Tag: winery blogs

Wine Production

Qs and As with Our Winemaker, Mark Clarin

By Mark Clarin, Heather McGrail, and Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

If you’ve ever been to a McGrail Vineyards Release Party or Barrel Tasting Weekend at McGrail, you’ve likely spoken to or seen Mark Clarin. You’ve probably even seen him jamming downtown, at other wineries, or local breweries, in one of the various bands he belongs to. Mark, standing at approximately 6′ 4″, is known for rocking a horseshoe mustache, tie-dye tees, cargo shorts, flip flops, and a ponytail. He is nearly impossible to miss. His unmistakable style isn’t even the thing that makes him stand out the most; his wine is pretty extraordinary, too.

We asked Mark to answer some questions about himself, as well as about what he’s got going on in the vineyard now and what happens in the vineyard at McGrail in the early springtime. Allow us to introduce you to our winemaker, Mark Clarin, through some quick Qs and As. We hope you find his answers both humorous and valuable, as we did, and we hope it gives you a better understanding of why we love our talented, but goofy winemaker so much.


Question: Can you tell us just a little bit about yourself? Are you married? Do you have kids? 

Answer: I am married with children–a boy and a girl. The girl has a girl, so I am a grandpa called Poppy.


Q: What is your background in the wine industry and how did you get into wine?

A: Winemaking found me! I got a job at a local winery when I was 20 years old. Prior to that, I was in construction. I grew up in Livermore and sort of fell into the business. I have always been drawn to hard work and art. I’m a musician as well, which has an interesting correlation to winemaking. In music, you have to learn when not to play. With winemaking, you have to be patient and learn when not to panic. Wine is a living thing and is constantly changing. Knowing what to do when is the key, which is similar to music. 


Q: When did you first start at McGrail?

A: I started consulting in 2006, before crush.


Q: What is your favorite McGrail memory?

A: While giving a tour a few years ago, I had a customer ask me what I do all year, because I only have to work, like, two weeks per year. It was insulting, yet funny. I work at least four weeks a year. Sheesh.


Q: What do you love most about working at McGrail Vineyards? 

A: There are so many things to like. Number one is the team. When we first started producing wine, we made a plan to focus on making great wine. Our primary focus has been Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the king of wine in my mind. We have added a few varieties over the years, but our original goal remains the same–to make great wine. 

The property is amazing with spectacular views which I get to visit every day. The estate vineyard is world class and we added the Lucky 8 vineyard in 2015. This affords us the unique opportunity to control our farming, in order to make the best wines possible. This circles back to the original plan. 

I cannot forget our club members. We have the best club members, many of whom have been with us from the beginning. Without them I have no reason to make wine.


Q: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned at McGrail so far?

A: How to install a giant flagpole on release Saturday with a bunch of high school kids.


Q: What is your favorite thing about working with Cabernet Sauvignon?

A: It is the king of wine. It grows exceptionally well here in the Livermore Valley. It is a small berry with thick skin and loose clusters that afford good air flow to minimize disease. Cabernet can take a little rain in the fall, as long as it doesn’t rain for more than a couple of days and we get wind to help dry things out. Other tighter cluster varieties don’t have that luxury. Cabernet is very consistent year to year for us. This is important, as we try to make sure the wines stay consistently great. I do like to drink it, too. 


Q: What is going on in the vineyard during bud break and what does it signify to you as a winemaker?

A: During bud break, the dormant vines show the first green growth of the year. The buds unfurl small leaves that continue to grow (up to 1” per day!), as shoots, tendrils, and tiny pre-clusters develop. Bud break signifies a new vintage on the horizon and another opportunity to make some amazing wine. It is always an exciting and optimistic time to be in the vineyard, as it confirms the circle of life. 


Q: Why is Lucky 8 usually the first vineyard to show bud break each year?

A: In 2016 we planted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since that time, our Chardonnay pushes buds first, followed by the Sauvignon Blanc. This is common throughout the valley. Our hillside Cabernet Sauvignon is usually the first of that variety to break bud. The Lucky 8 vineyard is a bit cooler than our estate vineyard, but Chardonnay is an early ripener, and therefore, an early bud breaker.


Q: What does a typical day in early spring look like for you?

