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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin

La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin -- Life is too short to drink bad wine.
In May of 2009, a heat wave dessicated Southern California chaparral. Whether it was an accident caused by "trail gnomes" or arson, a spark in the dry brush, fanned by sundowner winds gusting to 60 mph, created a sinuous dragon of fire that  engulfed the northern hills of Santa Barbara. During the evening of the 8th, the wind turned towards our "gem of the American Riviera" and fiery embers, some as large as softballs, were blown for miles into the heart of the city. For an hour or two, it looked like the town would be lost. But the blessed sea exhaled her humid breath and turned back the dragon. Not only were 80 homes destroyed in the Jesusita fire, but a little bit of Italy was reduced to ashes. The sun-dappled winery where Antonio Gardella and the Companeros made award-winning wine for 25 years was incinerated. Antonio is a rep for the Henry Wine Group, coincidentally one of the suppliers for Touring & Tasting, and is the instructor of wine at the SBCC School of Culinary Arts.
I love his class--he's so eloquent as he rhapsodizes on vitus vinifera: "go out to the vineyards and just BE with the vine...see the sun and the army of vines reaching their arms up to the sky". He exhorted us to volunteer during this harvest season, to "get purple", inhale the aromas, hear the grapes fermenting in the vats, "be one with the vine".  In our first class last week, he went over the basics of vineyard management and gave us an overview of the hundreds of varietals. The best soils are rocky, with limestone, where the vines need to fight to survive. "Vines have to struggle to be great, like a person who has to struggle to make a living has fortitude and a strength of character, vines that struggle are better." The second half of the class is a wine tasting; last week we sampled the Santa Ynez Valley 2006 Andrew Murray Viognier and the French 2006 Domaine Faury Condrieu.

Condrieu is an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) in the Northern Rhone. It produces Viognier exclusively and once was the name by which Viognier was known for years because it was the only place where the grape was grown in any quantity. As it was, less than 30 acres of Viognier was planted in the 1980s when Fess Parker planted 48 acres, making him the largest producer of Viognier in the world. Condrieu currently has less than 300 acres planted. The grape is difficult to grow, being susceptible to mildew and disease, and it flowers earlier than most grapes, making it vulnerable to spring frost. But the pay-off is a voluptuous white wine, rich in alcohol, round in the mouth, with heady aromatics of apricot, pear and almond. Touring and Tasting has a limited amount of 2008 Challenger Ridge Viognier for sale this week!

Three remarkable French wines are in this week's Online Grapevine special: a sparkling wine, a Rosé, and Rhone blend. This week's wine pairing recipe is a French Tomato Tart: fresh tomatoes, swiss cheese and anchovies beg for a crisp, fruity, delicate wine like the Domaine Sainte Eugénie Corbières Rosé. A perfect end-of-summer wine/food pairing.
1 1/2  cups flour
1/2  cup  butter
1  large egg
4  firm-ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lb.)
2  Tbsp.  Dijon mustard
2  cups  (1/2 lb.) shredded Swiss cheese
3  Tbsp.  olive oil
3  Tbsp.  tomato paste
3  Tbsp.  chopped shallots
1  clove garlic, minced
2  tsp. thyme
2  tsp.  chopped fresh marjoram or 1 tsp. dried marjoram
1  tsp. chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
8 canned anchovy fillets, drained
6  to 8 Niçoise or Kalamata olives, pitted
Salt and pepper
CRUST: Preheat oven to 325°. In a food processor or bowl, combine flour and butter. Whirl or rub with your fingers until fine crumbs form. Add egg and whirl or stir with a fork until dough just holds together. Pat dough into a ball, then press evenly over bottom and sides of a 10-inch tart pan with removable rim. Bake until crust is pale gold, about 30 minutes (about 25 minutes in a convection oven).
FILLING: Cut tomatoes in half and gently squeeze out seeds. Cut tomatoes crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices, and lay on towels to drain. Save ends. Remove baked crust from oven and turn oven to 400°. Spread mustard over bottom of crust, then sprinkle evenly with 1 1/2 cups of the cheese. Fit largest tomato slices snugly in a single layer on cheese. Cut remaining tomato slices into pieces to fill the gaps; reserve extra tomato pieces for other uses. Sprinkel with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix oil to blend with tomato paste, shallots, garlic, thyme, marjoram, and oregano. Spread over tomatoes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Arrange anchovies and olives on tomatoes. Bake until cheese is lightly browned, about 25 minutes (about 18 minutes in a convection oven). Remove pan rim and serve while warm.
Life is too short to drink bad wine--and too short not to appreciate our blessings. Surviving the Jesusita fire made Santa Barbarans appreciate our friends and our firefighters!

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