Flavors of Spain and India Match in California

There are so many good wines coming out of Spain these days that it is like the Discovery Channel for wine buffs.  The Chef and The Wine Guy recently went to a tasting of wines from Galicia, the region of northwestern Spain, often called ‘green Spain.’ Galicia is home to cool climate grapes, especially the Albriño, which is the principal grape of Rias Baixas, a denomination of origin (DO) in Galicia.

The tasting was at Dosa, the Indian restaurant on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. There is another Dosa on Valencia in La Mission. Both have outstanding wine lists as well as marvelous South Indian dishes.   The tasting of a dozen wines from Rias Baixas was led by Yoon Ha, a Master Sommelier who is the wine director at Benu restaurant in San Francisco, and Todd Smith, a sommelier and wine director at both Dosa restaurants.

Ann Walker Catering has often featured Indian cuisine at events (see our website for a sample Indian menu and below for a recipe). It was a real breakthrough for the Wine Guy to see how well the Albariño paired with the flavors of a sampling of Indian tapas served with the wines  The Chef was not so surprised, but even she admitted that the tasting opened up new possibilities for future event menus.  At this time, when there is talk about limiting or banning immigration in the US, it was also interesting to experience the flavors of Spain and India coming together in a California setting.

There may be a message there.  There is an old wine adage: water separates people, wine brings them together.  We all come together at the table, with food and wine.

The Wines

Outstanding wines tasted included Martin Codax, Pazo de Señorans, Mar de Frades, Bodegas Viona, Valmiñor, Pazo San Mauro, Veiga Naum, Condes de Albsarei, Lasgar da Condesa, Paco & Lola, Quinta Couselo Bodegas As Laxas.  The Wine Guy liked them all, especially the Martin Codax and the Paco & Lolo. The Chef thought the Mar de Frades and Bodegas Vionta were especially good matches with the food.

In general, the wines showed aromas of citrus, peach, pear and green apple with an occasional whiff of apricot. The wines were dry, with good acidity to carry the flavors and racy minerality on the finish. They showed very little to no oak.  Also very reasonably priced, mostly under $20.

Mini Medu Vada

(Recipe by Jeff Block, chef de cuisine at Ann Walker Catering.)

Makes 30 servings


1 Cup Urad Dal (soaked overnight)

1 Serrano Chili (minced)

½ Tsp. Black Peppercorns (lightly crushed)

½ Tsp. Cumin Seeds (lightly crushed)

2 T. Curry Leaves and/or Cilantro (Chopped)

1 “  Ginger Root (peeled and minced)

Salt to taste

Oil for Frying

1. Drain and rinse Dal and place in Food Processor

2. Grind to a smooth, thick paste.   Work a couple of minutes to make fluffy.

3. Add remaining Ingredients and pulse just to combine.

4. To form small doughnuts taking a walnut size lump of the batter and make a hole in center with a finger.

5. Fry at 350 F degree oil until crisp and golden brown





The Chef Has Gone Fishing


Yes, the Chef and the Wine Guy do like fish but we prefer to let others do the hard work  We will wait on shore, knife, fork and glass of wine at the ready. We recently went fishing in Tijuana and Ensenada and Chef Ann wants to share our catch with you.

We were based at the Plaza Azteca Hotel in Tijuana. A super-comfortable hotel near downtown in the Davila Zone. But one of the highlights of our trip was about an hour down Highway Mex 1 to Ensenada and the fish market.

We left behind the hazy, gritty excitement of Tijuana, where the unexpected was the norm, for the serenity of the rolling coastal bills overlooking the Pacific. The hills were green from the winter rains. The wind from the west was driving the ocean waves far up the beaches and the coves.  We felt we were playing lead rolls in a docu-advert for the beauties of Baja.  (Watch this blog space for our adventures in the fishing village of Popotla.)

Ensenada was founded in 1542 and is an important  commercial and tourist port. But we were there for the fish.  There are over 90 species of fish found in the ocean near Ensenada, including a thriving tuna farming industry.  The tuna, raised in large open pens, are not given any hormones and are fed only live sardines. Most of the farmed tuna is sold in Japan,  where blue fin tuna is an expensive treat.

The market itself is amazing. There is row after row of stalls selling the freshest of fish. There is smoked marlin– so delicious to fill empanadas with. Yellowtail tuna, octopus, giant clams and shrimp, albacore, lobster and a huge variety of other fish.

