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The Wine Council gets spirited

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Our Occasional Wine Council (OWC) has been meeting for several years in the Temecula Valley Wine Country. Our group is called “occasional” because it meets occasionally and because we wanted to differentiate it from two other councils—the Women’s Wine Council (WWC) and the Men’s Wine Council (MWC). This innovative wine council concept was the brainchild of Linda Kissam, an experienced wine reviewer and writer. Linda is also the founder of the WineChix website and is known as “the Wine Diva” on Big Blend Radio.

The WWC and the MWC have now merged into the OWC with many of the same participants and some new ones. This group’s unique claim to fame, as designed by the Wine Diva, is that each participant is assigned a wine and asked to prepare a dish to pair with that wine. Sometimes the wines come from one particular winery or wine region. Other times we review wines at certain price points. The reviewed wines usually represent a range of varietals. We have found over many congenial and fascinating gatherings that wines are frequently enhanced by the dishes prepared and vice-versa.

After these gatherings, participants then write and publish reviews about their reactions to the wines tasted, including observations on how the various pairings worked. The writers also usually post about their wine tastings via social media. We hope to provide helpful information to our readers as they decide what wines to purchase and enjoy. We also sometimes have consumer participants who make comments on the wine from the consumer perspective, particularly as price relates to quality.

Recently, Linda decided to expand our wine-centric horizons and created the Occasional Spirits Council (OSC). At our inaugural meeting, we tasted a variety of interesting alcoholic beverages and spirit concoctions with pleasant results. Some of our regular wine council members participated, including Linda Kissam, Todd Montgomery, Carmen Micheli, Roger Paige, and Sue Montgomery. And we were pleased to have an experienced mixologist and cocktail columnist, Linda Stewart, join us.

We started off with three different Vita Frute mixed cocktails, all priced at $12, and we especially liked two of them. These cocktails are described on the company’s website as “the first line of organic and all-natural, ready-to-drink cocktails” and are made with organic VeeV Acai Spirit.

VeeV was launched in 2007 by two brothers, Courtney and Carter Reum, after a surfing trip to Brazil where they discovered the Acai berry, known locally as “purple gold” because of its health benefits. As a result, they created a unique, sustainable liquor company. The cocktails they produce are generally under 125 calories per serving and are made with all-natural juices and agave nectar.

These cocktails are very convenient because all you have to do is shake them, pour them over ice and sip away. The Lemonade was delicious—crisp and refreshing with a bit of a citrusy bite. We also really enjoyed the Margarita that had been blended with premium tequila and lemon and lime juices. It tasted like a freshly made, fruity margarita with just the right balance of juice and alcohol.

We were pleasantly surprised at how well these cocktails matched with the dishes we had prepared. We are accustomed to pairing food with wine, but I was not sure what to expect when pairing food with cocktails. Linda Stewart made scrumptious, unique Duck Street tacos that paired nicely with both cocktail mixes. The duck was tossed with hoisin sauce, topped with Asian slaw (apple, cabbage, red onion and cilantro) in a soy, kumquat vinaigrette and served in a grilled cactus pear tortilla. The drinks enhanced the complex, savory flavor combinations. And Linda Kissam’s salty chips, guacamole and very spicy salsa really hit the spot with the Margaritas. Todd’s shrimp cocktails were especially tasty after a few sips of the Lemonade.

We next tried two vodkas, both paired with caviar since traditionally this delicacy would be the ideal vodka match. We tried high-end caviar right out of the jar on crackers and also enjoyed it on top of red potato halves with chives and crème fraiche. Both vodkas matched the caviar perfectly. We tried an organic Ocean Vodka from Maui that was mellow and smooth. We also really enjoyed VDKA 1600, a new premium vodka brand co-created by tastemaker Robert de Niro and Artisan Spirit Merchants. This is a highly distilled, charcoal-filtered vodka made with whey from grass-fed New Zealand cows and natural spring water from New Zealand. This was a luscious drink, more flavorful than most vodkas, with floral and citrus notes.

Our final drink of the evening was Villa Massa Limoncello, an all-natural, lemon liqueur produced on the Sorrento peninsula of Italy. Limoncello is usually served cold at the end of lunch or dinner, providing just the right rich, sweet taste after a big meal. Carmen, who is our queen of desserts, prepared really unique and especially delicious, lemon-glazed, organic, thyme lemon bars. I took one bite of a lemon bar and a sip of the Limoncello and I was in heaven. This was a really delectable combination of flavors.

We all felt our first Occasional Spirits Council was a success and we’re looking forward to future tastings, as we continue to explore the intriguing idea of pairing spirits with food.

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