Wine Gift Baskets
Sophistication and Insouciance. Responsible yet Carefree. These pairs seem to be opposites, but they work together when there is a certain ease that comes from knowing what you are doing, of being so certain of what one is producing that you don’t have to worry. It seems simple yet it isn’t. Which lends itself to another dichotomy. Frog’s Leap Winery is full of them. After a relaxing afternoon tasting wines while lounging on their porch overlooking gardens, fruit trees, chickens, a pond, and of course grape vines, we felt a little in awe of all they manage while making it seem effortless. In addition to the chickens there are 5 acres of organic vegetable and fruit gardens. They do make their own preserves but this environment has been created because wine maker John Williams feels the grapevines feel the chickens, that the different crops bring birds and other life to his grapes and that make his wines more interesting. This is part of the bio diversity that Frog’s Leap embraces along with their organic and dry farming methods. It feels familial because it is; he keeps his grape pickers employed year round, with full benefits, because they know his vines, his grapes and he wants them to have security. Seems there are certain values that run deep at Frog’s Leap – through all the ranks. It is refreshing to visit a place that cares so much about what they produce and how they do it, yet they do it with such fun it can be deceptive.
It is easy to be a fan of Frog’s Leap Wines. Their Zinfandel is bright and pairs well with food, not the high alcohol Zin we are used to in California. The expression of Cabernet he gets from his Rutherford grapes make it a very sophisticated wine. Frog’s Leap chardonnay has echoes of burgundy while keeping the terroir of California. The opposites mentioned above abounds in their Merlot – assertive yet tender, full of the ripe flavors you expect, able to be drunk now but could be laid down for 10 years easily. If we are lucky this year we will get some of the La Grenouille Rouganté – the blushing frog – their Rosé which is made in very limited quantities. Refreshing, clean, full of flavor, everything you want in a great rose.
We would love them just for their wines and the fact that they contribute to the beauty of Napa and the health of our planet. They took a desolate farm filled with old tractors and turned it into a fertile garden with an abundance of flora and fauna. There is a definition of integrity that says, “Wisdom is knowing the right path to take, integrity is taking it.” That pretty much sums up what we know of John Williams and his team. Here is how he works: They’ve been producing a Rutherford Cabernet for some years now. John farmed on part of the Rossi Estate just north of Yountville ( he leased his share of the 52 acre vineyard). The story goes that when Louise Rossi, the owner of the vineyard, died at 99 she had a long list of people she wouldn’t allow to buy it and only one person who could. Yep, John Williams of Frog’s Leap. That land had been in her family for over 100 years. When her husband died Louise ran into trouble with some of the local winemakers who were taking advantage of her and not treating her with due respect. John stepped in and helped her out and kept an eye on her throughout her life. A friendship grew and because of the sale, the Rossi estate was able to donate 12.5 million to the U.C. Davis Wine program. John owns the land he felt was always perfect for his Cabernet, only now it is all his. Deservedly so.
Sparkling wines are usually reserved for special occasions, but why wait? We crack it open when we’re looking for something that can easily transition between different food flavors and textures. And while yes, bubbles add a festive touch; they also act as a perfect palate cleanser between bites. The natural acidity of these wines helps brighten food flavors instead of overwhelming them.
When thinking about pairing wines, we go with two rules: “like with like” and “opposites attract.”
Light, fresh dishes call for a light wine, and sparkling wine fit the bill. Think of classic pairings such as oysters, caviar or cheese.
But bubbly is also wonderful with salty, fatty or fried foods (the exact type of foods we usually find on the Thanksgiving table) because the brightness of the wine balances out the richness of the dish. The wine leaves you with a refreshed mouth and prepares your taste buds for another rich spoonful.
Sparkling wines and Champagnes are food-pairing champions and provide both complimentary (like with like) and contrasting (opposites attract) notes. Below are a few bottles we carry at Fancifull that would be perfect options for the table or to send in one of our Thanksgiving baskets.
Carra Treviso D.O.C. Prosecco, $16
This is a flavorful, fun and festive Prosecco from Italy’s Treviso D.O.C in Veneto. Hand-tied with a traditional string closure, this wine is dry, light-bodied, fruity and crisp, making it great to sip alone or enjoy with salty foods.