Just outside the main market is a row of fish stalls or tiny cafes  with goblets of sauces lined up down the middle of communal tables. Straddle a bench, order a beer or soft drink and eat fabulous fish. Of course fish tacos are very popular.

After walking up and down the aisles for almost an hour, we decided it was time to stop looking and start eating.  We found a table open at our favorite Ensenada fishing hole, La Cocedora de Langosta. It is half a block from the market looking right  as you face the harbor  The owner is half-Japanese and the flavors of Japan blend well with those of Mexico. The building definitely has a Japanese esthetic.  A word frame building with well proportioned windows and devoid of the lively colors of the market food stands.

Lunch included a rockfish ceviche, tuna and octopus all straight from the market. A highlight was tuna sashimi with just a drizzle of soy sauce. The Chef said it is one of the best things she had tasted in a while. So fresh! Such pure flavor!

We had a bottle of Madera 5 from Cava Aragon, a lively and satisfying blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from one of the many new Baja wineries.

The sun was near setting when we left the restaurant and headed back to Tijuana with very happy tummies. At the Plaza Azteca we played cards and had a very good  bottle of Nebbiolo from Misiones de California, a tiny new winery tucked away in the Valley of Guadalupe just inland from Ensenada.  More on Baja wines in an upcoming blog.

(La Cocedora de Langosta is in the Zona Centro of Ensenada at Avenue La Marina 1. Email contact is lacocedoradelangosta@gmail.com.   Plaza Azteca Hotel is  at Boulevard Cuauhtemoc sur Oriente 213 ,Tijuana. Tel: 664-681-8100. www.hotelpalacioazteca.com)


Colombard—From Gascony to Napa


When Yannick Rousseau came to California to work as an assistant winemaker at Newton Vineyards in Napa, he did not intend to spend a lot of time here.   His roots go deep into Gascony, in southwest France.  He recalls having his first taste of wine at the age of five.  It was a homemade wine from Pepé, his grandfather.  This introduction to wine sparked a love affair with the grape that has never waned.

After earning his degree in enology in France, he was curious about California.  He worked as an assistant winemaker at Newton Vineyards in Napa, and spent six years as the winemaker at Chateau Potelle, also in Napa, and fell in love with high elevation mountain vineyards.  He also fell in love with Susan, a woman from Texas who shared Yannick’s passion for wine.

In 2008, they started their own winery, Y. Rousseau.  The winery is not a show place.  It is one of Napa’s urban wineries, located in an industrial work space in the city of Napa.  The winery is all about the wine, not the architecture. The husband and wife source top vineyards for their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tannat.  And the wines are first rate, all in the four and five star range. But what I want to talk about today is the Rosé of Tannat and the Colombard.

First, the Colombard.  The wine is made from dry farmed old vines from the Russian River Valley. It was the first wine Yannick and Susan made when they founded their winery in 2008.

Yannick shows what can be done with Colombard when the vineyard is right and the winemaker pays attention.  The 2015 bottling opens with a rich aroma of peaches with a slice of pear.  There is a biting minerality balancing the fruit, which invites another glass.  The finish is long, with echoes of the opening fruit.  Priced at $20, it’s a real find.

I’ve been tasting (and drinking) a lot of rosé lately. More about that another time but (spoiler alert) it does involve a book to be published in 2017.  Yannick’s Tannat rosé is a winner.  It is made from Solano County grapes grown especially for rosé The color is a lovely pale salmon, The nose is all about strawberries and watermelon with a touch of lime zest.  On the palate, the opening aromas are picked up with an added herbal note and a more pronounced lime/citrus flavor and a pinch of white pepper.  The price is $24.

Y. Rousseau wines are in limited production so may be hard to find.  Check the winery website for availability.







The Elegant Wines of Grgich Hills


In these trend-driven times it’s good to revisit old friends.  In this case, the old friend is a winery, Grgich Hills.

Tasting through a selection of current Grgich Hills wine, I was impressed by what I call the Drinkability Effect.  Grgich is making elegant, approachable wines that don’t rise up in the glass and slap you up alongside the head.

Grgich hasn’t taken the popular Napa path of creating massive in-your-face wines that all too often score high points and win gold medals.  Why? Because palate-weary judges  and critics tend to pay attention to wines that stand out.  They don’t always stand out for the right reasons.  I know.  I’ve been there, done that.

OK. End of rant and back to the wines.

