20 October, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Willamette Valley

I hadn't realized how long it has been since I last posted. My apologies, it's been a busy month. Luckily, one of those things keeping me busy was a week long vacation to Oregon to visit wine country. 

Which brings me to today's word: Willamette Valley. This is the prime viticultural area of Oregon where Pinot Noir is king. Only about an hour south and west of Portland, the Willamette Valley is an up and coming wine region in the U.S. Geographically speaking, this region shares commonalities with France's famed Burgundy region, so much so that Joseph Drouhin, of the reputable Domaine Drouhin of Burgundy began to grow grapes and produce Pinot Noirs after having his famous Clos-de-Beze beaten by David Lett's 1975 Pinot Noir in a blind tasting.

The focus here is on boutique wineries and much less on developing mass produced brands. During my trip here, I focused on tasting wineries that I had never heard of and those that are typically not available at retail here in the Twin Cities. Over the next few days, I'll be sharing my journey with you along with some of the great wines I found. 


17 September, 2010

When you disagree with the critics.

I've been on the lookout for lower priced wines for everyday drinking. I found this bottle by reading the little cards at the wine shop; the reviews were in and many were raving about this wine. Plus, it was only $9.99 so I figured this was going to be the deal of the century.

Here's the description from both wine.com and Wine Advocate (Robert Parker):
winemaker's notes:

This is a blockbuster young red wine with explosive, luscious aromas. Vitiano Rosso is deep ruby-red in color, and offers a wide range of fruit and spice aromas, including black cherry jam, licorice, and tobacco leaf. This versatile wine pairs well with a wide array of food, including meat, pasta, and pizza. It is best enjoyed in its youth when its fresh fruit character is most evident. Vitiano Rosso is a perennial value.
critical acclaim:
"The 2008 Vitiano Rosso (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese) is a racy, sleek wine that impresses with its layers of perfumed red cherries and sweet toasted oak. The wine offers terrific clarity and precision in a slightly taut, focused style for this offering. A few months of bottle age seems prudent. According to proprietor Riccardo Cotarella, the bottle variation that occasionally shows up in Vitiano is most likely attributable to the different amounts of time the various lots spend in bottle prior to arriving on the market. Clearly lots that have more time in bottle have the potential to show greater harmony than lots that have less time in bottle. That said, slight bottle variation issues here are a minor quibble for a wine that delivers so much value. "
89 Points
The Wine Advocate

Sounds pretty great, right? That's what I thought, too. Unfortunately, I did not have the same experience. Blockbuster isn't a word I would have used. Yes, I tasted berries, but not at the level of jamminess. I expected something heavier and rounder and instead I found it to be a very light wine that reminded me of watermelon rind. Perhaps that's the same note that wine.com found when they say "tobacco leaf". When I see Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on the label, I expect something with full body and ripe black fruit. Not watermelon rind. Perhaps the majority of the blend is Sangiovese. I will agree however, that this bottle delivers great value. At only  $9.99 it does make a great pizza wine. 

If anyone else finds this wine, give it a try and let me know what you think!


15 September, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Cuvee

The world of wine can be confusing and it doesn't help when one word has two meanings. Unfortunately, today's word is one of those. However, the good news is that when ever you see the word, you're usually in for something delicious. So fear not. 

Cuvee. Originally, the french term meant any vat or container wine. However, wine makers have used the term to mean blend. You'll often see it on red wines as the Vintner's Cuvee. 

When paired with the words Tete de, as in tete de cuvee,  it takes on an entirely different meaning. This is used when referring to a maker's top bottling. You'll often see this on bottle of Champagne or even the famous Bordeaux dessert wine, Sauternes. 

So there you have it. Once less thing to fear.


13 September, 2010

Just some good wine.

A few years ago, I started building my cellar. And by cellar, I mean a couple of racks I purchased from Cost Plus World Market and put in my basement. Nonetheless, I knew that if I bought good wine from good years and held on to it, I would be drinking some incredible wine in a few years. Well a those years have past and now some of that incredible wine is beginning to come into its own, ready for great drinking.  Lately, I've been able to open a few of these and enjoy them with friends. I'm going to start sharing them with you, too.

