinions on serving wine with holiday meals and they generally make me laugh.  Some people think you should serve less valued wines, some recommend top shelf, others swear by specific regions or varietals.  I tend to approach the holidays like any special time and serve wines that, quite frankly, I love to drink.  I do not believe this is a time to go out of your comfort zone.  Choose wines that you love and share them with family and friends.  “Wine people” tend to over-complicate and overthink special occasions.

As a winemaker, I love to showcase our CROZE Viognier and Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc with the traditional holiday meals.  I believe that these wines pair well with the traditional fare, but more importantly, I love to drink and share them with family and friends.  I typically host Thanksgiving and prepare most of the classic dishes associated with the holiday.  However, we do add Oysters and Dungeness Crab to the line-up as every good Californian should.

As a varietal, Viognier is a great holiday wine.  It bridges the gap between high acidity croze_viognier_12white wines and rich, heavy wines like Chardonnay.  It has a richness in flavor and aroma, yet still finishes with great acidity.

smithwooten_cabfranc_12Likewise, Cabernet Franc is a very versatile red wine.  A well made, balanced Cabernet Franc can be a great match to roast poultry as well as rib roast.  It has a beautiful elegance and finesse that compliments a wide range of foods.  There is just enough tannin to take on beef yet enough elegance and acidity to compliment poultry.

The only real rule of the holiday table is that there has to be wine on it and people you love around it!  Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Croze and Smith Wooton Wines.

 

 

 

Mélange…whats in a name?

The French word Mélange translates to the English word blend.  We chose this as the name of our new Smith Wooton Wine for several reasons.  The first, and most obvious, is that this wine is a blend of two grape varietals.  In addition, we wanted to pay homage to the Old World wine making techniques we use in the cellar to produce our wines.  Finally, we wanted to give a nod to one of our influences, Louis De Coninck, who grew the Merlot for this blend.

To make Mélange we selected two of the most iconic vineyards in Napa for their respective varietals; the Flinn Vineyard for Cabernet Franc and the Long Meadow Ranch Vineyard for Merlot.  Flinn Vineyard was formally known as Gallagher’s Vineyard and is located just south of Stags Leap on the Silverado Trail in Napa.  This vineyard has been the source of our Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc for almost 15 years now.  We have a long history with this gem and have developed farming techniques to showcase the characteristics of Cabernet Franc that we desire in our wines.

The Long Meadow Ranch Vineyard has a 30+ year history of producing world class Merlot.  This vineyard is owned and farmed by a 9th generation Bordeaux winemaker.  The wine is grown in a style that resembles the Right Bank wines of Bordeaux.  There is an elegance and age worthy quality that immediately shines in the Merlot’s created from this estate. (Check out Beaucanon Estate)

Like all of our wines, we use small lot fermentation techniques to greater influence flavor extractions.  This method is highly labor intensive, but the results are extraordinary.  The varietals were fermented separately and blended after fermentation was complete.  The wines are hand stirred three times a day to gently extract flavor components without increasing harsh tannins and astringency.

Finally, this was an opportunity to acknowledge the French influence that we have adapted from our time working with Louis De Coninck.  Louis has been a great ally to Croze and Smith Wooton.  We have sourced grapes from him over the years and have produced some of our most memorable wines from estate.  Louis has shared his opinions and knowledge of wine making with us over the years and we know that he has influenced our processes.

So what is in a name?  A lot more than most consumers realize.  The 2013 Smith Wooton Mélange is representation of our family, as well as those families who work tirelessly to grow world class grapes.  We have a strong connection to our growers and we feel it is important that our customers get to know the people behind our products.

 

Traveling To Napa Valley!

Planning a trip to Napa Valley can be a daunting task with so many great wineries to visit, fantastic restaurants to choose from and taking in all of the beautiful sights the Napa Valley has to offer. Living and working in Napa Valley has its advantages besides being one of the most beautiful places in the world to live, we have learned how to navigate our day and way through the Valley. We will give you some tips to take the stress out of your planning and enjoying your vacation in Napa.

1. Pick the wineries you want to visit. We always recommend one of the historic wineries of the Napa Valley as a starting point. This gives you an overview of the history of the Valley and great prospective on its growth. 2016 is a great year to visit Napa Valley as we are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the  Judgement of Paris. Pick a couple of small producers, think ten thousand cases or less, as your next visits. These small family producers are the heart and soul of Napa Valley. Lastly we recommend a tasting room with a picnic spot. The goal of your vacation is to relax and nothing is more relaxing than wine, cheese and a view!

2. Pick the restaurants where you want to eat. Eating at the restaurants in Napa Valley can be very expensive and one meal could blow your budget for the day, so we recommend viewing online menus if possible. If a restaurant is out of your budget for dinner, see if they serve lunch as a viable option. If your bucket list restaurant doesn’t fit your budget don’t fret there are many excellent choices at every price range. Lastly, plan for lunch. With all of the wine you will be tasting you will need food to get you through the day and into the night.

3. Plan your activities away from wine & food. There are too many beautiful sights to be inside at a tasting room or even one of the many beautiful dining rooms all of the time. Pick one or two outdoor activities; hot air ballooning, river kayaking, hiking or bike riding through the valley are all on the top of the list and a few will help you burn some calories!

4. Plan your route. The most important tip we can give you is plan your route for each day. The goal of your vacation in Napa is to relax and nothing ruins that like worrying whether you can make your next tasting appointment or your 6PM dinner reservation in Yountville. Grab a Napa Valley Winery Map and plot out each winery, restaurant & activity you want to do and we recommend grouping them together by proximity if at all possible. There are multiple events every weekend from February to November and traffic can sometimes be a nightmare.

5. Make reservations, make reservations, make reservations!. Make reservations with the tasting rooms, restaurants and activity spots you want to visit. Each week brings new groups of people and different events to Napa Valley whether it be a wine auction, music festival or holiday weekend and reservations fill up quick. Trust us we’ve often went to our favorite restaurant on a Tuesday night only to find out it is booked for an event.

6. Lastly plan on how you are going to get around the Valley. There are many options on how to get around the Valley now that Uber/Lyft and other ride sharing companies have entered Napa. Plan time in your day for these companies to pick up from your current location & travel to your next destination. We recommend planning on 2-3 tasting per day to be able to enjoy the winery, take a tour if offered and not have to race to each destination. We want your visit Napa Valley to be enjoyable and relaxing, Cheers!