A: Springtime is time for blending, which requires a fair amount of sampling and tasting. Topping off barrels is a continuous task throughout the year. It is also time to review the barrel order to take advantage of any early order opportunities. Keeping an eye on the vineyard as the buds begin to push and we begin a new year. I am fortunate that I am in the vineyard every day, if only for a brief moment. Usually, we have some sort of reason to get together and taste with our club members. We also bottle quite a bit of our production in the spring.


Q: What is your favorite winemaking memory? 

A: Barrel fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon in a cave. Very labor intensive, but fun.

Photo by Ron Essex.

Q: If you could make wine anywhere else in the world, where would it be, and why? 

A: Douro Valley, Portugal. The vineyards are grown on steep slopes made up of shale. Everything has to be done by hand in the vineyard. The people are very nice and the weather is similar to California. The soil comes through in the wine with lots of minerality. I have not been to the Rhone, which I could probably get used to quickly.


Q: What would you like people to know about you?

A: I am generally happy. I am very tolerant, but once you lose my respect you will never get it back.


Q: Would you care to share an embarrassing story about yourself?

A: While visiting another winery, a staff member named Joy handed me a glass of what I assumed was their Rose and asked my opinion. I responded with something like, “well, it doesn’t suck”. It turned out to be my Rose because she tricked me.


Q: What is your favorite movie and why?

A: The Wizard of Oz. I love the songwriting. Very clever.


Q: Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you? 

A: I sometimes talk in my sleep and I hear that I snore, but I haven’t caught myself yet.


Q: What is your favorite wine & food pairing? 

A: Beef tenderloin and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Get a taste of Mark’s winemaking abilities yourself! Purchase McGrail wine here.

Food and Wine Pairings

Fresh Heirloom Tomato Gnocchi and C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards & Winery

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!

Heirloom Tomato, Fresh Basil, and Mozzarella Potato Gnocchi Paired with our 2017 C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon

Makes about 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs. whole mini heirloom tomatoes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 lbs. shelf-stable potato gnocchi, cooked according to package directions
  • 3/4 cup fresh basil
  • 1 cup roasted garlic marinara sauce
  • 8 oz. ciliegine mozzarella balls, cut into quarters
  • Grated pecorino romano and parmesan blend cheese 

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. 
  2. Add the garlic to the skillet. Cook until slightly browned. 
  3. Add mini heirloom tomatoes.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Prepare the potato gnocchi according to package directions.
  6. Cook garlic and tomatoes in skillet for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to soften.
  7. Add the gnocchi to the skillet. Cook until heated through.
  8. Stir in ½ cup of the fresh basil and the marinara sauce.
  9. Add the mozzarella. Stir until it just begins to melt.
  10. Plate the gnocchi and sprinkle the pecorino romano and parmesan cheese blend over each plate. Garnish with remaining basil.
  11. Enjoy this delicious dish with a glass or two of our 2017 C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon!

Please let us know if you end up making this pairing and if you have any feedback! We’d love to hear it.

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

Cast-Iron Skillet Chimichurri Rib Eye and “The Good Life”…

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards & Winery

Have you ever tried something that is so extraordinarily flavorful that you just can’t get enough of it? This is how I feel about McGrail wine… and chimichurri sauce. Accordingly, this pairing has a TON of flavor.

What Is Chimichurri?

Wondering what the heck chimichurri is? Basically, it’s an herb-based sauce made primarily using raw or uncooked ingredients. It can be red (chimichurri rojo) or green (chimichurrri verde), depending on what kind of herbs are used. It pretty much always contains garlic, parsley, oregano, and vinegar, but there are countless variations of this scrumptious sauce.

No one seems to be totally sure about chimichurri’s origin. Some believe it derived from the Basque region’s “tximitxurri” sauce, as the pronunciations are very similar, though the ingredients are not. Others think it was loosely based off of Sicily’s salmoriglio sauce, as both typically contain parsley, oregano, and garlic. Since the English always seemed to stick their head in everyone’s business back in the day, there are some people who insist it was called “Jimmy’s curry,” “Jimmy Curry,” or even “Jimmy McCurry,” after an English lad who joined in the fight for Argentina’s independence, and some who believe it was the result of an English prisoner asking for condiments to season his meat, after England’s attempt to invade Argentina failed. There are many myths as to where chimichurri sauce came from exactly, but at this point in its history, it is most commonly found in Argentine or Uruguayan cuisine.

