Well, it’s that time of year again. Yes, yes, the leaves are changing. Yes, the days are getting shorter and the daily temperature has dropped so it’s wonderful to be outside again. But I’m not talking about that. It’s crush time! That glorious time of year when those wine grapes, vitis vinifera, as we wine geeks call them, are ready to be made into wine.
Last week, I was up in Evergreen Colorado helping Creekside Cellars make wine. Red wine. Specifically, we crushed Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Mourvedre, and a teeny tiny bit of Pinot Noir, a rare treat for Colorado vintners.
So, here’s how the day went: First, we had to clean the bins the crushed wine will be stored and fermented in. Not a glory job by any stretch, but certainly more pleasant than that guy on TV who volunteers (actually seeks out) to do dirty jobs. These bins had some dried grape residue from previous crushes and general outdoor dust and dirt, nothing more foul than that. Then we assembled the pump hoses. A simple task although a bit challenging at times as the hoses don’t necessarily want to bend in the direction we wanted them to. Last year I didn’t get the clamp on exactly right and we had a bit of a blow out as the grape juice was being pumped into the press. Fortunately, that happened at the end, so only a small amount of juice christened the winery floor… Once the hoses were attached and put in all the proper places, the crusher/destemmer was turned on – not as sexy as that might sound, I just had to flip a switch.
The grapes are slowly dumped into the destemmer while one person gently helps shovel them in as well. The destemmer is a stainless steel basin with a big corkscrew- like thing in it that rotates clockwise, pushing the grapes down a little shoot into a basket like thing that rotates counterclockwise. Magically, the stems come out one end of the machine while the grapes get gently crushed and pumped into a settling or fermentation bin (yes, the ones we cleaned earlier). The stems are shoveled into yet another bin that a local farmer uses as compost once all the season’s grapes are destemmed.
So, everything is running smoothly until I hear a frantic shout, “Shut it down!”. What happened was the bin was overflowing and bubbling down the sides of the bins and onto the floor, making a sticky pinkish red mess all over the place.
Let me back up. The juice that sits in the bins get a bit of dry ice placed on them to prevent immediate fermentation, to prevent bacterial growth and to allow the skins of the grapes to bleed all that lovely color into the juice to give wine that deep ruby red color that is so enticing (ok , now think sexy) in the glass. So, the dry ice causes the juice to bubble madly and of course, the ice is all smokey and foggy and spooky-like as it hovers over the juice. Which is fine when it’s in the bins. When it’s bubbling and gurgling all over the floor, not so pretty (nor sexy).
How could a thing like that happen, you ask? Well, four containers of petite Sirah fit in one bin so, naturally, we thought the same amount would fit of Malbec. Not the case. Much juicier. And as it turns out, the bins had more grapes in each of them than in the Petite Sirah.
Once all the grapes are processed, it’s time to clean. Again. Lots of cleaning. Wine making is not a completely sterile process, but the cleaner the equipment is, the cleaner and fresher the wine tastes. So, no major crises at the winery, just a few blunders only one of which I’ve shared with you today.
Debbie Gray, CSW is Wine Instructor at Cook Street. For years, she has helped Denver’s most exclusive restaurants and venues create wine programs and train their staffs in wine service and the basics of wine education. She is well recognized and respected for her knowledge, palate, and infectious enthusiasm for every aspect of wine.
It’s wine Wednesday, and today we’re touching on something…a bit different. Because sake isn’t exactly wine. Or is it? Read on for some sake facts in celebration of our all-you-can-prepare-and-savor Sushi and Sake class this Friday:
- Is sake wine? Kind of. Called “rice wine” in English, sake is made from an entirely different process than the one we associate with grapes. To create sake, brewers take rice to sugar and rice sugar to an alcoholic brew that can be up to 20% alcohol.
- How old is sake? Old. We’re talking first references were in the third century old. By the 1400s, sake was brewed in temples.
- Is all sake the same? No way. There are two designations of sake – futsū-shu (table sake, in the same vein as table wine), and tokutei meishō-shu (premium sake). Like beer, filtering, aging, and dilution are just as important as the kind of rice used and the distillation process itself.
- What are some sake traditions? Sake can be served cold or hot depending on the season, the brew, and the preferences of the drinker. It’s often served as a marker of generosity and welcome, and can be used ceremonially for the new year, for purification, or for good fortune.
Enjoy some premier sake and sushi you prep yourself at our popular Sushi and Sake course this Friday! Click here for details.
