4/30/2013

#SnoothPVA: Ribera del Duero Lunch at Salinas


Hello Friends,

Following a pretty nice Brazilian “liquid” breakfast, we packed our belongings and walked several blocks to Salinas restaurant for a Ribera del Duero luncheon. Salinas is located in the heart of Chelsea (Manhattan) and specializes in Spanish cuisine and tapas. Leading us through this tasting and luncheon were top sommelier and representative for Ribera del Duero, Roger Kugler, and Snooth's editor-in-chief, Gregory Dal Piaz.

Ribera del Duero: A Sea of Red Wine


Ribera del Duero is located in northern Spain and is divided by the Duero River; for which it is named. This is the same river that becomes the Douro River in Portugal and reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Ribera del Duero has a long winemaking tradition dating back to the Roman period. In 1982, the region achieved DO (Denominación de Origen) status, a regulatory [quality-control] classification system, and specializes almost exclusively in red wine produced from Tinto Fino/Tinta del País -- known to most of us as Tempranillo. As it relates to viticulture, Ribera del Duero is often called a land of extremes. Much of the region’s vine plantings are situated at fairly high altitudes and winters can be very severe while summers can be brutally hot with daily temperatures exceeding 100°. Over time, Tempranillo, a dark, thick-skinned grape variety, has proven that it can handle the intense heat and abundant sunshine and still mature properly and produce high-quality wines.  For this reason, Tempranillo accounts for 80% -- if not more -- of all plantings in the area.

Roger Kugler and Gregory Dal Piaz


Fortunately, for the wine grapes and the overall quality of the region’s prized Tempranillo-based red wines, diurnal summertime temperature swings (i.e., warm days/cool evenings) can be pretty significant. This climatic effect preserves the grape’s natural acidity which is needed to match the ripeness levels berries can achieve in such warm-to-hot conditions. The weather extremities in the region likely influence the lack of white wines. Though, there are plantings of a white grape variety called Albillo, that is mainly grown for local consumption. Other red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec are also grown in the area and are generally used for blending. It’s important to note that a DO-recognized wine must have a minimum of 75% Tempranillo.

Ensalada De Jamon Con Peras


Snooth describes Ribera del Duero’s Tempranillo-based wines as “rich and powerful”-- adding -- “they are produced in a broad and appealing range of styles.” That’s true from my perspective too. My overall experience with Ribera del Duero has been along the lines of full-bodied, velvety-textured, robust red wines with (fairly) ripe fruit flavors, good supporting acidity, supple tannins and well-integrated (mainly American) oak.

Caldo De Temporada 


When I have Ribera del Duero in my glass, I’m generally thinking about grilled fare (or something similar). The good people at Salinas, who get high marks for both service and quality, put together a nice pairing menu for us that didn’t involve anything from the grill. Some of the pairings, which I probably would have not thought of (like the soup), were big hits among the group. Both the Caldo De Temporada (Galician style pumpkin-chicken soup with smoked bacon, chorizo, potato and broccoli) as well as the Costilla Al Vino Tinto (braised short ribs, confit potatoes and crispy leeks) paired nicely with many of the wines we had an opportunity to taste. The Ensalada De Jamon Con Peras (baby arugula, shaved Serrano ham, pear, manchego cheese, and vinaigrette), however, while delicious on its own, was overwhelmed by the wines – even the lightest of them all. Staying within Spain, my ideal pairing would have come from further west where a refreshing splash of Albariño from Riax Bias would have likely proven a nice match.

Costilla Al Vino Tinto


Over the course of the luncheon, we tasted everything from affordable and pleasurable everyday sippers to more concentrated and full-bodied wines that offered excellent length and depth with good complexity. Some of these, such as the 2001 Explotaciones Valduero (SRP $160) and 2001 Condado de Haza Alenza (SRP $100), really speak to the longevity of well-made Ribera del Duero wines and their ability to potentially improve over time. These two wines showed considerable layers of complexities and nuance with wonderful aromatics. At the under $20 “sweet spot,” selections like the 2011 Bodegas Barco de Piedra (SRP $15) and 2011 Bodegas Felix Callejo 'Flores de Callejo' (SRP $20), were ripe and fresh with good structure and offer satisfying midweek options for the dinner table that won’t break the piggy bank. For $40, the 2010 Bodegas Astrales showed power and charm with inviting black and purple stone fruit aromas/flavors with subtle red tones and pleasant, well-integrated barrel accents over a nice backbone of acidity and tannin.

