Friday, March 2, 2012

'tis the season

Trite, perhaps, but it’s true that the simple things are the real things to treasure.

Here at Keuka Lake, I am inland, and even though it is a lake, you can’t get commercial fish from it—it’s a law!

What’s a fellow to do who was raised in a coastal city, has southern Italian blood, and can’t do without simple seafood?

What I do is drive every Friday 60 miles, to Ithaca, New York, to get my fix at Wegmens grocery, where seafood and other fishes comes from all over: Portuguese sardines, bronzini, whiting, real wild salmon (in season), cockles, oysters.

Now, it is the season for one water-borne simple fish that does not come from the sea, which reminds me of a story.

Last year, when the season rolled in, I noticed that none of my favorite February/March delicacy could be had at Wegmans. When I asked the seafood department lady what gives, she said the store had stopped carrying it because it has to be super fresh and we are so far inland from the delivery point.

I felt truly bad about it, but I had to tell the woman that this particular delicacy comes from a large river fish with great teeth that spawns at this time of year upstream, beginning in the eastern portion of the Southern states and continuing north via East Coast rivers, and that includes the Hudson River, which is only 4 hours east of Ithaca by car.

I am talking about shad roe, that reddish-brown sack of shad eggs that, along with the Maryland blue crab should have been counted as one of the world’s wonders.

Here’s how to prepare it: light dusting of flour with some crushed pepper; then, sauté in olive oil with garlic and Meyer lemon (I used to use butter and a bacon strip, but since prostate cancer, I’ve been eating less saturated fats—that’s what the information says to do).

You don’t want to overcook shad roe or it will be dry and taste like the collar of a flight jacket. Inside that sack are eggs, after all. They need to be tender and bursting with river-fishy richness.

Which wine would I serve with shad roe?

After many years of experimenting, I have settled on Cabernet Franc—not the Bordeaux style, but the Loire style. Shad roe is super fatty, requiring an acidic bite in the wine; it is also quite rich in a gamey way, requiring red not white to stand up to it.

Speaking of wine: I have one more racking to go before I decide whether I will filter the Gewurztraminer and Riesling or let them clarify themselves before bottling. If I do that, the Gewurztraminer being relatively dry is not much risk, but with the Riesling measuring beyond 1% residual sugar, it is a risk not to filter, as it can ferment again when spring rolls in. Instead of filtering, I can add potassium sorbate to prevent fermentation, but I don’t like to add that stuff—or any stuff—to my wine. Besides, that stuff makes wine taste like lemon Life Savers.

What to do?

What would you do?

Oh well, not to worry. I have shad roe to keep me going for two or three more weeks before the fish move farther north. A filtering decision can wait.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2012. All rights reserved.


  1. I'm no winemaker. I'm no expert. I'm no get no satisfaction. But what's wrong with a light filtration of the Riesling? Are you some sort of "natural" wine zealot? Seems silly to risk all that care and work for some murky principle.

    If it were my wine, I'd filter it. Admittedly, through some Victoria's Secret product, but filter nonetheless. I'd label it "Thonglese."

  2. We just tasted a bunch of wines that had shit added to it and guess what, tasted like it had shit added to it. The wines were all inexpensive European stuff and drank like they were in two parts. Simple fruit up front then this weird and disjointed acid that tasted like lime rind on the finish. So I totally get why you would be nervous Thomas. Tough call so I'm not even going to presume to weigh in on that. Now that shad roe on the other hand. Only had it a couple times and I do think there are white wines that can and do hold up. Dry Riesling from Alsace, one with some plumpness and texture and Vouvray with the same kind of weight. You've got me wondering about that Cabernet Franc now though....

  3. Sam,

    We had shad roe last night with Anjou. It was a good pairing.

    I've tried whites with it but never found them as good a pairing as the crisp, medium-bodied, peppery Cabernet Franc style. The whites seem to get a little lost but the Franc keeps righ up with it. Lemberger (Blaufrankisch) probably would too.

    I went nuts and bought enough shad roe for two dinners, so we will have it again tonight. Maybe I'll go white just to see, but will have a red nearby.

  4. Ron,

    You might have to stick to comedy and leave the winemaking to someone as sharp and beautiful as I.

    The trouble with filtering is mainly that this is a small lot of wine (six gallons); that means when filtering, the oxygen to volume ratio will go up substantially. Could decrease the wine's life or vibrancy--or both.

    Also, a light filtration is enough to create the illusion of clarity, but not enough to take out the yeast cells; got to go as tight as possible for that.

    I could try to reduce the problem by blanketing the recipient vessel with CO2, and then filter, which I might, but all my blankets are in use, what with this being winter.

  5. Tom
    If you get the MiniJet. You can put it in an airtight container and fill that with CO2 or other inert gas. If you do not have a Container Store in you area, let me know. I'm going there to get get a clear box to make my rig.

  6. Also, I sent you info on pads for the MiniJet that are below .5 micron. You do have to use an exacto to cut them to the size and shape:

    Also, I bought 3 cases of Private Preserve wine preserver gas on line. In the store, it's $10-$12 a can. With this deal, it came out to under $7 a can, shipping factored in.
    eBay and Amazon have sellers who can give you this price.

  7. Yes, Arthur, I'm considering the MiniJet, but I'm unsure if a few gallons of wine is worth all that trouble; not sure I will make wine every year. In fact, there's a chance that I will be staying in New York City next winter.

    Having had experience commercially, I am not too afraid of winging it, because I know to what extent the high local acidity protects these wines from oxidation and spoilage. I also know that I'll likely polish off in record time the five total cases of wine that I have in the cellar.

    When I produced wine commercially I was compelled to be anal-retentive about the whole process. Now, I am under no such pressure and I refuse to get too crazed, which probably will help prevent from making the stupid mistakes that I used to make under pressure--I once had to recall some of my wine because I screwed up a filtration, and back then, I filtered even tighter than .5 microns, or tried to...

  8. The roe sounds very interesting, never had it.
    Even filtering strips away some of the more delicate flavours in fragrant white wines, and filtering small amounts is a pain in the bum...I will be interested to see what you decide.

  9. Vinogirl,

    In my experience, the stripping away of aromatic whites that is ascribed to filtering has never been an issue, but I do agree that filtering small volumes is a pain, which is probably what will cause me to bypass the procedure.

    I might simply use a coffee filter arrangement racking and then bottle afterward and take my chances. The wine is likely to be consumed well before the yeast get a second shot at it, as I have no self control around Riesling.

  10. Tom. Buy a lot of coffee filters and prepare to change them out often. But let them drain into a separate container. In my experience, you can loose a good bit of liquid in the filters.

  11. Arthur,

    I'm thinking about it, but I have racked a few times and the wine is falling bright right now; I think the coffee filters wouldn't have much to catch, however, I'm not sure they can catch yeast cells, and that's why I'm still thinking about it.

    My only concern are those yeast cells.

  12. As HMoW would say:

    F*^k the yeast cells. They're dying anyway!

  13. Would that I could. Well, not literally. Although, I've never met one up close, so who knows?

    In any case, they never die.

    I learned that the hard way.

  14. So...... they're the cockroaches of the microbe world?....

  15. Cockroaches? What are they?

    We don't have them in New York...