Marques de Gelida Rose Cava Brut Reserve, $20
This wine hails from Spain and is made in the same Methode Champanoise as Champagne. This version is made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes, giving it a lovely light pink color and notes of strawberry, cherry and spice.
Vinum Cellars Sparkling Chenin Blanc, $25
This sparkling wine is made from Chenin Blanc grapes grown in the cool climate of Clarksburg, California. Small bubbles and crisp acidity are combined with fruity, almost tropical notes in this American sparkling wine.
Champalou Vouvray Sparkling Chenin Blanc, $25
Another sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc, this one hails from France and is made by the Champalou family. It’s aged two years in the bottle before release, giving it a pale, straw color with floral and aromatic notes.
J. Lassalle Brut Champagne, $44.95
A family-owned winery in the heart of Champagne, France, the J. Lassalle is one of the only wines from the area that is allowed to complete malolactic fermentation. What results is a complex and diverse wine perfect for developed palates.
Veuve Fourny & Fils Rose Champagne, $56
Founded in 1896, this winery produces grower champagnes that are characterized by super-fine bubbles, rich and deep aromatics and complex minerality that refreshes the mouth after each sip.
J. Lasalle Angeline Cuvee Champagne, $70
Coming from a small, family-owned winery run by a mother-daughter team, this wine is given great attention to detail at every level. It is a true grower Champagne. This wine is light yellow-gold in color, has smoky notes filled with citrus and pears and a long, lasting finish. This is truly bottled magic.
We have a large selection of Champagne Gift Baskets which can include any of these delicious champagnes.
“Eureka! There’s gold in them thar hills.” That was the cry of the 49ers who came to California in the 1800s looking to score a fortune in the gold rush. Now up in the hills of Marin and scattered throughout the state, is gold of different kind. It still of the land, but in the form of milk and dairy products.
Northern California has long been considered a food epicenter focusing on family owned farms producing organic product. The establishment of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) helped assure that the area of Marin would continue to support farmers and green space rather than being overrun by condos. You can learn more about MALT here: http://www.malt.org/
The call of gold lured me and Wally to load up our wagon and head up north to those very same hills in March to attend and help with the California Artisan Cheese Festival which was held in Petaluma from March 22nd-24th.
The weekend was filled with tours of local cheese makers’ facilities and farms, seminars (beer and cheese at 9:30 am anyone?), tastings, meals, and a Marketplace on Sunday. We attended our first festival last year and immediately became members of the Guild which gave us the opportunity to help set up and run their booth at the Marketplace. Having to be there at 9 am was difficult, but talking about the work the Guild does and the classes they offer in conjunction with the College of Marin was gratifying.
Since we teach classes and hold tastings in our shop, we like to get as much insight as we can from the Cheesemaker perspective to share with our students. This lead us to the New Kids on the Block Seminar early Saturday where we got to listen to and ask questions of four Cheesemakers who were bringing new cheese to the market. They spoke frankly about their development process and the challenges in introducing a new cheese to the American public. Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle lead the discussion with the cheesemakers and asked pointed questions to keep the info flowing. One of our favorite new cheeses is Point Reyes Bay Blue. Cuba, the cheesemaker for Point Reyes, talked about how he has refined this recipe for years before releasing it. While visiting Point Reyes two yeas ago we had the opportunity to try it in its first stages! Patience pays off. The new Bay Blue is astounding and already winning awards. But it took over two years to get it right! That is a lot of time and effort. We felt fortunate to be able to experience its evolution, it gave us terrific insight into the process of taking a pretty good cheese and turning it into a great one.
Luckily for our Fancifull Customers we have an in with the dairy, so they shipped us a wheel even though it isn’t in wide distribution yet. Nice to have friends in high places.
Toward the end of the seminar, our moderator, Janet Fletcher, let us know that she had just released her latest book: Cheese and Beer . I bought one immediately (and had her sign it). It has lots of information that should contribute to some tasty classes at Fancifull in the near future.
At lunch, we shared our table with the folks from Cypress Grove, another of our favorite cheese companies. Wally would eat Humboldt Fog every morning if he could and I have to say the same about Midnight Moon.
