Our Colton’s Cabernet is special. It’s set apart from our other Cabs because it’s an old-world-style Cab and the grapes come from our Lucky 8 Vineyard. What’s unique about this property is a gargantuan eucalyptus tree on the adjacent property, which lends these grapes serious herbal characteristics. Though herbal notes were very strong in our first vintage of Colton’s Cab, each vintage following has been farmed more meticulously, reducing the amount of mint and eucalyptus we get from these grapes. Unlike our estate-grown Cabernets, it’s been aged for 18 months, rather than the 30 months our Cab Reserve, Patriot, Good Life, and James Vincent spend in oak, resulting in a wine that is less tannic and more approachable. Lastly, the clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, clone 30, is different from the clones 8 and 15 that are planted on our estate.
Still, the 2018 vintage of Colton’s Cabernet is unexpectedly big, but incredibly smooth, with muted herbal hints, making it perfect to pair with herb braised short ribs.
Herb Red Wine Braised Short Ribs and Creamy Polenta
Makes about 4 servings.
For the short ribs:
3 lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
Pepper to taste
1 large red onion
1 1/2 tbsp. garlic, minced
3 cups red wine
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh sagebrush
1 sprig fresh mint
2 bay laurel leaves
Optional: Extra sagebrush or rosemary sprigs to garnish
For the polenta:
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal or polenta
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pepper to taste
For the short ribs:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Remove all racks from oven except for one and place it in the lower third of oven.
Brush short rubs with oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Add each short rib, leaving space between them. Sear each short rib, allowing them to really brown. Turn short ribs on each side, until all sides are browned, about fifteen minutes in total.
Once short ribs have been seared, turn the heat to medium, add onion and garlic around short ribs, and cook until soft, about five minutes.
Add red wine and bring to a simmer.
Add herbs, cover, and place in oven. Braise short ribs in oven until meat is tender and falling off the bone, about two to two and a half hours.
Allow meat to rest in covered pan for twenty minutes prior to serving.
Rest the meat. When the meat is done, rest in a covered pan for 20 minutes before serving. Serve by gently tugging the chunks of meat away from the bone and spooning the saucy onions over top.
In a medium saucepan, bring salt and 4 cups water to a boil. Slowly and steadily add polenta or cornmeal, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk 2 minutes after all polenta has been added. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat. Add butter, cheese, and one of the minced garlic cloves, then season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
As we continue with our new shelter in place conditions in this country, there are a few fine folks who are working to ensure the 2020 vintage, and vintages beyond, will be spectacular. We recently removed about three acres of our estate Cabernet Sauvignon and put the vines into piles to dry out. Today is the perfect day to light the piles on fire and send them back to the earth to become part of the circle of life. The ashes will be spread throughout the soil and the rain will replenish the soil.
We will leave the ground fallow for a year. This tradition dates back centuries and we will celebrate the year by frolicking around the fallow ground with flutes and percussive instruments to chase away the soil pests like nematodes. This is how it was in the beginning and this is how it will be (Mark 2020 v. 17). Once we have successfully chased away all the pests, we will put our clothes back on and replant the vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon. Clone TBD.
There’s something so special about Italian food. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I find it impossible to dislike Italian food. The ingredients are so, incredibly wholesome and versatile. Italian dishes are just plain comforting and delicious.
Vintage after vintage, our C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon continues to be one of my absolute favorite wines we produce. I can always count on it being fruit-forward and drinkable as soon as it’s released. My favorite vintage was the 2013 and despite being so drinkable when it was released, this wine is aging beautifully. I’d say the 2017 vintage is quite similar to the 2013. Consistently, the C. Tarantino Cab has gorgeous acidity, which makes it the absolute perfect wine to pair with Italian dishes. I’m not sure if it’s the soil the grapes are grown in, if it’s the grape clone (337, which is different from what we have on our estate and our Lucky 8 Vineyard), or if it’s even the way the sun hits the vines in the summertime, but something about this wine is simply magical.
If you were lucky enough to receive this fabulous wine in your most recent club shipment, whip it out and try this pairing for yourself. We are a few bottles shy of selling out of the 2017 vintage of this Cab, so if you want to try this pairing, don’t wait. Get a bottle now. I promise you won’t be disappointed by this pairing!
By Laina Carter and Mark Clarin of McGrail Vineyards
February was an incredibly busy month in the vineyards, but unseasonably so, as our vines are currently dormant and February tends to be a pretty uneventful month for our vineyards. There are countless facets to grape growing and external factors affecting grapevines that no year and no season are ever the same.
