Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What's Up, Jo?!

Hi everyone!

I know it's been a while! I can't believe the last time I wrote on this blog was 3 months ago! However, things are great. Life is great. Everything is just great. The reason why I haven't been on this blog at all is because my "foodie self" has gone in a new and exciting direction!

I've tucked away the journalistic side of me and have embraced the baking Filipino food advocate me. Let me explain. 

You have probably noticed all the French macaron pictures I post on Instagram with the hashtag #mahaltothemacs.

Over the summer, I catered events such as a milestone birthday and a baby shower. I'm probably not going to do it again for another couple of months, but it's great to see my product laid out for the parties.

My goal for the Fall is to do more artistic stuff - Jayla has been asking me to make Spiderman macarons and I have a couple of projects I have lined up on the creative tip.  Maybe I'll start catering again during the holidays.

We shall see!

Now as far as the "Filipino food advocate" side of me, you guys know I'm all about promoting Filipino food.  Earlier in the summer, I started a new blog called Project : Adobo.  Its goal is to have people of all walks of life and of all cooking levels to share their adobo dishes as well as their experiences and stories associated with the adobo and Filipino food.  I got a really great response to my open call and have received submissions from here in the States, to the Philippines, to Europe, and even in the Middle East!

Now how cool is this?!  A fellow blogger of mine Betty Ann at Asian in America recruited me and other great Filipino food writers and bloggers to talk about adobo and give our takes on the iconic dish for her cover story in Food Magazine in the Philippines.  I gave my (very very rough) recipe - I don't really measure, I just eyeball it - and they actually they prepared it at the Food Magazine's test kitchen!  I was super surprised to see it!  Plus they mentioned Project:Adobo in it!  Super super dope!

If you would like to see what Project:Adobo is about, head on over to the site:  www.projectadobo.blogspot.com!  

Other than that, I'm straight chillin'!  Haven't been indulging in extravagant dinners anymore.  I rarely write critiques.  I just post on Instagram and call it a day!  Blogging for me as totally changed.  It's not a bad thing either.  Though I don't freelance or do reporting work anymore, I still am very much involved in my love for food.  I don't know what I would do without my hobbies of baking and Filipino food promoting.

Just because I don't port here as much does not mean I've disappeared, y'all!  I ain't going anywhere!  Until next time, my dears!  Take care and thank you for your love and support since I started in 2007!  You guys rock so hard! 


PS:  Dear phone app developers, I am not interested, so please do not send me anymore invites.  Thanks!  v(^_^)v

Monday, June 24, 2013

Dry Creek Valley Smackdown - a Day of Aromas and Tastes

Whenever I say, "Let's go to 'Wine Country,'" my friends would usually think "Napa." I admit, prior to this trip, I had never been to Sonoma County to taste wine, but having experienced the sights, sounds, and tastes of the Dry Creek Valley, I am now aware of the great wines that come from there.

And the king of them all?


The purpose of this media trip was to not only taste the wine, but to get educated about the process of making it using our senses.  At the end of the excursion, we would be put to the ultimate test.

Hence, the SMACKDOWN.  Seriously, we had to take QUIZ on what we learned.  Whoever scored the highest on this test would win a handsome reward!  Fun indeed!  I'm naturally competitive, so my thought was: bring. it. on.

Now let's talk about the area before we get into the [delicious] knitty-gritty of wine tasting. Located about 70 miles north of San Francisco, the Dry Creek Valley has become one of California's most prominent producers of Zinfandel grapes.  With a small land area - only about 16 miles long and 2 miles wide, the soil and climate combination is ideal for growing Zinfandel. The long sunny and warm days allow for the grapes to grow and ripen and cool nights help preserve the grapes' acidity.  The vineyards hugging the land are a sight to see.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Because it is after all a valley, some vineyards rest on the floor of the valley and the others are situated along the hillsides. Despite the small area, the differences seen the soil and micro-climates between each vineyard results in a variety of flavors.  We saw each winery had a unique experience for us to try.