How can it be Friday again? Luckily, there’s no dearth of culinary events to tempt you this weekend. And remember, it’s always a good time to check out Cook Street’s chock-full calendar of cooking and wine classes so you’ll have great plans for weekends to come. Here’s a taste of what’s going on in Denver and around Colorado:
- GrowLocal potluck/party: Get serious about your locavorism in a dining event that takes place in an urban garden and benefits Growing Our Urban AgriCULTURE at 2828 Larimer Street. Bring a potluck dish to share (preferably one that incorporates local ingredients). Call 303.389.0085 or visit GrowLocal for more information.
- Great American Beer Festival: Yes, this beer festival is still raging on, and if you can snag tickets, you’re in for a craft-brewy treat. Can’t make the cut? Try the Denver Beer Fest instead. Tons of local restaurants are working to make this an unforgettable September.
- Telluride Blues and Brews Fest: Like your beer in a high-altitude setting? Join B.B. King and other blues legends for a festival that’s as much about the juke-joint atmosphere as plenty of delicious beer…53 microbreweries of beer, that is. The festival takes place in Telluride Town Park from 11 to around 9 Friday through Sunday. Click here for more details.
- Colorado Mountain Wine Fest: Beer not your thing? Go for the vino at this wine festival in Palisade. Tastings, classes, food, music, even grape-stomping should sate your curiosity about the nectar of the gods. Visit coloradowinefest.com for more information and a complete schedule.Dish: Brush elbows with Denver’s most devoted foodies as you sample the city’s bounty Wednesday the 22nd at Dish, Denver Westword’s celebration of all things Denver food. Click here to learn about tickets to the event and win some yourself!
There’s a long weekend ahead, and of course that means that Denver is itching for a great foodie event or four. Here’s what’s on our radar. While you’re at it, check out our updated list of rec classes that focus on fall flavors, classic techniques, unforgettable wines and some international flair.
- A Taste of Colorado: Yup, it’s already time for Denver’s greatest free food fair, featuring over 50 fine food vendors and much more. City Park, downtown Denver, September 3-6. Click here for details.
- Taste of Keystone: Prefer to have your fine food sampling in a resort-style setting? Keystone’s your destination this weekend, with demos, samples, and a good cause. Lakeside Village at Keystone , September 4. Click here for details.
- Denver Beer Fest: It’s (almost) here…a week when beer mysteriously takes over the hearts and minds of all Denverites and gently threatens to overwhelm the world. Yum. September 10-19, various locations throughout Denver. Click here for details.
Our professional students are still recovering from their amazing (and stressful – thanks, volcano!) trip to Italy and Paris with their European Tour, and it didn’t disappoint. Pictures from our adventures are forthcoming (okay, there’s one below to whet your appetite), but we’ve got a sample for you that gets to heart of why Paris is such an amazing culinary city…its varied, fresh, and delectable food.
Our tour guides from Lenôtre in Paris were able to direct us to a few of their favorite shops…and we’re passing on a few of their favorite recommendations:
Pâtisseries (pastry shops):
- Dalloyau, 5 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003, Paris (Metro: Bastille)
- Des Gâteaux Et Du Pain (a rare female-owned pâtisserie), 36 Boulevard Pasteur, 75015 Paris (Metro: Pasteur)
- Millet, 10 rue Saint Dominique, 75007, Paris (Metro: La Tour-Maubourg)
Chocolatiers (chocolate shops):
- La Maison Du Chocolat, 225 Faubourg Saint Honoré, 75008, Paris (Metro: Ternes)
- Jacques Genin, 133 rue de Turenne, 75003, Paris (Metro: Filles du Calvaire, L.8)
- Izrael (spices and other authentic fine products worldwide; one of the main suppliers for chefs and individuals), 30 Rue François Miron, 75004, Paris (Metro: St. Paul)
- Marie-Anne Cantin, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Rue du Champ de Mars, 75007, Paris (Metro: Ecole Militaire)
- G. Detou (pastry supplies), 58 rue Tiquetonne, 75002, Paris (Metro: Les Halles)
Our first My Month In Food is finished…and it’s time to welcome our next MMIF correspondent, Susan aka DenverFoodGirl! But first, a quick wrap-up with the wonderful Elizabeth Young who did such a great job as our inaugural correspondent:
What if anything changed about your relationship with food in the last month? I wanted to be more interesting in my food adventures than I might be in a normal month, so I focused a bit more on planning meals a little further ahead of time than usual. I found that it takes only a very little bit more effort to make a meal jump from good to great/more memorable.
