For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe,

I will continue to seek out the unique…the delicious…the innovative products, services and traditions of San Luis Obispo County.

Stay posted for a few of my favorite things.

About Me...

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A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

SLO Wine Cooked

SLO = San Luis Obispo
Vin = Wine
Cuit = Cooked
The contemporary world shrinks a bit each day. As modern technology brings us all closer with the click of a mouse and the bright globe we live on continues to grow smaller, perhaps the events of this past week further demonstrate how connected we really are, even when separated by thousands of miles. During a recent visit to San Luis Obispo by my brother Matthew and his wife Viviane (who live in the beautiful wine region of Rolle, Switzerland), Matthew amused me when he shared that their local Swiss grocery store sells several wines from Paso Robles. How appropriate then, that he and Viviane brought us a traditional Swiss ingredient—Vin Cuit ("wine cooked," or "cooked wine" if you prefer)—transporting a slice of French-Swiss culture across the world to SLO County.

On the first night of their visit, my mom opened the carton of thick, syrupy Vin Cuit and followed a Swiss recipe provided by Viviane's sister, Nadine, to construct a traditional dessert that yielded a rich, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth pie with lingering tastes of fruit and raisins. Curious about this dark, molasses-like ingredient, we went online and found that the name is misleading, as Vin Cuit contains no wine. According to Wikipedia, this concentrated fruit syrup common in the Swiss Alps, made from pear, apple, or sometimes grape juice, is used in place of sugar in several desserts. Manufactured in large cauldrons and slowly heated for 12 – 36 hours, the juice cooks down to a viscous concentrate, resembling the consistency of molasses and exudes a strong, intense fruity smell.

Further curiosity led me to attempt to replicate Vin Cuit, SLO-style. The process was indeed slow and I warn you that this recipe is not for the impatient-minded cook—I spent several hours in the kitchen this weekend, hovering over my Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grape juice concoction as it toiled and bubbled down to its desired syrupy-like consistency. The next time I have the inclination to simmer juice into Vin Cuit, I'll prepare a quadruple batch to keep on hand, as it will keep for at least a few weeks in the refrigerator.

But the fruits of my labor paid off. After the pie was set and cooled, I cut a piece for myself and took a bite of this delectable, one-of-a-kind dessert, deeming my efforts a success. How sweet to meld a traditional Swiss recipe with the local flair and vibrant flavor of Paso Robles wine grapes, connecting two regions across the globe. As the dessert melted in my mouth, I thought about how much everyone enjoyed Matthew and Viviane's recent visit, and couldn’t help but feel grateful for having the best of both worlds—a wonderful life in beautiful SLO wine country, and future visits to look forward to in the equally-impressive Swiss wine provinces.

SLO Vin Cuit Pie
(Adapted from Nadine's Swiss recipe brought to us from her sister, Viviane)

3 cups wine grape juice
(I went SLOCAL: Mill Road by Monahan Family Farm, Paso Robles Winegrape Juice, Cabernet/Syrah)
1 cup verjus (see past article)
Dash or two of cinnamon
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 ready-made pie crust dough

In a medium saucepan, bring grape juice and verjus to a boil. Reduce to a light simmer and stir frequently to prevent scorching, for 3 – 4 hours, until mixture reduces to a thick syrup (you will be left with about 1 cup). Add cinnamon, stir and remove from heat and cool. Pour into glass jar and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until the consistency thickens. After cooling, whisk 4 tablespoons of SLO Vin Cuit with sweetened condensed milk and whipping cream until thoroughly incorporated. Set in refrigerator for at least 1 hour (or overnight).

Although the traditional Swiss Vin Cuit is thick enough to cut with a knife, mine produced a consistency thicker than syrup but not quite as heavy as molasses; delicious nonetheless.

When you're ready to make the pie, heat oven to 400˚F. Shape pie-crust in pie pan, cover with a single layer of dried beans (to prevent crust from puffing up so that you end up with a flat, smooth surface for this delectably creamy filling) and bake in pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Remove crust from oven and discard beans. Pour SLO Vin Cuit pie mixture in crust and bake for an additional 8 - 10 minutes (until center is set). Cool, slice and serve at room temperature along with fresh grapes and your favorite glass of Port. Voila!
Matthew and Viviane brought their own Swiss-American creation on their recent visit—my little nephew Kylian! What a blessing!