Dormancy & Pruning
Grapevines, like most perennials, undergo a dormancy stage, which is essentially a hibernation period for these plants. The vines have stored all of their nutrients in their roots, leaving the once vivacious, fruitful shoots dry and void of leaves and fruit. Dormancy allows grapevines to tolerate winter weather and gives them time to prepare for budbreak in the spring. Like hibernating animals, the vines are waiting for warmer temperatures before once again using the energy they have stored up to become active and begin growing again.
The most critical vineyard practice that occurs during dormancy is pruning. For us, pruning usually happens around February, when the vines are completely bare and nearing the end of their dormancy. This year, we began pruning our estate vines at the end of January and continued with our Lucky 8 Vineyard through the beginning of February.
Each year, we prune last year’s growth back to the cordon. Our vineyards are currently pruned to two bud spur positions. These positions are kept approximately a fist apart along the cordon in order to keep the new shoot growth separated for later when the fruit sets.
Pruning is important because it gives us the ability to determine the number and position of shoots on the vine, and will therefore determine cluster count and quality of wine. The reason we prune back is to control consistency in production and to make sure we can still walk down the rows and properly manage the vineyard. There are many tasks throughout the growing season that require hand manipulation. Since grapevines are vines, they seem to have a mind of their own and want to grow in wild directions. Our trellis allows us to control the vines so that we can manage yields and quality.
Our estate vineyard was originally planted in 1999 and is now at the end of its ideal productive life. We have sixteen and a half acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and it has, and still continues, to serve us well. At some point, the need to replant is fast-approaching, so we are taking out a section of approximately three acres this year to be replanted again in 2022. Since we have our new Lucky 8 vineyard coming into full production, it affords us the opportunity to re-develop our estate vineyard.
It takes about three years for new plantings to come into full production. It’s about a five-year process when you have to remove a vineyard, because you want to leave the ground fallow for a year. If we have to remove all 16.7 acres at once, we would lose production for five years. By doing it in small quantities, we will still be able to produce our cherished Patriot, James Vincent, A Jó Élet “the Good Life,” and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon through the re-development phase. This February we began our vineyard re-development by removing about three acres of Cabernet vines at the front of our estate property. It will take up to ten years for us to replant the whole vineyard and up to twenty years to get back into full production.
We are currently at the beginning of March, 2020 and we haven’t seen significant rainfall since early January, which is quite a bit different from what the last few winters we’ve experienced. December was fairly wet and we were on course to having a “normal” winter when the new year decided to change all that. We tried a little irrigating this past week to trick the vines into thinking it’s still winter. The windy weather has really dried things out and the hills are turning brown, which is very unusual for this time of year. We’re hoping this month brings rain again and more importantly, a decent snow-pack in the Sierra mountains, but time will tell. Until then, we will continue to irrigate as needed.
Unseasonably Warm Temperatures
On February 26th in 2018, there was snow on Mt. Diablo and snow on Mt. Hamilton, which is wildly different from the weather we experienced on the same day this year, with sunshine and a high of 76˚F.
Although we have had some warm late winters in years past, these temperatures can be of concern for grape growers. Air temperatures of 50°F are the threshold of below which grapevines refuse to grow. This means that enough days with a mean air temperature of 50°F or above could cause budbreak in the vineyards. Since an earlier budbreak during a warm late winter hasn’t really happened for us before, we aren’t too worried; however, an early budbreak could result in damage to the vines if spring frost occurs. We are keeping our fingers crossed that our vines don’t come out of dormancy this week!
Grape growing is definitely not for the faint of heart.
If you’re anything like me, you live for spring and summer. Not only do these seasons bless us with incredible fresh fruits and veggies, the warmer weather just makes me feel alive. Still, the best part of spring and summer is that I can finally sip on chilled wine comfortably.
There’s truly nothing like that first sunny, 75˚F day of the year. You inexplicably begin to feel relaxed, allowing the sunshine to warm your skin and taking in as much vitamin D as your body will allow. The sweet smell of blooming jasmine sailing through the air subconsciously tells you that springtime is here.
Unfortunately for those who live in California, it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly what season it actually is. According to “the Twelve Seasons of California,” we are just at the beginning of our second winter. Our recent fool’s spring was the inspiration for this sunny pairing.
Aside from the deceptive seasons, living in California is fabulous! We have access to the freshest produce in the country, and obviously, the finest wine as well. I combined the best of each of these things to create this lovely pairing!
