Here are a couple of things that have come up recently in our little corner of the wine world. And while I could write two mercifully short blog posts and give you a long break from my usual ramblings, what fun would that be? 😉
Tasting at Virginia Wineries
I read a lot of wine blogs, and sometimes I find posts that just make me laugh. A couple of days ago I read a post listing comments from people who work in vineyard tasting rooms about the most annoying things their customers do.
Having visited a couple of Virginia wineries in a rented limo, this one really struck me as funny: “A ride on a tour bus/van/limo should not give you a sense of entitlement…” Luckily, I think we all behaved ourselves. It turns out a lot of the comments are about the things visitors do to avoid tasting fees, so that got me thinking about the whole tasting room phenomenon here in Virginia.
When we visit our producers in France we find that most of the independent wineries have modest tasting rooms. The larger cooperatives make the tasting room more of a “wine experience,” but even they don’t charge people to taste their wine. They don’t need to, because the vast majority of people who come in buy wine as well as taste it. You don’t see much heavily-organized wine tourism in the southern Rhône valley. You find some of it in the Champagne region, since it’s an easy drive from Paris, but I have yet to see a tour bus of wine drinkers stop to visit any of our producers.
Here in the DC area, Virginia wineries are part of the local tourism, as they are in northern California. The wineries have tasting rooms that are an integral part of the winery setup. Some of them are showplaces, too. A lot of them charge for tasting, and they may or may not waive the tasting fees if you buy a bottle. Sometimes they’ll waive the fee for your group if one of you buys a bottle, or they may require each of you to buy one.
It seems to me that for Virginia wineries charging for tastings is a matter of economics. Virginia wine production isn’t much more than a blip in total U.S. wine production: in 2008, Virginia produced 0.15% of the U.S. total volume. And production per winery is small too — the average production for U.S. wineries as a whole was just over half a million liters per producer, while Virginia averaged less than 20,000 liters per winery. While the U.S. average could be driven by a handful of very large producers, the Virginia average amounts to 2,200 cases of wine per year. It’s hard to get rich selling that volume of wine considering the cost of production.
So the days when you could have a free buzz are probably over. It’s still a good deal, in my opinion, a lot less money than you’d pay for the same amount of wine at a bar or restaurant. Plus you get the chance to discuss it with people who know something about it. And I’m enough of a goody two-shoes that I feel more of an obligation to buy something when I’ve had a free tasting, so paying for it leaves me guilt-free if I walk out without a bottle.
Maryland wine shipping – a first step, but not all the way there yet
Some of you would-be first vine customers who live in Maryland have asked if the new Maryland law allowing wine shipping means you can buy from first vine come July 1 when the law takes effect.
The answer is, unfortunately, no. The new law, which Governor O’Malley signed on May 10, applies only to wineries. Retailers like first vine aren’t eligible. Neither are wine clubs that are not affiliated with a particular winery, like the Wall Street Journal or Wine Spectator wine clubs.
Why were retailers excluded? David White writes about this in his blog, Terroirist. The delegate primarily responsible for excluding out-of-state retailers just happens to get a lot of campaign contributions from Maryland wholesalers and retailers. The delegate himself wrote to David in response saying that it’s absurd to infer that he’s influenced by the cash, but seriously — whose phone call is he going to take: one of those contributors’ or a call from a Maryland resident who wants to buy from an out-of-state retailer? It’s all about access and getting your side of the story heard. And what they heard made the legislature chose protectionism over consumer choice.
It’s also not clear that the state system will be up and running on July 1. The comptroller’s office has to issue permit applications, and wineries will have to decide whether to apply. Then the state will have to review the applications and issue the actual permits. It will cost $200 per year per winery, plus each winery has to provide a $1,000 bond against potentially unpaid sales and excise taxes (which will cost another $100 or so per year). Not a huge fee, but it may make some wineries decide not to do it depending on their anticipated sales volume.
In talking with people in an organization representing Maryland wine consumers on this issue, I hear that the big fear is that the legislature will consider it settled and the new law will be the status quo for a long time to come. The only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is for you all to let your legislators know you’re not satisfied with the law as is. When I used to work in environmental advocacy, the saying was that if a legislator receives three letters from constituents about something, it’s a crisis. E-mails – especially form e-mails – are easy to ignore, but letters? They still at least try to answer those.
There – two items and it’s still shorter than one of my ususal posts. Who’d a thunk it?
In keeping with the odds and ends theme, this week’s recipe is Paella. Paella has always seemed to me to be a spiffed-up version of using whatever you have on hand to make dinner. But I’d never made it until recently. Two things got me to try it — Cy and I had some mediocre Paella while we were in Spain (although to be clear it wasn’t in Valencia, supposedly the place for Paella). Then when we were back I watched José Andrés make it on his “Made in Spain” cooking show. So I looked at a lot of recipes to pick and chose what I liked.
