Iron Horse Blog
Carnival is not a day, but a whole season in New Orleans, and who better to celebrate with than the Executive Chef at Commander’s Palace. For the past 20 years, Commander’s Palace has served our special production Commander’s Cuvee at their iconic restaurant and we’ve enjoyed visiting our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs at the renowned landmark for even longer. Tory McPhail graciously spared some precious moments during this busy time to explain what the festivities mean for New Orleanians and how the rest of us can invoke this spirit in our own homes with Creole dishes paired with Iron Horse.
We’re feeling especially festive today following the Krewe of Cork’s picture perfect parade. This wine-centric social club celebrates the fruit of the vine, food and fun. A group after our own hearts. So today especially, we honor their motto “T.G.I.C.D.” (Thank Goodness It's Cork Day).
Tarin: The Carnival season started on January 6th and runs through February 9th, can you explain a bit about what the city looks like from your prime Commander’s Palace location?
Tory: That’s right, 12 Days after Christmas, on Twelfth Night, we kick off the fun with the Parade of the Sunny Phunny Phellows. They commandeer four street cars with an arsenal of alcohol and then run up and down the street car line from Charles Avenue down to Canal Street and back again in a Paul Revere style. This krewe heralds the coming of Mardi Gras through the most exclusive neighborhoods and from then we’re off to the races.
Tarin: How do you prepare for this and for Mardi Gras in your restaurant?
Tory: This year Mardi Gras is on February 9th, so til then it’s all about revelling in the Carnival spirit. There’s fantastic music all over the city and tourists flooding in. I try to educate our servers about the season. Our restaurant plays a key role in perpetuating what this special time means to New Orleans.
Tarin: What’s the ideal schedule for a tourist visiting during this period?
Tory: Tourists can ride the streetcar which connects the entire city together. They can walk around the Garden District and stroll by the mansions before stopping in Commander’s Palace which is right in the middle of Mardi Gras parade routes. We provide an elegant lunch set up with our curated wine menu and as the parade starts up with the clatter of drums, we encourage guests to leverage our open container laws by diving in with a bourbon cocktails to go.
Tarin: What can a guest typically find on your menu during this season?
Tory: Our staff is rejuvenated after the holidays and ready to deliver on our twice daily menu changes. We update the offering for Carnival time and offer some of our signature dishes. This includes a King Cake for dessert. But we also do savory versions which can include seared foie gras toppings and vegetable purees that invoke the colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green, and gold). We call this Mardi Foie. Overall, we don’t take ourselves seriously at all, instead we try to mirror the spirit of the city.
Tarin: Can you tell me about signature flavors and styles associated with New Orlean’s Creole cooking?
Tory: I like to say that out of towners should understand that New Orleans food is not Cajun food. Cajun is country cooking established before the days of refrigeration when hunters needed to preserve meats with heavily salting and smoking. The resulting food was hearty and rustic. But New Orleans is a port town so from the beginning, we were a ground zero for trade. Cooks and chefs in town could visit a market daily for more diverse ingredients and Creole cooking emerged with more refined styles through equally flavorful.
Tarin: This tradition of daily market trips seems related to your current strategy of produce sourcing, can you explain that a little?
Tory: I took over as an executive chef 14 years ago and always wanted to make sure that our food screamed Louisiana. So it was important to me to source produce locally to provide a fantastic product on our menus. Because we’re farmer driven, often working with groups who have been our partners for generations, we have a sous chef position dedicated to maintaining relationships with the guys out in the Bayou who provide resources like catfish. Dishes have authentic New Orleans roots which adds a lot of different dimensions of life and history. It’s this understanding of the unique virtues of small producers and a reverence for multi generational businesses that drives us to continue our great relationship with Iron Horse every year.
Tarin: You have an award-winning sommelier in Dan Davis (@cpwineguy), how does wine come into play with your big, flavorful menu items?
Tory: I really enjoy wine and just as we want our food to provide an exciting bite each time, we want our wines to do the same thing. I like floral notes, wines with balanced acidity and a lot of ripe fruit, or a decent amount of oak or vanilla. It’s important to me that the wines we chose tell the story of the vineyard, another reason that our philosophy integrates so well with the Iron Horse product.
Tarin: You pour our special production Commander’s Cuvee and have been dear friends for many years. What about these bubbles pairs perfectly with your menus?