Did you come any closer to finding local favorites or did you stick closer to home? I tend to stay closer to home. I find that it’s easy to be disappointed at average restaurants and chains. When I do go out (for anything other than convenience) I tend to look for dishes I won’t or can’t make at home, or to try to learn new combinations. I did try the Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest restaurant (with CO liquor license #1). I tried a special with quail, ostrich, and yak. The birds were great, but I was less impressed with their yak. Since I recently became a fan of yak, I was a little disappointed to not learn anything new about yak preparation, but I more than made up for that by visiting a yak ranch this month! (I still need to publish my blog post about that.)
What would you tell a friend about Cook Street? I’ve told lots of people about Cook Street! I think that for someone who hasn’t tried a class yet, I’d recommend they look closely at the course descriptions when selecting a course. There really are students of all levels of cooking ability, so don’t be intimidated. Go with a friend – I’ve seen lots of people take that approach and they really seem to enjoy themselves! I think more serious students should focus on the techniques classes. I’m looking forward to some of the grilling classes over the summer.
What was your most memorable experience with food this month? Your worst? My most memorable is experience is the one I still need to blog about – visiting the yak ranch. A former coworker used to talk about how he bought all his beef directly from a local farmer, ordering an entire animal at a time. I now want to do the same with yak and bison, so the ranch visit was really my first step in that direction. I think the worst was wondering how many people I bored by talking about almost nothing but food for an entire month! That said, I have several more Twitter contacts as a result of this program, and I even have plans to meet some of them in person. That’s great, since I’m still settling into this area!
Now, let’s meet our new correspondent…Susan aka DenverFoodGirl!
Favorite food: Nothing makes me happier than a comforting cassoulet.
The last thing I cooked: Blueberry muffins for my fiancé.
Best meal: Il Sanpietrino in Rome . One beautiful course after another. Wine flowed and the hours flew by. The restaurant was part of the Buon Ricordo Association http://buonricordo.com which literally translates to “happy memories”.
Favorite Food Movie: Like Water for Chocolate
Food idol: Julia Child – She was passionate, daring and adventurous with food, and life.
Favorite restaurant in Denver : Too many to pick just one. I will say that my favorite restaurant neighborhood is definitely the Highlands . It gets better every year. As much as I enjoy exploring Denver ’s restaurants, I actually live with a very talented chef. My fiancé is really creative in the kitchen. We have our own version of the quick fire challenge where I’ll pick up four or five ingredients bring them home and he’ll whip up something amazing.
Think French cuisine and you think complex sauces, rich dishes, and a refined cooking style fit for an extravagant court. But French cuisine isn’t all compliqué – regional France has a long tradition of simple, hearty regional dishes. Here are a few regions whose simple flavors give an unexpected spin on French cuisine:
- Provence: Sporting a more Mediterranean feel, Provence is known for its lavender fields, olive oils, and wide varieties of herbs and vegetables. As a result, Provencal cuisine tends to be simpler in preparation, relying on vegetables to lighten up the load of traditional French dishes. Pistou (pesto), tapenade, and herbes de provence add a punch of flavor to the simplest cheeses, salads, and fish preparations.
- Gascony: This Southwestern region is steeped in flavor and tradition. Home-cured sausages and simple dishes like omelets prevail, with meat taking center stage in waste-not-want-not preparations such as foie gras (fattened duck liver), magrets (duck breast grilled and served in a creamy sauce), and duck confit (duck remnants cooked in leftover duck fat).
- Bordeaux: Known for its central location and its exquisite wines, Bordeaux is all about the vino. Though Bordeaux does depend on butter more than its southern cousins, you’ll find plenty of simple dishes like filled crepes, beefsteak and lamb, and veggies paired with herbs and bacon.
Want the scoop on high and low French cuisine? We’ve got you covered in the month of April. Try our Classic Techniques: French class for a taste of Bordeaux and Provence or our Food and Wine in the Kitchen class for a whirlwind tour through Gascony. Click here for calendar and details.
There are still seats left in our incredible Classic Techniques: Italian class, which will feature a unit on the lush flavors of Tuscany. So, what makes Tuscany such a special culinary region?
- The basics, but better: Like other Italian regions, Tuscan cuisine focuses on basic ingredients made exceptional with carefully balanced flavors and techniques. Tuscan cuisine elevates simple favorites like olive oil, pasta, and simple meats and fishes, to another level. And don’t forget the wine!
