Sunday, March 8, 2009

Strawberries in red wine: Sonoma with J, J, J, J, J, and A.

Mid-March, John drove us up to Sonoma in a rented minivan. John, Jen, Jenny, Javier, Joyce, Amy and I. Such a sunny spring Saturday. The vines were dormant, but between them was wild mustard, yellow as can be.

Jenny and Amy proposed that we buy cask shares of new wine, which happens at this time in Sonoma. The idea is that you buy wine still in the cask, which is delivered in six months or so, when the wine is bottled. The ideal is that the wine will be as good or better than what you tasted in the cask--or cost as much or more--or both.

We bought shares at a delightful winery offering what they called a Rhone blend, mostly Cabernet. But aged in acacia wood casks rather than the traditional French oak. This is the very articulate winemaker, and our cask, and his acacia tree flowers, which happened to be in bloom, and as impossibly yellow as the mustard flowers.

The Sonoma wineries are lovely, full of spring and tipsy young people (Jen kindly designated herself driver on the way back, a sacrifice not adequately acknowledged, I say here to perhaps make up for in part.) The most lovely was an organic winery, with oranges and chickens in the yard. They sold olive oil from their trees, as well as wine from their vines. And I learning from the young women there that the mustard is not planted but grows wild, and is not generally harvested, but instead tilled under to fertilize.

They also have a large vegetable garden, with marvelous California produce that I have never seen growing. The artichokes for example look prehistoric. I wonder that there are so many plants in this green world that I have never seen growing, yet consume every day (coffee, for example).

But the most delightful thing in any spring, for me, is strawberries. It is too early for strawberries in Iowa, but I don't care. I buy them from California, or wherever. And I eat them even when they are woody and anemic in flavor and sandy and I don't care, obviously. They are strawberries, and they comfort me that spring is coming in this horrible cold Iowa. And I take great pride in the fact that the strawberries coming from the Ames Farmers' Market will be deeply flavorful and small and better than last year's, invariably.

While we are waiting until the time is ripe (love that phrase), I take whatever strawberries there are and soak them in red wine and black pepper until they are soft and full of wine, and the wine is full of them. This is an old trick but a good one. And it is especially good with zinfandel, for some reason. And Sonoma is famous for its Zin. I would not actually waste ripe Iowa strawberries on this. But for California ones . . . so here we are, adapted from the amazing Paula Wolfort:

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half if very large
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup dry red wine
a few "tears" of fresh lemon juice
2-4 turns of a pepper mill

  1. Hull the strawberries and add 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature, covered with a towel.
  2. Just before serving, add the rest of the sugar, if needed for sweetness, a few drops of lemon juice and a few turns of the pepper grinder.

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