Tory: These bubbles go with anything. A lot of our food has serious spice to it or involves a lot of richness and butteriness. So the cuvee perfectly cuts through with the right amount of acidity and effervescence. It achieves this better than any other sparkling wine out there and our guests love enjoying it year after year.
Tarin: You have a classic dish you’d like to share with our readers who want to infuse the Carnival season spirit in their own kitchens. What’s your secret recipe and what would you pair this with?
Tory: I’ve got a recipe “Crawfish Boil” Fried Chicken which goes wonderfully with sparkling wine, particularly Commander’s Cuvee.
For the Chicken:
2 – 3 ½ - 4 lb chickens (8 pieces each)
2 quarts cold water
4 tablespoons Zataraines Crab Boil
3 cups flour (divided)
3 teaspoons salt (divided)
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper (divided)
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
Combine the chicken, water and crab boil in a large pot and marinate chicken overnight or at least 16 hours.
Remove chicken from brine & pat the skin dry. Combine 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt & ½ teaspoon black pepper and coat the chicken with the mixture. Place coated chicken on a sheet pan in a single layer and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (this will help pull excess water from the chicken and create a crisper skin.)
Season 2 cups of flour with 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp Creole seasoning. Toss the chicken in the new flour mixture to coat liberally and shake off excess flour. Fry chicken at 350° for 12 – 14 minutes. Strain and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
For the Crab Boiled Vegetables:
3 celery ribs, cut in 1 ½ - 2 in pieces
3 ears of corn (leave on cob) cut into 1 inch thick rounds
2 small red onions (peeled) and cut into 8 pieces each through root top to bottom
4 med red potatoes cut into 4 pieces each
1 lemon cut into 8 wedges
1 orange cut into 8 wedges
1 cup Crystal hot sauce
2 tablespoons Zataraines crab boil
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
3 bay leaves
3 qts cold water
¼ cup lemon olive oil
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Combine all ingredients through bay leaves in a pot of water and marinate overnight in refrigerator.
Place pot on stove and bring to a boil over high heat. Then lower heat and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Strain vegetables and discard liquid. Place strained vegetables in a bowl and toss with ¼ cup of lemon olive oil and 1 bunch of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place vegetables on a large serving platter and arrange the fried chicken over the top.
Serve with Iron Horse Commander’s Palace Cuvee
We hope you enjoy celebrating Mardi Gras with this fantastic food and wine pairing. And we’d like to send a friendly shout out to our lovely Commander’s Palace somm, Dan Davis, who is riding in the King Arthur Parade on Sunday. This is the largest krewe of the first parade weekend with over 1,000 riders but you can’t miss Dan’s winning smile and superb bead throwing skills….
“Many wine terms that are thrown around in the industry do cause some significant consternation.” This was how my discussion began with wine industry expert Andrew McNamara, The Director of Fine Wine / Master Sommelier at Breakthru Beverage Florida. That seems to be an understatement after reviewing a flood of recent to not-so-recent articles about the failed mainstream command of industry verbiage.
If prose doesn’t crystalize the “winespeak” issue for you, there are a host of somm cartoonists who have created visual satires. We’ll share a few of Maryse Chevriere’s most popular works in this blog via her inspired instagram account: @freshcutgardenhose.
The growing conflict is driven by the fact that the wine experience has become more casual, but at the same time the related language has failed to evolve along with it. With the consumer at the intersection of this disconnect, we dove into the roots of the seemingly impossible with some Iron Horse friends and experts.
When you conduct a quick search, you’ll find wine publications and mainstream periodicals alike reporting on a language breakdown along with countless “insider guides” trying to bring clarity. For example, The Drinks Business conducted a survey at the end of last year which revealed the top ten wine terms that customers are least likely to misunderstand when deciding which wines to buy. One in three don’t understand what “tart” means as a descriptor. Just 23% of people polled understood the term “terrior” and only 20% of drinkers could define “legs.”
The result is that 25% of wine drinkers found shopping for wine to be intimidating; a nightmare for the wine business. Andrew told me, “Niche terms certainly make wine less approachable than it should be. So the role of the wine expert is to make things as simple as possible.” But he also noted that it helps for consumers to get themselves into the right learning environment. It’s key to be able to pair learning about the term while actually tasting a wine with those specific characteristics.