Did I mention the delicious cheese platter? 


In closing, I highly recommend following @DrinkRibera and getting to know this region and their wines. And don’t let some of the high price tags I cited above fool you. Ribera del Duero offers very good values in red wines with many nice selections priced between $15 and $30. I recommend having a bottle or two nearby the next time you fire up the grill. Lastly, I encourage you to read the blogs of my #snoothpva friends below who also attended this lunch and wrote about their experience on their respective blogs. Many of them have reviewed all the wonderful Ribera del Duero wines we had an opportunity to taste alongside a very delicious Spanish-inspired tapas menu put together by Salinas restaurant. Cheers!


Read what others are saying about the Ribera del Duero Lunch :

Snooth writes "PVA RIBERA DEL DUERO"



Wine Julia writes "Experiencing Spain in New York City..."

The Reverse Wine Snob writes  "Reveling in the Wine of Ribera..."

Benito's Wine Reviews writes "Snooth PVA: Ribera del Duero"



My backyard feathered friend: The Northern Cardinal


Have a question about this post? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at myvinespot@yahoo.com or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Stay tuned ...more to come. Happy Sipping, my friends! Disclosure: This trip was provided by Snooth. Thoughts are my own.

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4/24/2013

04.24.2013 Wine Reviews: Fireside Winery, Boordy Vineyards, and Garfield Estates


Hello Friends,

I know you would never believe this, but I uncork or unscrew a new wine adventure just about every day. Being a wine enthusiast, a wine blogger, and someone who thoroughly appreciates and enjoys the liquid expression of a place, a person’s vision, and Mother Nature’s influence, I often tell people that wine is one of the most intriguing beverages in the world. It’s a hobby where there is always something new to taste and learn as well as great people to meet in real life or via those wonderful social media portals called Facebook and Twitter.

Fireside Vignoles, Chips, and Fresh Salsa


Below are a few of my recent sips accompanied by my tasting notes and a picture I snapped of each bottle. All three of these wines are from lesser-known US regions (Iowa, Maryland, and Colorado) and are reasonably priced. These are all relatively small producers so if you don’t live near or around them, visit their websites and get to know them a little better. Maybe even seek out their wines to share family and friends. I’m always surprising people with good quality wines from states like Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, etc. Variety, so they say, is the spice of life, so keep an open mind and an open palate and enjoy the experience. Drink well, my friends!

Fireside Winery 2011 ‘Iowa’ Vignoles 


1) Fireside Winery 2011 ‘Iowa’ Vignoles (SRP $12): Vignoles is a cold hardy variety that can be found throughout the Midwestern US. If memory serves me correctly, however, my first experience with Vignoles was when I visited the Finger Lakes, NY, several years ago. Jean Francois Ravat created this variety in 1930 by crossing Seibel 6905 and Pinot de Corton. His intent of making a ‘Burgundian- style’ white wine may not have panned out. But, the grape does produce a fairly bright wine with a generous amount of tropical fruit components whose high acidity tends to benefit from a kiss of residual sugar. This lightly sweet and juicy example from Fireside Winery, is 100% Iowa grown and offers tropical aromas and flavors with (freshly grilled) pineapple leading the way accompanied by hints of orange blossom and tangerine with good acid-sugar balance and a short-medium fruity finish. Overall, this is a simple yet satisfying wine that’s perfect for poolside or patio sipping this spring and summer. As you can tell from the picture, I enjoyed a glass with chips and fresh salsa while sitting out back bird watching. Click here to find this wine. 

