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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Legal Sea Foods Features the "Wines of Sonoma County" with Insights from VP of Beverage Operations and Master of Wine, Sandy Block!

One of the perks of living in sunny South Florida is the 24/7 access to fresh, fabulous seafood. If you also happen to prefer a glass of wine with your fruits de mer, let me introduce you to a local restaurant dedicated to the pairing of fine wines and seafood that's currently offering a delicious, vinous promotion.

From May 14 - June 10 Legal Sea Foods in Boca Raton will be showcasing the "Wines of Sonoma County" featuring selections from producers including Terlato, Benziger, Sonoma-Cutrer, Patz & Hall, DeLoach, Dutton-Goldfield, Seghesio, Kenwood and Silver Oak. In addition to their Wine Spectator award-winning Sonoma selections by the glass and by the bottle, they will be offering both red and white tasting flights, giving customers the opportunity to try three wines at a time. I also had the chance to speak with the restaurant's Vice President of Beverage Operations and Master of Wine, Sandy Block, via telephone, who expressed the goal of the promotion as, "to highlight the diversity of Sonoma and give guests the opportunity to taste as well as compare and contrast the different AVA's of the region." As far as pairing these wines with the restaurant's menu selections, Block added, "because of Sonoma's cooler climate, the wines have higher acid levels, minerality and structure that go remarkably well with seafood."

Sandy Block, VP of Beverage Operations
Legal Sea Foods has been setting the bar for quality and freshness in the seafood industry for over 60 years and with 30 restaurants dotting the East Coast, their commitment to quality also extends into the realm of wine. Block, just the fourth Master of Wine from the United States, joined the company in 1994 and has done much to grow the wine program which includes a strong emphasis on educating the staff that sells it. "We really invest alot in training our staff. People don't come to restaurants to read; personal interaction is most important. Our staff needs to make the wine come alive for our customers." When it comes to food and wine pairing, "We try not to be too dogmatic," Block says, "having fun is the main goal." His favorite part of the job? "Passing on knowledge to the team and the feeling of having touched people and gotten them excited about something, whether its guests or staff."

Sonoma County Whites
Selecting wines for the restaurants' lists occurs during twice yearly blind tastings to prevent the tasting panel from being biased by labels, prices or producers. The end result is a user friendly, well-rounded selection of wines with some highly recognizable names (i.e. Cakebread, Silver Oak) as well as new and exciting offerings for customers to explore. What wine is Block most excited about these days? "I've fallen in love with South Africa and am obsessed with Chenin Blanc! There has been a dramatic improvement in South African wines in recent years." When pressed for the name of a producer, "I'm most excited about the De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc which is barrel fermented and dry and works well with crab and lobster. I've also always liked the Kanonkop Pinotage and the 'Petit' Pinotage from Ken Forrester which goes well with medium-bodied fish such as tuna."

Sonoma County Reds
As part of this promotion, Block has added the first Pinot Grigio to the wine list at Legal Sea Foods. What makes the 2010 Terlato Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Grigio so special? Block explained this wine is, "Very good and distinct from an Italian Pinot Grigio. Coming from the Terlato family, who are responsible for bringing Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio into the world, the wine has a great bloodline as well." When asked about guests' vinous preferences over the past few years, Block added, "Over the last few years people have been much more versatile in what they've been drinking. We used to sell one glass of red for every 5-6 glasses of white. Now it's more like one glass of red for every 2 glasses of white."

Lamb with Cucumber Sauce
Following a tasting of the lineup of wines featured in the Sonoma County Promotion and a delicious assortment of some of "Legal's" signature dishes, it was evident that indeed, excellent pairings abound! Some not-to-be-missed favorites included:
  •  The Double Stuffed Baked Shrimp featured a jumbo shrimp wrapped in a delicious, buttery crabmeat stuffing and paired deliciously with the crisp, fruity 2010 Terlato Pinot Grigio, Russian River Valley.
  •  The classic Grilled Scallops, adorned simply with salt, pepper and a very light butter and herb sauce, paired beautifully with the creaminess and acidity of the 2009 Benziger Chardonnay from Carneros.
  • Legal's Signature Crab Cake, chock full of jumbo lump crabmeat and served with a delicious, creamy mustard sauce and arugula salad, was positively divine with the citrus and spice of the 2010 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
  • The Thai Style Crispy Montauk Calamari with pineapple, peanuts and  a delightful subtle heat were mouth-watering paired with the ripe fruit and spice of the 2010 Dutton-Goldfield "Dutton Ranch" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
  • The Wood Grilled Steak Tips with Mashed Potatoes and Braised Greens were delicious paired with the juicy berries and black pepper of the 2010 Seghesio Family Vineyards Sonoma Zinfandel.
  • A new item on the Happy Hour Menu was the flavorful and delicious Lamb with Cucumber Sauce, a take on a traditional tzatziki, that paired perfectly with the rich, velvety 2007 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. If you're in the mood for a splurge - it's delicious!
Legal's Signature Crab Cake
I couldn't end my interview without asking Block for his personal favorite food and wine pairing on the menu. After adding that money was no object, Block admitted that, "I'm a lobster fan, and on a special occasion I'd prefer it paired with a minerally Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru 'Les Folatieres.' Its richness and body with just the right amount of oak it make it a wonderful yet subtle accompaniment. I might also select a dry Riesling such as the Trimbach 'Cuvee Frederic Emile' from Alsace. It has alot of minerality, high acidity and verges on the oily side which works beautifully with lobster."