We met Anne, our tour leader in San Francisco and we were whisked away in our shuttle provided by Sonoma Sterling Limo.  We drove through the Marina, over the Golden Gate Bridge, through Marin County and to Sonoma where the land starting to look more green than concrete - which I am much used to.  Having been born and raised in San Francisco, I often take Marin and Sonoma for granted.  The beautiful land and equally lovely weather is right in my backyard.

Our first stop was Fritz Underground Winery (24691 Dutcher Creek Road Cloverdale, CA 95425) where winemaker Brad Longton led an aromatics seminar.Fritz Winery, which was established by Jay Arthur Fritz in 1979, rests on a hillside in DCV's northern one. Having a commitment to produce wine in a sustainable fashion, the winery uses a three-tiered structure which uses the earth's natural gravity pull to lead the grape juice from the upper-tiered crush pads to the barrels on the bottom level. This method reduces the need for energy and pumps. The winery is now owned by Jay Frtiz's son, Clayton.

Mr. Longton and our second group leader, Michelle walked us through four different Fritz wines using our noses. We were advised to sniff the aromatics prior to tasting the wine. Doing so was supposed to train our taste buds to detect them in the wine. Smell and taste go hand-in-hand.

The first was 2012 Estate Sauvignon Blanc which had notes of guava, sweet pea flowers, and pineapple. This crisp wine was bright with a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness.

Next came the 2012 Estate Rose which had sensations of sugar'ed strawberries, raspberries, blueberries resulting from the combination of Zin and other grapes. Though the photo doesn't do it justice, the pink hue of the wine was inviting and pretty.

We moved onto the 2011 Estate Zinfandel - yes!  The wine that dominates in DCV! The Zin grapes are grown on 8 acres of land on the vineyard. The wine itself had hints black cherry, anise/licorice, and plum. Here is also where we got the kick from the Zinfandel's tannins.

Lastly was the 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  I fell in love with this wine.  With notes of ripe raspberries, chocolate, and ripe plum. I adored its velvety feel and earthy qualities.  Raspberries and chocolate made for a romantic wine.  I did not hesitate to bring a bottle of this reserve home.

During our outdoor seminar, we noticed that temperature made a huge difference in the flavors of the wines. Some of us were lucky to grab a seat beneath one of the umbrellas, while others (as in I) were exposed in the sunlight.  Those who were able to sample cool versus sun-warmed wine were able to taste the differences between them with some of them indicating the flavors were more prominent in the cooler wines.

We were then given a tour of the underground cellars where we saw the stainless steel vessels and oak barrels. Every detail was taken seriously here, especially when it came to temperature. 

The underground caves were significantly cooler than the upper tiers of the building which makes it ideal for cellaring the vessels and barrels...and a nice break from the warm weather we were sitting in.

But forget breaks, there was so much more of DCV to explore!


Our next stop was Mauritson Winery (2859 Dry Creek Rd  Healdsburg, CA 95448) where we were greeted by vineyard manager Cameron Mauriston and his wife Ashley. The Mauriston Family began growing grapes in the Dry Creek Valley in 1868 making Cam and Ashley part of the sixth generation of grape growers. Their great-great-great grandfather S.P. Hallengren first planted grapes in their Rockpile homestead in 1884.

On our way over to the Mauritson Winery, Michelle told us their property there grew to 4,000 acres, but the US Army acquired over 3000 acres of it to develop Lake Sonoma. The land was then used to herd sheep and grow other crops.

Since then, the family expanded their growing territory to the Alexander Valley and now have vineyards there, Rockpile, and Dry Creek Valley managing over 310 acres.

In 1998, Cam's brother Clay released the first Zinfandel with the Mauriston Family label on it and in 2004, the family opened the Mauritson Winery.

Here at the winery, we did a "soil tasting." No, we did not put dirt in our mouths.  Cam introduced us to 4 distinct wines from their vineyards as well as neighboring ones showing us that soil quality definitely plays a role in the flavor of the same grape varietal - this is known as terrior. As for Zinfandel, the soil is not as nutrient-rich as those used for white wines. The roots are thinner and gnarlier and are more stressed because water doesn't hold well in rockier, harder soils in which they grow best in. This "struggle" to thrive causes the development of richer, bolder flavors and tannins from the skins and seeds. The skins also contribute to the color of the wine which is why Zins are oftentimes very rich in dark berry hues.