The afternoon held a wine pairing seminar with old world and new world cheese and wine. Old World basically means Europe while new world speaks to the U.S. and Australia. The class was very similar to what we offer in our classes at Fancifull but it was fun to be a student rather than the teacher. There is always so much to learn and Laura Werlin, author of several books on cheese, was a terrific tour guide.
This cheesy weekend left us brimming with ideas and new product to bring into our shop. There is just so much great cheese out there, how do we sell it all? Answer: One wedge at a time.
There he stood, tough looking but with kind eyes a striking amber color. With the name Thunder along with his long black goatee he resembled a character out of the show Portlandia – northwest urban hip. He was just missing the required piercings and tattoos. Oh yeah, and he is a goat.
Thunder was one of the many acquaintances we made while touring Vermont and striking out on the Cheese Trail. He is the main stud at Fat Toad Farm, that magical place where they make the goat milk caramel our students swoon over at our cheese classes. This small family farm, (they have about 100 goats just next to their red cottage), also makes phenomenal fresh goat cheese. I love the one with Maple – but they only sell those locally, out of a shed they’ve turned into a tiny shop.
A goat named Jupiter, who was over with the other females, stole my heart. She nuzzled and cuddled and made me want to move from my modest Hollywood home so I could have a few goats of my own.
Over on the Western edge of Vermont on the banks of Lake Champlain we had the good fortune to get a private tour of Shelburne Farms, a farm and educational center set on an old Vanderbilt Estate. Set amid acres of farmland and trails butting up against the lake there is a glorious hotel with huge porches in what was once a summer home for the Vanderbilts. There are also animals, a petting zoo, a farm, classrooms, an old milking barn that hosts performances, a world-class cheese making facility and some of the cutest brown cows I’ve ever met. Cute to the point of being distracting.
So cute that while talking to the herd manager I was oblivious to the fact that this little creature with the huge brown eyes had managed to consume the majority of my long gauze skirt. I looked down and there it was in her mouth! I slowly pulled it out, like a magician with the scarves coming out of his sleeve; it just kept coming and coming. A little slime here and there but no harm to the skirt. Alison, our tour guide, said a cow had once gotten most of her jacket. They’ll eat anything. Ah, the hazards of hanging with the animals.
The Vermont Cheese Trail had been on my to-do list for a long time. Yes, I am a nerd, as is my husband Wally. We spend many of our vacations talking to the producers of our products at Fancifull, meeting with winemakers, cheesemakers, chocolatiers and such. Traveling to the areas where our food is made gives us sense of place. We get to see the operation personally, talk to the people making the food, smell the air, pet the animals, and feel like we are part of a community.
We are very much a part of the community that celebrates American Craftsmen, while also supporting people around the world who grow food responsibly.
I feel very strongly that they are the stewards of the land. They are growing food that is healthy while also taking care of the health of the planet. They ask us almost as many questions as we ask them. What do our customers like? Is the organic label important? This is a big question because, as one farmer said, “to do that you have to let the government run part of your business.” It isn’t because these people don’t farm organically. But the cost and the rules, often inane, can make operating a small farm with limited resources difficult.
We were encouraged when a farmer in the Hudson Valley told us that more and more young people are coming back to the farm rather than going off to college and on to new careers elsewhere. And they are coming back armed with new knowledge and better practices that make farming viable again. So, whereas a decade or so ago many farms were abandoned, now you have some flourishing due to the renaissance of American food. Yes you may pay a little more for artisanal food, but when we meet these farmers and see all the work they put in, we are getting a bargain. For most of them it is a passion, not just a job. They deserve to live comfortable lives as do their animals. The food they are producing is also higher in nutrients, so this is of personal benefit to all of us.