In The Drink’s Business article “Top Misunderstood Wine Terms Revealed” their expert explains, “People want to learn more about wine and discover new tastes without being confused or awkward when buying it or talking about it with their friends.” However in order to do this, we are saddled with a limited (and some argue antiquated) lexicon including words like “herbaceous, unctuous, and quaffable” (source). Master Sommelier, Lindsey Whipple, shared real word instances where customers grasped for their own termss to describe a sensory experience. She had one man try to describe “dry”by employing the word “wet” -- justifying his choice by describing a wine that made his mouth sweat.
In an effort to decode the “jargon”, Wall Street Journal wine columnist Lettie Teague recently published “An Insider’s Guide to Weird Wine Words.” Her mission was to help bridge the gap between oenophiles and non-pros. Her guide includes words like creamy, dumb, foxy, lifted, reduced, and volatile. For now, it seems that quite a bit of effort is directed at translating rather than socializing new descriptors with greater mass appeal.
In addition to leveraging these existing language guides, expert Andrew McNamara pointed out that blossoming wine lovers should be patient. “We spend decades going through school, but how many classes did we take on how to taste or smell. We didn’t pay any attention to it! So to go into wine and expect to understand it intuitively is naive. Understanding your senses takes time and practice.” Of course, with wine, the practice part is fun!
It seems that times may be a-changing. In fact, Lindsey Whipple regularly experiences signs of consumers pushing back on tradition and coming up with their own verbiage. Working in Las Vegas, an international dining hub, she’s in a unique position to engage with new lingo auditioning for the mainstream. She hears people refer to wine as “slutty”, when a drink is very open and out there, showing itself as a heavy hitter. Or she is told to bring a “baller wine” which conveys a desire for an instagram worthy showstopper. “Guests are definitely not using brash terms like ‘Magnum Night’ in San Francisco or New York, so there is also a regional component to this,” said Lindsey. But who’s to say they are not as or more helpful than words like hollow or vegetal?
It should be noted that both Andrew and Lindsey voted the term “legs” off the wine island.. Both citing the fact that few know (or think they know) what this refers to, so the meaning has become universally diluted. And Lindsey herself offered up a word to the “common core” - to be quickly rejected. At a blind tasting with “old guard” master somms, she referred to gewurztraminer as “hooker perfume”, which based on the reactions of her colleagues might have to wait for the next generation….
It has become my tradition to write a "State of the Winery" letter ... timed to the President's State of the Union (January 12) and Governor Brown's State of the State (January 21). The tradition commences with an enumeration of accomplishments:
The great success of Summit Cuvee, commemorating the unprecedented free climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan almost a year ago to the day.
Jerry Brown speaking at our Earth Day event.
The honor of Iron Horse being served for the toast at the State Department luncheon sealing a milestone climate agreement between the US and China in September.
These were some of our finest moments:
Never missing an opportunity to celebrate, I am very excited to announce the release of a special, one-time only bubbly called Cuvee 50, timed for the Super Bowl.
But, least you think this wine is just a label, I recommend you come to the Tasting Room and try it. The blend is 69% Chard, 31% Pinot Noir estate grown in Green Valley, vintage 2010, freshly disgorged after four plus years aging and finished with a unique dosage. This is an outstanding bubbly, brut level dry, which we feel is a must-bring to the Super Bowl parties you will be attending from now through February 7.
Insider tip: Like all of our limited production wines, Cuvee 50 first went out to our wine club members.
I am extremely proud Sonoma County is the wine destination partner for The Super Bowl. Our wines are being featured in the Sonoma Wine Lounge on Tuesday Feb 2 and Saturday Feb 6, promising a perfect opportunity to be at the heart of Super Bowl City sipping Iron Horse.
So, this is how we are kicking off the New Year ... along with rain, which is most welcome. After our rain dance we do our happy dance!
The storms have been fairly manageable. Only a few days of flooding here and there. Those days, can be a little challenging when the bridge is flooded ... like today. There's a plastic box nailed to the fence at the entrance with a map of how to come around the back. Please enjoy the adventure of a small detour. You will have earned a sip of wine when you arrive at the Tasting Bar.
Being flooded is nothing new to my parents who amazingly are celebrating the 40th anniversary of when they purchased Iron Horse. We plan to celebrate July Fourth Weekend because of the obvious tie between 1976 and 1776 ... with the added fun that the original Victorian, my parents' home at the heart of the property, was built in 1876. So, there's a theme and a certain kismet that we celebrated the official opening of the winery on my father's 50th birthday and the 40th anniversary of them finding this special place in the year of my mother's 85th.