A Jó Élet, “The Good Life”

“A jó élet” is a Hungarian phrase, which roughly translates to “the good life” in English. This bottle of estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon is aged for nearly 30 months in 100% brand new Hungarian oak barrels. These barrels are sourced from two different coopers, both of whom use tight grain oak from the Zempelén Forest. This wine demonstrates a classic Cabernet Sauvignon bouquet of dark cherry, cassis, and vanilla, but also offers the notes of baking spice and bold tannins that you would expect from a wine that has been aged for over two years in brand new Hungarian oak. The Good Life is rich and full-bodied with notes of leather, herbs, and white pepper, which makes this the perfect wine to pair with a chimichurri rib eye steak. When you pair this wine with this dish, there is no doubt you’re living the good life.

I hope you’re excited to try this recipe at home, because I seriously can’t wait to make this pairing again! This is probably my favorite food and wine pairing so far.

Cast-Iron Skillet Chimichurri Rib Eye with Fingerling Potatoes & Crimini Mushrooms Paired with 2016 A Jó Élet, “The Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon

Makes about 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

For the marinade:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp. minced garlic 
  • 2 lbs. rib eye steak (2 thick cuts of meat)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the chimichurri sauce:

  • 1 cup fresh parsley, stems removed, packed
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, stems removed, packed
  • 1 tbsp. fresh oregano, stems removed, packed
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp. garlic
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. orange juice
  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

For the sides:

  • 2 small shallots, halved
  • 6 whole garlic cloves
  • 10 oz. sliced crimini mushrooms
  • 1 lb. golden fingerling potatoes
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Optional: fresh sprigs of rosemary and/or thyme

DIRECTIONS:

To marinate and season the rib eye:

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk all rib eye marinade ingredients together, except for the salt, pepper, and rib eye. 
  2. Place the rib eye in a gallon-sized ziploc bag and add the marinade to the bag. Make sure the meat is completely covered by the marinade and place in the refrigerator for 3-6 hours, depending on how thick the meat is (longer if the meat is thicker).
  3. When ready to place the rib eye in the skillet, liberally season it with salt and pepper.

To make the chimichurri sauce:

  1. In a food processor, add all chimichurri sauce ingredients and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Store chimichurri sauce leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last several days without browning.

To prepare the sides:

  1. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of well-salted water to a boil.
  2. Add the fingerling potatoes and boil until soft, about 15 minutes.
  3. Strain the potatoes and set aside.

To cook the rib eye and sides:

  1. In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic cloves and halved shallots. Cook until slightly browned.
  3. Add sliced crimini mushrooms. Cook mushrooms with the garlic and shallots, stirring occasionally, until they become soft. 
  4. Using a spatula, move the mushrooms, garlic, and shallots to one side of the pan. Add the rib eye steaks and about half of the marinade in the ziploc bag. Add the fingerling potatoes over the mushrooms, garlic, and shallots, and stir, so they are evenly covered in marinade. Add the optional sprigs of rosemary or thyme.
  5. For medium-rare steak, cook the steaks for about six minutes on each side, flipping after about three minutes (twelve minutes total, four intervals of three minutes). Add about 3-5 minutes to total cooking time if you like your meat well done.

To serve:

  1. Once cooked to desired done-ness, plate the steaks and vegetables. Spoon the chimichurri sauce over the steaks.
  2. Enjoy this flavorful plate with a glass of our 2016 A Jó Élet “The Good Life” Cabernet Sauvignon!

Please let us know if you end up making this pairing and if you have any feedback! We’d love to hear it.

Cheers and enjoy!

Vineyard Related

FEBRUARY 2020: Vineyard Dormancy, Maintenance, & Weather

Sunshine and our recently pruned estate vines.

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.

Our recently pruned estate vines.

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.

A vineyard worker pruning our estate vines.

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.


Vineyard Re-Development

Our winemaker Mark planting new vines at our Lucky 8 property in 2018.

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.

The area at the front of our property where we have removed nearly three acres of vines.
A pile of vines that have been pulled from the area at the front of our property where we have removed nearly three acres of vines.

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.


Vineyard Drought

Our recently pruned vines at Lucky 8.

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.

The view from our estate property of snow on Mount Diablo on February 26th, 2018.
A bud in our estate vineyard in April of 2019.

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. 

DIY Wine Crafts

DIY Luxurious Five-Ingredient Rosé Face Mask

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards & Winery

Who doesn’t like to treat themselves every once in a while? Pour a glass of our 2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé and keep reading.