The first was 2011 Gopfrich Syrah whose soil was brownish-grey, gravelly, and course, gives the syrah a dark berry flavor finishing with a hint of peppery spice.

Next was the 2011 Mazzocco Sullivan Vineyard Zinfandel which is grown in topsoil consisting of volcanic composite assisting in the grapes' steady rate of maturity. 

On to the 2010 Bella Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel - Lily Hill's 10 acres of old-vine Dry Creek zin, planted in 1915, are on the valley's west side.  The soil was hard and rocky with a reddish tint due to the heavy clay content.

The composition is 91% Zinfandel and 9% Petite Sirah so the flavors are a combination of ripe plum and currants with nice tannins.  Mature vines and complex fruit for mature palates for sure.

Now on to the 2011 Mauritson Rockpile Zinfandel.  The vineyards of Rockpile Appellation are located in the Northwest edge of the Dry Creek Valley.  The combination of longer sun exposure and rocky soil results in a full bodied wine with raspberry notes and balanced acidity.

After our tasting, we sat down to enjoy a lunch provided by the beloved Dry Creek General Store.  It was great to hear that the general store is where workers from the vineyards would congregate after a day out in the fields to relax and recoup. 

Lunch was not only delicious, but healthy as well.  We were treated with a selection of cold sandwiches and warm paninis as well as a kale Caesar, sweet beet salad, and quinoa medley.

This was also a great time to try Mauritson's Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (with great flavors of raspberry jam and cherry) as well as their Sauvignon Blanc (which was very refreshing and smooth with hints of lilikoi and peach).

Mauriston Winery is a fantastic place to visit rich with family history.  It is always great to see later generations carry on old family traditions and businesses.

This one is definitely not to miss.

Our next stop was Quivira Winery (4900 W Dry Creek Rd  Healdsburg, CA 95448) where we were given a tour of their vineyards by tasting room staff member Nick Amtower. Quivira is a family-owned artisan winery dedicated to make product using biodynamic farming. 

We started with the 2012 Rose Wine which evokes fresh strawberries and juicy watermelon.  It was a light and refreshing wine that was perfect to start our tour with.  Cold wine and warm weather?! Only made sense.

Again, good soil is vital in making good wine.  The soil is constantly being monitored to avoid any disease and infestation - using all natural processes and NO chemicals.  Rather than "fixing" sick soil later on after the fact, the goal is to prevent any illness from happening by keeping the soil healthy.

Out on the field, Nick poured us the 2012 Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc which had nuances of sweet pineapple and passion fruit. 

I had to restrain myself from frolicking through the vineyard. 

Here, Nick is telling us how the winery buries cow horns filled with biodynamic material (cow manure) in the winter.  The material is then harvested and sprayed on the soil to activate microbial life.  Practices like this have been around for centuries and the winery prides itself in keeping those techniques alive.  This not only results in great wine, it also shows how much respect the winery shows the land.

This is Ruby the wild pig and mascot of the winery.  A former farm manager found her as a piglet stuck in a fence and decided to bring her to the Dry Creek estate and raise her here.  Several animals inhabit the vineyard, including chickens which provide eggs to the estate and bees which pollinate plants in the area and make delicious honey.

Nick then brought us to Wine Creek where Quivira has worked to restore it.  This conservation project involves the revitalization of the gravel beds that are spawning grounds for Coho salmon and Steelhead trout.

Cheers to that!  What's next, Nick?

Our third taste was the 2011 Wine Creek Ranch Grenache which was my favorite of the four we tasted.  You get nice strawberry and cherry notes as well a finish that reminds me of red berry pastries.  Loved it.

We were then led to the gardens of the estate where blueberries and flowers grew, chickens clucked in their coops, and bee hives were situated.  Here I saw how all the parts of biodynamic farming on the estate made sense as a whole.  Every plant and animal on the estate played a part in keeping the vineyard sustainable.

Our final taste was the 2010 Wine Creek Ranch Mourvedre which had dark and earthy notes.  Its rich blackberry quality was a nice way to wind down the tour.

