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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, November 3, 2010

A 'Sideways' Glance At Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir vine Willamette Valley
It's not possible to forget Miles' obsession with Pinot Noir if you've seen the movie "Sideways". His passion for the grape was infectious, as evidenced by the estimated 40+% increase in Pinot Noir sales in the year immediately following the film's release. Pinot lovers abound, showing up by the hundreds for Pinot Noir-only festivals like California's World Of Pinot Noir and Oregon's International Pinot Noir Festival. Pinot Noir is the primary grape in the classic red Burgundy wines of France and is one of the three grapes of the traditional Champagne region of France used to make their sparkling wine. It is grown in Germany, where it is called Spätburgunder and in Austria, where it is known as Bläuburgunder, and in Italy was Pinot Nero. Pinot is king in Oregon, the cooler regions of California, such as Carneros and the Russian River Valley, and in fog-influenced Santa Barbara County appellations, as well as the Finger Lakes district of New York, in Chile, Australia and New Zealand, where a small winery won the International Pinot Noir Trophy at the international Decanter World Wine Awards. (You can read some tasting notes on Willamette Valley Pinot here.)

A little-known fact is that despite Miles' exhortation "if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving!", , his most coveted bottle of 1961 Château Cheval Blanc is actually a Left-bank Bordeaux wine from Saint-Émilion, made of a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Lest Merlot-lovers despair at their wine being dis-respected, take heart! Merlot sales have risen steadily since "Sideways" and Americans buy more Merlot than any other red wine besides Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the irony of Miles' favorite wine being partly comprised of his most hated grape, which probably was an insider's joke on the part of the filmmakers, "Sideways" caught the rapture that can result from tasting really great Pinot Noir. The grape is said to be the most difficult red grape to grow, due to its thin skin, susceptibility to all kinds of molds and viruses, and its requirement for a long, cool growing season despite its susceptibility to early frost which can prevent it from leafing and budding. It is the most terroir driven of all the red grapes, responding to the soil, weather and winemaker's hand with the utmost sensitivity. So, the quality of Pinot Noir is all over the map: from sublime to musty or shrill.  At its best, Pinot Noir has medium-intense fruitiness with just the right amount of tannic structure and a crisp acidity. Its complex aromas of black cherry, cinnamon, sassafras, mint and mushroom lead to substantial flavor on the palate with a velvety smooth texture.

Pinot Noir may be the perfect Thanksgiving wine--delicate enough not to overpower the lighter flavors of the meal but with the intensity to meet the stronger flavors, all with an elegance that befits a special occasion. Sommeliers and chefs often suggest roast poultry and mushrooms as perfect pairings for Pinot--sound seasonally appropriate? Pinot Noir--a perfect match for the Thanksgiving menu!

Sweet, mellow, caramelized onions complement the nutty, slightly salty taste of Gruyère. Enjoy now, or as the appetizer course of your Thanksgiving feast. Wine pairing suggestion: the 2008  Fritz Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
2 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion
1 tsp. ground sage
1/8 cup Passito* or brandy
8 oz of a 16 oz. package of frozen phyllo dough
spray olive oil
2 cups grated Gruyère
1 pint half and half
6 eggs
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white peppe
*What is Passito? Passito is a sweet Italian wine made with raisinated grapes--grapes dried to concentrate the flavor and sugar. I found my bottle for less than $10 at the local grocery. You can substitute brandy or sherry if you can't find Passito.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and quarter the onion, then slice very thinly. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over low heat. Cook the onion in the butter, stirring often until the onion is soft and golden brown. This will take from 30 to 45 minutes. Stir in the sage and Passito* and continue cooking until the liquid is evaporated.
Spray each sheet of phyllo dough--the easiest way to do this is to stack the layers, spraying with the olive oil as each sheet goes onto the top of the stack. Cut the stack into quarters and peel off two sheets at a time. If you are making mini-tarts, the two sheets will be enough to line each tart cup. If you are using regular muffin tins, line one half of a tart cup, then use two more sheets to fill in the other side. Fold the corners underneath and press the phyllo into the cup so there is space for the filling. Spray the tops of the phyllo cups with olive oil. Mix the eggs, half and half, salt and pepper together using a whisk. Put a pinch of grated cheese at the bottom of each tart cup. Pour a bit of the egg mixture into each cup, so it is divided equally. Then, place a bit of the onion on top. Finish with a layer of the rest of the grated cheese, divided among the tarts. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the egg is set and the phyllo is nicely browned.

Pair the warm tarts with the 2008 Fritz Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Makes a dozen tarts baked in a regular muffin tin or 4 dozen mini-tarts baked in mini-muffin tins.


  1. Those look amazingly wonderful! Rene

  2. I think we have some of that wine - from our visit this September. Sounds like a great recipe to try this weekend!! --Brenda

  3. From Touring & Tasting's Facebook page: You MUST try this recipe for Mini Caramelized Onion & Qruyere Tarts. We had them on Tuesday and they were AMAZING to say the least. Pair this treat with Fritz 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and you will be in bliss :)!/touringandtastingfans

  4. These were fabulous! I do not even like onions all that much....but I was asking for more when lunch was over! Thank you for sharing all of your wonderful recipes!