Posts Tagged ‘Bordeaux’

La Forge Merlot cozies up to ratatouille pizza

La Forge Merlot with ratatouille pizza
We always thought drinking good wines with pizza was our dirty little secret. But then we found that great pizza is a given in California’s Sonoma wine country. We were especially taken by the pizza-wine pairings at Comstock Wines. Unlike us, the Sonoma folks couldn’t enjoy pizza and wine while the New England Patriots.

As football season begins to wind down, we’re exploring a wider world of wine with pizza. As we learned from pizza guru Rosario Del Nero of Bertucci’s, pizza can support an infinite variety of toppings. Just show restraint. “When it comes to toppings, less is more,” Del Nero cautioned. “You don’t want to overwhelm your pizza.”

A mixed half case from wine distributor Esprit du Vin ( arrived at the end of the year. We’ve designated them for pizza pairings, which is proving both challenging and a lot of fun.

The wine: La Forge Estate Merlot 2015

La Forge Estate Merlot bottleMerlot is the good-time-Charlie grape of Bordeaux compared to the tougher, much tannic Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot ripens early and makes lush and plummy wines. It’s widely grown around the world and often marketed as the soft alternative to Cabernet. The rap on Merlot is that it’s often too soft and unstructured.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. This Merlot was crafted in the southwest corner of France by Jean-Claude Mas. Since he took over Domaines Paul Mas nearly two decades ago, he’s been a pioneer in restoring luster to the wines of Languedoc. Taking a decidedly New World approach to this daily table red, he’s aimed for intense concentration. The grapes were destemmed, fermented cool for five days, and then macerated another nine days with daily pumpovers before pressing. The first pressings were blended back in with free-run juice. The malolactic fermentation was in barrique, where the wine was aged another six months before bottling.

The 2015 benefits from some air, as the oak still lingers on the wine. We opened it an hour before eating, but it didn’t fully blossom until we poured the last glass—and then wished we had more. The intense plum and blackberry nose gives way to a palate of red fruit, dark spices, and toasted coffee. It’s a great example of the grape’s potential, and of Languedoc’s suitability for Merlot. The wine retails between $8 and $15.

Ratatouille pizza

The pizza: Ratatouille with fresh tomatoes and feta

Languedoc isn’t quite Provence, but it’s only a few kilometers away. Our first thought was to match this wine to a classic Provençal dish. Fortunately, we had some ratatouille on hand from a dinner earlier in the week. To brighten it up, we thought we’d add some sweet hothouse mini-tomatoes. Tangy feta is a classic foil for ratatouille, but it doesn’t melt very well. We thought we’d put some on the pizza, but added some fresh mozzarella as well.

Interestingly enough, the pizza brought out some of the herbal qualities in the wine, including some pleasant overtones of eucalyptus and the resinous scent of Mediterranean brush. For what it’s worth, we used the recipe for “Quick Ratatouille” from EAT RIGHT by Nick Barnard, published by Kyle Books ( You can find the recipe in this post.



1 teaspoon olive oil
dough for 16-inch pizza (see below)
3/4 cup leftover ratatouille, well-drained
6 oz. ping-pong ball-sized tomatoes, peeled and halved or quartered
3 oz. feta
3 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut in very thin slices


Set oven at 450°F.

Brush olive oil onto stretched-out pizza dough. Spread ratatouille thinly. Crumble half of feta over the vegetables. Distribute tomatoes. Crumble remaining feta over top. Distribute mozzarella slices evenly. When oven is heated, slide pizza in on top rack. Cook about 10 minutes.


This is our basic pizza dough for cooking in a conventional home oven using a conventional pizza pan. Measurements are by weight because flour can vary dramatically based on humidity and how firmly you pack the measuring cup. We prefer the extra flavor of half whole wheat and half white flour. But the recipe works fine if you use white flour alone.


210 grams flour
1/4 teaspoon instant dry yeast
1 teaspoon (7 grams) sugar
150 grams ice water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil


In food processor fitted with steel blade, add flour, yeast, and sugar. Process 30 seconds to mix. With processor turned on, dribble ice water through feed tube until absorbed. Process another 30 seconds.

Push dough down to evenly distribute in the processing bowl. Let rest for at least 30 minutes. This allows the yeast to get a head start on the salt. (It’s the same trick that makes French bread rise properly.)

When the waiting period is over, add salt and olive oil and process until the dough pulls away from the sides of bowl.

Turn out and place in barely greased 1-quart bowl. Cover loosely and let rise, preferably six hours or more, in cool spot. (Or refrigerate overnight, removing 3 hours before cooking to let dough return to room temperature.) If dough expands to rim, jiggle bowl to make dough subside.

Set oven to 450°F, making sure that one rack is on the top rails.

Flatten ball on slippery surface very lightly dusted with flour. We use polyethylene flexible cutting boards. Stretch by hand into a 16-inch round. Place well-seasoned pizza pan dusted with cornmeal on top of pizza and invert. Trim off excess or roll into a thicker edge. (Or invert onto dusted peel if using a pizza stone or steel in the oven.) Place toppings on pizza. Cook on oven’s top rack for 8 minutes if toppings are light, 10 minutes if laden with cheese or heavy vegetables. The Neapolitan-style crust should be crisp and browned on the bottom and slightly chewy on the top. Cooking time is much briefer if using a pizza stone or steel.