Boordy Vineyards Landmark Series 2010 Chardonnay 


2) Boordy Vineyards' Landmark Series 2010 Chardonnay (SRP $13.99): This Chardonnay comes from Maryland’s first commercial winery -- established in 1945. For the money, my guests and I found this to be a pretty tasty wine – especially for the targeted style which was achievable in a warm year like 2010. The aromas and flavors lean tropical (pineapple, melon) with bright notes of citrus peel and lemon zest. The flavors are balanced by good supporting acidity over a medium weight frame with toasty oak accents and a light dusting of brown spice that persists throughout. Besides enjoying a glass with friends, I also paired a generous splash with salmon balls (which worked out nicely). I recently visited this producer as part of the 2013 Drink Local Wine conference and the whites and reds I tasted through were nice to very good. Be sure to add them to your ‘got to visit’ list if you’re in the area. Click here to find this wine. 

Garfield Estates 2009 Syrah 


3) Garfield Estates Vineyard and Winery 2009 Syrah (SRP $17): This is a small producer in Palisade, Colorado (Grand Valley AVA; about 4 hours west of Denver), that I had a chance to visit for the Drink Local Wine Colorado Wine conference last year. For me, this wine brings out niceties found in both cool-climate and warm-climate Syrah (and I personally enjoy both). It’s medium-bodied and smooth textured with a nice brightness about it. A pleasant red fruit entry leads to purple and blackberry fruit flavors alongside black pepper, delicate earthy tones and subtle gamy notes. The pepper and gaminess persists through to the savory medium-length finish. One thing that I know it pairs well with is rabbit! You see -- two days before the conference I enjoyed a bottle of this wine at Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar (great food BTW) in downtown Denver with good company and a seriously delicious (local) rabbit dish. Overall, this is a nice wine at a fair price point with a built-in (and agreeable) food-partnering brightness (acidity) that I find in many Colorado red and white wines. Click here to find this wine. 

Image of my visit to Boordy Vineyards (Barrel Room)


Have a question about this post? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at myvinespot@yahoo.com or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Stay tuned ...more to come. Happy Sipping, my friends! 

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4/22/2013

#SnoothPVA: Brazilian Wines Master Class


Hello Friends,

After a wonderful night of enjoying delicious food, good company, and Oregon wine at the Peking Duck House in Manhattan, we kicked off the following morning with a Brazilian Wine Master Class. My kind of breakfast! I was familiar with the region, but due to a lack of availability in my corner of the world (Virginia), I didn’t have any experience with Brazilian wine. Therefore, I was pretty excited to learn and taste through the wines with Mauricio Roloff of Ibravin and Snooth's Editor-in-Chief, Gregory Dal Piaz. “Brazil is a new player in the US wine market place,” says Snooth. The region’s modern wine industry was founded in the late 19th century by Italian immigrants who brought their winemaking culture with them. Brazil is the fifth largest producer in the southern hemisphere behind Argentina, Australia, Chile and South Africa. While the region boasts over 1,100 wineries, they are one of the sleeping giants of the wine world.

The Brazilian Liquid Breakfast


The equator runs through northern Brazil, so the majority of the region’s wines are grown in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. This region boarders Uruguay and has a more moderate climate. Farmers who choose to grow wine grapes near the equator, where there is an excess of heat, humidity, and sunshine; can churn out two harvests annually by way of vineyard techniques and irrigation. Quality European-style wines, however, made from the more desirable and marketable vinifera varieties, are grown in the south away from the extreme and arid conditions. 

Mauricio Roloff (Ibravin) and Gregory Del Piaz (Snooth)


Chardonnay and Merlot appear to be the leading European workhorse varieties in the region with grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Tannat and others playing a key role in red blends. With a short-to-medium length growing season, a relatively warm climate, and a propensity for dampness during harvest, early ripening varieties are a safer bet than late ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon (even though there are plantings of it). Many sparkling wines made in the traditional method (as they do in Champagne), are popular in Brazil; with a good number of wineries producing bubbly. Less expensive Charmat sparkling wines and Moscato are also popular selections being produced in Brazil that may prove to have good export potential – particularly with Moscato trending as it is with millennials in the US.