Matthew in Switzerland, wandering the lush orchards and vineyards.

Swiss-terraced vineyards near Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).

All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

SLO Fuzion

The Universe knows me well. As it gently nudges and provides direction to my inner instincts, my quest to seek out the exceptional creations of San Luis Obispo County continues to unfold. This weekend, on a whim, a minor impulse led me to drive into the warmer temperatures of Paso Robles, down the scenic, vineyard-strewn stretch of Highway 46 West. Although my ultimate destination was clear—an intriguing, mysterious winery I’d recently heard of that claimed wines “infused with spirit”—little did I realize what exceptional unexpected novelties, tailored to my personal tastes, awaited me.

After pulling into the vineyard’s parking lot, the flourishing backdrop of rolling acres of grapevines surrounding the charming farm-style buildings set a welcoming tone. Wandering past the grassy lawn towards a tall, ominous crooked tree-house, I knew I’d stumbled on something out of the ordinary. I continued on my path of discovery, meandering along a pathway of pink stone slabs that guided me to the genius of Vinfuzion Wines.

Pleasantly greeted outside by Vinfuzion's humble servant, Mark Pietri—a musician in a former and current life, also known as the Vin-dude—I was invited in to their austere tasting room, where immediately I felt a sense of East meets West, a balance of yin and yang (reminding me of the shops I used to frequent while living in Japan). Noticing the light wooden tasting bar adorned with gemstones, the smooth stone sculptures set on either side of the room, and the serene artwork hung throughout, I seated myself on a planked wooden seat and relaxed in this tranquil, peaceful setting. Mark encouraged me to take my time through the tastings and “dance with the wine.”

Over the next hour, my slow dance with the nuances of Vinfuzion’s cleverly-crafted, well-balanced creations, allowed me to savor and learn about eight of their wines, some of them delicately infused with enlightening botanical substances, all of them fined over energetic gemstones. Mark explained that their wines remain "fruit first" and the essence of botanicals doesn't change the flavor, but enhances the taste, adding an extra "note." The use of finishing their wines over crystals softens the tannins, shifting the "mouth feel" and adding energy. These unique techniques stem from the creativity and diverse background of his sister, Pamela Pietri—the Proprietor and Vin-Alchemist. A former writer and acupuncturist who stumbled upon the art of winemaking several years ago after attending a harvest, her newest endeavor as a Paso winemaker extraordinaire has resulted in a fusion of her Eastern-based medical training combined with the process of transmuting grapes into wine.

Although infused wines and the use of stones date back centuries (Ancient Greeks put amethyst in their goblets, thinking it would keep them sober), Vinfuzion’s unparalled creations of the spirit are a modern marvel. Producing 1200 - 1800 cases per year, their wines are crafted from organic, bio-dynamic grapes, contain minimal amounts of sulfites, and their vineyards are carefully watched over by Steve Brown—the Source du Vin—who oversees 33 acres of Viognier and Syrah vines.

Much to my delight, I learned that all of their white wines hail from their Estate-grown Viognier—my favorite varietal! This Northern Rhone grape, typically exuding tropical flavors and a creamy mouthfeel, is crafted in small, carefully-monitored batches by Vinfuzion. My first taste of their Isla VI ($32), a delectable stainless-steel aged 2006 Viognier fined over Peridot crystals (used as a “power stone” for centuries), radiated a light hue and soft peach nose, creating a feast for the senses. Dry, and exuding exotic flavors of vanilla and citrus with a clean almond finish and soft feel, this enchanting Viognier was unlike any other I’d ever experienced.

The next pour led me to the graces of Archangel VI ($38), another luscious Viognier. The infusion of Angelica, a botanical touted in ancient scripts to foster longevity, imparted a refreshing fragrance and rich golden hue. The syrupy feel and undertones of caramel flavor, along with its dry, clean mineral finish with hints of lingering botanicals, left an elegant impression. Archangel VII ($38), Vinfuzion’s newest release of Angelica-infused Viognier, was fined over Celestite (a crystal touted for its harmonious properties). This fragrant, fruity yet dry, smooth wine with a light finish, hinted of peaches in the background.

