Where’s Gina?

At SeaTac on standby ...
At SeaTac on standby ...

Ciao from Italia!

Sunday, September 27, 2009:  Venice
Many of you know I’m in Italy right now conducting a practice run for my upcoming wine tour business which I plan to begin next year.  My brave and willing guests are a few members of my family and close friends.  I thought it would be fun to report back and share some highlights of our trip so far. 
Our wine tour is based in San Gimignano, but before we arrive in Tuscany 6 of us made a two day stop in Venice. With me on this trip is my husband Kenny, his brother David and mother Gretta both from Northern Ireland, as well as grandma Betty and aunt Paula.  We decided to stay on the nearby island of Lido (home of the Venice film festival) away from the masses in Venice.  Our hotel was a beautiful 15th century palace, located in the charming commune of Malamocco at the southwest end of Lido. If your idea of experiencing another culture is blending in with the locals, then you would appreciate the type of stay we had in Lido. In order for us to get to Venice, we first walked through the picturesque neighborhood of Piazza del Erbe. From there we caught the #A bus for a 15 minute bus ride, nearly the length of the island, and through its cool neighborhoods.  What a treat this was to ride the bus with the people of Lido. We marveled how both young and old packed the bus on their way to shopping, school and work. We dreamed about what it would be like to own one of the old homes along the beach looking out toward Venice. (Yes, we would certainly need our own boat to reach the old city.) Looking out the window we passed endless shop owners opening up for the day, folks out for their morning caffe, groceries and strolls.

Gina_Tuscany_Venice by boat_Sep 09Once arriving in the main square of Lido, we hopped onto the Vaporetto (water bus) to Venice. For anyone who hasn’t been to Venice before, it is quite a wonder to behold, and seeing it from the water is just breathtaking! I have been to Venice several times before, but had always taken a train into it. Photographs cannot capture how beautiful it is; you must see it for yourself and see it from the water. Unfortunately the thousands of tourists (like myself) can be overwhelming, but once you get out of the main square, there are plenty of quiet corridors (and shops) to soak in everything Venice has to offer.

Gina_Tuscany_Scampt_Sep 09One thing they don’t offer is a mind blowing culinary experience. Not only is the food in the Venice area mediocre at best, it can be excruciatingly expensive.  I would avoid eating or drinking in San Marco Square unless you are willing to average €12 for a caffe.  We did manage to have one decent meal in Lido, where the veal scaloppini was tender and the lamb chops flavorful and juicy. The best dish though, was the scampi my aunt had. Butterflied, then perfectly grilled and garnished with lemon; it was simply delicious! Grandma Betty got to try gnocchi for the fist time (why not in Venice?) dressed pleasantly with pomodoro sauce. We drank house wine (merlot blends mostly) in the restaurants since it was the best deal (€ 8). Venice was bleeding our euros rather quickly, so we decided to wait for Tuscany to really get into the wine.  If you do to travel to Venice someday, there are some great wine regions you can visit since it’s located in Veneto. The Veneto wine region is home to Soave, Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella and best of all Amarone. But this leg of the trip was for my grandma and mother-in-law who had never seen Venice, so the vino was secondary.  Stay tuned for news from Tuscany…

GINA_kenny at the airport_092209_25%Monday, September 21, 2009
We didn’t get on our flight (standby) looks  like a long day at the airport. Kenny didn’t take missing the flight too well (good actor eh?)

Spanish cuisine with wine pairing

FOOD_braised game hen_Sep 09_web
Game hen with sherry, blood orange, olives & rose fingerling potato $15
I’ve been in the mood to cook a traditional Spanish dish and blood oranges looked really good at the market, so this dish was a nice fit.  This meal should evoke thoughts of coastal Spain where olive groves and orange trees are in abundance.  It’s a happy balance of citrus, salty and sweet and these three food elements are further enhanced by the Vilosell pairing. Celler Tomas Cusine 2006 Vilosell, from the Coster del Segre region of Spain northwest of Barcelona, is a very versatile, food enhancing wine.  It’s got nice acidity, so it balances the citrus in the dish, but it’s not so heavy that it overpowers the hen.  It’s a lovely, rustic food/wine pairing.

Chef Tracey

Posted Sunday, September 20, 2009 at www.portaliswines.com

Seasonal Foods: the Heirloom Tomato

Gift Pack 1_7 Dec 04Posted at www.portaliswines.com:  Sunday, August 16, 2009
The market is in full swing and heirloom tomatoes are starting to look good.  Just in case you don’t know the story behind an Heirloom tomato, “an heirloom plant, heirloom variety, or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing in popularity in the United States and Europe over the last decade.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heirloom_plant  Heirlooms are traditionally sweeter & juicier than other tomatoes, and because so many different colors, textures and shapes make up the heirloom family, they are a beautiful addition to any summer salad.

