Monday, May 25, 2009

Grilled Veggies

Summer's here!!! Or almost here anyway. It will be a few weeks before the weather is reliably warm and sunny; that doesn't usually happen until around the 4th of July. But, we've started getting nice, sunny, warm days here and there. The first of the fresh local (or at least Californian) produce has started to come into the stores.

One local store had fresh corn in this week. It's early for the really best flavor in the corn, but it's the first corn of the season. So it will have its own inherent goodness. I don't like boiled corn on the cob; I find it gets waterlogged and not evenly done. I actually prefer my corn done with a wood fire, but my fireplace isn't really deep enough for a fire big enough to do it right. I've done the corn when I'm camping as long as camp fires are permitted. Once we get late enough into the summer season, the state really clamps down on open fires in fire pits -- fires in this area can be 10,000 or more acres big; last year we actually had a wildfire within city limits.

So I will settle for doing my corn on the grill.

Grilled Corn
Several whole ears of corn, unshucked (how many depends on how many you want to serve and how hungry they are)
Aluminum foil

Remove the tough, dried outer layer of leaves on each ear. Carefully pull back (but not off) the leaves to expose the corn. Remove the silt. Replace the leaves over the corn. They won't fold back quite as tightly over the ear, but that's okay.

Once all the ears are cleaned, place in a pan or bowl large enough to fit them. Cover with water; the ears will float so they will need to be weighted down. Soak for at least 30 minutes.

Drain the excess water out of the ears. Place each ear on a sheet of aluminum foil and loosely wrap (this is not absolutely necessary, but I don't like ash on my corn and I don't like the flavor the scorched outer leaves create). Crimp each end but don't twist or otherwise tightly close. The goal is to roast, not steam the corn.

Place in a single layer on a medium-hot grill or in the coals of a fire. Do not let ears touch on the grill; you want the heat to circulate around them. Turn the ears every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooking. After 30 to 45 minutes, the corn will be done.

Add butter, salt, and/or pepper as desired.

The corn tends to be a little tougher then boiled corn, but is much sweeter and more flavorful.

One thing to remember is, if you can go lightly on the salt and butter, corn is a really healthy dish. It's a whole grain, so you get those benefits. And, paired with beans and rice, creates a whole protein, so it's a great alternative to meat dishes during the heat of summer.

Corn isn't the only vegetable that can be grilled. Asparagus, zucchini, squash, onions, beets, and mushrooms all respond well. When grilling these vegetables, place the vegetables on a sheet of foil, add oil and spices, and fold the foil around them (as shown on the commercials works well). Make sure the folded over areas are sealed well as the vegetables will need to be turned over to cook evenly. If oil leaks out, it might flame up and scorch any meat or vegetables on the grill.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Terroir Tasting, continued

To my readers: Sorry I didn't post last night. We went to Canada over the weekend and when I got home from work last night it was just about all I could do to make dinner and go upstairs to bed.

To continue my thoughts regarding terroir, I've taste-tested coffees and chocolates from various regions around the world. And in so doing, I know I've tasted the terroir of these regions. So the question is: why can I taste the terroir of coffee and chocolate, but didn't recognize it in the wine?

Part of the answer lies in the products themselves and how they are treated. With coffee there is a limited amount of processing that can affect the flavor significantly: type of tree planted (robusta vs. arabica), ripeness at harvest, wet/dry processing, darkness of roast, size of grind, and type of brew (drip, percolate, boil). None of these processes affect the fundamental character of the coffee; the most they can do is highlight certain flavor notes the drinker is interested in. Granted which sub-type of arabica that is grown does affect the flavor, but overall, the character of the microclimate/microgeology (I will use these terms for the physical nature of terroir to keep it distinct from the flavor nature) still come through.