Next we forayed into the unusual—their Rosé—a blend of free-run Syrah and one percent splash of Petite Verdot. Romeo VIII ($18) romanced me in its glass, showing off a lustrous caramel, orangish hue. The nose of berries, fragrant roses, and a light essence of rich caramel readied me to imbibe, where I found its dry charcoal qualities offset by floral undertones. This one-of-a-kind wine left me stymied for food pairing ideas.

We moved on, my palate now warmed and ready for reds. Vinfuzion’s Estate-grown Syrah, blended with Clarksburg Petite Syrah and elegantly infused with Mimosa flowers for serenity and calmness, resulted in Om VI ($46). Fined over Herkimer diamond, a quartz crystal renowned for manifestation energies, this unified mix chanted notes of an alluring medium-berry hue; a light, fruity and flowery scent; flavors of blackberry, cherry and spiced chocolate with a hint of Petite Syrah popping in the background; and flowers lingering on the finish. “Om really is where the art is,” as Mark suggested.

The use of Clarksburg Petite Syrah was artfully blended again, this time with Paso Robles Petite Verdot. Obsidian VI ($58), fined over the jet black layers of Obsidian glass, resulted in a velvety concoction, emanating a gorgeous deep purple hue. The waft and taste of berries, as well as lingering hints of smoke, chocolate, and warm spices, was sublime. And if that wasn’t enough, Mark further tantalized my senses by introducing me to some of Vinfuzion’s dessert wines.

Solstice IV ($45), a “Cigar Wine,” crafted from barrel-aged Cabernet Sauvignon from the Adelaida region, resulted in a medium-hued, caramel-colored, after-dinner wine exuding a nose of berries. Not overly sweet, leaving a delicious chocolate berry finish, I conjured up images of dark Swiss chocolate. The next and final wine, Telos VI ($75), was pure heaven. This slightly syrupy, sweet late harvest Viognier, exhibited all the divine nuances of honey, with enduring hints of exotic spices on the tongue. Named for the Lemurian city located inside Mt. Shasta, Telos truly lives up to its meaning: Communion with the Divine.

In ancient times, alchemists sought the transmutation of common metals into gold as well as transpired to achieve wisdom. I found a contemporary version of this philosophy at Vinfuzion. My impromptu North County SLO tasting adventure led me on a destined journey, where I encountered genuine hospitality, allowing me to truly "dance" with these wines and rediscover my favorite varietal. I learned how the metamorphosis of carefully-tended grapes, infused and fined with exotic, ancient traditions, brilliantly transforms into energetic, spirited innovations. The talented trio at Vinfuzion make a difference by embracing the values of spirited wine...promising to infuse your core!

Now in its fifth vintage, Vinfuzion is the oldest bio-dynamic vineyard in Paso Robles. Their organic grapes receive no pesticides or chemicals and all of their natural grasses are left in place, leaving the soil intact. Hence, there is no need to net their grapes to keep the birds from devouring their crops; with the complete eco-system intact, the birds are provided with their natural fodder and have everything they need.

Visit Vinfuzion's peaceful tasting room Friday, Saturday & Sunday from 11am - 5pm.
Tasting fee is $10 for 6 tastings, waived with the purchase of two bottles.

Located at 2485 Highway 46 West in Paso Robles, this barn-style building is home to both Vinfuzion Wines and Lone Madrone Winery tasting rooms.

Join Vinfuzion on the lawn the evening of Friday, September 11, for a screening of "1 Giant Leap," an ambitious project that travels the world collecting inspirational music, images and insights from musicians, poets, writers, philosophers, etc. In association with Hopedance Films, admission is $7 dollars. Wine is available by the glass for $8 and bottles are available for purchase at 10% off. Food is also available for purchase, provided by Pier 46 Seafood. Don't forget to bring a lawn chair!

Vinfuzion is the Spirit of Wine!

All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.

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