Monday, September 7, 2009

Go Taste Your Local Wines!

I remember distinctly the first time I tasted the delectable combination of wine and cheese. I was eating with my French host family during my junior year abroad and they had broken out a bottle of red for a special occasion and were passing a cheese plate to go with it. I was 20, a really obnoxious know it all, and had dismissed wine and cheese pairings as tourist hype.

Boy I could not have been more wrong.

I don't know the chemistry but there is something about mixing the creaminess of cheese with the acidity of wine that creates fireworks on your taste buds. I was euphoric and have pursued that experience ever since. However, it has been the search for cheese rather than wine which has preoccupied my quest. Until yesterday. My sister Martha convinced me to take a visit to the wineries just north of where I live, outside of Santa Barbara, CA to the Santa Rita Valley. What a revelation!

The interesting parallel to the cheese and wine experience of my 20 year self is that I thought visiting wineries was a bunch of hooey (I guess my know it all self is alive and well!) Again, so wrong. The people working the counter for the sampling were knowledgeable, approachable and clearly enjoyed sharing the wine with us. To top it all off, being out in this rural setting surrounded by rows upon rows of grape vines was so peaceful and beautiful.

The beauty of wine tasting is not only that you get to sample 5-6 different wines, but it usually only costs about $5 per person and you keep your glass. I learned that I actually like chardonnay and sauvingon blanc in addition to my beloved reds. Who'd a thunk it!

Of course we packed a wonderful picnic to eat after sampling all of these wines and while it was simple - bread, cheese, olives, and a corn tomato and basil salad inspired by Garden of Eating - it was divine to eat and drink at a picnic table overlooking the vines themselves.

For all of the doubting Thomases convinced they cannot have a similar gorgeous experience, let me be the first to dissuade you; ever state in the U.S. (including Alaska!) has wineries, and here's the link for locating them.* I can almost guarantee that you will have a fantastic time and create a lasting memory that you will savor for a lifetime, although your good wine won't last that long!

Here's the recipe for my version of corn tomato and basil salad, inspired by Garden of Eating. I used lime juice instead of sherry vinegar and left out the shallots.

Corn, Tomato and Basil Salad

3 ears corn, shucked and cut in half
2-3 tomatoes
20 leaves basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lime, juiced
salt and pepper

Bring large pot of water to boil and cook corn for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Cut tomatoes into bite size pieces and place in bowl. Stack basil leaves together in pile and with scissors cut into strips.** When able to handle hot corn, place upright on cutting board and cut off kernels and add to tomatoes and basil. Add olive oil and salt and pepper and mix well, allowing the olive oil to soak into the warm corn. Add lime juice and serve.

* Apologies to anyone outside the U.S. reading this, but I would think that there are wineries everywhere if they're also in Alaska!

** I find cutting basil with a scissors instead a knife seems to bring out the flavorful oil of the leaf which makes it so fragrant.


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