I will try to stay off my soapbox, which I keep handy at all times, but I do think this celebration of American Food is vital to all of our survival. Organics and sustainability makes sense for our planet at large. I often get asked, “Is this fascination with food just a trend?” I hope not. I don’t think it is a trend at all. Fifty or sixty years ago this was not “artisan” food, it was just food. Big industry came in and took over and often went for the cheapest solution, not the best. I think producers will come and go and maybe our zeal will lessen as this becomes the new normal. With any new movement there is bound to be some overdoing. We all don’t necessarily need to know where every particle of food comes from and we certainly should never be pretentious or snobby about it. The people we meet aren’t. They are hard workers who want to create great food. My theory is that once you begin to eat real food it is hard to go back to industrialized food as your main diet. The stuff that is being created by Artisans the world over is just too darn good. And I intend to keep meeting them, one by one, so I can better understand the process and help bring their food to market. That is my passion.
When I first set foot in Fancifull Fine Foods and Baskets in November 2010, I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew they made amazing wine gift baskets, fruit baskets and many other wonderful gifts that I’d feel privileged to receive. I had received a call from my Mom saying that her friends needed help in their production line for the Christmas season. So off I went…into the world of gift baskets!
The teamwork that goes into every facet of the business was astounding. Working in the production area proved to be a delightful mix of controlled chaos and constant motion. All the baskets/bows are handmade to order, artisan foods are carefully selected to create a delicate blend of flavors and the finishing touches are never overlooked with any order. From the small individual orders for holiday gift baskets to the large and extravagant custom baskets, everything looked like it was fit for royalty (and sometimes it was!). The amount of dedication that was poured into every design made me feel proud to be a part of it all. It was a wonderful way to start my career at Fancifull, as it let me see the end product of all the hard, time-consuming work that goes into designing every gift that leaves the building. I knew that I had to learn more about this business, about what it takes to run every aspect of it all. It was only 1 month after the Christmas season had ended when I returned to Fancifull, only this time, as a permanent employee… an Assistant Buyer.
Terroir is an important concept in wine. I believe it also translates to food. Here is a good definition of Terroir from the Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil:
“This French word means the total impact of any given site: soil, slope, orientation to the sun, and elevation, plus every nuance of climate including rainfall, wind velocity, frequency of fog, cumulative hours of sunshine, average high temperature, and so forth. There is no single word in English that means quite the same thing. Generally viticulturists believe that soil indirectly bestows flavor (and relative quality) only insofar as it is one of the voices in the chorus of terroir.”
Wines from different vineyards, coffees from different plantations, cheeses from different regions, indeed all real foods everywhere exhibit the effects of their terroir. This is one of the things which makes the foods we carry in our shop so interesting.
It doesn’t matter what you are eating, whether it is a hamburger and fries or foie gras and champagne – it is the ingredients used that make each one marvelous or mediocre. At Fancifull that is what I look for when choosing what goes into our gift baskets. Fresh natural ingredients, organic, no odd chemical fillers. Because you want to taste the food, not the chemicals. I’ve tried cookies where the butter leaps out at you because it is so fresh, and then I’ve tried ones – in beautiful tempting packaging – that taste like cardboard. For example: Americans have a style of chocolate, as do the Europeans. Both have great chocolates. I can’t argue that a fresh truffle is better than a perfect peanut butter cup if both are made with good ingredients. And why argue anyway? Eat them both and enjoy. We will always be searching, tasting, and finding the best ingredients the world has to offer so you can send the best gourmet gift baskets.
Genuine, real, not fake. I like to travel because I like to experience authenticity in the world at large. For instance, I love being in the countryside of Italy and eating what is grown locally. I want to smell the air, meet the people, find out how they have been making this food for hundreds of years and why it is so good. This is true of anywhere I go, whether it be close to home or in far away lands. Even more so, I love to bring these experiences back to share with friends and family. I cook meals similar to those I’ve had on my culinary voyages and bring back jars of ingredients to taste. I find this is a better snapshot of a country than a photo. My joy in Fancifull is that I get to delight you with the pleasures I have found. I get to stock my shelves with the foods and wines I’ve tried and share them with you and your friends. Welcome to the family.
Gourmet gift baskets and wine gift baskets containing genuine artisanal wines and foods can be purchased online at www.fancifullgiftbaskets.com, in our store at 5617 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038, or by phone at 800.350.4437.
Terry and I spent this last weekend at Raleigh Studios as part of the LA Wine Fest. Guess what we weren’t serving? Wine!
With over 50 wineries participating, we decided we would provide much needed relief by offering artisanal cheeses and the world’s best salami. We were right; we were swamped.