"Wine is made for sharing." ~ @WinesOfBrasil


Of the wines we tasted, I found the Chardonnay examples to be well made and pleasant, but not standing out at the $20 price point. Though, the Lidio Carraro Dadivas 2012 Chardonnay, which benefited from sur lie aging, had a nice richness and a matching brightness (without seeing a barrel) that grew on me through the course of the tasting. Many of the reds were refreshing and (fairly) bright with restrained fruit, a mineral edge, light to no oak influence, and an agreeable food-partnering savory character with low-to-moderate alcohol levels. The three Merlot wines from Salton (09), Pizzato (09), and Miolo (09), all in the low-to-mid $20 price range, were all well-made, pleasing, and food-friendly. The 2006 Lidio Carraro Grande Vindima Quorum, a Merlot-based blend priced at $64, had good depth of fruit and length with a lovely texture and lasting finish.

At the Grand Tasting event, I had an opportunity to try the 2006 Lidio Carraro Tannat Grande Vindima. This Tannat retails for $100 and is opaque in color with dense dark fruit, broad tannins, and supporting acidity – clearly a wine built for longevity. One for backyard barbeques and picnic baskets would be the Aurora Carnaval Moscato Rosé N.V. This refreshingly effervescent wine is filled with vibrant red and stone fruit flavors, floral perfume tones, and spice notes and is attractively priced at $14.99.  

Learn More at @WinesOfBrasil


Overall, I believe Brazilian wines have a good bit to offer. Especially the diversity that can be found at and around the $20 sweet spot (US market). I can see Brazil’s food-friendly Merlot and sparkling wines, as well as a crowd-pleaser like Moscato, having good market appeal here. One thing I found interesting during our tasting and discussion is the lack of local support for Brazilian wines. This actually may have little to do with wine quality coming out of Brazil and more to do with taxation. Hopefully this is in the process of changing, but the Brazilian government taxes wine sales as high as 50% in their own country. This alone is probably enough for locals to look elsewhere to satisfy their wine needs. This type of taxation hinders, if not halts, the development of a local wine culture where local cuisine and local wines are routinely enjoyed in restaurants or on the dinner table at home. Apparently, there's some quality juice being produced in Brazil and for those who are outside the area I recommend following @WinesOfBrasil to learn more about the region and their wines. Good News: The tax does not apply to exports so you should be able to find Brazilian wines here in the US at reasonable price points. Cheers!



Read what other 2013 Snooth PVA Bloggers are saying about the Brazilian Wines Master Class:

Snooth writes "The Wines of Brazil"

Wine Julia writes "#SnoothPVA: Wines of Brazil"


Benito's Wine Reviews writes "Snooth PVA: Wines of Brasil"



Backyard Feathered Friend: The American Goldfinch


Have a question about this post? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at myvinespot@yahoo.com or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Stay tuned ...more to come. Happy Sipping, my friends! Disclosure: This trip was provided by Snooth. Thoughts are my own.

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4/18/2013

CADE Winery Tasting with CellarPass


Hello Friends,

I recently had an opportunity to join CellarPassTV for a live virtual tasting with CADE Winery. CellarPassTV, who I have done previous tastings with, is an informative live wine broadcast where some of California’s top winemakers, winery owners, and people in the food and wine industry are interviewed by Sarah Elliman. Their website, CellarPass.com, is a leading destination for online winery reservations that’s well worth checking out if you’re planning a trip to California wine country.

CADE Winery Tasting with CellarPass


CADE Winery, located in the Napa Valley atop Howell Mountain, is the appellation’s first Gold LEED-certified winery. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; so, they are extremely green. Being at a high elevation, I can only imagine how wonderful the views are from the tasting room. The winery specializes in small batch Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. See my notes on the wines below. I found both to be extremely pleasing (and so did my guests). 

