We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Highway 46 West (Paso Robles) Wine Tasting and Duck Fat Oven Fries

My Traveling Tales by Linda

"Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living."
                                                           ~ Robert Mondavi from his autobiography, Harvests of Joy

Susan Benson, of Dark Star Cellars, pours the delicious Ricordati for us.
A view into the Paso Robles hills from PasoPort Wine Company in mid-July.
   This past summer, when Mark and I celebrated our birthdays that are just three days apart in July, we decided upon the Central Coast as our destination. We chose Morro Bay as base camp, because it was central to all of the areas that we wanted to visit. Not only is Morro Bay beautiful, and right on the water, but it is only an hour and a half to the Santa Ynez Valley, which I still think of as home, and it is just thirty minutes from some great micro wineries that are situated along Highway 46 West. Pick up a free map when you are in the area (they are plentiful), but I could not find a decent one on-line.
   Before we begin our journey on 46 West, I will take a moment to extoll Mark's credentials in the wine arena. Mark is a wine professional and has been tasting and selling wines for the past 25 years. He recently attained his WSET certification and passed with distinction. He has proved to be a patient teacher with me, as I tend to have strong opinions, and I have discovered over the last two years that we have been tasting together, it takes time to develop one's palate. Michelle, even though she knows it's proper, isn't too fond of how he slurps the wine when we all go tasting together, mixing the wine with air and letting it run over his whole tongue, but hey… that goes with the territory when you are tasting with a wine professional.

   To be sure, there are many wineries as well on Highway 46 East, which is on the other side of Highway 101. That area is populated with quite a few larger producers who have built grandiose tasting rooms that are reminiscent of Napa. Mark and I took a drive through the area last summer in blazing heat, and headed right back to 46 West, where, not only did the temperature drop being closer to the coast, but the wineries are small and the wine that is made is not only a great value, but is lovingly crafted in smaller quantities. The artisanship is evident when you start tasting the wine. We only had a day to explore this past summer, and we vowed to return as soon as we were able.

"Micro wineries are the heart of Paso Robles" proclaims an article on a
bulletin board at Pipestone Vineyards. I concur.
   This past January, with the busy holiday season behind us retailers, Mark and I headed out for Morro Bay for rest and relaxation. We once again designated a day of wine tasting along Highway 46 West in our plans. I fully acknowledge in writing this post, that even after this past visit, we have still only scratched the surface as far as visiting the tasting rooms in the area. There are over 300 wineries to chose from. In this post I will be featuring just four of our favorites so far.

Those hearts are made from spent barrel hoops.
Dark Star Cellars

   Our first visit to Dark Star Cellars was based on a tip from my friends Clarke and Monica who had stumbled upon this great small producer on a trip to Cayucos. When they brought a bottle of Dark Star Ricordati to a special dinner, I was an instant fan. When Mark and I stopped in last summer, we were greeted by Susan Benson and her assistant in the tasting room. Susan is the wife of the owner and winemaker Norm Benson.

   The tasting room is warm and inviting, and so is Susan. When we stopped in on this trip, she remembered us instantly. The wines here are all beautifully made, and very affordable. Norm and Susan's son is now making his own label, and has set up shop right next door at Brian Benson Cellars. I always pick up a bottle of Ricordati for we sisters to share during Sistercations when we remember and toast those that we have loved and lost.

["Ricordati" ( Re-core-dot-ee), "Always Remember", is a delicate blend of 
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc which is produced to celebrate the 
memory of our friends and family. Ricordati began as a tribute by Norm to his father. 
It has now evolved into a wine that celebrates the memory of all of our friends and family 
who have passed away. A tribute to the positive impact they all have had on our lives.]

Carol Perata, of Fratelli Perata Wines.
Fratelli Perata

   In these micro wineries, we are almost always greeted by a person in the family who is helping to make the wine. Fratelli Perata is no exception. Carol Perata is a wife, mother and winemaker not to mention family historian, and from what I hear, an expert at cooking up the Italian dishes that the family has eaten for generations. She related on this visit about the preparation of the Christmas ravioli, telling us that, according to the tradition in their family, the Nonna says, "you know when the pasta is rolled thin enough, because you can read a newspaper through it." The family enjoyed that handmade ravioli this past year, with a '94 Cab from their library.