In producing a bottle of wine, the vintner makes many more decisions that will affect the flavor of the final product. Not only does he choose the variety of grape, irrigation, fertilization, etc., just as the coffee producer does with coffee, but he also chooses the variety of yeast he uses (and there are dozens, each with their own characteristic flavor they lend to the wine), how long the fermentation occurs, whether he ages in steel or oak barrels, how long he ages the wine, whether he blends wines from different fields or different years, when and how he clarifies/racks the wine, how and if he stops the fermentation, whether or not to add sugar to increase the sweetness (or the alcoholic yield), to name a few. I find that these decisions more strongly affected the flavor profiles of the wines we sampled than did the microclimate/microgeology.

As I said last week, none of those who were tasting were experienced in sampling the terroir of wine. I believe to fully appreciate terroir I will need some guidance from oeniphiles more experienced in discerning its distinction than I am. I'm not surprised by this; I know there's a lot more out there for me to learn about wine.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Terroir Tasting

The terroir tasting party went well. We had 16 bottles of pinot, but only opened about eight. We had five French wines, three Canadian, four American, one Australian, one New Zealand, and one Chilean. I actually think our variety was a little too broad for us to identify what we were looking for. I also need to do more research before we do this again (and it's expensive!).

However, the night was not all lost. Our group had some very interesting observations. We noticed the difference the vintner made more than we could identify the difference the microclimate/microgeology. We had two bottles by the same vintner who seemed to be from different areas of Côte du Rhône. Both wines were substantially similar in flavor and color; there was not much difference.

We also noticed a distinct difference in the French aesthetic separate from the non-French aesthetic. French pinots were a bit fruitier than non-French wines. Non-French wines tended to be mineral-y and spicy. However, there was one American wine that clearly aimed for a French aesthetic; Mirassou was clearly fruitier than most non-French wines.

The primary lesson I learned is I need to find a more knowledgeable sommelier and attend more of the local wine-tasting seminars held at the specialty grocery and wine stores. I also need to spend more time with the pinot noirs; while they are not as full-bodied as my preferred merlots and shiraz, they titillate both the tongue and nose with their bouquet and subtle depth of flavor.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Next weekend, we are having a group of people over for wine-tasting. The goal is to learn how to discern the terroir of wine -- i.e., the effects microclimates have on the personality (flavor and quality) of wine. Reisling and pinot noir are the varieties whose flavors are most reflective of their terroir. Given most of our guests are red-wine drinkers, we are sampling pinot noirs.

Why look at terroir? Because terroir contributes to the distinctiveness of each wine producing region. This is not to say that the vintner has little to do with the wine; in fact this is far from the case. One of the most important decisions the vintner has to make is selecting where his grapes will be grown, whether he grows them himself or contracts their growing. A skilled vintner can often produce a drinkable product from a dismal year.

The concept of terroir (or environmental influence on the character of the product) is being applied to much more than just wine. Terroir has been applied to coffee for several decades, though not by that name. Everyone knows that Sumatran coffees tend to be smoky, dark, and rich while Costa Rican coffees are known for being well-balanced and mellow. Chocolatiers are just entering the terroir scene; Ghiradelli and other high-end chocolate producers now offer single region (and sometimes single supplier) chocolates so all the nuances can be savored. Even meat and dairy producers are starting to explore terroir and how it improves their product's marketability.

We will be sampling wines from Oregon, Washington, California, New Zealand, Canada, France, and Australia (if I'm remembering correctly), at least 10 wines. Each of these regions uses a different strategy for growing their grapes. France tends not to irrigate its vineyards, relying on the natural rainfall to provide sufficient moisture to ensure a good crop. Washington's grape growers in the Columbia River Valley irrigate their vineyards to provide ample moisture, but the soils are not as rich (a result of the repeated scourings given by the 14+ incarnations of Glacial Lake Missoula during the Ice Age). Oregon's Willamette Valley soils are rich, but the rains are seasonal, September through May. Each strategy stresses the vines to encourage fruit production over leaf production and limit the total amount of fruit so the flavor will be as concentrated as possible. By comparing the wines produced under these different conditions, we hope to start discerning the terroir of wine.

Next week, I plan to post the results of our tasting.