F rank Family Vineyards continued their fun summer series of virtual wine tastings this week with a session on wines and outdoor grilling.
It was a fun tasting, but the most surprising thing was that owner Rich Frank didn’t do any of the grilling. He loves to grill and is reputed to be good at it. In California, as in Georgia, they grill all year long, but summer just seems like the time you should be grilling.
It looked like Frank didn’t mind taking a back seat to Chef Christina Machamer, a former winner on the TV show Hell’s Kitchen who is known throughout Napa Valley for her cooking. Her food looked delicious, and the wines were all terrific.
Frank Family already has another virtual tasting planned for Thursday, Aug. 6 from the tasting room at the winery’s Calistoga home. It will feature some of the wine educators who serve the public in the tasting room. In-person tastings have started again, but they are on the porch, the shaded courtyard or the lawn, in keeping with COVID-19 guidelines.
Meanwhile, these virtual tastings are keeping it fun for us wine drinkers who can’t get out to wine country.
The cookout, which was broadcast live from the winery’s Winston Hill Barn, included Watermelon and Feta Salad, the Ultimate Summer Burger and Grilled Peach Sundaes. All the recipes can be found on the Frank Family website, under their blog section, but I will include the burger recipe at the end of this article.
The wines suggested for the tasting were outstanding, as is usually the case with Frank Family: 2015 Sparkling Brut Rosé, 2017 Chiles Valley Zinfandel, 2016 S&J Vineyard Petite Sirah and Late Harvest Chardonnay. The final three wines are all part of the Frank Family Reserve series.
The tasting started with a shot of Machamer and Liam Gearity, director of hospitality, standing outside talking about the food and wine. Leslie Frank served as technical director and host, relaying questions from folks around the country who joined the Zoom meeting.
Machamer, who has worked side-by-side with some of the world’s top chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Thomas Keller, explained she didn’t want to do a tossed salad when cooking outdoors because the lettuce would wilt and ruin the salad. But she wanted something simple so she chose the watermelon salad. It included watermelon pieces, lime juice, jalapenos, feta cheese and cilantro.
It looked great, and I wish I could have tried it, but I did get to drink the sparkling rosé that paired with it. When they do their virtual tastings Frank Family offers a package of the wines that will be discussed. They also include two-day shipping for the cost of ground shipping for the tasting packages.
The Sparkling Brut Rosé ($55) was a bright, airy, breezy wine that is perfect for summer sipping. It is a pretty pink coral color, with bright strawberry and cherry flavors and a creamy, mineral finish. Lively acidity and never-ending bubbles keep it fresh and fun. This is a wine you can drink all afternoon while sitting on the porch. It is made from 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay grown in Carneros.
For the main course Chef Machamer made hamburgers that left folks at the winery asking when they could get their burger. After the first one was made Rich Frank even walked by and asked if he could have it. He later came back into the camera shot to report it was delicious and juicy.
The chef started with two pounds of ground meat (85% beef and 15% lamb). She said a little fat in ground beef is fine because it adds moisture and flavor and most of it renders off on the grill.
Then she showed us the first of several tips to make the burgers better. (I love to grill, so I took plenty of notes.)
“You need to emulsify the meat,” she said. “That lets the meat and fat bind together. Toss it back and forth, hand to hand.” In answer to a question she said she does that 40 times.
This keeps the burger from breaking apart while it cooks on the grill.
The next tip was how to keep the burgers from swelling up in the middle. After forming the burger, she presses two fingers in the middle and then spreads out the indentation to make the patty concave. She also doesn’t add seasoning while blending the meat because that dries out the burger.
After the burgers are made she sprinkles them liberally with fresh ground pepper and salt before putting them on the grill.
The wines for the burgers were 2017 Chiles Valley Zinfandel ($60) and 2016 S&J Vineyard Petite Sirah ($70).
The Zin was full of lively fruit, balanced by crisp acidity. I picked up flavors of plum and blackberry with a hint of black pepper. It is made up of 90% Zinfandel and 10% Petite Sirah grown at high elevation in the Chiles Valley.
Leslie Frank called it their two-bottle wine because Rich opens one when he is grilling, and by the time the meal is ready to eat the wine is gone. So they have to open a second bottle for dinner.
“Any time you put something on the grill, you want to open this Zinfandel,” said Rich Frank. “It’s good with anything on the grill.”
Chef Machamer cooked the burgers on a gas grill set on high. She said she flips the burgers often, so they cook twice on each side, for a total of about 12 minutes. This gave her a rare burger, so you would cook it longer to get it more well done.
She uses a meat thermometer to make sure. The first burger was rare (which she and Rich like), so the temperature was 130-135 degrees. For well done, you would let the meat cook to 165 degrees.
She topped the burgers with a slaw mixture made of chopped lettuce, tomatoes, diced red onion and Heinz horseradish sauce. She also topped each burger with a slice of aged white cheddar.
“You can change the cheese you put on the burger, depending on the wine you want to drink with it,” said Machamer.
Gearity thought the Zinfandel worked better with the burgers, but he still liked the Petite Sirah.
“The Petite Sirah has more of a big body,” he said, “firmer, darker notes, earthier. You might choose this with a rich, full-flavored meal.”
I loved both wines, but I think Gearity was right that the Zin would be better with lighter, less formal meals. We had it later with a ground beef, tomato and noodle casserole and it was fantastic. It elevated the simple meal to something special.
Gearity said Frank Family planted Petite Sirah to complement the Zinfandal program. Then when there was a glut of Petite Sirah one year, winemaker Todd Graf decided to bottle a separate Petite Sirah. It was so good, they kept making it every year. The grapes also come from a high elevation vineyard, the S&J Vineyard high in the Vaca Mountains.
The final pairing was Late Harvest Chardonnay ($65) with Grilled Peach Sundaes.
The chef cut the peaches in half, removed the pit and placed the peaches on the grill, cut side down after basting them with melted butter. She left them on for a few minutes, just long enough to get grill marks.
Then she added a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of each peach half. On top of that she dribbled granola and honey. It looked heavenly.
The wine is positively sinful. I have loved late harvest Riesling in the past, but the Chardonnay takes it up to another level.
Gearity explained the wine is made in a botrytis style, that is, they don’t pick the grapes until they become almost like raisins, with botrytis, or noble rot, growing on them. This concentrates the sugars and the resulting wine is very sweet. The best dessert wines in the world are made this way, such as Sauternes or Tokaji.
The wine is a deep yellow in the glass, with aromas of pears and apricots. It is loaded with stone fruit flavors such as mango, apricots, peaches, as well as pineapple. This is a rich, full wine, a perfect way to finish a fine meal. Unlike fortified wines such as port, this one comes in at only 13.4% alcohol.
It was another fun tasting from the Frank Family folks, who have been keeping the summer lively while we practice social distancing. It was almost as much fun as being in their tasting room, which is one of the best in California wine country.
Here is Chef Christina’s burger recipe:
[box] Ultimate Summer Burger
2 lbs ground beef (Chef Christina’s choice: 85% beef, 15% lamb)
1 cup chopped romaine
1/2 cup diced heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup Heinz horseradish sauce
4 slices aged white cheddar
4 potato or brioche buns
Portion into 4 balls of 8 ounces. Emulsify meat by tossing hand to hand until fat and protein combine, then form patties.
Liberally season with salt and pepper, then grill to desired doneness.
Place cheese on top of patty and allow to melt on grill Mix slaw by combining lettuce, tomato, onion, horseradish sauce and season to taste.
Gently toast buns on grill if desired. Add slaw to bottom bun, top with hamburger and top bun, and serve.[/box]
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Author Dennis Sodomka