- It’s all about the oil: There’s a reason so much Tuscan cuisine features olive oil: the oil is incredible! Tuscan dishes use oil to bring out the flavors in simply prepared asparagus, tomatoes, or mushrooms, to spice up beans and pasta, and to pair with a number of fresh spices that vary by season.
- Spice it up: Sage, thyme, and rosemary all feature heavily in Tuscan dishes, as do pungent fennel and good old-fashioned salt and pepper.
Want to view classic cooking techniques through a Tuscan lens? Come to our Classic Techniques: Italian class in early March!
If you love wine (or just want to taste what the perfect pairing will do for a great meal), you have no excuse not to check out Denver’s vibrant food scene. Here are five local restaurants that do wine right:
- Solera: Owner Goose Sorenson isn’t messing around: Solera’s sophisticated menu is priced for value and paired with some of the best wine selections around. Try their happy hour for even better wine values. (5410 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, 303.388.8429, www.solerarestaurant.com)
- Barolo Grill: Look, the restaurant’s even named after a wine! And with a cellar boasting over 1600 selections, you’re sure to find something to make their exquisite regional Italian specialties even better. (3030 E. 6th Avenue, Denver, 303.393.1040, www.barologrilldenver.com)
- Frasca: The darling of the Boulder culinary scene since it stomped the competition a few short years ago, Frasca brings an incredible sense of style and elegance to its impeccable Italian-inspired menu. Don’t believe us? Just ask the James Beard Foundation, who awarded Frasca with the best chef: Southwest award in 2008. (1738 Pearl Street, Boulder, 303.442.6966, www.frascafoodandwine.com)
- Olivea: With its bustling neighborhood vibe and its passion for the flavors of the Mediterranean, Olivea features a carefully curated wine list that perfectly offsets its masterful (and sometimes sinful) dishes. Come expecting innovation. Leave feeling inspired. (719 East 17th Avenue, Denver, 303.861.5050, www.olivearestaurant.com)
- Venue Bistro: Looking for seasonally-inspired foods in Denver’s hottest neighborhood? Venue in the Highlands is for you. The ambience is casual, but Holly Hartnett’s take on comfort food is the perfect foil to her masterful wine list. Kick back with some mac and cheese and some major wine mojo in a neighborhood joint well worth the accolades. (3609 West 32nd Avenue, Denver, 303.477.0477, www.venuebistro.com)
Looking for wine education from the best? You won’t have to look far. Cook Street combines culinary instruction with great wine…and you might enjoy the following wine-specific classes:
- Wine 101: Ever wish you could get a crash course in all things wine? We’re here to help. You bring your questions, your curiosity, and your taste for delicious vino. We’ll bring the wine and all the essentials on how it’s made and enjoyed. (Tuesday, February 16, 6-9 p.m.) Click here to register.
- Wine and Food Pairing Seminar: Think wine can’t possibly change the flavor of food? Think again! In this information-rich seminar, you’ll sample wines and food, comparing the before-and-after effects and learning how to pair the two for every kind of meal. (Thursday, January 28, 6-9 p.m.) Click here to register.
- Wines of Spain: Sample the big, bold flavors of Spain as you discover eight wines and a savory snack. (Thursday, February 4, 6-9 p.m.) Click here to register.
- Wines of Central and Southern Italy: Take a culinary trip as you learn about this region’s unique flavors and varieties. Sample eight wines and a light snack in this informative class. (Thursday, February 11, 6-9 p.m.) Click here to register.
With Culinary Date night on its way, our thoughts are turning to one of our favorite fall flavors…quail. As we prepare for a quail-themed evening, here are some facts about a meat you may not have tried:
- Where to get it: Obviously the best quail is fresh, but if you’re no hunter, you’re in luck. Your local gourmet supermarket should be able to order it for you, as should online purveyors like D’Artagnan (whose site is worth checking out either way)
- How to cook it: Quail should be carefully semi-boned (translation: remove rib cage from breast, leave bone in the wings and legs) and grilled, fried, or roasted. Quick cooking is key, as these birds like to get dried out. Try stuffing the breast to retain moisture, or sear and then bake slowly, basting with juices constantly over ten minutes or so.
- How to eat it: Quail meshes perfectly with fall flavors like pomegranate, tangerines, kale, cranberries, mustards, and squash. Chutneys, relishes, and reductions love to play along. When choosing wine to match, look for ones high in tannins like Syrah, Rhone, and Pinot Noir.
Devour this divine bird with your sweetie at Culinary Date Night Friday, November 27. Click for details.
Image courtesy of stu_spivack