01 2018

Craggy Range shows original NZ wines

Matt Stafford of Craggy Range
Matt Stafford (above) isn’t just any winemaker. He’s a winemaker who came to the trade originally as a soil scientist. The post-grad diploma in viticulture and oenology came later, but the grounding (no pun intended) in soil might just make him the ideal person to make wine for Craggy Range ( in New Zealand. Stafford was in Boston a few weeks ago to introduce some of his wines. New Zealand has become notorious for popular sauvignon blanc and pinot noir–even though the former often tastes medicinal and the latter like cherry cough syrup. It was a pleasure to taste elegant New Zealand wines that spoke first and foremost of terroir.

It was clear that Stafford wanted to confound expectation when a few of us gathered at L’Espalier for dinner. Instead of pouring a sauvignon blanc as an aperitif, he poured the intense Kidnappers Vineyard chardonnay that drank like a Chablis. It’s grown in Hawke’s Bay on a shallow, clay loam soil aired out by cool sea breezes, a combination that intensifies the varietal flavors. At $22 a bottle, it’s a good alternative to its French counterpart.

By contrast, Craggy Range’s Gimlett Gravels vineyard, also in Hawke’s Bay, is a patch saved from being turned into a gravel mine. The combination of stony soil with terrific drainage and intense sun and heat makes the vineyard excellent for growing the very ripe components for Te Kahu, a soft Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec. Also priced at $22, it was gentle enough to pair with quail breast served with walnut polenta.

Stafford contrasted Te Kahu nicely with Sophia, a different Bordeaux blend (it includes more petit verdot than malbec). Although the blend is closer to the right bank Bordeaux wines, the cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc are much more pronounced than in Te Kahu, giving Sophia more of a left bank flavor profile. Le Sol from Craggy Range All the grapes represent the best from Craggy Range’s vineyards and they’re all hand-selected and destemmed. At $76, Sophia has good aging potential. The 2013 we tasted is still a little closed and the tannins are tight, but there’s a lot of promise in the fruit.

The biggest red from Craggy Range is another Gimlett Gravels wine, Le Sol. Made from 100 percent syrah from heritage stock brought to New Zealand 150 years ago, it provides a powerful flagship for the winery. Rich, seemingly sweet from the high alcohol content, and full of fruit with licorice and green herbal overtones, Le Sol has the approachability of a good pinot noir, but the body and intensity to drink well with strong meat dishes. L’Espalier threw a veritable mixed grill at the wine—rack of lamb, spare ribs spiced with ras el hanout, garlic sausage, and some charred eggplant. The spare ribs and eggplant were the best match, but it was interesting to see how a New Zealand syrah could bridge the gap between the balanced style of the Rhone Valley and the more aggressive hot-weather style of Australia. Suggested retail is $107. It would be spectacular with a powerful game dish, though we’d suggest double-decanting.


07 2015

Mullan Road shows the grandeur of Walla Walla red

Dennis Cakebread having Mullan Road poured at Strip by Strega in Boston
Given that his family name is practically synonymous with Napa, it was a pretty good bet that when Dennis Cakebread started making wine near Walla Walla, Washington, he was going to call it something else. So he named his new winemaking venture for the historic wagon road across the Rockies from present-day Montana to present-day Walla Walla that was surveyed in 1854 and built 1859-60. We suspect that what appealed to Cakebread was that Lt. John Mullan was a pathfinder and a visionary. More than 150 years later, portions of I-15 and I-90 follow the same path that Mullan took over the Rockies. Cakebread is looking to pioneer a Washington red worth laying down in your cellar. His first Mullan Road Cellars red (2012) was released last fall.

As Cakebread looked into the Columbia River Valley for a possible expansion project, he was both impressed with the unusual soils and with the camaraderie of Walla Walla winemakers. Not that Cakebread has completely made up his mind exactly which terroir Mullan Road will attach itself to. “When you think you might move to a new city, you don’t just go out and buy a house,” he says. “You rent a while and see how you like the neighborhood.”

Mullan Road 2012Mullan Road Cellars purchases most of its grapes from other growers, most notably Seven Hills Vineyard on the south end of the Walla Walla Valley appellation and a number of vineyards in the area close to the Oregon border soon to be recognized as Royal Slope. Other parcels it leases on a three-year recurring lease program. Compared to many winemaking regions, eastern Washington is very dispersed, with miles of rough road between vineyards. “One thing you really need to make wine in Washington,” says Cakebread, “is a good truck.”

Leasing parcels also lets Mullan Road experiment. One year Mullan Road contained a small percentage of Malbec, but it wasn’t up to Cakebread’s standards or those of Washington native winemaker Aryn Morell. The next blend used cabernet franc to balance the merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

At this point, Mullan Road Cellars makes just one wine known as a Columbia Valley Red. It’s a Bordeaux blend carefully balanced to cellar well yet also drink fairly well while young. Cakebread calls it “balanced and robust,” and we have to agree. We enjoyed a bottle of the 2012 at Strip by Strega in Boston at a working lunch over a grilled pork dish and a steak. The wine held up well with both, showing a little cassis and dark berry fruits on the nose, supple tannins to grip the meat, and finished with a satisfying Bordeaux-style bittersweet note. We can barely wait for the 2013, due to hit the shelves in October.

Click here for more about Mullan Road Cellars.


07 2015