Pouring CADE Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc 


1) CADE Winery 2011 [Oakville] Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $46): This small-lot (507 cases) Sauvignon Blanc sounds pretty interesting on paper -- 77% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Viognier, and 10% Semillon. It is fermented and aged eleven months in 30% new French oak, 57% once used French oak, and the remainder in a concrete ‘Easter Egg’ tank. A percentage of the wine in new barrels (approximately 11%) is aged in larger “Cigar” barrels to balance the wine to oak ratio. This Sauvignon Blanc, in my opinion, is fully appreciated at cellar temperature (55°F); which brings out its texture, barrel accents, and underlying mineral notes. Served chilled, these niceties would totally be missed. A pleasant core of citrus fruit aromas fill the nose along with (subtle) floral scents, lemon grass, (sweet) almond butter and vanilla spice notes. The aromas extend to the palate with well-integrated components and a pleasing, creamy texture that’s lifted by juicy acidity that lingers through to the medium-length finish. I enjoyed this wine both on its own and with a plate of sea scallops. Click here to find this wine. 

CADE Winery 2011 [Oakville] Sauvignon Blanc


2) CADE Winery Howell Mountain 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $80): This deeply colored and expressive (particularly the aromatics) Cabernet has a splash (4%) of Merlot and is barrel fermented and barrel matured for 19 months (80% new and 20% once used) in French oak. It boasts inviting blackberry, boysenberry and crème de cassis aromas with kirsch, vanilla bean, cocoa powder, and a pleasant underlying minty quality. The wine is full-bodied on the palate with a velvety texture and balances the 15.2% ABV well. It has good depth of flavor and length with refined tannins and a nicely developed backbone of acid due to a slightly cooler growing season. It’s drinking nicely now – especially with a little air – and, in my opinion, is a good candidate for short term cellaring to see how it evolves over time. Factoid: The Howell Mountain designation (1983) was the first sub-appellation in the greater Napa Valley (1981) to be recognized as an American Viticulture Area. Click here to find this wine. 

CADE Winery Howell Mountain 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon 


Have a question about this post? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at myvinespot@yahoo.com or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Stay tuned ...more to come. Happy Sipping, my friends! Disclosure: These wines were received as a media sample for an event. Thoughts are my own.

CADE matches closures to the style of the wine.



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4/15/2013

#SnoothPVA: Oregon Wine Board Dinner


Hello Friends,

Following the Wines of Scarpa Master Class [posted here], we took a short break and jumped glass and fork first into what was a very enjoyable and informative ‘Oregon Wine Board Dinner.’ The evening’s festivities were led by Jim Bernau, President of Willamette Valley Vineyards; Earl Jones, founder of Abacela; and Brian O'Donnell, owner of Belle Pente Vineyards. The Peking Duck House in Manhattan hosted us and I can tell you from experience that Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and duck (depending on how it’s prepared, of course) work very well together.

 Oregon Wine Board Dinner


What Oregon, particularly the Willamette Valley, has achieved with Pinot Noir in such short time is no easy feat. It’s a great American wine story of hard-work, chance, sacrifice, hope, passion, risk, and success. Oregon’s modern wine era began in the 1960’s with a group of young men who all had a few things in common. They had a European experience, attended UC Davis, and were into cool-climate viticulture. Most of them had also fallen in love with the finicky, heart-break grape, Pinot Noir and sought the perfect place outside of Burgundy, France, to grow it. Burgundy was the benchmark, however. At the time, California –from north to south -- was considered too warm for (Burgundian style) Pinot Noir. The relatively cool-climate coastal-influenced regions we know today were largely unfounded back then. This group of young men were also discouraged from growing Pinot Noir (or other cool climate varieties) in a damp, cool, and wholly unproven place like Oregon – where, by the way, nothing wine wise was going on.