The 2013 Chardonnay has a racy acidity with tropical fruit and peach flavors backed by a rich mouth feel. Leading to a long finish.  It’s a good food wine as well and would work nicely with roast or grilled chicken and creamy pasta.

The 2014 Fumé Blanc is made from grapes grown in the cooler southern part of Napa Valley. The wine has good minerality and makes an especially nice apero.

The 2013 Cabernet has good structure with a rich mouth feel with layered flavors of dark berries and a touch of licorice laid on to yummy chocolate tones.  The finish is long and rich. This is a wine to enjoy with roast pork, grilled lamb and a rich beef stew.

The 2012 Zinfandel is from a vineyard near Calistoga, in a warmer part of the Valley.  A dash of Petite Sirah adds an edginess to the wine. The opening flavors include raspberries, a hint of black berries and a lively black pepper tone. A good grill wine.

I’ve saved my favorite for last. The 2012 Merlot is a superb wine, one of the better Napa Merlots I’ve tasted in a while.  At first sip I was reminded of the Merlot-based wines of St. Emillion in Bordeaux. There’s bright flavors—black cherry, licorice and a pinch of chocolate, all in an elegant, beautifully structured wine.  There is good acidity to match the fruit.  All together a remarkable bottling from a ‘first growth’ Napa winery.

The bonus feature is that the wines are very reasonably priced for Napa, ranging from the low-mid $30s to just under $100.

The Wine Chap/Larry Walker





A Cookie and a Glass of Rosé

There is a small bakery/café in San Francisco where I sometimes make a stop during a walkabout. It’s called Heartbaker and I’m told most everything there is a treat.

I always have a glass of rosé and a chocolate chip cookie. Well, sometimes two glasses of rosé but never more than one cookie. Mostly.

When you think about it, a cookie and a rosé seems to be a perfect match. That’s the great thing about rosé. It can be a mid-afternoon indulgence while reading a few pages or quietly people watching in a small café. Not just any rosé, mind you. It has to be a serious rosé that doesn’t take itself too seriously. A rosé with a light touch yet lingering on the palate.

My choice at Heartbaker is the Broadbent Vinho Verde. Portugal, of course. It is an elegant wine with bright and intense fruit that dances in your mouth. Finishes clean and lively with that pleasing hint of fizz that is typically vinho verde.

It is imported by Broadbent Selections. You will have to source your own cookie.

(Note: The title is an echo of the wonderful Elizabeth David book, An Omelet and a Glass of Wine. The book is from the day when food writing was seriously good)
—Larry Walker, The Wine Chap

It’s Not All Garlic in Gilroy

There’s more than garlic in Gilroy.  There ‘s  wine.

To be specific, there is wine from Sarah’s Vineyard, a small production winery in the southwest corner of the Santa Clara Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The winery was founded in 1978 in a region with a long history of grape growing.  Case in point, Sarah’s Vineyard Zinfandel is made from grapes planted in 1922.  So, the winery has good cred on WineStreet.  But I’m not here to talk wine history, I’d rather cut straight to the present and talk about today’s Wine of the Day, the Sarah’s Vineyard 2011 Côte de Madonne, a Rhône blend of Grenache, Mourvédre, Cariganne, Syrah and a dash of Counoise. The wine in the glass is a superb California take on wines of the Rhône Valley. It is a powerful but balanced,  all about dark fruit with a touch of minerality and leather and a long, echoing finish that keeps you reaching for another glass. It should age gracefully over the next five to eight years.  The price is $32.

This wine matches perfectly with this recipe, developed by Ann Walker.  It is based on a classic dish from Mexico.

Medallions of Pork in Orange Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pork lion, about 2 pounds

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 onion minced

1/3 cup raisins

2 oranges, zest removed and juiced

1 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons well-drained capers

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pork, season with salt and pepper, brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork and set aside to rest.  Add onion and raisins to the same pan and sauté over medium heat until soft and the raisins are plump, about 3 minutes.  Pour in the orange juice and stock and add capers.. Return pork to the pan and cook over medium heat until it is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove pork, slice and spoon the sauce evenly over the top. Garnish with orange zest and serve.

(Recipe adapted from Tequila: the Book, (Chronicle Books)   by Ann Walker and Larry Walker.)



Sometimes You Just Want a Pork Bun

The Chef and I were running errands. Don’t remember just what, but we finished on Clement Street in the Inner Richmond, one of my favorite streets in San Francisco. There was the question of lunch. There were dozens of places within a few blocks but after a moment’s thought The Chef said she was too busy for a proper lunch.  A proper lunch features at least one bottle of wine. After all, I am the Wine Guy and I have certain standards.