The end result was awfully good, if I do say so myself. I used stuff on hand – chicken (thighs and wings), sausage (some Dartagnan garlic and red wine sausage I had in the freezer for the cassoulet I never made last winter), and defrosted shrimp, plus some frozen peas. I did learn a couple of things from the experiment, though. First is that using just stock for the liquid made the dish a little too rich. So I recommend half stock, half water. Secondly, José and some other chefs make a point of saying that you shouldn’t touch the dish during the last 10 minutes: apparently the combination of starch from the rice and the fat from the meats makes a coating on top that prevents the liquid from evaporating too quickly. But 10 minutes seems like a long time to cook shrimp. Thus emerged the virtue-out-of-necessity of using a large skillet on a relatively small burner so that the outer edge cooks more slowly than the middle.
Most of us don’t have Paella pans and stoves to accommodate them. So we have to make due with our teeny home stoves. I used a 14-inch non-stick skillet, so fully half the pan area isn’t directly over the flame. Tucking the raw shrimp just inside the edge of the pan made it just about cooked in 10 minutes of simmering. Another minute on high got everything ready to eat.
Various recipes recommend all kinds of sausages. It’s not always easy to find chorizo, and some chorizo is really spicy, so a combination of chorizo and sweet Italian sausage (preferably without fennel) would work well. Or you could try spicy Andouille sausage. I like chicken thighs and wings for their extra flavor, but you could use bone-in chicken breasts too – just cut each breast half in half again to make smaller pieces that are easier to arrange in the pan.
Paella is pretty rich. You could serve a robust unoaked red wine with it, like Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras 2005 ($22), but I also like something with more acidity that will cut through the richness. The Tutiac Quintet Sauvignon Blanc ($12) is an obvious choice for good acidity, or try the Château de Clapier White (also $12) made from Roussanne, White Grenache, and Clairette. Both have citrus and riper fruit flavors along with the acidity to balance everything out. And they’ll make even steaming hot Paella seem refreshing on a warm day.
3 pounds cut-up bone-in, skin-on chicken parts (I use 4 thighs and 4 wings, with the wings cut up Buffalo-wings style; or use breast halves cut in half again)
¾ pound sausage (a mixture of chorizo and sweet Italian sausage, or hot and sweet Italian sausage, Andouille sausage, or –if you can find it—Dartagnan garlic and red wine sausage); casings removed and cut into ½-inch slices
¾ pounds large raw shrimp, defrosted if frozen, peeled and deveined – if you’re peeling them yourself, save the shells to infuse the stock
½ pound frozen peas, partially cooked (microwave with a little water for about 4 minutes, then drain and set aside)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika, either sweet or hot depending on your taste
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
1 large onion, peeled, cut in half, then thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 15-ounce can peeled tomatoes, juice drained
1 large pinch saffron threads
2 cups chicken stock (boxed is fine), mixed with 2 cups water
1-1/2 cups Paella rice, or use medium-grain rice
Combine the oregano and paprikas in a small bowl with a teaspoon of salt and some ground pepper. Place the chicken parts in a large bowl, then sprinkle the spice mixture over and, using your hands, coat all the chicken pieces. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
About 10 minutes before the chicken’s hour is up, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. If you saved your shrimp shells, put them in a saucepan with the stock and water, cover, and bring to a boil – then turn the burner off and let the shells steep in the liquid, covered, until you’re ready to use the liquid.
Heat a little olive oil in a very large non-stick skillet (I use a 14-inch skillet, but a 12-inch is fine). Brown the sausages and remove them from the pan using a slotted spoon. Brown the chicken parts – with the spice rub still on them — on both sides (they should all fit in the pan, but do them in batches if they don’t – don’t worry, they’ll shrink when they cook and everything will fit in the pan). Using tongs or a slotted spoon, put the chicken pieces on a baking sheet and place the sheet in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven and let the chicken pieces sit until you need them.
While the chicken is in the oven, pour off all except 3 tablespoons of fat from the skillet. Add the onions and a little salt, then cook until they’re just starting to brown, scraping up the bottom of the pan to release all the browned bits. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the drained tomatoes, crushing them in the pan with a wooden spoon. Turn up the heat and cook, stirring and crushing, until the tomatoes are dry and starting to smell a little roasty. Turn down the heat a bit, add the rice, and stir it for a couple of minutes to coat the grains and start to toast it a bit.
While the rice is sautéing in the pan, remove the shrimp shells from the stock and water mixture and heat it up to a simmer. Add all but ½ cup of liquid to the skillet and stir to get everything mixed. Regulate the heat to keep the skillet at a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
After the 10 minutes have passed, shake the pan a little to see how much liquid is left. If the rice moves easily, then you’re fine. If it looks kind of sticky, add the remaining ½ cup of stock mixture. Also stir in the saffron. Then set the chicken pieces in the pan, pushing them into the rice – thighs toward the center, the wings around them, and the sausage closer to the edge of the pan. Make sure the pan is still simmering and cook for 5 minutes. Taste the rice and liquid to see if you need more salt.
Tuck the shrimp into the rice inside the edge of the pan. Scatter the peas on top of everything in the skillet, and continue to simmer for 10 minutes without touching the surface. The shrimp should be just cooked. If not, or if there seems to be too much liquid in the pan, turn the heat up to high and cook for a minute to get everything done. Serve hot.