22 December 2011

Fig Almond Spread

A Guest Post by Myra Blackmon

Who doesn’t love a good jelly, jam or preserves? What’s not to love about fruit and sugar boiled until it’s thick and gooey, ready to spread on your favorite bread, be it wonder white, whole grain or Alfredo’s incredible artisan olive loaf?  The sugar is a perfect all-natural preservative and making jelly is a cost-effective way to save the very best flavors of summer.

Over the years, we’ve become pretty sophisticated with our jams, jellies and preserves, going far beyond the old fashioned cloves stuck in pickled peaches  or one of my childhood favorites, red food coloring in watermelon rind preserves.

Today’s flavors run the gamut from subtly-spiced, to herbed to fiery. In my fridge at this moment, I have plain old store-bought strawberry, black cherry, apricot and grape; locally made FROG (figs, raspberries, orange and ginger) and red pepper; gourmet roasted garlic and onion jam and my most recent acquisition.  Fig Almond Spread from The Gracious Gourmet.

I popped by Shiraz Friday afternoon to pick up some wine Emily had special ordered for me—a nice dry Riesling called Eins Zwei  Drei, which deserves its own post. As usual, I couldn’t leave with only what I came for.

Since sometime last year, I’ve been asking for the Almond Fig Spread we had enjoyed on a mountain road trip back in the summer of 2010. This time, I liked the answer, “It will be here any day now.” Turned out to be better than that, right there under our noses. I grinned while Emily searched the shipment and found what I’d been drooling over for more than a year.

Like many cooks, I have long used jams and jellies in all sorts of ways: with pancakes and waffles, on ginger crisps or graham crackers, over cream cheese on crackers, mixed with mustard and a little olive oil to glaze a pork loin or chicken breast, mixed with yogurt for my morning granola and a couple of times to substitute for honey or maple syrup in a recipe. Indeed, jams, jellies and preserves are a versatile standby in any kitchen.

That’s one reason I was so thrilled to get my hands on the Fig Almond Spread. I have no idea why they call it a spread instead of a jam or jelly, but who cares?

We loved it Friday night with the olive bread and the Tomme cheese Emily’s able assistant suggested. Saturday, I got in a comfort food mode and made, among other things, biscuits—or “biscuit” as they used to call them. A little butter and the Fig Almond spread made them heavenly. We had the same thing for tea this afternoon.  I’ll probably have some with my homemade granola (another result of my comfort food binge) in the morning.

Truth be told, though, there is one way I like it best of all: on a spoon straight from the jar.
I should probably go ahead and ask Emily to order me a case. 

05 December 2011

Champagne Tasting

Guest post by Myra Blackmon

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away….OK, it was really the 1980s and mostly in New York. Whatever. I dated a Prince Charming who loved the best of everything and had the resources to share that love with me.

He took me to LeCirque , then in the Mayfair Hotel, for an elegant dinner. When time came to order wine with our dinner, he said, “Hey, it’s a special night! Let’s have champagne with dinner!”

I have no idea exactly what we drank, but it was unlike any champagne I had ever tasted. It was light, pale blond and had far less carbonation than any bubbly I had ever run up on.  I was hooked, and have loved champagne ever since.

I had hardly thought of that night until last Friday, when I lifted a glass (or three) with Michael McNeill, Georgia’s only Master Sommelier, at a tasting at Shiraz.  Just listening to Michael talk about champagne and trying to absorb a tenth of what he was saying, would have been a grand time. Emily being Emily, of course, it went far beyond just listening.

Michael led us through tastings of ten estate-grown wines. These are from small growers, those who produce anywhere from 3,000-18,000 cases per year, as opposed to the millions put out by the big mass production houses.  These are those extra-special wines, the ones that will put you off grocery store champagne forever.

My favorites?  The light Nigl Brut de Brut, not technically a champagne, but light and refreshing; the Pierre Gimonnet Cuvè Gastronome Brut 2006, made from old-vine grapes, a bit darker in color and richer in flavor (paired with an artichoke, crab and cheese torte) and the  A Margaine “Cuvee Traditionelle” Demi Sec NV, a sweeter champagne that would be great with curry or Thai food.

My food task this week? Planning my Christmas Day menu and getting Emily to help me match the perfect champagne with my courses. Before those few special cases are gone far, far away to homes and tables all around town.

02 July 2011



Welcome to day 2 of our magical Riesling tour! I got up early (thank you, jet lag) and went for a run through the vineyards. I think I saw 60 rabbits between the rows of vines, but I stopped counting when I got to 45! At that time, I the town hadn't even started to wake up, so I took a stroll to enjoy this charming village. Our breakfast at Villa Spiegelberg included fresh fruit, lots of good strong coffee, and delicious German yogurt, and the PERFECT hot boiled egg.

The Pfalz region is one of my favorite, and one of the lesser known, regions in Germany. I'm pleased to show you some of the great wines we found or rediscovered:

Off to Darting for a group tasting with Kurt Darting, Eugen Muller, Theo Minges, and Herbert Messmer. We tasted 43 wines over the course of about 3 hours, and then took a break for lunch. Some things new to me: Metewurst is basically ground pork, served sort of as it were steak tartare. There's a pork-based dish called saumaugen that's mixed into potatoes, onions, and peppers, and then baked likemeatloaf. We also had a huge cheese platter that include my own beloved St. Andre triple crème brie.