“We could pick up a Vietnamese sandwich,” I suggested.

“I was thinking pork bun,” the Chef said.

“Wing Fat. It’s in the next block.”

“If there’s parking,” the Chef said.

She has been known to make excellent lunch or dinner choices based on parking, so I was OK with that.

And there was parking.  The Chef had a call to make so I did the food run while she womaned the phone in the car.  Two steamed pork buns, two black bean moon cakes, napkins.

Back in the car, the Chef said she had forgotten we needed a case of Picpoul, that lovely Languedoc white wine that I would be glad to lap up on a daily basis.  Bright, uplifted fruit, good acidity, wrap around favors. Terrific wine from a grape almost no one in California has ever heard of.

“We have to go to the Wine Trading Company on Taraval. They have a good one there, the Florensca—Grape Expectations imports it and it’s  under $10.”

I suggested we cut through Golden Gate Park, find a bench in the sun and lunch in style.  How many millions of people would like lunch in Golden Gate Park?

We moused through the park and with her usual uncanny rock star parking touch the Chef found a spot near a sunshiny bench behind he De Young Museum.  There was water in the car—what, no wine?—so we were set.

The pork buns were delicious, as always.  The Chef found the moon cakes a little too much like stale fig newtons. I didn’t agree and ate her moon cake as well as mine.

We were joined half through lunch by a charming squirrel who enjoyed a few bits of the moon cake I offered.

It was a lovely lunch.

Wing Fat Bakery is at 503 Clement Street, San Francisco. The San Francisco Wine Trading Company is at 250 Taraval Street, San Francisco.




A Glorious Weekend in Sète

sete canalPhotos by David Walker

We pushed on beyond Narbonne, up the coast of Languedoc to Sète, arriving on the Fourth of July.  There were no fireworks to greet us.  The locals were saving their festivities for the next day, when the blessing of the fishing fleet was celebrated with a day long nautical parade of flower bedecked boats. The flowers would later be scattered on the waters of the Mediterranean. On the streets along the canals we joined the celebrating crowds making their way from café to café, toasting the ships as they sailed past.

We had no idea when we booked two rooms at a quay side hotel a few days before that it was a local holiday, officially the festival of St. Pierre, the city’s patron saint and quite appropriate for a fishing center. Prof David, with his interest in urban affairs, had wanted to have a look at Sète, still a working port after more than 2000 years,  Tene the Terrific was up for it, Chef Ann and the Wine Chap (that would be me) are always down for destinations with excellent seafood and outstanding local wines.

So there we were and damn glad of it.

One of our favorite places turned out to be the Café Augusta, one of dozens of bars, cafes and restaurants fronting the Royal Canal on the Quai General Durand.   What sets the Augusta apart is the lively ambience with the pace set by the owner, Martine, a former teacher of Latin and Greek who knows how to keep the party spirit moving.  She suggested an apero cocktail, the pamplemousse, a blend of rosé wine and grapefruit juice. Refreshing and yummy, perfect for breakfast.

It just got better from there.  There was a parade—of course there was a parade—complete with bagpipes, an unexpected instrument to find on the shores of the Med.  We followed in the wake of the parade down the canal toward the sea and came upon  a pastis tasting in a canal-side bar. It was sponsored by Ricardand yet another parade, this one without the pipes.  As the day went on, we realized that although this was one of the major Sète fetes, the pace remained relaxed, like a large party of good friends, just happy to be together, hanging out and having fun.

Sète itself is wortha close look.  The city is built on sand dunes between the Mediterranean and the Etang de Thau. The etang, or lagoon, has been the site of oyster harvesting for 20 centuries. The canals add drama to the urban panorama with the constant to and fro of boats, reflecrtions in the swirling water of the canal side cafes. There is an unmistakable salt bite in the air, not only beside the canal but on the narrow streets leading up from the canal to the town center.

And then it was time for dinner. There was no doubt it would be seafood. The concierge at our hotel, the Orque Bleue, had recommended Les Goélands, only a few doors from Café Augusta, and had booked us a table for 10 pm. Turned out to be a very good suggestion.The star turn on the table was a superb bourride. The local version, bourride de baudroie, differs from the classic Marseille bouillabaisse.  In the Sète dish the fish is monkfish, baudroie in the local dialect.







