Wine and Food pairing event

On November 10th, I participated in a wine and food pairing event at Sur La Table at the Stony Point/Richmond store… if you weren’t able to attend, for one reason or another, you really missed out on an amazing selection of food and wines.  There’s something so much fun about how the taste of a food changes when you add a specific wine… and this class did a wonderful job of showcasing that for all who attended.

My best friend, Lynne Just, is the resident chef at the Richmond Sur La Table and approached me about specifically pairing some of our James River Cellars for a cooking class.  It took some time to get everything organized, but I was really excited when the final menu came together.   Lynne came up with an appetizer, a salad, a hearty main dish, and a decadent dessert… and I got to help pair the wines we’d use.  I planned to attend the event, representing James River Cellars Winery, so I could explain our wines, but I also got to participate and do some of the cooking.  It was a BLAST!

The evening’s menu was as follows:  Blue Cheese Crostini with Applewood Bacon and Rad Red Wine-Reduction…. Roasted Beet Salad with Toasted Pecans, Goat Cheese and Merlot Vinaigrette… Au Poivre Ribeye with Merlot Sauce and Roasted Garlic Potatoes… Chocolate and Chambourcin Bread Pudding with a Caramel and Chambourcin sauce.  YUM!!

The wines that were used that evening were all from James River Cellars Winery.  We showcased Chardonel (a hybrid grape of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc, created at Cornell in 1953) as we began cooking.  Our Rad Red (a dry blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot) was used in the reduction for the crostini appetizer.  Merlot (which sports our Monitor vs. CSS Virginia Civil War label) was used in the vinaigrette for the salad as well as the sauce for the steaks.  In true chocolate-lovers’ fashion, our Chambourcin was used in both the bread pudding’s genache and flavored the caramel sauce that was poured over at the end.  It was an incredible meal that allowed everyone to enjoy both the wines AND the food.

We’re already making plans to repeat this sort of event in the spring, so keep an eye out for advertising about this class.  We’ll share the information on both the Sur La Table site (where you would sign up and pay for the class) as well as on the James River Cellars website, Facebook page, and twitter account.   A lighter menu is in the works… maybe a fish dish for the main event?  We’ll have to see what will work best, but one thing’s for sure… we’ll have a fabulous time!  Hope you can join us…

Helpful wine terms

I ran across a great listing of descriptive wine terms that I thought would be nice to pass along to those of you who follow my blog.  I’ve had a number of people who ask about how not to look like a neophyte when visiting a winery and I think this listing would be extremely helpful.  Please feel free to use this link, which will open in a separate tab ( wine.html?cid=RSS_DUMMIES2_CONTENT) or allow me to share the information, piece by piece, with you.  The article was written by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan but I’m going to add my own commentary as we go.