2016 also happens to be Winemaker David Munksgard's 20th anniversary at Iron Horse. We are going to have a cellar gathering on the actual anniversary of his first day here, but most exciting and impressive and gratifying to me is listening to David enthuse about the new base wines he is putting together for the 2015 Sparklings, which he says are stunning and our finest to date.
How lucky are we that it never grows old.
Happy 2016! The New Year comes with shiny new resolutions for many of us to improve body, mind, and spirit. Here’s one that covers all the bases - drinking more Iron Horse! Whether it’s red, white or bubbles, the latest scientific research points to a myriad of positive health benefits. We’ve catalogued the findings that will empower you to live your best year yet.
Let’s not forget that mankind has been making and drinking wine since 6000 B.C. Ancient Egyptians employed wine as medicine. Roman cities boasted wine bars on every street. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was prescribing red wine to aid digestion in 400 B.C. Fast forward to the 1850s and find our great grand parents choosing wine over water, citing alcohol’s ability to kill bacteria.
In the last 30 years, the French have led the charge for daily wine intake (not surprising!). Their scientists were responsible for directing the current discourse related to wine’s healthy attributes. They found that red wine could prevent heart disease while increasing levels of good cholesterol and antioxidants. Danish scientists then backed this up with studies that suggested moderate red wine drinking correlated to a lower death rate, a claim strengthened by the 2003 discovery of resveratrol (source). From this point on, the body of research pointing to positive health effects of moderate wine drinking has only grown.
Today, red wine’s resveratrol still has everyone talking, especially as some say it can extend the human lifespan by 30% (source). No wonder wine industry experts point to a consistent growth line in the red wine sales category globally! Red wine’s all star component could also help prevent dying from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a Copenhagen study (source). Other reports show that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of colon and kidney cancer along with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (source). And red wine tannins have been associated with heart disease prevention (source). All that with one glass a day? This could be your best resolution ever!
Bubbles should not be forgotten…. especially because recent studies suggest that a glass of bubbly could help prevent memory loss. This includes possible prevention of degenerative brain disorders like dementia. The pinot noir grapes used to create sparkling wine support proteins in the brain which are linked to storing memories. While they diminish naturally as your age, drinking sparkling apparently slows or prevents this process, while improving spatial memory (source).
Of course, all of the doctors and scientists are clear about drinking in moderation. Like any medicine, alcohol can be a tonic if dosed properly. How lucky to produce a natural panacea which has the power to promote longevity and boost memory. And, so every day, we are happy to raise a glass .... to good health … and to good cheer, which may be the best medicine of all!
We were dreaming of a green Christmas this year and we got it. Thank you Santa! A near average amount of rain, bringing the hills back to life.
Even more importantly, we have snowpack to the Sierras.
The Sierra Nevada Snowpack currently stands at 105% of normal - the first time above average since 2012.
This is a remarkable milestone in a state where snow was virtually absent even at the highest elevations well into February last winter, and has been consistently far below average for four consecutive years. The early season storms in NorCal have been cold ones, creating a very healthy accumulation of snow across even in the middle elevation.
Think back to April 1 when Jerry Brown at Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, walking across dry grass, announced the first ever mandatory water cutbacks of 25%. The Governors of California have trekked to that spot for 65 years and this was the first time there was no snow.
Snowpack contributes about 30 percent of California's water supply. This season’s first measurement was last Wednesday, December 30. The next will be April 1.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we recorded about seven inches of rain in December. The hills have greened-up. There’s water running down the creek.
We actually had flooding for two days, closing off the main entrance to the winery. All visitors, tasters, workers, the office, tasting room team, FedEx trucks had to go around the back way – a solid 30 minute detour, two days before Christmas. It was hard not to complain. We need the water. And it is amazing how many intrepid tasters there are.
The week leading up to New Year’s was old and dry with blue skies, puffy grey clouds and sometimes rainbows in our view.
We started pruning mid-month. We are pruning as if the drought will continue, deciding to err of the side of caution, though it means lowering our sights again in terms of crop sisze. The vineyard teams were given golf pencils with instructions that only shoots bigger than the pencil could be pruned down to two buds (meaning two shoots per position), anything smaller, would be pruned to one bud.
We are hoping for nice, steady, but not overwhelming rain in January. More specifically, we’d like for the storms to unfold with ideally a two-day lull between each one to allow the water to seep into the ground and not just rush off down the creek to the Ocean, please.
Wish for a good El Nino!