Prof David made this bourride later at our food and wine center in Maury

The traditional Sètoise recipe begins with a fish stock made with filleted monkfish, onions, garlic and sliced leeks and potatoes. The fillets are steamed before being baked in a garlic and olive oil sauce, with all the vegetables and aromatic herbs. Some cooks in Languedoc add saffron or white wine to the stew, but rarely in Sète. The broth is served on its own as a starter, followed by the fish and veg.  You can count on a generous bowl of aioli on the table to spread on bread grilled in olive oil.

We finished the evening with a last glass at Café Augusta, agreeing that our two days in Sète was one of the best Fourth of July weekends ever.


Pamplemousse de Sète


Two parts rosé wine

One part fresh squeezed grapefruit juice

One part sparkling water (optional)

Stir and serve over ice

Repeat as needed.

—Larry Walker



Riots and Rosé—In the Market at Narbonne

rosé at market

Photo by Tene Nash


The bar at La Bodega des Halles was jammed with hungry people, jostling for space amid dozens of bottles of wine and tempting displays of ham. La Bodega is one of about 70 food stalls in the  bustling market of Narbonne, the ancient French port in Languedoc Roussillon, one of the oldest ports in the western Mediterranean.

Roman traders knew the port well more than 20 centuries ago.  They would have a hard time of it today because the harbor silted up and the city is now some ten miles from the sea.

One of the major items of trade was wine. That has not changed. Narbonne is still a center for the wines of Languedoc Roussillon, as was clear from all the bottles on display at La Bodega. But we were not there to just look at the wine and food. We were there to eat and drink.  And we did that.  We being Chef Ann, Prof David, Tene the Terrific and me, the Wine Chap.  We were on a brief French road trip from our home base at Maison Voltaire in Maury, on a constant quest to sample the food and wine of the region.

We started by sampling several wines, all local, before settling on two bottles, a moderate amount for four hungry and thirsty travelers. A bottle of Viognier was a good match with a plate of Beaufort cheese, a cow’s milk cheese from Savoie in the French Alps, that the Chef had foraged from a nearby cheese stand.

Then the ham. Oh, my. There was pata negra, jamon blanc, sobrassada ( a raw cured pork sausage, originally from the Balearic Islands) and others that didn’t make it into the notes.  With the ham came a delicious bottle of Chateau de Valflaunés rosé from Pic St. Loup.

The Pic St. Loup wine region is one of the mostly unknown treasures of the Languedoc-Roussillon. The vineyards are higher elevation and somewhat cooler than many area vineyards.  The wines are little known in the US, although Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley imports some Pic St. Loup wines.

After tidying up the last bit of rosé we did a walkabout in the plaza outside the market, where there is an mural depicting the wine protests and riots of the early years of the 20th century. Angry grape growers from all over southeastern France gathered in several cities, including Narbonne, to protest the importation of cheap and inferior wines from Algeria.

French farmers are still pissed off about inexpensive imports. In the news this morning there are reports of highway blockades and super market boycotts as farmers press the government for more support. The French are not shy about taking to the street

After all, for the French, eating and drinking locally is more than a trendy slogan. It is about enjoying and supporting a culturally rich and centuries old matrix based on the land and how humans live on it.

—Larry Walker


(One of a series of snapshots focused on food and wine in the Languedoc-Roussillon of southeast France)



Time to Jazz It Up

New Orleans Jazz Fest is coming up soon (nojazzfest.com). Our friend and sometimes traveling companion, novelist Julie Smith, a resident of the French Quarter, has been trying to get us to the Fest for years. Alas, The Chef and The Wine Chap always seem to be tangled up in events during Jazz Fest.

©2012 Ron Scherl

©2012 Ron Scherl

So The Chef has put together a Jazz Fest DIY menu for all of us who can’t make the scene.

Right, just create your own Jazz Fest. Put an Irma Thomas CD on the player, tuck in your napkin, open another bottle of rosé and let the good times roll!

You can throw a Jazz Fest party and do the whole menu or pick and choose your favorite bits.


*Pepper jelly and cheese crostini

*Cheese grits topped with NO style bbq shrimp


*Grilled oysters with anchovy butter

*Fried chicken with remoulade sauce

*Mini muffuletta sandwiches


*Chopped hearts of romaine with heirloom tomatoes and creamy lemon confit dressing

*Grilled seasonal vegetables

*Creole spice rubbed and grilled wild salmon with sweet and sour corn relish

*Chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya