Saturday, September 09, 2006


Anise Flavored Wine Cookies with Muscat Poached Peaches

It was nine am this very morning when my amazing step-father, Pops, suggested we go to the local winery to check things out and (why the heck not) maybe learn a thing or two. He had been before and said it was a pretty location and the wine was "interesting." Me? I was highly skeptical but then again, curiosity ruled the day so I had to join in. Why was I skeptical? Because Pops lives in Florida. You know, that lush, tropical place best known for oranges and avocados, but so much (in my mind) for their fine viticulture.

That said, we hopped in the car and wound our way up (or over, heck, I don’t know) towards the Lakeridge winery. Me and my Pops, we chatted, we laughed, I Googled "bourbon distillery tours, Florida" in hopes there may be a diversion should the Sunshine State's finest wine turn out to be a bust, (Result? I learned there is no bourbon produced in this state. The rum factory tour on the other hand, is slated for my next visit…yee-ha!) and all in all, had a grand old time.

Right here, I really am going to have to again point out that Florida and wine are not words that normally find themselves in the same sentence. Unless its about how someone ordered a great bottle of French wine, while on vacation here. Just wanted to reiterate.

As we pulled up to the lovely Spanish Mission style building (built in 1988) Pops pointed out that the Space Shuttle was about to launch about 60 miles away from where we stood. Well, I have personally never beheld such a sight, so we hung out in the excellent picnic area to catch a glimpse. When it appeared (to NASA's credit, directly on schedule) as a fiery blaze shooting up into the sky, it was really thrilling. I loved it. (That picture over there is the best I could do…see the top of that white streak? That’s it.) It was just so…cool.

The tour started promptly after the shuttle had disappeared behind some clouds, at which time our fearless and amiable guide, Shep (I kid you not) began with some startling inaccurate facts about Charles Shaw wines, the climate in Napa and the quality of football played on the West coast (not that I follow sports, but bashing my hood is unacceptable) before launching in to their fantastic spin about the Florida wine business and their fine products. (Upshot, oak is bad, sweet wine is good. Aging wine is pretentious. Uh…sure)

Turns out (brace yourself, this may be a shock) according to our guide, wine grapes don’t like the weather in these parts. For the most part, they can’t actually even grow here. Muscat grapes can, but they don’t make very tasty wine. Heck they don’t even make very tasty food in general. That fact, unfortunately, seems to have made people here grumpy, so they got their finest institution (the University of Florida) to develop a hybrid grape or two (Muscadine blanc dubois and Stover grapes – the spelling on those may be wrong, sorry) and they set about pulling up orange groves and planting vast swaths of vinyards. (There were 117 thousand acres of orange groves in the area in 1987. There are less than 20 thousand acres now – this according to Shep) On the bright side, because of the (scorching hot, outrageously humid) climate in the area, they actually harvest in July and can have bottles ready to purchase within 6 months. (Again…uh, okay.)

Now the largest winery in Florida, the good folks at Lakeridge produce 10 varieties. After the tour which took us past their crusher and bottling rooms, we saddled up to the tasting bar and tried seven. (Two were sold out.)

I was interested to see what an area that seems completely at odds with the winemaking climate (warm dry days, cool nights) could produce. Now, I know there is something for everyone, and I really did keep an open mind, but my notes included a lot of comments such as "Tastes like alcoholic grape jelly," "Musty river, with hints of orange blossoms," "Sweet, roses and honey." None of which sound good. Because in all actuality, to my taste, none of this wine was good. It was dreadful. Then again, if you like sweet wines, they were quite interesting indeed. I would say if you have a bottle, chill it to 52 degrees and drink it with pizza, down it with pasta that has been smothered in jarred sauce or swill it with a burger and fries. That way, it will taste…good?