The Tumelo Classico Gouda style goat cheese sold out the first day. Next to go was the Point Reyes Toma. Then the Soledad Goat Cheese with Honey and Lavender. We were also sampling and selling Beechers Cheddar, Vella Cheese and Beehive (Seahive Cheddar). In the end we had almost nothing left.
The story was the same with the salami. The Fra’ Mani salami is incredible. If you’ve never tasted it, call us and order some. It’s made by Paul Bertolli, famous as the chef at Olivetto and Chez Panisse, and it is the best salami I have ever tasted. Other favorites were the Olli Calabrese and a Wild Boar salami from Creminelli.
We are very proud that all of these products are hand crafted in the United States. We feel that a food renaissance is happening here and we’re happy to be a part of it.
All this talk about food is making me hungry. so I’m going to go have some cheese and salami right now. Of course, any of these things can be included in our gourmet gift baskets and wine gift baskets. But you really should take advantage and order some for yourself. If you’re in Los Angeles, stop in. You never know what we might be sampling.
A couple of weeks ago we received a surprise visit from Hervé Gantier, owner of Domaine Sainte-Eugénie in the Corbières region of Southern France. It’s always special when a wine maker seeks us out, and even more so when they have come all the way from Italy or France to visit a gift basket company in Los Angeles.
Corbières is located on the Mediterranean just north of Spain. Common grape varieties there are Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Syrah. But here was Hervé offering us a wine that was 45% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Something along the line of a Bordeaux but with the added structure of the Carignan and the light fruit tones of the Grenache. Elegant, well balanced and bargain priced. Hervé was pleased with our reaction – we bought it! We featured it at a recent wine tasting here in our shop and our guests bought it, too. Boy, do we have fun here or what?
This wine can be selected as an upgrade in many of the wine gift baskets on our website.
We also have some of his Reserve! But more about that one later.
It takes a certain amount of courage to have integrity in this world. You have to stand by your principles as the crowd tells you to step down. You know what is right, but darn, you are so tired – can’t you just take the easy way out this time? But you can’t.
Cowgirl Creamery in California
When I talk to the people behind the handcrafted food we carry I am always a bit in awe. These people aren’t in it just for the money. Yes, they want to survive, and survive well. But to go through the work they do you have to have passion. Passion for your product, for the methods that work, for putting in the long hours and attention it requires to make it come out perfect every time.
I talk to cheesemakers who won’t make their cheese if they don’t feel their milk is good enough that year. They sell the milk instead. The better vignerons prune back their vines to get a low yield thus more flavor to the grapes. Yes they could let the grapes just grow wild and make a lot more wine. But that would mean making mediocre wine. So they can’t – it isn’t in their blood. In a world where the operating procedure is more and more for less and less no matter what the cost in quality, this is a refreshing change.
in Montpeyroux, France
There is nuance in food that comes from the land and the skill of the producer, but it takes someone who understands that to bring it out. You raise the animals well so you get the most flavor while preserving the earth, you grow organically, you keep testing until you get it exactly right – this is where passion comes in. Besides passion they also have pride. Get them talking about their handicraft and you’ll hear Rashida from Cast Iron Gourmet talk about perfecting the recipe for her Bacon Chutney, or Sylvain Fadat explain in his heavily French accented English how he dynamited this old lake bed because he knew it would have the soil for the grapes he wanted to grow. La Bonita California will expound on the local farmers they get their fruit from and why. And you taste that passion and pride in each slurp, sip and bite.
They watch you taste their product and beam like a mom with her child. And when you get it, when you get how good it is and acknowledge their job well done, you see the sense of satisfaction in their face, the smile, the light in their eyes. And that is why I love to carry artisan food. I could say these people need our support, that’s true. But it is so much bigger than that. We need their food. It’s wholesome, delicious, nourishing and one of the great joys of life. So we need to support them so they can support us with this vast array of wonderful food that has the stamp of the artist. Otherwise we’ll be left with nothing but the cheap bland genetically modified nutrient-lacking mega-corporation foods that are flooding our supermarkets today. This is a worthwhile venture, and a tasty one. Support your local artisans and they will support you. For life.