What's not to love about that?

Legal Sea Foods is located at 6000 Glades Road at Town Center in Boca Raton. Please call 561-447-2112 for reservations and for more information, visit


Friday, May 25, 2012

Kick off Memorial Day Weekend with these Sultry Summer Sippers!

With the temperatures heating up outside (and boy are they!), it's time for some wines that are guaranteed to take the edge off a sizzling Summer Day. 

For the Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale's "Art of Wine & Food" Series event last night, I selected wines that are light, lovely and perfect for sipping by the pool or pairing with lighter, warm weather fare. While the seminar was titled "Spring Fling: Wines that Pair with the Fresh Flavors of Spring!" it was more like "Spring into Summer" since the unofficial start of the season is Memorial Day weekend which begins today. Our three wines for the evening were accompanied by the delicious cuisine of Chef Marci Boland of L'Hermitage Catering. It's always a pleasure working with Marci and I think our guests would agree, we enjoyed some pretty spectacular pairings!
Wine #1: Poema Cava Brut NV 
Cava is a Spain's sparkling wine, produced primarily in the Penedès region in the northeastern part of the country. Crisp and fruity, Cava is currently growing in popularity in the United States.

For a wine to qualify for the Cava designation it must adhere to certain criteria including grape varieties used, method of production and length of aging. The three main grape varieties used to make Cava are Parellada, Macabeo, and Xarel-lo although other grapes including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also permitted. Like Champagne, Cava must be produced using the méthode traditionelle or méthode champenoise which requires that the wine’s secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle from which it is later served. The wines must also be cellared and aged on their lees for a minimum of nine months. The final wine is classified by its sugar content and length of aging. Ranging from driest to sweetest, Cava is classified as: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Semi-Dry, and Sweet. 

The delightful Poema Brut Cava NV offers delicate aromas of citrus and peach with a hint of spice. The palate is dry with a crisp acidity and light fruit flavors that make it an excellent pairing with dishes such as smoked salmon, goat cheese salads and lighter fare - although it's perfectly enjoyable on its own! Cava is also an excellent value and a fabulous choice for sparkling wine based cocktails such as Mimosas or Bellinis. This wine synergized beautifully with Chef Marci's delicious Fettuccine with Lemon, Parmesan Cream and Cracked Pepper. MSRP: $12

Wine #2: 2007 Helfrich Pinot Gris Alsace 
Alsace is a much disputed geographical region located on the eastern border of France known for producing almost exclusively white, varietal wines. For much of its existence, it was known as the western German region “Elsass” and has been the subject of many territorial disputes between France and Germany. Separated from Germany by the Rhine River and from France by the Vosges mountains, the language and culture of Alsace owe much to both regions, but is also unique in many respects.

The Helfrich family has been crafting wines in Alsace for six generations. They are leading the Alsatian Renaissance with grapes from centuries old vineyards and employ modern wine making methods with a minimalist touch to allow the terroir to show through.

The fruit for this 100% Pinot Gris comes from the Couronne d'Or (Golden Crown), an association of local vineyards that runs through the center of Alsace. The soil is mostly calcareous and the vines are dry farmed and trained upwards for maximum sun exposure. This wine has a yellow-gold hue and aromas of ripe apricot, pear and minerals. It has a rich, round mouthfeel and flavors of peach and apple with a well-balanced, fresh finish. This Pinot Gris is delicious paired with shellfish such as crab and mussels as well as dishes with some spice, like Indian or Thai cuisine. Guests swooned over this dish paired with Grilled Chicken in Indian Spices with Mango Salsa. MSRP: $14

Wine #3: 2009 Louis Jadot Moulin-
à-Vent Château des Jacques
Maison Louis Jadot was founded in 1859 by Louis Henry Denis Jadot whose family settled in Beaune near the turn of the century. Maison Louis Jadot's principles of vinification balance tradition and technology and focus on the purest expression of "terroir" through the medium of the vine. 

Purchased by Maison Louis Jadot in 1996, the Château des Jacques is situated in the village of Moulin-à-Vent (which translates as 'windmill' in English), between Fleurie and Chenas. The Moulin-à-Vent wine is referred to as the “King of Beaujolais,” and widely considered to be the most Burgundian “Cru” of Beajolais. The other nine Crus are St. Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.

Like all Beaujolais reds, the '09 Louis Jadot Moulin-à-Vent Château des Jacques is produced from 100% Gamay grapes. The wine is vinified in closed vats, and then aged in oak barrels for six months. While generally known for its light, fruity flavors, this is a full, robust Beaujolais with a rich texture and greater longevity than any other Cru of the Beaujolais. While perfect for drinking now, this wine could also age for another 5-7 years. Serve this wine slightly chilled and paired with charcuterie, grilled red meats or game. It harmonized deliciously with the flavorful Stuffed Tomatoes Provencal with Ham, Herbs & Garlic. MSRP: $22

If you're interested in purchasing any of these wines, please contact me at A big thank you to everyone who joined us last night and to Republic National Distributing Company for their support of the "Art of Food & Wine." Please join us next month on Thursday, June 28th as we celebrate our two year anniversary of the series. Our theme will be "Alternative Grapes: Take a Walk on the Wild Side with Wines Made from Obscure Grape Varieties!" - hope to see you there!

Cheers to a festive & fabulous Memorial Day Weekend,

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