Currently, I am using heirloom tomatoes on the menu for our soup selection: Heirloom tomato gazpacho with avocado.  Here’s the recipe:  Cut the following into a large dice … 4 medium heirloom tomatoes, 1 English cucumber (peeled & seeded), 1 Walla Walla onion, 1 bell pepper, 1 green bell pepper, 1 jalapeno, half a bunch of cilantro, pinch of fresh oregano, 2 cloves of garlic (diced), ¼ cup red wine vinegar, ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil.  Mix all ingredients in a big bowl and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and cracked black pepper. Garnish with avocado (large dice).  The acid in the tomatoes can wine pairing a little tricky, so I hit Ross (Who’s Ross?) up for some tips:  sparkling wine such as Prosecco (try: Toffoli NV Prosecco glass $8.75/bottle $20) or a fruity rosé (don’t get too dry; try: Fuente Del Conde 2008 Rosado $19/bottle), or an off-dry Riesling (try: Efeste 2008 Evergreen Riesling glass $8/bottle $18.50) would all work well.

Because of the Heirloom tomatoes, it’s also my favorite time of year to have BLTs.  I wait all summer for Heirlooms to come out for my BLTs.  Since it’s my favorite sandwich, we’re going to start featuring an Heirloom tomato BLT on toasted country bread this week. Pairing on this gets a little easier as you have some nice salt & fat from the bacon to offset the acidic tomato.  Ross suggested that you go with a little fuller-bodied white, such as a Bordeaux Blanc (try: Château Lafont Menaut 2006 Pessac-Léognan glass $9/bottle ) or a lower-oak Chardonnay such as (try: Kumeu River 2005 Chardonnay from New Zealand which is currently on sale REG $40/SALE $19.99.   

One last tip which is not on the menu: Heirloom tomatoes make a beautiful Caprese salad.  All of the sizes & colors mixed with fresh mozzarella & basil, finished with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper.  A delicious summer salad.

Enjoy & cheers!
Chef Tracey
originally posted on the Portalis website on Sunday, August 16, 2009

Riesling, an overview

Riesling is a wine lover’s white wine.  Maybe that’s because you have to have some level of wine sophistication to know what you’re getting:  It’s difficult to grow Riesling and so the wines have greater vintage variations due to the varietal’s finicky nature … challenge #1.  But the product … wow, a complex combination of flavors & terroir:  apple, peach, apricot, rose petal, violet, minerals, flint.  Riesling also has an incredible range of styles depending on the ripeness of the grape, from crisp, dry sippers, to complex, off-dry food wines (Spätlese & Kabinett) to beautiful, rich, sweet nectars of dessert wines (Trockenbeerenauslese) … challenge #2.  And then there’s the German label … challenge #3.  I am fluent in German and I still can’t figure out what the heck they’re saying.  Of course Riesling is grown in France (Alsace), Austria (still German language labels, but not so confusing), Oregon, California, Washington State, Australia & New Zealand, but the Germans have been doing it since the 1400’s and Germany has the largest production & variety and it’s undoubtedly the home to the greatest Riesling wines.

For a down-and-dirty overview … German Riesling is known for its minerality (from the German soils), for its peach/apricot flavors, for its lightness, elegance & complexity, its excellent acidity and its low alcohol content.  Some German Riesling has a petrol nose, but it’s not as common as with Austrian Riesling, where a petrol nose is a common trait.  Austrian Riesling is tarter and tangier than German Riesling, but still has some peach/apricot flavors and good acidity.  Washington Riesling tends to be off-dry, with flavors of apricot, peach & orange zest.  Acidity is what Washington is working on.

Some interesting Riesling to try:
Efeste 2008 Evergreen Riesling (Columbia Valley, WA) $18.50  This is a dry Riesling which is unusual.  It’s tangy with more lemon, lime, citrus flavors.  Last year it won the Riesling category of Seattle Magazine’s Washington wine competition. We currently serve this wine by the glass at the bar.

Hans Lang 2007 Sabrina Riesling (Rheingau, Germany) $19.50 Off-dry, light- to medium-bodied, some minerality, flavors of peach, apricot, orange zest, grapefruit, pleasant mouthfeel.  Would pair well with Thai or Vietnamese cuisines.

Dr. Pauly Bergweiler 2007 Bernkasteler Badstube Am Doctorberg Riesling Kabinett  (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany) $31 A very terroir driven Riesling.  Not as sweet as the Hans Lang. Lots of minerals, complex, beautiful acidity. This is the big leagues.  “Pale yellow color. Aromas of wet stone mixed with peaches and apricot. Very good complexity and concentration. Beautiful acidity integrated in the fruit. Main flavors are peach pie, apricots, pink grapefruit with some honey notes. Excellent, long finish.” (Jens, Tasting Circle, 93 points)

In August, the Tasting Circle (a group of local wine professionals who meet monthly to blind taste, rank and write tasting notes on wines currently available in the Seattle marketplace) reviewed German & Austrian Riesling.  To see the wine reviews in their entirety, go to: http://thetastingcircle.wordpress.com/2009/08/

Contributor: Julie Howe