Whether you do or don’t have a sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, it’s always important to shower yourself with affection. Like Justin Bieber, I’m a firm believer in loving yourself. After all, you are the most important person in your own life, and really, you can’t love someone else full-heartedly if you don’t love yourself first. Taking a moment for yourself every once in awhile is imperative in being able to truly appreciate life.

I’ve created a simple recipe for a nourishing face mask you can do at home with just what’s in your pantry or fridge. I’ve exclusively chosen ingredients that have antibacterial, antiseptic, and antioxidant properties. Not only will this make your skin feel super soft and smooth, it smells and feels incredibly luxurious, AND it requires just a tiny bit of Rosé, so you can have the rest for yourself!

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Pour yourself a glass of our 2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé if you haven’t already.
  2. Warm the honey so it’s a little runny. I put it in a small microwaveable dish and microwaved it for just ten seconds to get the perfect consistency.
  3. Combine the Rosé, honey, yogurt, sugar, and essential grapefruit oil. Mix well. It will be a little watery.
  4. Stick the face mask mixture in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Steam your face by wetting a folded wash cloth and sticking it the microwave for 30 seconds, then holding it on your face for 2-4 minutes. Make sure the wash cloth isn’t too hot before putting it on your face.
  6. Pull the mask out of the refrigerator and use clean fingers to apply liberally to your face, taking care to not to get the mask in your mouth or eyes.
  7. Allow the mask to dry on your face, 5-7 minutes.
  8. Rinse your face well.
  9. Enjoy the rest of your Kylie Ryan Rosé!
Food and Wine Pairings

Spring-Inspired Citrus Salad & Rosé Pairing

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

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.

Ingredients:

Salad Ingredients:

  • 7 oz. organic baby arugula
  • 2 pink grapefruits
  • 3 Cara Cara oranges
  • 3 blood oranges
  • 4 mandarin oranges
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 2 avocados
  • 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

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 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

Optional:

Enjoy with a bit of garlic sourdough bread or ciabatta toast on the side.

Directions:

  1. 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.
  2. Evenly divide the baby arugula onto 4 plates to create a bed on each. Evenly divide the citrus fruit between four plates.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. Drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette over each plate.
  6. Sprinkle the minced chives, green onion slices, and pistachio pieces over each salad. 
  7. Enjoy with a glass of our 2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé!

Please let us know if you end up making this pairing and if you have any feedback! We’d love to hear it.

Cheers and enjoy!

Food and Wine Pairings

Oscar-Worthy Wine & Hors d’oeuvre Pairings

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

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.

A real academy award at the winery, which was awarded to Ginger’s cousin Patti Dehaney, who won in 2019 for the hair and makeup on Vice.

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. Peel and remove seeds and skins from grapefruits and mandarin oranges. Break apart into 1/2″ pieces.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Enjoy each ceviche endive spear with a few splashes of McGrail Kylie Ryan Rosé!

BEST ORIGINAL HORS D’OEUVRE:

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. Air pop the popcorn if you’re not using pre-popped popcorn.
  2. Melt the butter in a small bowl or measuring cup.
  3. 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.
  4. Add salt to taste.
  5. Enjoy this snack with a glass of our buttery 2018 Charlie Rae Chardonnay.

BEST SUPPORTING SNACK:

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.

Ingredients:

  • 4 pieces or about 12 oz. of Tandoori garlic naan (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 3 ½ tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 oz. prosciutto
  • 20 ciliegine whole milk fresh mozzarella balls (approx. 7 oz.)
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted dry toasted pecan pieces 
  • 1 Honeycrisp apple, thinly sliced
  • fresh arugula for topping
  • thick balsamic vinegar
  • pink Himalayan sea salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Drizzle olive oil on each flatbread and brush to coat evenly on both sides.
  3. If you would like your flatbreads a little crispier, you can bake them for 2-3 minutes in the oven before putting on the toppings.
  4. Cut each mozzarella ball in half. Evenly place prosciutto, mozzarella halves, apple slices, and pecan pieces on each flatbread piece.
  5. Bake for 5-10 minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted to your desire.
  6. Top each flatbread with fresh arugula, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Enjoy this tasty app with a pour of McGrail 2016 Shamus Patrick Red Blend.

Please let us know if you end up making these pairings and if you have any feedback! We’d love to hear it.

Cheers and enjoy!