The first notes you get from our delightful 2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé are gorgeous notes of bright grapefruit, which is why I began with citrus as the main star of this dish. Right now, you can find all sorts of exquisite citrus fruits at the grocery store–mandarin oranges, Cara Cara oranges, blood oranges, grapefruits, navel oranges, and more. I decided on a nutty, peppery baby arugula and creamy avocado and burrata as the secondary attraction to the salad, to complement the citrus and to sort of balance out one another. Since these ingredients are all so light and refreshing, I thought pistachios would add a nice crunch and make a great additional source of protein. I love the little bit of kick you get from chives and green onions, which is why it was a no-brainer for me to choose them to spice this plate up. I decided to go with a lighter-bodied dressing, so as to not overpower the main ingredients. Lastly, I threw in some deliciously spicy shallots and fresh-cracked rainbow pepper to add a nice bite to the finish and balance out the slightly creamy finish on the Rosé.
7 oz. organic baby arugula
2 pink grapefruits
3 Cara Cara oranges
3 blood oranges
4 mandarin oranges
2 navel oranges
8 oz. burrata cheese (2 pieces)
⅛ oz. chives, minced
3 green onion stems, thinly sliced
⅓ cup roasted, unsalted pistachios, chopped into small pieces
1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ cup white Modena vinegar
⅓ cup pasteurized orange juice
¼ cup virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. pink Himalayan sea salt
¼ tsp. fresh cracked rainbow pepper
Enjoy with a bit of garlic sourdough bread or ciabatta toast on the side.
Using a small, sharp knife, peel and remove skins from grapefruits, navel oranges, cara cara oranges, blood oranges, and mandarin oranges. Cut into ⅓” thick round slices.
Evenly divide the baby arugula onto 4 plates to create a bed on each. Evenly divide the citrus fruit between four plates.
Slice the avocados and add ¼ to ½ of each onto each plate. Cut each piece of burrata in half and add one half to each plate.
In a small dish, combine the shallot slices, white Modena vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir well to create the vinaigrette dressing.
Drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette over each plate.
Sprinkle the minced chives, green onion slices, and pistachio pieces over each salad.
Just like the Super Bowl, the Oscars are another pompous American display of money and image, but a slightly more polished one we all so excitedly buzz about in the months leading up to the one-night awards show. If you’ve never watched the Oscars, they are quite a production. All of Hollywood’s hottest actors, producers, directors, screenwriters, and editors are gathered in one place to pat one another on the back for making movies just marginally different or better than those released the previous year. Everyone is dressed in gowns and suits costing thousands of dollars, only to be scrutinized on the pages of People magazine, landing on the “worst dressed” list if they weren’t able to snag an Alexander McQueen gown. Some are snubbed for the Best Actor award year after year *cough cough* Leonardo DiCaprio *cough*, while others are first-time Oscar goers and take home the award for Best Supporting Actress. At its worst, the event is one giant, hoity toity celeb get-together with its fair share of letdowns and surprises. At the end of the day, the Oscars are a beloved, fundamental component of American culture.
I know I sound cynical, but I love the Oscars, really. There’s laughter, tears, and everything in between. Plus, it’s all so unbelievably glamorous and beautiful, it’s hard not to watch. Although I’m still bitter Greta Gerwig was passed up for Best Director for Little Women, I can’t wait to see what wacky remarks Taika Waititi will make on the red carpet and what Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson will wear. Hopefully Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood wins Best Film, but just like the 49ers losing the Super Bowl, anything is possible. With so much uncertainty as to what will happen, the Oscars are exciting to say the least.
Like most nationally televised events, the Academy Awards are best enjoyed with drinks and snacks. Really though, if Scar-Jo wins Best Actress for her less-than-stellar performance in Marriage Story, I’m going to need a big glass of wine. I’ve produced and self-awarded some truly chic wine and appetizer pairings (with recipes) to enjoy when Tom Hanks makes a heart-warming speech and to comfort you when Leo is once again snubbed for Best Actor.
BEST APPETIZER IN A LEADING ROLE:
2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé with Shrimp and Citrus Ceviche in Endive Spears
Makes about 16 servings, with 2 endive spears per serving.
Not only is ceviche downright delicious and unquestionably refreshing, it can also be a gorgeous dish if you use the right ingredients. I love fresh shrimp, avocado, and grapefruit and any combination of the three is always a win for me. A little jalapeño always adds a nice kick to anything and it goes without saying, garlic and onion make everything just a little tastier. Not only does the endive look great holding the ceviche, the endive leaf makes the perfect one-bite edible vessel for this sophisticated shrimp cocktail. Throw a fabulous Rosé into the mix and the result is delightful. The citrus notes in the wine complement the grapefruit and mandarin orange remarkably well, while the heat from the jalapeño is softened by the slight creaminess on the palate.