There are many specific terms that people use to describe wine.  These words are helpful as they evoke tastes, smells, and memories that meant to give you an idea of what you have tasted or are about to taste.  Don’t be afraid to use these words… but don’t feel that you have to use these descriptors exclusively.  Knowing their meanings can help you understand when someone more” technically knowledgeable” describes a wine to you.  Knowing what you like and what appeals to you will help you choose a wine that you will most enjoy.
  • Aroma or bouquet:The smell of a wine — bouquet applies particularly to the aroma of older winesTake a moment to smell the wine.  Hold the glass just under your nose and inhale deeply for a moment.  Your wine guide (a term I like to describe the person walking you through your tasting at a winery) can give you some specific scents that should be prominent.  Many varietals have unique characteristics and you’ll begin to pick up on these with time.
  • Body:The apparent weight of a wine in your mouth (light, medium, or full)With your first sip, hold the wine in your mouth for a moment to discern it’s texture.  It sounds like a weird thing to do, but you don’t need a great deal of knowledge to tell if a wine seems thin, well-balanced, or heavy before you swallow.  It’s still a personal thing… a wine that feels thin or light to you can seem to have more depth to someone else.  Don’t stress over how a wine feels to you.  It’s not wrong, it’s personal.
  • Crisp:A wine with refreshing acidityIn my experience, this term typically refers to a white wine.   If I am looking for a wine that reminds me of a Granny Smith apple, this is the technical term I want to see used in its description.  It’s not going to smell like flowers… it’s not going to have a great deal of sweetness… This is the wine for someone who wants to taste the fruit but not the sweetness in their beverage.
  • Dry:Not sweetI really like this description of “dry” and “Residual Sugar” included in this article ( and find that it’s helpful to note that a wine that’s considered “dry” can taste fairly sweet.  When you visit James River Cellars Winery ( for a wine tasting,  you’ll find that the first five white wines are all considered “dry” but they vary greatly in the impression of sweetness.   Find what amount of sweetness appeals best to you and you’ll be much happier with your wine purchases.
  • Finish:The impression a wine leaves as you swallow itAgain, linger a moment as you swallow a sip of wine to see if the end matches the beginning, in your opinion.  Ultimately, that’s where the most important deciding factor lies… with YOUR opinion.
  • Flavor intensity:How strong or weak a wine’s flavors areThere are times when you want a strong flavored wine to accompany food… and there are times when you want something that comes across a little softer.   The aroma and color of the wine can give you an indicator of how intense the flavor will be, but be sure to always taste the wine.  You might be surprised, especially when sipping wines made by an especially talented winemaker or vintner.
  • Fruity:A wine whose aromas and flavors suggest fruit; doesn’t imply sweetnessThis is a difficult term around which to wrap my head… I’d always thought “fruity” meant “sweet”.  When tasting your wine, search out flavors of specific fruits… green apple, pear, peach, grapefruit, cherry… these can be found in varying degrees in so many wines that it’s worth taking the time to search your memory bank as you sip, smell, and savor.
  • Oaky:A wine that has oak flavors (smoky, toasty)Smoky and toasty flavors in a wine can be a wonderful thing… but if you’re not a fan, it’s going to quickly turn you off from tasting.  James River Cellars offers two different Chardonnays… one fermented in oak and one fermented in stainless steel.  Tasting these two wines, back-to-back, can be one of the most effective ways to showcase how oak can affect this specific grape.
  • Soft:A wine that has a smooth rather than crisp mouthfeelSoft is a descriptor that is another very individualized one, especially when it comes to wine.  What might feel “soft” to me, could be something entirely different to you.
  • Tannic: A red wine that is firm and leaves the mouth feeling dry

    This is the term you’ll use when a red wine leaves you with a pucker feeling in the back of your throat and a dry feeling throughout your mouth.  If you like this residual feeling when drinking a red wine, you’ll want something with strong tannins… if you’re not a fan, you want something that is described as either soft or smooth.

Use these terms as “jumping off points” when it comes to discussing wine with others and use them with confidence.  No one is wrong when describing how a wine feels or tastes to you and no one can tell you how to feel with regards to a wine.  This is one of my favorite points about wine tasting.  The idea is for you to enjoy yourself when drinking wine…. and to drink more wine.


Recipe: Chicken Prosciutto Roll

Pairing a cheese and a wine can sometimes be tricky, but it can be a really beautiful thing if you pair Bourcin’s garlic and herb cheese with James River Cellars’ Gewurztraminer white wine. This particular Gewurztraminer is done Alsatian-Style… off-dry and floral but with a slight citrus taste. It’s great with Szechuan foods and tastes fabulous in/with this recipe.

Again, this is a Use-The-Force recipe. For each serving, use a very thin chicken breast (or a thin piece of veal), lay a piece of prosciutto on the chicken and top with Bourcin cheese (be as liberal as you’d like… this is why I say you’re using The Force). Roll the breast, secure with a toothpick, and sear the roll in olive oil on all sides until nicely browned.

At this point, put the lid on the pan and allow the meat to cook thoroughly. While your dinner is cooking, pop a package of brown rice into the microwave (use whichever brand you like best) and cook according to package directions. When meal is almost completely cooked, remove the lid and add Gewurztraminer to the pan to lift up bits of the cooked cheese and turn it into a sauce. If the sauce seems a little thin, feel free to add a bit of flour or a spoonful of cheese and cook until it thickens to your liking. You can also add a small amount of butter to add some gloss to the sauce.

You’ll want to serve this over the brown rice, with a simple green salad and a glass of Gewurztraminer. I added green beans, wrapped in the remaining prosciutto, and roasted until just cooked. Simple, yet elegant… especially if you love the Gewurztraminer from James River Cellars!