Down the Rabbit Hole with Reds: Pinot Noir and Syrah

A guest post by Henry Trione of Trione Winery

I reached for the tapered Burgundian wine bottle in the cellar, thinking it was a Pinot Noir to serve my guests. Pinot, the classic safe choice to share; a varietal ubiquitous to the typical Californian wine cellar, and a versatile selection for food pairings from pâté to dessert. Many wine connoisseurs enjoy a good Pinot, especially Marin County residents, as were my company. As I brought the bottle into the light it became immediately apparent that it was in fact not a bottle of Pinot Noir, but actually… Syrah.

It was too late. The Marinites saw the bottle. I couldn’t put it back. I suddenly realized I had given away the last bottle of Trione Pinot Noir as a Christmas gift to a friend who had unexpectedly stopped by. My mind raced. ‘The Pinot is gone; the Syrah is all I have. The Syrah is good, to be sure, but was it too exotic for the sensibilities of my guests?’ Seconds passed, it seemed like eternity. I recovered well, though.

“I have a lovely 2013 Russian River Valley Syrah for you try. I chose it specially to pair with the cheese.”

I must confess, even growing up in Sonoma County in a family involved in the business of wine, Syrah was not a common sight. Pinot and Cabernet comprised the extent of my red wine knowledge. To be fair, I was only five years old. Still, I have noticed even today that when perusing the wine list at a restaurant, there are often more labels of Pinot Noir than Syrah. I personally enjoy them both, and yes it depends on the situation, the food pairing and even the weather. Or sometimes, as it appeared in my story above, that is simply what is available.

Let’s look a little into the historical geographical incidence of the two varietals. Pinot Noir originates from the Burgundy region of France, an east-central region of the country with a cooler climate conducive to growing the thin-skinned grape. With weather much like the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, it is not a coincidence that the River Road Ranch is where Trione produces the fruit for it’s Pinot, hand selecting the top three percent of the crop that finds its way into bottles with the Trione Vineyards & Winery label. In the old world, Syrah has historically been grown in the Rhône Valley of France. The climate varies from the north to south of the valley, with the northern part cooler than the southern end. As you may have guessed, the conditions of the Russian River Valley AVA are somewhere in between. At Trione, the top three percent is siphoned off to the winemaker, Scot Covington, before the balance of the crop is sold to other local wineries.

Scot employs a French style in winemaking, so all things being equal on the production end, it is fascinating to taste just how different these wines are and why Syrah is deserving of respect. While Scot describes the Trione Pinot Noir as “Fresh tilled earth, clean, rich and… a walk through a medieval forest, dark but with layer upon layer of blackberry compote.” He describes the Syrah as smoky and “peaty, wet earth with hints of plum, blueberry and wild blackberry preserves.” In his tasting notes, he goes on to say that the Trione Syrah is “Pinot lover’s Syrah.”

Wait a minute.

Describing the Syrah in reference to Pinot is no mistake. People just know and love an earthy, peaty tasting Pinot, so why not compare the lesser known to the standard of excellence in the field? But is it fair to compare two such different wines? This is not what Scot was doing, but I believe I was guilty of this thought process when I was entertaining my guests with the bottle of 2013 Syrah. Syrah should not be considered the less gifted sibling compared to the superstar kid wonder Pinot that went to an Ivy League, rowed on the crew team and achieved a 4.0, while Syrah went to a respectable Junior College and did just fine. The point has been made that the two varietals are distinctly different, and Scot has cued us in with the tasting notes. So, how are they really different and what to pair with?

As we see in the tasting notes, Syrah is classically smoky. It is full bodied and spicy. It is bold, and I have heard it described as “barbecue wine.” At this juncture, I should add that the Trione Syrah contains 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier. This is a stylistic choice, and does not in my opinion obscure the true nature of the varietal. Pinot, on the other hand, is high in acidity, earthy, red fruit notes but lighter. So, when we really break it down to their simplest descriptions, Syrah is bold and Pinot Noir is lighter. This gives us an idea of how to pair.

Pinot Noir is indeed versatile, and the range of foods with which it pairs is generally determined by how tannic or conversely light it is. The bolder more tannic Pinots stand up well to wild game and heavier dishes, while the lighter fruitier variants are more appropriate for poultry, pastas, and seafood like salmon. At a Trione Winemaker Dinner, I even enjoyed the Russian River Pinot Noir with a fruit-based dessert. Syrah, while a significantly different to its Pinot Noir counterpart, actually pairs with similar foods as an elegantly tannic Pinot. For example, Syrah is a good partner to gamey-tasting meats, lamb, and anything barbecue. And cheese? That’s a gouda. Just steer clear of most seafood dishes, and delicate flavors that are overpowered by this full-bodied red.

