The Wine Trials 2010 Release Party


Elizabeth and I went to The Wine Trials 2010 book release party at Seppi’s on Wednesday night.  I was one of the blind tasters for the first edition of the book. The Wine Trials 2010 is a completely rewritten new edition that “recommends 150 wines under $15 that outscored $50-$150 wines in brown-bag blind tastings of the latest vintages.”


While we were waiting for everyone to arrive, we were served some Brut Cuvée from Domaine Ste. Michelle, a $12 Washington state sparkling wine that was preferred by over two-thirds of The Wine Trials blind tasters over a $150 bottle of Dom Pérignon Champagne.  As a passed appetizer, we had some Alsatian tarte flambée, which looked and tasted like some really good thin crust pizza.  I can’t think of a better pairing to showcase the values of The Wine Trials than pizza with bubbly.

Roasted red beets and frisée salad with goat cheese over apple

After sitting down for dinner, we were served roasted red beets and frisée salad with goat cheese over apple paired with a Grüner Veltliner, Federspiel Terrassen, Domäne Wachau from Austria.  The thinly sliced beets reminded me a little of beef carpaccio in appearance, which I think disturbed our vegetarian table mate.  I still had some of the sparkling wine left over when the salad was served, and I actually preferred it over the Grüner with the salad.  Although I am usually a Grüner fan, I thought that the herbaceous subtlety of the wine couldn’t really stand up to the vinaigrette in the salad.

Lobster bisque with crab cake on sugar cake

Next up was a lobster bisque with crab cake on sugar cake matched with a  White Rioja from Marqués de Cáceres (Spain).  I’m not sure what “sugar cake” on the menu referred to, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise of sugar cane, which formed the “stick” on crab cake “lollipop”.  I appreciated the whimsical tropical allusion in the hearty cold-weather bisque.  I have fond memories munching on sugar cane when I was a kid in Taiwan.  The white Rioja had a vegetal lightness to counterbalance the creamy hearty soup.

Duo of monkfish "osso bucco" over saffron risotto and miniature rack of lamb over sautéed spinach

The main course was a duo of monkfish “osso bucco” over saffron risotto and miniature rack of lamb over sautéed spinach.  I’m not sure where the osso bucco reference came from, but the dish tasted great.  Both the monkfish and the lamb were perfectly cooked.  I didn’t really taste the saffron in the risotto, but otherwise it was wonderfully executed.  The wine pairing was Rioja Crianza from Bodegas LAN in Spain.   I’m not sure what LAN stands for in this case, but Elizabeth and I noted that it is a geek-friendly name, and could play well with 8-bit wineLAN party anyone?

Cheese plate with blue cheese and Gruyère

The next course was a cheese plate with blue cheese and Gruyère paired with an Altano Douro, Symington Family Estates from Portugal.  I am a frequent vinho verde drinker, but I had never tried a red from Portugal before.  It was a real revelation.  Elizabeth and I both agreed that it was a unique wine and our favorite of the evening.  I don’t have the words to describe it, just try it, it’s less than 10 bucks a bottle.

Flyer chocolate cake

Finally, for dessert, we had a flyer chocolate cake paired with a dessert wine from Greece, Mavrodaphne of Patras, Kourtaki, which had a caramelly taste, and a nice lighter-bodied alternative to the usual pairing of Port with chocolate.

More photos on Flickr

The Wine Trials 2010 Official Website

The Wine Trials 2010 on Amazon

Salmon with riesling dill sauce and braised red swiss chard

I’m on a real roll with the food blogging right now.  I just want to make sure I am caught up with my documentation before grad school classes start next week.  I have been encouraged by friends and family to document my recipes, since I never really measure anything or cook from recipes.  Everything just lives up in my head, but I want to start documenting things in order to help myself remember and to share with others.

This is a dish I came up with in Tahoe last week.  I think of it as French food done California casual style. If you want to replicate it, find an off-dry riesling, with a good acidity and not too sweet, but still nice and fruity.  You only need a little bit of the wine for cooking, the rest is for drinking with your meal!  The sauce is my bastardization of the classic French beurre blanc, but I’m not that classy, so I’m not going to claim to call it that. This recipe will generously serve 2 people, with leftovers.


  • 1 pound of wild pacific salmon filets, washed and dried with paper towels
  • 1 bottle of off-dry riesling
  • LOTS of butter
  • 1 bunch of red swiss chard, cut into ribbons
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced (or a handful of chives)
  • 1 handful of dill, chopped
  • 1 handful of flat-leafed parsley, chopped


In a small sauce pan, pour in about 1 cup of riesling and add 1 minced shallot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and reduce until about 1/3 of the original volume.

In the meantime, melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in another pan and sauteé the swiss chard ribbons with the garlic and the rest of the shallot.  Add a splash of the riesling, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Reduce heat and braise until tender.

Season the salmon filets well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  In yet another pan, melt more butter and sear the salmon on both sides until just barely pink.  Remove from heat and set aside.

The sauce and the chard should be about ready by now.  Turn off the heat on both the chard and the reduced wine sauce.  Whisk in about a half stick of butter, a pat or two at a time, into the reduced wine mixture.  Add the dill, parsley and green onion/chives, and whisk again to combine.

Plate the salmon with the chard and top with the dill sauce.  Serve with the rest of the riesling and plenty of crusty French bread and lots of soft butter (if you dare).

What to do with the leftovers:

I had some leftover salmon and sauce, so I decided to make some pasta for lunch the next day.  Flake the salmon with a fork, removing any skin and bones.  Melt the leftover sauce with another splash of the wine and some more butter if necessary, throw in some chopped tomatoes and the salmon and just heat through.  Cook up a pack of fresh spinach fettucine, drain and toss with the sauce and top with more fresh herbs (dill, parsley and chives).

There you go, two meals in one.

The Wine Trials

The Wine Trials is an upcoming book that describes of a series of blind tastings that I took part in last year. The tastings were great fun. We were encouraged to come up with creative, uncensored descriptions of wines. I thought one of the wines tasted like cat pee. The book recommends 100 wines under $15 that beat $50-$150 wines in the tastings.

I’m all about the cheap wine, like the 3-buck chuck from Trader Joe’s, or the 4-dollar Spanish table wine I got from JUSCO when I lived in Japan. These days, I get my cheap wine from Fresh Direct. They have a great 7-dollar vinho verde and an 11-dollar cava that are regular fixtures of my wine stash.

This week’s issue of Newsweek has an article about the book on page 12 of the magazine, the text of the article is also online.

You can pre-order copies of The Wine Trials from