By Paul Suplee,
MBA, CEC, PC-3
Reprint from Nov. 10, 2022
To build a wine cellar, or not to build a wine cellar.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to, once again, simply build a wine cellar.
This is what vexes me on sleepless nights. Well, there are other things, but this is what woke me up last night.
I guess this is what happens when you’re a 54-year-old with a mind that runs like an out-of-control freight train.
Wine has always been a fascinating subject to me. Who is the best? France? Italy? The U.S.? Are there good wines in the islands? Japan?
Can Sake really live up to European classics, and should I serve this during the holiday parties with tuna poke or sushi?
As the modern world has evolved into this strange realm of over-extracted, ‘jammy’ and viscous syrups, you have to be careful not to overlook the Old Country style of winemaking.
If you drink many wines in and from Europe, you will notice that they are not as rich and full-bodied as their cousins in the New World, notably New Zealand, the U.S., South Africa et al.
The reason for this is wine was originally meant to be consumed with food, not as a stand-alone beverage as we see with so many interesting vintages nowadays.
In fact, I have had a number Italian and French wines over the years that didn’t resonate without the accompaniment of a glorious pasta dish or coq au vin, but with said food, the wine selection was magical.
Of course, it would not be a stretch to think that most, if not all, winemakers whether European or American, have at least one over-extracted fruit bomb in their repertoire.
Years ago, some fellow chefs and I visited a winery on the Eastern Shore some distance from here.
During the tasting, every sampling was incredibly sweet and after the fourth one, a colleague spoke up and asked “These are all so sweet. You obviously know how to make wine. What’s going on?”
The answer was heartbreaking, but the vintner told us that the level of sales of his wines was directly corelated to the sugar levels.
The higher the sugar content, the quicker it would sell. We all notably guffawed, and he invited us back into the fermentation room where he gave us samples from a gorgeous chardonnay straight from the tank.
We all said we would buy a “case of that today”, but he said it was for a restaurant client and he still had 200 pounds of sugar to add to it.
We sighed and walked away sad. You must play to the crowd, I guess.
So back to the wine cellar. I have always wanted a cellar to properly store wines, 55° F with a humidity level of 50 percent.
With bottles resting on their side, the corks will have much less propensity to dry out and your bottles will stay airtight. If your temperature is too low, the aging process will fall almost dormant. If too high, it can age the wines too quickly and ruin them.
And don’t forget about the types of wines that you can age. Don’t just think the classics.
Consider a Grand Cru chardonnay (a noble grape), expanding your Sake collection and, of course, your everyday wines.
In 1994, I was fortunate enough to taste a Martha’s Vineyard chardonnay from the 1970s (possibly a Heitz that was offered to us, the staff at Citronelle, by Robert Parker himself) and we could not comprehend how this was possible. And that is the joy of wine.
In your cellar, don’t forget a nice Sake selection for your Japanese-inspired meals.
Don’t forget Rieslings (an oft-overlooked grape) that can be bone-dry to sweet. That is up to you. Just make sure you don’t neglect this. Have some on hand for your party platter of tuna poke.
And Hamlet, leave me alone with your monologues. I need sleep.
Tuna Poke Platter
1# fresh ahi tuna
1/2 c. Hawaiian BBQ Sauce (Recipe follows)
4 c. Sushi rice, cooked
1/2 c. Seaweed salad (purchased online)
1/4 c. Pickled ginger
3 scallions, cut on the bias, whites in the poke, greens as garnish
1/2 ea. Vidalia onion, fine julienne
Sesame seeds and sushi seasoning, to taste
- Dice the tuna into small pieces and toss with BBQ sauce, scallion whites and onions. Set aside until ready to assemble.
- Place sushi rice on a platter, and top with the tuna, seaweed salad, pickled ginger.
- Season with the sesame seeds and any sushi seasoning that you may have laying around.
Hawaiian BBQ Sauce
makes about 1 quart
1 c. Soy sauce
1 c. Pineapple juice
2 Tbsp. Ketchup
1/2 c. Rice wine vinegar
1/2 c. Brown sugar, light
1/4 c. Roasted garlic
3” piece of peeled ginger, fresh
3 Tbsp. Black and white sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. Red pepper flakes
- Combine everything in a saucepan except for the sesame seeds and pepper flakes.
- Bring to a simmer and slowly reduce until it has slightly thickened. As it cools down, it will thicken more. Also, the more you reduce it, the saltier it will be, so be judicious in your simmering actions.
- Strain to remove ginger after you are happy with the consistency.
- Add the sesame seeds and red pepper flakes and refrigerate until ready to use.
Paul Suplee is the owner of Boxcar40 in Pittsville
and senior lecturer of culinary arts at UMES.