Jim Bernau, President of Willamette Valley Vineyards


The first to make it to Oregon was Richard Sommer who was looking for a cool-climate area to grow Riesling and other cool-climate vinifera varieties. Ignoring advice of cohorts and instructors, in 1961 he founded Hillcrest Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley (south of Willamette Valley). He’s often referred to as the “Father of Oregon wine” and was the first to plant European vines in Oregon post-prohibition. Approximately four years later, a young man named David Lett who graduated from UC Davis and had done a good amount of studies in climatology, planted the Willamette Valley’s first Pinot Noir, first Chardonnay, and first Pinot Gris (in the US) in the Red Hills of Dundee. These three grape varieties would go on to define the appellation. David Lett championed the idea and later proved that world class Pinot Noir could be grown and crafted in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In 1979, his Eyrie Vineyards' 1975 Pinot Noir showed exceptionally well among top selections from Burgundy at a competition in Paris. This event, as well as other tastings where Willamette Valley Pinot Noir showed well against examples from Burgundy, put Oregon on the wine map. From 1965 to the mid 1970’s, people like Charles Coury (a classmate of Lett who specialized in cool climate viticulture and in some respects clonal selection), Dick Erath (another early UC Davis graduate), the Ponzi family, Blosser family, David Adelsheim, and others – all well-known names today (save Coury), laid down the groundwork and provided a strong foundation for the acclaim and fame Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is experiencing today.

Peking Duck ... #Yummy


Four years after the aforementioned successful Paris tasting, Jim Bernau, who shared insight, passion and laughs while speaking about his 30-year Oregon wine experience, founded Willamette Valley Vineyards. Jim cleared an old plum orchard and planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris – three varieties proven to work well in the Willamette Valley. I have personally found satisfaction with just about everything I’ve had from his portfolio. The Willamette Valley 2009 Estate Pinot Noir and 2009 Elton Vineyard Pinot Noir, tasted with dinner, was no exception. Brian O'Donnell, who poured a nicely textured and smooth 2009 Pinot Gris, founded Belle Pente Vineyards in the Willamette Valley’s Yamhill-Carlton District sub appellation. In 1994, Brian planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. See a trend here? While Pinot Noir is the shining star of the Willamette Valley, don’t discount the region's white wines. There are some seriously nice (and complex) Chardonnay and Pinot Gris being grown there that should be shared with good company, good conversation, and delicious food.

Albarino, Vermentino, Rose, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay


The excitement of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir has also opened doors for a new wave of passion and discovery further south (Umpqua and Rouge Valley appellations). Take Earl Jones, for example, whom I had the pleasure of chatting with during dinner. Similar to the European experience many of the pioneers had back in the 1960s, Earl and his wife Hilda had a Spanish experience and sought the perfect place to plant Tempranillo (aka "The King of Spanish red grapes").  In 1995, Earl found a site in Douglas County's Umpqua Valley to plant Tempranillo and is the first grower in the Pacific Northwest to plant the variety. The Umpqua Valley is warmer and drier than the better known Willamette Valley and the region’s significant diurnal temperature variation (i.e., warm/hot days and cool nights) results in excellent ripeness potential while preserving good natural acidity. Earl’s 2011 Albariño made quite a splash at the event and the 2007 Reserve Tempranillo was well received at the Snooth’s Peoples’ Voice Wine Awards Grand Tasting. Earl’s Abacela Winery was recently named Oregon Winery of the Year for 2013.

Oregon Wine Dinner Wine Listing


Generally speaking, you will typically find Oregon wines, both white and red, to have a good food-partnering nature. While ripe, in many cases there's a pleasant built-in brightness that can match a wide selection of foods, moods, and occasions. Looking at Oregon as a whole, especially the southwestern portion of the state, you'll find a good amount of diversity with everything from Bordeaux to Rhone grape varieties planted. We even tried a nice Vermentino from Troon Vineyard during dinner. I would like to thank the good folks at Snooth for the wonderful opportunity and a hat tip to Jim, Earl, and Brian for sharing their wines and great stories with us. I suggested they take to the road and call it the “Oregon Wine Show.” Cheers!



Read what other 2013 Snooth PVA Bloggers are saying about the Oregon Wine Board Dinner:




 Benito's Wine Reviews writes "Snooth PVA: Oregon Wine Board Dinner"

Reverse Wine Snob writes "Oregon Wine - Pinot Noir and Much More"



Blooms from my Yoshino Cherry Tree


Have a question about this post? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at myvinespot@yahoo.com or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Stay tuned ...more to come. Happy Sipping, my friends! Disclosure: This trip was provided by Snooth. Thoughts are my own.

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My Vine Spot

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4/09/2013

Recent Bites: Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna, VA.