I never even considered visiting a biodynamic winery, but Quivira is a prime example that taking care of the land and using tried and true methods will result in a quality wine.

Our next stop was a real treat.

It was time for the SMACKDOWN.

At Dutcher Crossing, we were led to the crush pad of the winery where we were given the opportunity to BLEND OUR OWN WINE! We had to use all the knowledge we gained during the day to create a blend that will wow the judges.  The winner of this contest would win a handsome wine package.

We ALL wanted to win.

So our goal: make the most delicious Zinfandel blend using the following Dutcher Crossing wines and corresponding flavors:  Maple Vineyard Zinfandel (of course), Petite Sirah (bold and rich), Grenache (sweet and fruity), and a Rhone Blend of Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Counoise (musty and earthy).

Our awesome leader Kerry Damskey gave us a crash course in using chemistry lab equipment.  I hadn't used these things since my sophomore year in college!

There were was only 1 rule: the blend had to include at least 75% Zinfandel.

Easy enough, right?

It was actually pretty hard getting that perfect flavor.

I had a great blend to start, but I had the measurements all confused.  I probably also added too much of petite sirah which just ruined and overpowered all the subtleties of the other wines.

Needless to say, my wine did not work out at all, but it was a really enjoyable experience. The art of blending is quite a meticulous one and those who do it have a gift.

The grand finale and second part of the SMACKDOWN was at the gorgeous home of Debra Mathy, the proprietor of Dutcher Crossing.

The wines on the tables were actually part of the POP QUIZ.  Yes, we were being tested on how well-trained our noses and palates were by sniffing and tasting each wine as well as answering questions on our score sheets.

It seemed like eons ago since the aromatics seminar and centuries since the soil tasting, so we really had to dig deep into our memories to remember.  By this time we had already tasted over 15 wines! 

After taking our tests, we were left to take in the incredibly beautiful scenery of Dry Creek Valley.  Debra's backyard was breathtaking.  Absolutely breathtaking.

Our delicious dinner was provided by Heid West Catering and it was the most perfect meal to enjoy in the setting we were in.

Served buffet-style, we enjoyed grilled skirt steak, grilled herbed chicken breast, yellow beet salad, and potato & green bean salad.  All so fresh and flavorful.

In addition to the wines we were quizzed on, some of the AVA's prominent winemakers joined us for dinner and brought bottles of their products for us to taste. These winemakers were also judges of the SMACKDOWN and listening to them tell their stories heartwarming.  These guys really know their stuff and are truly dedicated to their craft.  I have to give it up to them because not only did they judge our blends, they also let us taste their products:

I am definitely a cabernet sauvignon girl and I adored Collier Falls' cab.  A cab to me is like a hug warming you from the inside out.  

As if our day couldn't get any better, we were delighted with this chocolate mousse cake.  It looks super rich, but it was light as air.  Amazing finale to our meal and our day here in the Dry Creek Valley.

The winner of the SMACKDOWN was my fellow food blogger Sabrina of The Tomato Tart.  Her blend sounded amazing. Congrats, Sabrina!

This trip was one for the books.  Not only did I taste some amazing wine from a place that I never thought of coming to visit (ever), my eyes were opened to the fact that Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley AVA is LEGIT.  Majority of the wineries are family-owned and their stories of how they started and settled here in the valley are worth listening to and worth sharing.  The winemakers that we met have a respect for each other...almost in a brotherhood sense. They know they have to keep their craft going.  The climate and soil in the Dry Creek Valley are unique. The microclimates within the area makes every wine unique.  Give each winemaker the same grape varietal to grow in their own vineyards and you get a different wine each time.  That is why it is worthwhile to visit Dry Creek Valley.  There is so much to offer and so many fantastic and warm people to meet. 

I want to thank Michelle and Anne of McCue Communications for inviting me to this amazing media trip.  I definitely learned a lot from it.  I still may be a newbie to this wine thing, but I am looking forward to drinking a lot more of it in my future!  Also, I want to thank all the bloggers, writers, winemakers and The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley who made this trip so memorable. 


Disclosure:  This trip was provided by The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley.  Opinions are my own.