Cuisine: Wining and dining — an art

If asked to think of businesses identified with New England, most people wouldn’t mention wineries. Yet, on a tour of Rhode Island last fall, we were taken to two such establishments and found them making very good wines.

New York has been known as a premier wine-producing state for many years, and recently other areas are taking up the practice with good results.

The Diamond Hill Vineyards in Cumberland, north of Providence, boast a picturesque country setting. The colorful grounds and the gazebo are often used for weddings and other celebrations.

They were having a very good year when we stopped by. Their wines are predominantly fruit-based and surprised all of us with their varieties of flavor. My own favorite was an excellent cranberry-apple wine, not even as sweet as the currently popular White Zinfandel. They also make peach and other berry wines, as well as a spiced wine and a good Pinot Noir.

For those of you who enjoy Pinot Noir, people at this vineyard and the next one we visited all raved about the 2007 crop of these grapes as the best in American wine-making history. The wine will be on our shelves in 2009, so remember to look for it and ask for wines bottled in our northeastern states.

Newport Vineyards, located in Middletown, was the next stop. Like Diamond Hill, it’s 31 years old. This is a much larger operation, with extensive cooperative vineyards. We also toured their recently modernized processing plant before sampling their excellent wines. You can go online and order wines from them to be shipped to your home or call 401-848-5161.

They provided us with a wide-ranging list of wine pairings to help us decide what wine goes with certain foods.

The Cabot Cheese people gave us a pamphlet titled Cheddar and Wine for pairing wine with their cheeses, advising us to swirl, sniff, sip and taste, while the makers of Ghirardelli chocolates presented us with a clever cardboard wheel so that we could “dial up” their recommendations for which wine to sip with their candies.

Food and wine pairing is a highly subjective and inexact process. The old rule of red wine with red meat and white with fish and fowl did not take into account the complexity and extensive variety of ethnic foods served in America today. In addition, there are literally dozens of wines now that didn’t exist in earlier times.

The third factor is your own taste: as people learn more about wines, they develop preferences and tend to ignore the rules anyway.

Several years ago, my husband and I visited the Kendall Jackson vineyards in Sonoma Valley, touring their gardens to learn about definitives, the subtle flavor of the wine grape themselves, and affinitives, the foods which would go well with particular wines.

Nobody but a professional can learn all of this, but you can have fun and enjoy wine more if you join a wine-tasting group. You can even start a good argument among your friends with a survey of who likes wine chilled, and do they mean red, white, sweet or what?

One thing has not changed: champagne goes with any course of the dinner and is always served cold in chilled flutes instead of the flat martini glasses of the past.

Wine sauces have been popular in France for centuries, and here are two to sample.

Mushroom-Wine Sauce

This quick and easy sauce goes well with omelet’s and other egg dishes, mild-flavored fish and vegetables such as asparagus.

2 Tablespoons butter

Juice of a lemon

½ cup white wine*

½ pound sliced fresh mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

*Sauterne or Rhine Wine preferred

Melt butter in a skillet, add lemon juice and wine. Boil down slightly and add mushrooms, cooking over medium heat until done. Add salt and pepper as desired.

Keep sauce warm while you prepare the food or refrigerate it until needed.

Sherry Cream Sauce

Serve this on fruits, custards or sponge cakes.

1/3 cup cream sherry

½ cup sugar, divided

Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 eggs, separated

1 cup whipped cream

Combine sherry, ¼ cup sugar, zest, juice and egg yolks in top of double boiler, beating well. Place over boiling water and cook until thick, whisking constantly. Whip egg whites with remaining sugar until almost stiff and add the yolk mixture very slowly while whisking. Return mixture to top of double boiler and cook as before for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Chill sauce well and combine with whipped cream as desired when ready to serve.

Wine trivia

-- You probably know that the world is running out of cork, and you must have noticed the synthetic stoppers in use lately. The worldwide wine industry is supposedly moving toward metallic screw-tops, which used to be found only on inferior wines. They are considered safer, more secure and less expensive than cork — except for champagne, of course.

-- Gallo may have the largest winery in the world, but Mondavi is the most popular brand with good restaurants coast to coast, and is selected in more than 50 percent of them as the house wine. The personnel at their winery in California are among the nicest you will ever encounter, and you should phone ahead to reserve a place in one of their wine classes if you’re heading west (209-369-0173). Robert Mondavi was the man who came to the aid of Robert Gallo when his older brothers eased him out of the family’s business and then refused to buy his grapes. It’s no wonder that Mondavi is one of the most respected names in the industry, and the wines are certainly superior year after year.

-- For more complete information on wines, your local book store or public library have many books to offer — among them try Blood and Wine by Ellen Hawkes (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1993).This book provides astonishing insights into the industry. Read it and you’ll never feel the same about wine again.


Marion Nicolay is a regular contributor to the Marco Eagle. Contact her via e-mail at

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