Sunday, December 28, 2014

What’s new to pair with walnuts, figs and anchovies?


July 13, 2011 |

A mild allergy kept me away from walnuts for 40 years.

“I don’t like them much, anyway,” I told myself grumpily, as I turned my back on dense chocolate brownies and bright spring pesto.

When I moved back to Davis, an orchard owner suggested I try Chandlers and surprisingly (to me, not to him), I didn’t react to them at all. Thus was born my current passion for walnuts. I buy a pound nearly every week from McDonald Orchards at the Farmers Market, and I scatter them on salads, bake them into morning cakes, add them to pasta dishes, top my oatmeal with them and grab a handful for a midday snack.

Other foods that have come to me late in life have inspired similar passion — fresh figs (just now coming into season — what could be better than a plump fig stuffed with goat cheese and topped with toasted almonds?), for example, and anchovies.

So when I stopped at Seasons to try some of their new wines and saw a white anchovy pizza on the menu, I salivated. Since I already had dinner plans that evening, I vowed to return at the first opportunity and found myself calculating how each of my wine tastes would pair with that pizza.

A Bokisch Albarino? Oh, certainly. Markus and Liz Bokisch make wonderful Spanish varietals from their Lodi Hills vineyards, and it would be hard to find a better match for a pizza appetizer, or any appetizer on the menu, than this — a real bargain at $7.50 a glass.

Although California dominates the excellent Seasons list, owner Tamas has a few carefully chosen bottles from his native Hungary as well. I tried the Gere Olaszrizling first and liked the light, citrus-y notes and bone -dry finish. I can’t pronounce it, but the last seven letters announce the grape varietal — and a nice Riesling it is, again a bargain at $7.50 a glass.

But I’m not sure it would stand up to anchovy pizza, so I concentrated on (meaning I had a second glass of) the Hilltop Cserszegi Fuszeres, a grape that has the aromas and flavors of a Muscat-Gewurtztraminer blend. Delicious. And, yes, I do think my future anchovy pizza will be well served by this crisp, lively, floral and nicely acidic wine. Amazingly, only $6 a glass — and, equally amazingly for so much flavor, only 11 percent alcohol.

My next taste was a similar wine ($31, by the bottle only), also new to Seasons list, the Claiborne Churchill Central Coast Dry Gewurtztraminer. Lusher and slightly sweeter than the CF, it has a beautiful nose and tangy, nicely structured fruit, but I think I might pair it with a cheese plate instead of the pizza. In case I decide on another pizza for “dessert,” which I sometimes do, I’ll try out one of the new Hungarian reds.

If you go to Seasons with a cocktail-loving friend, he or she probably will ignore the wine list (alas) in favor of one of Jackie’s seasonal concoctions like the Ramble On — with Ketel One Vodka, Navarro Pinot Juice, fresh raspberries and soda water. That sounds good even to a cocktail-hater like me.

Seasons’ list of aperitifs and digestives is equally intriguing, and includes Fernet Branca — a really effective Italian digestive aid, rumored to cure hangovers. It’s a taste I acquired hanging out with my Italian-American relatives, but be warned — it is an acquired taste. Jackie also urged me to try Gran Classico — a bitter herbal from Switzerland that’s explosively orange-y and delicious. And much more instantly likable than Fernet Branca.

Right around the corner from Seasons, at 808 Second St. to be exact, a new restaurant has popped up, Our House. I haven’t eaten there yet, but I’ve perused the interesting wine list, which offers glasses from $6.50 to $15, most in the $8 to $10 range. A number of local familiars, I’m happy to say, appear. The house white, for example, is the ’08 Rominger Ranch White, and the ever-good ’05 Rominger West Syrah joins several Putah Creek selections.

While there are a few bottles under $30, there are also five wines over $100. Well over $100. The mark-up on most of the other wines seems pretty standard and reasonable, so I was surprised when I checked on the price of a couple of these expensive bottles to find that, for example, the ’06 Stags Leap Cask 23 on the list for $235 retails at $163, and the ’09 Mollydocker Carnival of Love (an Aussie Shiraz) for $165 retails at $90. That translates into something in the neighborhood of $100 profit on a bottle of wine, which seems excessive, but, no matter, wineaux probably won’t be ordering one of these anyway.

The really good Our House news is the every day from 4 to 6 p.m. is happy hour, when you get $2 off every glass, which means a nice refreshing Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc for only $5 — in a cool, comfortable setting.

Another new development: The Davis Food Co-op is selling two wines by the glass (Putah Creek Ransom Red and Putah Creek Chardonnay) at $5 each. You can sip your drink on the pleasant, shaded patio, enjoy the birdsong and choose your alcohol absorber from the thousands of items the Co-op carries, including Chandler walnuts, fresh figs and white anchovies.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at Comment on this column at



Susan Leonardi

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