There you have it. Pinot Noir and Syrah. We have barely scratched the surface of these two red varietals. They represent an intriguing comparison in my opinion because of the spectrum on which they lie. On opposite ends they are just that – diametric reds with the light, highly acidic Pinot Noir on one end and the smoky tannic Syrah on the other. Tangentially close but never quite overlapping on the spectrum, we find fuller-bodied Pinots and less toasty Syrahs. With the multitude of labels available for both varietals, there is seemingly endless opportunity to test the merits of each and to explore one’s preference. To quote The Matrix, “You take the red pill… and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

My secret weakness: chocolate…

Not any chocolate, mind you. Call me a snob, but for what little amount of chocolate I will allow myself every day (because of those calories threatening to stick to my hips!), it has to be special, rich, dark and intense. Chalk it up to my European upbringing, where I was spoiled into assuming that Swiss chocolate was “the standard.” I am still dreaming of those creamy, rich, dark “Feodora” and “Hachez” bars of my childhood…

What’s coming close here and now? Certainly Godiva truffles – so, yes, I am a fan of those (for my birthday and such – not everyday!). Recently, one of their advertisements caught my eye, and I was surprised to see that all these little gems are still made by hand, one by one… Here is their educational video.

And here are some fun facts about their signature flavors!

Praline:

When the personal chef of the Duke of Plessis-Praslin accidentally spilled melted sugar over ground almonds, the Duke found the results so delicious that he named then after himself, “Praslin,” which was then smoothed out to “Praline.”

Ganache:

A smooth, creamy mixture of chocolate and cream which also supposedly was invented by mistake when the apprentice of a 19th century chocolatier spilled hot milk over several tablets of chocolates. The master scolded his apprentice “Ganache” (French for moron or idiot), but was appeased when he tasted the result which has since become a mainstay for patissiers and chocolatiers alike.

Truffle:

The chocolate truffle borrowed its name from the Black Truffle mushroom from the French region of Perigord, a luxury item of the high cuisine. Why? They look pretty much alike – although a chocolate truffle hides a flavored creamy filling under its hard shell.

Admit it: your mouth is watering by now…!!

A new cakemaker “on the block!”

There are still courageous people “out there” in our wedding vendor community, despite the disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. So courageous (or audacious?) that they start a new business right now. You read correctly. Patisserie chef Janay McCullough is opening an offshoot of her Avocado Catering company: Avocado Baking – dedicated to uncompromisingly modern and bold cake designs. And since what’s underneath that pretty exterior matters at least as much, here are her – equally bold – flavors!

Avocado Mojito: Moist vanilla cake, avocado citrus mousse, fresh mint, sweet Swiss meringue buttercream; a fun, refreshing flavor perfect for warm weather and adventurous eaters. It does not have a strong avocado flavor, rather it adds depth and fat to help balance the acidic citrus and fresh mint.

Berries & The Bees: Our signature, moist vanilla cake with salted honey roasted strawberry compote filling and sweet Swiss meringue buttercream. The ultimate crowd pleaser with fresh, bright strawberries, roasted with local honey, which lends a buttery note to the berries.

Chocolate Lovers: Vanilla cake, rich and silky fudge filling with sea salt, dark chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream. The perfect balance the dark chocolate. This flavor is for the serious chocolate lover.

High Tea: Delicately flavored earl grey tea cake, salted caramel, lemon zest Swiss meringue buttercream. The floral flavor of bergamot, a citrus that tastes like a cross between a lemon, orange, and grapefruit, lends itself well to the sweetness of our caramel. For adventurous eaters with a caramel addiction!

Tiramisu: Vanilla cake, soaked with boozy-coffee tiramisu syrup, with a cream cheese and espresso Swiss meringue buttercream. Our take on a classic favorite!

Now that you know what’s INSIDE, here is what the outside might look like:

Virtual game night!

Not only for Father’s Day – what about a virtual game night on Zoom with your friends? I collected a few popular options for you!

Cards Against Humanity

While I personally am admittedly not a fan, I know a LOT of people who are!

If your virtual event is adults-only, you could play a game like Cards Against HumanityPlayingCards.io offers a free version called Remote Insensitivity enabling you to play on your phone while you video chat on the computer. Just text everyone the link to your personal game room and voila – let the games begin!

Bingo

If you are a Bingo fan, a website like My Free Bingo Cards is for you – either to play a traditional game with a virtual caller, or to play a custom Bingo game with a theme (a movie or TV show that your group likes). Small prizes for the winners make it all even more appealing!

Trivia

You can still work on your trivia skills with proper social distancing. For a game on Zoom, there is a  random trivia generator – just start asking questions. Have each person send their answer in the Zoom chat at the same time.

DIY project with your kids: a whimsical mailbox

Collaborate with your youngsters to turn your run-of-the-mill mailbox into a little piece of art and make your mail carrier’s jaw drop! Just be aware that for this project it is necessary to wear a face mask – so it’s only suitable for kids old enough to do that and use a spray paint can responsibly.

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

Medium-grit sandpaper

Painters masks

Painters tape

Aluminum primer

Metal paint spray paint in the beautiful color of your choice

First of all, outfit all participants with protective masks, then start sanding off rust and old paint from your mailbox.