I love the Fratelli Perata Tasting Room... I feel like I just pulled up a chair in Carol's kitchen.
   The tasting room is a homey nook, with barrels aging in the larger part of the space, and family photos proudly hung on the wall with a map of Italy designating the family's roots, and a family wall mural that represents the generations past and present.

   This estate vineyard/winery is run by brothers Gino and Joe Perata and their families. It is a great place to taste varietals that are not commonly found in California such as Charbono, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese. It is now also my tradition to purchase a bottle of the delicious blend called Tre Sorelle, named after the three daughters of Carol and Gino, to share when we three sisters are together. The grapes are dry farmed at Fratelli Perata, so the grapes benefit from having intense flavors that have not been diluted by irrigation. This is also a much more eco-friendly approach to growing grapes.

   And this brings us finally to a discovery that we made through Carol Perata. She told us about another couple that is making great wine just up the road with draft horses, and neither Mark or I could resist seeing that.

Mark gets acquainted with Betty and Bobbie, the sister draft horses that help
farm the land at Pipestone Vineyards.
Pipestone Vineyards

   So in spite of the intense heat last July, we drove out a winding road that would lead us to Pipestone Vineyards. Mark, who loves horses, was greeted by Betty and Bobbie, two draft horses that are full sisters. They help Jeff Pipes, the owner/winemaker, plow the fields. Click here for a link on their website page that shows the girls in action.

Florence pours for us a delicious taste of their estate grown Viognier. Just perfect
on a hot and dusty afternoon in Paso Robles.
   Florence Wong manages the tasting room and sales. Again, a low-key space with a vineyard dog asleep on the floor, and serving up some really great wine. Not only is the wine delicious, but all the grapes are grown at this small family winery that has a dedicated history of sustainable farming and producing handmade Estate Grown Rhône-style wines from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Viognier. There is also a dry farmed Zinfandel.

   And just for a change up, and because I am fond of port, we stopped in at PasoPort Wine Company at the end of the day, because in my humble opinion, all great adventures are made better with a little dessert.

PasoPort Wine Company

   PasoPort Wine Company has a location on the West side of the highway. I found the pinup girl motif to be a tad cheesy, but we did enjoy the port quite a bit. Enough to purchase a couple of bottles. That was also due to the great customer service we received from a very knowledgeable, professional, and pretty woman that was attending the tasting room. If you like port, this is a fun stop.

PasoPort tasting room on Highway 46 West location.
   Other wineries that Mark and I can happily recommend are:

Say hello to Pam at Caliza for us… she is most knowledgable and hospitable.
Caliza Winery ~ check out the Pink
Winward Vineyard ~ exclusively well-crafted Pinot Noirs
Kaleidos ~ specializing in Rhône varietals

   Having established that there is great wine to be found on Highway 46 West, it should be mentioned that there is a dearth of places to eat. Many of the wineries have beautiful picnic areas, so if you are packing your own food, there is no shortage of great places at the various wineries which have beautiful locations to eat. But if you haven't packed a picnic, I have happy news for you. This trip we discovered Fundaro's Foodsteam which had parked for the afternoon at J Dusi Wines.

Hipster grub under the oaks in Paso at J Dusi Wines.
   Mark and I asked at Dark Star if there was any place to lunch? They responded enthusiastically about Fundaro's Foodstream. They graciously called to check where they would be that day, and sent us about a mile East. Not knowing what to expect, my hopes weren't that high, but when we saw the menu, we knew that we had found some great grub. 

   We decided to share the Green Egg and Hamburger, the New Mexico Green Chile Stew and the Hatch Poutine. Since we only eat gluten once in a blue moon, the brioche bun on the burger was quite the splurge. The food was outstanding, and tasted especially good after all the wine tasting. I spoke with Jack, the operator proprietor, and he was kind enough to pose for a photo when he wasn't running food out to picnic tables.