To me, it was all just too cloying and it all had a weird musty flavor – mostly due to the muscadine grapes, I think. Have you had one of these? Find one in your local market if you can and smell it. They are…musty sweet. Like, dusty purple grape juice mixed with essence of swamp. They have their place in the world, but not my mouth. And certainly not in bottles.

Of course, I didn’t want to seem too cruel (though I admit that the Diet Coke I guzzled right after actually acted as a palate cleanser…) and I put my mind to finding a use for the bottle I felt obliged to purchase - the eight dollar Sunblush (yes, really.) "A delicate pink [my notes say orange] hue offers flavorful intensity and concentration of bouquet, while remaining cheerfully light bodied and refreshing. Try it with a wide variety of finger foods, rice dishes and pasta."

Look, I don’t mean to sound like an ingrate here…it was an awesome day and I am thankful for the time Pops and I spent together, (oh and the tour was fun!) but this wine was just not to my taste. And when they boasted that they bottle a million plus cases a year, it kinda made me want to cry. Who is drinking this stuff?

AND YET…despite all this, it was my culinary quest to find a recipe that could make that Sunblush blush…and lo and behold, I outdid myself (back-pat, back-pat)…though should you want to recreate it, I suggest using a dessert wine and not this particular brand (sorry!)

I had purchased some smallish Georgia peaches yesterday at a road stand and thought they would make a great match to the wine, which is so intensely floral. The peaches were really just glorious orbs of juicy-ripe perfection. Then the Italian style hard cookies (that I adapted from this recipe) with their anise flavored bite and flaky texture worked as an ideal foil for the sweet peaches and doctored up wine. Dip them in, mash them over the peaches or eat them all separately, it doesn’t matter, it’s still divine.

Serve this as an afternoon treat. The recipe is a delicious and light indeed. You will love it. Try it, and enjoy.

Anise Wine Cookies

¼ cup sweet wine
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon anise oil (optional)
2 cups white flour
Pinch of salt
4 oz olive oil
1 teaspoon anise seeds

Preheat your oven to 300F. Lightly oil a cookie sheet and set aside.
Combine the wine, sugar and anise oil, stir to dissolve the sugar and set aside.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt and stir to combine.

In a small pan, heat the olive oil and anise seeds until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Pour the warm oil into the flour and stir to combine. Add the wine mixture and knead to combine.

Roll the dough into golf-ball sized pieces. Press your finger into the center to the bottom to create an indentation. (This is done because the cookie is so dense it will not cook all the way through before it burns unless you make the dent) Place on the cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

For the peaches:
4 large peaches
½ cup sweet wine
2 bay leaves
2 large basil leaves
pinch of salt
¼ cup sugar
½ cup water

Blanch and peel the peaches.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan. Add the peaches to the liquid and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, turning once or twice, until the liquid is reduced by half. Remove the bay and basil leaves and discard.

Remove the peaches from the liquid and slice. Serve with the cookies and syrup.

Makes enough for eight people.


Muscadine grapes have been used for making commercial wines dating back to the 16th Century in Florida. Today, there are vineyards throughout the Southeast vinting muscadine wines. The typical muscadine wine is quite sweet and is therefore oftentimes considered a dessert wine although some drier varieties exist. The term scuppernong refers to a large bronze type of muscadine originally grown in North Carolina; it is also used in making wine. – Wikipedia

The first peaches grown in Georgia, in the late 1800s,were the Elberta variety. They were highly successful on the northern markets because of their exceptional color, size and quality. Although Georgia is called the Peach State, it actually ranks third in United States peach production behind California and South Carolina.

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I've lived in Fort Lauderdale for the past 2 years, and I have (thankfully) never heard of this wine/winery. At first I thought it would be a fun place to visit, being a wine-lover, but then I read on, and nixed that plan. Funny stuff. I'll stick to my current favorite wine countries of the moment, France and Spain. Your recipe looks lovely, though, and such a great way to make the most of less than stellar ingredient!
Yep, been here too. I don't drink, but I did pick up some grape juice:-)
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