Hello Friends,

Just about every Saturday morning, you can find me out and about visiting a few of the area’s local wine shops or tasting rooms. I even quip about it on Twitter, calling it “Bottle adoption Saturday” and urging my friends to get out and support their local shops because wine bottles need good homes, too. Wine shops, in particular, usually hold themed (free) tastings and will sometimes have educationally-geared weekend events led by someone with expertise in a certain region or with a specific producer. About once a month, I usually pay a visit to Vienna's (Virginia) Historic District to get in some exercise, a sip or two, and a bite.

Maple Ave Restaurant


I can park my car at one location in Vienna and walk to two wine shops that both conduct weekend tastings and on occasion will host sit-down educational opportunities too. I can then walk to a pet shop to grab some seed for my backyard feathered friends and maybe even catch a tune or two at a neighboring (and jamming) coffee shop. I can then walk to a nearby store and do a little grocery shopping. After I finish all of these activities, I’m usually ready for a late lunch.

Sauvignon Blanc ... Reminiscent of a fresh Spring day


A few weeks ago, while walking down Maple Avenue after finishing all the aforementioned activities, I stumbled upon a small neighborhood hidden-gem called Maple Ave Restaurant. Situated between a Car Wash and a Tire Shop, this small, minimalistic, but overall nicely designed and comfortable, nine-table ‘hole-in-the-wall’ restaurant served up some pretty tasty and creative food. They also have a decent wine list to complement their food selections. Stylistically, they define their food as “Eclectic American cuisine by blending Asian, Latin American and French flavors." I just call it delicious.

Shrimp and Grits that even Northerners would enjoy!


We started off with two small plate dishes. A shrimp and grits dish (tiger shrimp, venison blueberry sausage, piquillo peppers, stoneground grits) and a crème fraiche wings (Kendall farms crème fraiche, Korean chili paste, oyster sauce). I was born in New Orleans and shrimp and grits is one my favorite dishes. This one ranks up high with just about anything I’ve come across in the state including one of my favorite versions from Tuscarora Mill Restaurant (aka Tuskies) in downtown Leesburg. The wings are meaty and the sauce is flavorful (not spicy), savory and finger-licking delicious. I could see using the sauce for a number of things besides wings.

Crème Fraiche Wings ... Not your typical 'hot wings"


For my entrée, I went with what I thought was a pretty daring dish (seared scallops w/ coconut scallion risotto, basil ice cream). But, the fact that it is daring is probably what makes it so delicious. The basil ice cream melts into the risotto, and the flavors -- combined with perfectly seared scallops -- really work well together. The warm/cold aspect of the dish and the texture you're left with after everything marries is pleasing too. I washed all of this down with a refreshing tumbler of Sauvignon Blanc, but found myself thinking about an elegant Chardonnay by time I got down to the last two bites.

Seared Scallops w/ Coconut Scallion Risotto, Basil Ice Cream


For the sweet ending, the Bittersweet Chocolate Bread Pudding (warm bread pudding, bittersweet chocolate, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce) was a no-brainer. My great grandmother, who we called Ma-ma, made the best bread pudding (of course I’m biased) ever, but I have a feeling she would give this one a big satisfying smile and two thumbs up!

Sweet Ending!


The following day, I found out that chef and owner, Tim Ma, was an engineer who gave up a promising career to pursue his passion of being a chef (which after reading about his family was clearly in his genes) and owning a restaurant. After years of hard work, Maple Ave Restaurant is the result. The chef's ‘Follow Your Passion’ feel good story, which I also see a lot of in the wine world, adds to an already satisfying dining experience. In closing, if anyone out there knows Guy Fieri, aka Mr. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, tell him that Maple Ave Restaurant is a great candidate for his show. He can get the 1967 Chevy Camaro SS convertible washed next door while biting into some Maple Ave goodness. Cheers!

Click here to visit the Maple Ave Restaurant website.


My backyard feathered friend: The Northern Cardinal



Have a question about this post? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at myvinespot@yahoo.com or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Stay tuned ...more to come. Happy Sipping, my friends!

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