• July 2010

Summer Wines: A Guide to the Season's Tastiest Vinos

By John Peters
Wine Director
Culinaria Cooking School
Opening in the fall of 2010 in Vienna, VA

With the summer heat come many new wine offerings (mostly whites and rosés) to quench your thirst and cool you down.

Summer grilling is another subject. Hamburgers and hotdogs aside, grilled meats deserve full-bodied reds — everything from ribs and ribeye to porterhouse, NY strip, lamb, and sausages of all types.

But do take your grilled fare off the Weber and enjoy it in the cool comforts of your air-conditioned dining room. I love to eat outside, but not when I am sweating and my red wine is on the brink of boiling. After all, I am a creature of comfort, aren’t you?

The Wine / Food Pairing Game

For more than a decade, Culinaria Chef Stephen Sands (pictured right) and I have been playing the food and wine game. Stephen talks of the flavors in each dish, as well as the nuances of the sauce and other factors — whether the dish is smoky, earthy, garlicky, or lemony. It is my job to bring a wine into the mix to create harmony in the meal.

Following is a menu from our wine and food “Summer Menu of Grilled Goodness” that pairs beautifully with a variety of fine wines. Stay tuned for the recipes for each dish. Culinaria Cooking School opens its doors in the fall, and these dishes will be featured in a new COOKING SCHOOL column in Be Inkandescent Magazine.

Culinaria’s Summer Menu of Grilled Food and Wine Goodness

Asparagus & Prosciutto Bundles w/ Orange Scented Mascarpone

Which wine? Champagne is always my first pick to the start of an event. Not only does it set the right tone, but champagne is one of the most food friendly wines in the world.

Here’s why: Champagne has lots of acidity to help cleanse the palate. In this dish, it will cut through the greenness of the asparagus, wash away the saltiness of the prosciutto and hold up to the creaminess of the mascarpone cheese.

If you are feeling a bit strapped for cash these days and don’t want to spend $40-$60 dollars on real French Champagne, try some California sparkling wines at half the price. If you are having the masses over for a summer party, try a nice Spanish Cava or perhaps a nice Prosecco from Italy in the $8-$13 dollar range.

Crab Salad In Endive Boats

Which wine? When it comes to white wines with food, some of my most favorite appellations are the wines of Alsace in France.

This northern region produces crisp and vibrant white wines, so my pick for the crab salad is an Alsace Riesling. The tall shape of the bottle makes many people think it is one of those sweet German wines, but in fact 90% of all wines produced in Alsace are bone dry and food-friendly.

And because crab is both rich and delicate, the Alsace Riesling will bring out the bright fruitiness and also cut through the bitter endive. Give it a try!

Seared Jumbo Scallops with Basil & Lavender Essence

Which wine? My first pick for Stephen’s scallop dish is a crisp invigorating Chablis from the northern most part of Burgundy.

Why? In Burgundy, white wine is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes — not to be confused with the jug wine produced variety here in the States (in fact, we borrowed this most prestigious name and turned it into an everyday table wine.)

However, the wines of Chablis in France are lightly oaked so as not to overpower the scallops, and the richness of the Chardonnay grapes — minus the oak — works well with the richness of scallops.

What’s more, Chablis can be very expensive $35-$75 per bottle. If this is too expensive, try an unoaked Chardonnay for half the price from a cool climate like the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.

Baby Spinach, Blue Cheese & Walnut Salad

Which wine? I typically do not match wines with the salad course because it is hard to pair wine with the acid of the salad dressing (it tends to sour the wine).

Plus this salad includes blue cheese — another difficult component to match with wine because it is so flavorful and thus overpowers everything else, leaving the wine nondescript and tasting of blue cheese.

My best recomendation for a match with blue cheese is a nice port wine. It is fortified and slightly sweet and holds its own with overpowering cheeses.

Rack of Lamb with Garlic & Thyme and Braised Fennel

Which wine? The text book match up with lamb is Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bordeaux is yet another district in France known for producing muscular red wines for long term aging. Bordeaux tends to have an earthiness that speaks to the earthiness of the lamb. Also the tannins of bordeaux wine are excellent at clearing the palate after a good dose of protein.

Cabernet Sauvignon is another option because it is one of the five grapes that are permitted to be used in the blend of Bordeaux. The other four grapes in a Bordeaux blend are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

For Dessert: Individual Chocolate-Hazelnut Cakes with Drambuie Creme Anglaise

Which wine? Chocolate can be a bit tricky to match with wine, but if I had my pick it would be another port wine. I highly recommend going for the gusto — something in the ruby family, such as a Late Bottled Vintage or Vintage Character.

Both mentioned wines live in oak barrels for four to six years — enough time to round and soften the wines, but not too long that they lose their fabulous plummy fruit flavor.

I hope you enjoyed this meal as much as I did. Check, please!

Be on the lookout for the full menu of classes that will be offered at the Culinaria Cooking School — opening in September in Vienna, VA. More information can be found here: culinariacookingschool.com


About John Peters
Director of Wine, Culinaria Cooking School
A three-decade veteran of the wine business, he first worked with his father and brother to found Wide World of Wines in 1982. John ran the retail business through 1989, hand selecting wines from vineyards all over the world. John then went to work for Continental Liquors until 1994, and from 1997 to 2003 he was the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Manager for De Loach Vineyards. John is frequently invited to speak about wine at the National Press Club, the Decanter Club, The Greenbriar, The Homestead, and the French and Australian Embassies in Washington, DC.

About Stephen Sands and His Team
Culinaria Cooking School.
Stephen (pictured second from the left with his team, Chefs Robyn Alexander and Pete Snaith and wine director John Peters) began his culinary career in 1989 as the lead assistant for Francois Dionot, the director and founder of L’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, MD. Stephen assisted both L’Academie chefs, and visiting guest chefs, ensuring the execution of classes for the chefs was seamless; and assisted students in the participation classes with instruction and techniques during classes.

He graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine’s part-time professional program in 1996, and began teaching as a chef/instructor at the school. There, he developed curricula and original recipes for classes he taught at L’Academie. Stephen taught both demonstration and participation classes, and also instructed L’Academie’s private parties and team building events.

In 2004, Stephen formed Capital Food Partners, LLC, along with his business partner Pete Snaith, as a cooking school and catering company. He left L’Academie de Cuisine as a chef/instructor in the spring of 2009, and retired in March 2010 after working for 35 years as a nuclear engineer working for Westinghouse, Exxon, and NRC to pursue the development of the Culinaria Cooking School.