And thank goodness for the salad! These type of trips always bring out the showcases (ie: meat; see former blog “Here Piggy Piggy” for clarification), so we don't see much in the way of green things besides the vines, so I ate as much salad as I could. And the best thing at lunch was the fresh strawberries! The whipped cream was mixed with vanilla beans and yogurt, keeping it as tangy and fresh as the berries. It was the perfect thing to have after a big lunch.

How do you pronounce this wonderful region? Pfalz is pronounced“false”, as in:

You think all German wines are the same? Pfalz!
Think beer goes better with cheese than wine? Pfalz!
oh, i will think of more...but, next up, Muller-Catoir. pronounced cah-twoaar.
This was a beautiful estate--80% of their annual production is Riesling. It's located in a gorgeous castle that's simply hard to believe if you haven't seen it.
You're going to have to trust me on this estate and just buy the wines. I have no idea to date what they cost, but they're gorgeous.
Slight note: this place was amazing. Beautiful scenery, beautiful wines, and a - oh, let's face it, gorgeous winemaker. But my palate went into a bit of shock here, and the notes will be coming along shortly.

Our last stop of the day was at Von Winning (pronounced Vinning), and our host, Stephan, has been in charge there since 2007. This estate has a long, distinguis hed history, and though many talk about the new wines they are producing as being “new”, Stephan insists that they are traditional rather than progressive. The idea here is to be respectful of the wine (a common theme in the Terry Theise portfolio of wineries)

We took a long stroll through the massive cellar, which was littered with candles from a recent visit by the German president and 180 other diplomats. Huge barrels remain like a museum, and the winery has bottles cellared from every vintage since the '40s. We saw a large foudre with the inscription in German “from birth to death, drinking the very best.”

I liked Stephan immediately because he said things like “we are not producing fast food, we are producing slow food,” and “quality, quality, quality.” The winemaker was mentioned twice by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, which is a big deal. These wines were really in a realm of their own. These are wines where 50% or so is aged in oak, which doesn't seem like a large stretch for a region where most wines are fermented in oak, but the very mentality is what changes here. But the winery insists that "this is not beer or coca-cola"--that with good, very good, and genius parcels of land, some beautiful wines can be made. And they were indeed unusual--and they were indeed good.

Are we craving meat and potatoes because we're not getting enough? Pfalz!

06 June 2011


June 3, 2011 
I landed in Germany today for the beginning of my trip with Kevin Pike, National Mgr of Terry Theise Selections. This is the first trip I've been on where we received a disclaimer beforehand that if we had sensitive teeth “start using Sensodyne now.” We will be tasting so many high acid wines that our teeth will hurt most nights!

Up to the Rheinhessen...

First stop—Gysler! The name should sound familiar, as his Liter bottlings have become a staple for value on our shelves. I was lucky enough to have dinner with Alex Gysler years ago, but it was even better to get to see his tasting room, a beautiful new facility ca. 2006. Alex opened the windows so we could enjoy the perfect weather.

The wines showed well, with standouts from his Scheurebe and Weinheimer Rieslings. And THEN we got a treat—someone made a joke that we needed to try some older vintages, and Alex disappeared for a bit, only to return with 3 bottles for us to share.

We had a 1999 Weinheimer Holle Riesling Kabinett (his first vintage since taking over from his father), a 1989 Eiswein Weinheimer Mandelbert, and a 1976 TBA. Although the dessert wines were absolutely phenomenal and memorable, the 1999 is drinking perfectly right now. Unbelievable, actually, how light it was on its feet despite the 12 years laying down.

Also present at the tasting room—Elizabeth Geil. Wne ran through Geil's current vintages, with their Silvaner Spatlese Trocken, Scheurebe Kabinett, and Rieslaner Beerenauslese ranking tops for me. The Rieslaner dessert wine tasted like lime ice cream with crushed gravel as a topping, and a hint of dreamsicle. But most of the wines were dry, and great food wines.

Alex's wife made us pretzels and a trio of dips to go with them. All in all, we tasted 17 wines.

Next up—Strub! Margit and Walter Strub are favorites of mine, both their wines and themselves. And theirs was the very first wine out of the Terry Theise portfolio to grace our newsletter. So what a treat to spend a day with them in their vineyards! We took a trolley of sorts up to these extremely steep slopes,

The most famous of Strub's wines is Hipping, which is also the most famous (and expensive) site in the Rheinhessen. It's a very! steep slope, and the soil is red from an intense amount of iron. It's all harvested by hand, of course (any machine would tip over), and has a special flavor from the soil. Look closely at the pictures and see if you can tell how steep it is!!

I have always loved Strub, but this year was particularly balanced—perhaps due to the addition of their son, Sebastian, to the winemaking team. We tasted 8 wines, and I have my eye on the favorites (it occurred to me after my earlier tasting notes that maybe I shouldn't mention too much about best-of-shows, no matter how true, because the wines won't be here until October at the earliest) anyway...

We had dinner at Strub in the tasting room. That lady of the house is really talented when it comes to food, and we had a fantastic spread to add to the steaks they grilled out on the back porch. Pasta salad, slaw, almond cake, panna cotta, cheese, pork cheeks... delicious! We had a lovely dinner, but the night wasn't over yet.

I had mentioned to Walter about our having some older vintages during the day, and he promised to do the same. Sure enough, here he was with goodies from the cellar, including a 1975, my birthday! It wasn't the best of the bunch, but I like seeing how long these wonderful wines will make it.

Also need to report a delightful stay at a beautiful hotel in downtown Nierstein, which I highly recommend. We'll be back at it tomorrow!