Next, you need to cover house numbers and the mail flag with painters tape (older kids can do that!).

Spray on aluminum primer and allow it to dry.

Then, apply the metal spray paint and let it dry completely. AND THEN the real fun begins! Have your young artists decorate your mailbox – easiest way is using stencils. Want to go one step further? Make a sculpture of your mailbox! Get inspired:

Clownfish
Piggy
Woof!

And the results? WOW!!

How did Father’s Day come into being – do you know?

Per Wikipedia, Father’s Day is a day of honoring fatherhood and paternal bonds, as well as the influence of fathers in society. In Catholic countries of Europe, it has been celebrated on March 19 as Saint Joseph’s Day since the Middle Ages. In America, Father’s Day was founded by Sonora Smart Dodd and celebrated on the third Sunday of June for the first time in 1910. It is held on various days in many parts of the world all throughout the year, often in the months of March, May and June.

On June 19, 1910, the very first Father’s Day celebration was held at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington, by Sonora Smart Dodd whose father, a single parent, had raised his six children there. She felt that fathers should have a similar holiday like Mother’s Day to honor them, and on June 19, 1910, sermons honoring fathers were presented in churches throughout the city.

Ms. Dodd raised awareness for the new holiday at a national level with the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional presents for fathers. 

 In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.  Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

So – now you know! What are you doing for Father’s Day?

Gummy Bears!

The gummy bear we all love originated in my native Germany as “Gummibär” (gum or gummy bear), or – much more popular in the endearing form – as  “Gummibärchen” ([little] gum or gummy bear). As Gum arabic was the original base ingredient used in the gummy bear recipe, the little guys are still carrying the term gum or gummy in their name. The company that invented the original gummy bear was founded by confectioner Hans Riegel in Bonn (and called Haribo) in 1920. Riegel wanted to offer a “children’s article,” and two years into his new company, in 1922, inspired by the trained bears at street festivities and county fairs in Europe through to the 19th century, he invented the Dancing Bear (Tanzbär), a small, inexpensive, fruit-flavored gum candy treat for children (and adults alike), which was much larger in form than its later successor, the Gold-Bear (Goldbär) which we are enjoying today. Even during the horrific economic crisis in Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s, Haribo’s fruit-gum Dancing Bear treats remained affordably priced for a mere 1 Pfennig, (roughly – half a US penny!) in pairs, at kiosks. In 1967, the smaller version of the Dancing Bear was invented – the gummy bear we can buy today as “Haribo Goldbär.” It is certainly one of the most successful (and beloved…) candy products EVER!

With the success of the gummi bears, many similar products have followed – gummy candies  that look like animals and other objects: rings, worms, frogs, snakes, hamburgers, cherries, sharks, penguins, hippos, lobsters, octopuses, apples, peaches, oranges… So, what’s YOUR favorite?

Music by the Espiritu Ensembles

Today I would like to “tip my hat” to a longtime collaborator who has become very dear to me over the years, cellist Suellen Primost, leader of the Espiritu Ensembles.

Suellen is not only a talented musician, through and through and an expert in non-Western music with an extensive repertoire – I admire her as much for who she is as a person. Always in harmony and at peace with herself, she creates an atmosphere of quiet joy for all around her, and that is truly a rare gift. When she fell seriously ill, she accepted it with her usual grace and composure – and then, by a sheer miracle, she recovered, and lately she has even gotten back to playing her beloved cello. I have learned a lot from her, and now I would like to share with you all a sample of her music. Enjoy!

Photobooth fun. All virtual!

Hard to believe, but one company here in the Bay Area has found a way to take photobooth fun “all virtual!” – Giggle & Riot. Here is how it works.

Want to book? Contact studio@giggleandriot.com!

OR would you rather go for some simple, informal fun? That works, too. Make a DIY backdrop (e.g. paper flowers strung on fishing line)

… craft a few fun props…

… and take selfies! That’s it – then share online or on a photo sharing app. So easy these days! Have fun!

Dessert for Father’s Day (or any day…)

As promised, here come more ideas for a leisurely Father’s Day meal (or Fourth of July brunch, or BBQ, or or or…) – super easy to make and great to prepare beforehand!

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No-bake personal cheesecakes

Need: muffin tin with 8oz cups – lined with plastic wrap.

Finely grind 13 Graham crackers (7oz) with 3 tbsp sugar in a food processor, mix with ½ stick of melted unsalted butter. Distribute mixture between 6 of the prepared muffin cups, press firmly into bottom and place muffin tray in freezer.

With electric mixer, beat 1 cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks, set aside. Mix 10 oz of softened cream cheese with 6 oz of crème fraiche and 2/3 cup of sifted confectioner’s sugar; carefully fold in the whipped heavy cream and distribute among the prepared muffin cups. Freeze until firm (at least 30 min).

When ready to serve, lift cheesecakes out of the muffin cups (using the plastic wrap), set on plates and top with fruit or preserves of your choosing.