This appetizer and wine pairing has so much grace and beauty, but is also satisfying, self-contained, unexpected, balanced, and simply delicious. To me, this pairing is more than deserving of the “Best Appetizer in a Leading Role” award. It really just steals the show.
Nibble on this refined refreshment when Saoirse Ronan receives the award for Best Actress.
2 large grapefruits
2 large satsuma mandarin oranges
½ jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, minced
¼ cup yellow onion, minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ tsp. minced garlic
1 lb. cooked shrimp, deveined, peeled, chopped into ½” pieces
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lime juice
cracked rainbow peppercorn
pink Himalayan sea salt
6 endive bulbs, leaves separated
2 large hass avocados, thinly sliced
4 green onion stems, chopped thinly
fresh kale for a garnish
Peel and remove seeds and skins from grapefruits and mandarin oranges. Break apart into 1/2″ pieces.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine grapefruit, mandarin oranges, jalapeño, onion, cilantro, garlic, shrimp, olive oil, and lime juice. Toss gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place a small spoonful of the ceviche into each endive spear. Add a small slice of avocado into endive spear and sprinkle green onion on top.
The endive spears might have a bit of trouble sitting up once filled with ceviche, so use a bed of fresh kale as a garnish and to prop up the endive leaves if you need to.
2018 Charlie Rae Chardonnay and d’Anjou Pear White Balsamic and Butter Popcorn
Serves about 9, with 1.5 cups of popcorn per serving.
Picture this: it’s the evening on Sunday, February 9th (AKA Academy Awards night), and you’ve just come home from McGrail’s Quarterly Wine Club Release Party. You indulged in some incredible Smokin’ Hot Meats and Treats nachos, so you’re not feeling all that hungry, but you’d like something to snack on while you catch the Oscars. We’ve all been in a Smokin’-Hot-Meats-nacho coma, so there’s no need to feel alone. If you’re finding yourself in this situation, I’ve got the perfect lightweight and simple, Oscar-worthy hors d’oeuvre for you! This popcorn isn’t super sweet or over-the-top buttery, but it is just the right amount of tangy and salty. With the pear balsamic and just a bit of butter, it pairs so well with our Charlie Rae Chardonnay.
Whether you’re enjoying this hors d’oeuvre on the couch by your lonesome or at an Academy Awards party, this pairing is sure to become a classic! Because of its unexpected, but simple brilliance, we have awarded this tangy treat “Best Original Hors d’oeuvre.”
Munch on this during Taika Waititi’s red carpet interview.
12 cups unsalted air-popped or store-bought pre-popped popcorn, sans butter
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup d’anjou pear white balsamic (I used Gourmet Blends’ version, but Amazon has some highly rated alternatives)
pink Himalayan sea salt
Air pop the popcorn if you’re not using pre-popped popcorn.
Melt the butter in a small bowl or measuring cup.
In a large bowl, drizzle the butter over the popcorn. Gently mix the popcorn so it is evenly coated with butter. Drizzle the white balsamic over the popcorn. Again, gently mix the popcorn so it is evenly coated with the white balsamic.
2016 Shamus Patrick and Prosciutto Apple Balsamic Flatbread
Serves about 16, with 1/4 flatbread per serving.
Have you ever had fresh garlic naan? If not, you’re missing out. If you have, imagine all things that taste good with wine on top of that mouthwatering naan. Then imagine that with a glass of the most delicious Red Blend you’ve ever had. That’s what I’m about to throw at you. This appetizer is flat-out delectable and paired with our Shamus, it’s even better. The Shamus Patrick Red Blend is fruit-forward with beautifully balanced acidity, which makes this sweet, nutty, and savory balsamic-prosciutto-Honeycrisp-pecan combo such a suitable pairing.
While I feel like the whole prosciutto, balsamic, arugula flatbread thing is done maybe a little too frequently, I’m not about to overlook it. I believe it’s a tried-and-true staple of the American palate and it tastes so good with our Bordeaux-style Red Blend. Because I know you can’t have appetizers paired with wine without some sort of yummy carbs, I’ve awarded this one “Best Supporting Snack.”
Snack on this when Tom Hanks receives only his third Academy Award.
4 pieces or about 12 oz. of Tandoori garlic naan (I used Trader Joe’s brand)