Jack of Fundaro's Foodstream.
   Mark and I loved, loved, loved the food! So much that we vowed to try a twist on the Poutin when we got home with a healthier version made with our duck fat fries. We also happened to have Hatch chiles in the freezer. But for the moment, we were satisfied to munch on our lunch, and we savored the great tasting food. There was also the added bonus that we were eating in the open air and under the oaks in one of our favorite places in California. 

Hatch Poutine with house cut fries, hatch chile gravy, chopped onions,
cilantro and feta cheese… sublime.
Mark tucks in.

 Oven Duck Fat Fries

   When I began a Paleo template diet, two years ago now, I realized that I would have to find an alternative to French fries (quite possibly one of my favorite foods ever!). If I wanted to be able to indulge, and still remain true to my quest to eliminate refined and poisonous vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, corn, peanut, etc., from my diet, I needed to find another way.
   Refined vegetable oils are extremely toxic to human health, and I have yet to find commercially available French fries that are not produced with vegetable oils. It doesn't matter the brand of fast food or the ones in the frozen food section of your grocery store… they all are made with oils like canola. Even if they say they are made with olive oil, check the ingredients. They still have canola oil in there, too… olive oil being too expensive to be commercially viable as the single oil.

Linda's mise-en-place for duck fat fries… minus the duck fat.
   I recently read an article that was entitled "2013 Was The Year That Saturated Fats Were Redeemed." As science is discovering, healthy fats have been given a really bad rap for a long time now, while refined "foods", (especially sugar) and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (masquerading as heart-healthy) have floated under the radar for far too long. Examples of healthy fats (this list being very contradictory to what are commonly thought of as healthy fats) are coconut oil, butter/ghee, olive oil, beef tallow, pork lard and yes… duck fat. Hurray!

   Since duck fat is a classic fat that was traditionally used in France to make fries, I decided to try it. The results were delicious, and roasting potato wedges tossed in melted duck fat, required using only about a tablespoon of fat for a whole cookie sheet full of fries. Mission accomplished. Over the last two years they have become an easy and delicious go-to staple that we prepare often in our menu rotation at home.

2 Russet potatoes
1 Tablespoon melted rendered duck fat
(Mary's makes an excellent rendered duck fat available at Whole Foods Market)
Celtic sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (optional)

Procedure and equipment:
1 half sheet pan or sturdy cookie sheet
1 sheet of parchment paper cut to fit the sheet pan
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Scrub potatoes and dry. Melt your duck fat in a small pan while cutting the potato wedges. Follow the steps outlined below to make the wedges.

   Once the potatoes are cut into wedges, place in a bowl and pour the melted duck fat over them. Sprinkle liberally with the Celtic sea salt and cracked black pepper. Toss well mixing the potato wedges with the melted fat and seasonings. (The fresh rosemary can be sprinkled on when the potatoes are removed from the oven.)

Pour the melted duck fat over the potato wedges. Add salt and pepper.
Mix well.
   Place the wedges evenly skin-side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes, or until potato wedges are puffed and caramelized to a golden brown on the edges. Sprinkle with fresh minced rosemary if desired. Not only does the rosemary add a wonderfully herbaceous flavor, but rosemary is one of the very best herbs for protecting the brain from inflammation. It is a hearty and resilient herb, and we always have a pot or two growing in the garden to clip from. Serve immediately. (If you want a serving for yourself, don't let my sister Michelle go ahead of you in line.)

Ready for the oven.
   It may take a bit longer to make these oven fries than tearing open a bag of frozen fries from the market. However, not only do they taste better, but your body/heart/brain with thank you. They can be ready in an hour, start to finish. On hamburger night at our house, the first one home starts the fries, and then we prep the rest of the meal, so that the burgers are done just when the fries are coming out of the oven.

Roasted and caramelized to perfection… about 45-50 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

1 comment:

  1. We really enjoyed reading your blog...it's so well done! I'm definitely going to make those "fries"!Thanks so much for your kind words about our small, family owned winery! You and Mark are one of the reasons we love what we do. We will look forward to your next visit here at Dark Star!


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