A little over a year ago, my husband, Mr. Craft Beer, suggested we fly to Portland, OR for the Oregon Brewers Fest. The OBF (as we refer to it) consists of four days and at least 80 different brewers sampling their best. And while I enjoy good beer, I love wine even more so I suggested that we combine that trip with a couple of days in Oregon wine country to sample my favorite wine, Oregon Pinot Noir. I'm not sure when I first had Oregon Pinot, but it was long before Pinot Noir garnered fame through Sideways. Stylistically, it's somewhere between the earthy Burgundies (all red French Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir) and the uber fruity Californians.

One of the wines that I brought home from that trip was the 2006 Adelsheim Elizabeth's Reserve.  Adelsheim makes great Pinot Noir at all its price levels. Elizabeth's Reserve is made using the best barrels from the best lots. It's a beautiful wine with aromas of raspberry, black cherry and roses. In the mouth that fruit is just as lovely with the addition of a little tea and cola. The tannins were so soft; it made an excellent companion to our pork dinner. It was even just as great the next day when I shared the remainder of the bottle with some guests who were equally impressed by the wine. 

If you're able to find Elizabeth's Reserve, I encourage you to pick some up. It's usually around $40 retail, but I'm sure you'll find it on sale if you play your cards right. You won't regret it!


09 September, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Crianza.

Spanish Wine is often over looked, but truth be told, Spain offers some great values on both reds and whites. Sometimes it's hard to navigate a region you're not familiar with, but hopefully learning this word will make it a little easier.

One of the Spanish practices is to age the wine before it's released for sale. The benefit to this is that the wine is ready for drinking when it hits the shelf.  No aeration needed. No wondering if you're going to have tannins that are as soft as 60 grit sand paper.  And to help us all out, the Spaniards have created a labeling system to help us understand the age of the wine in the bottle. This is where the word Crianza comes in.

Crianza helps us understand how long the wine has been aged. It's used in a few ways on the label and when you understand this, you'll understand what's in the bottle. So here goes. . .

Sin Crianza or Vino Joven: Sin Crianza literally means "without aging". Vino Joven literally means "young wine". These are wines that are not matured in oak or other wood barrels and are designed for early consumption.

Crianza means aged and when you see this on a label you know that the wine has been matured at the winery for at least 2 years and at least 1 year in oak barrels.

Reservas are produced in good years, matured in the winery for at least 3 years and at least 1 year in oak.

Gran Reservas are only made from the finest fruit and only in the finest years. These are matured at the winery for 5 years and must be matured on oak for at least 2 years.

So there you have it. These labels are most likely seen on red wines from Spain (I don't think I've ever seen a white wine labeled this way as whites are most likely to be consumed right away).

Check out the Spanish aisle and look for these labels. There are great wines and values to be had here!


23 August, 2010

Good wine under $15.00

We're back in Spain today with another very crisp white that's perfect for a hot summer might. It's made from the Verdejo grape from the Rueda region. Like Sauvignon Blanc it provides bright citrus notes and a great deal of zippy acid. In fact it is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc.

Here are the wine maker's notes: Bright, lifted nose that could very easily be mistaken kiwi, gooseberry, grapefruit zest, "mineral". But this is riper, deeper. Ditto in the mouth. Great depth of fruit and opposing mineral cut. Another wine with a sugar/acid cage match.

We opened this bottle on a warm mid-week evening to have with grilled chicken. It was a little light for the chicken, but great with the grilled vegetables. Not bad for $10.99 from Costco.


19 August, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Sur Lie

Champagne Mercier Visitor Centre Epernay

First my apologies for being late in posting this week. We've had some issues with our internet and haven't had consistent access. Special thanks to Starbucks for providing free WIFI. Hopefully, this won't last much longer.

Now on to our word of the week. If you ever read a tasting note or the back of a Champagne or Sparkling Wine and seen descriptors of yeasty, biscuity or toasty, this is because the wine has been aged sur lie.

To understand sur lie, you need to understand how Sparkling Wines are made. First, the grapes must be turned into wine through a traditional fermentation process. In order to turn these wines into sparklers, the wine maker adds a bit of solution of wine, sugar and yeast (called liqueur di tirage) to the still wine which is then sealed in either a bottle or a tank. At this time a second fermentation takes place and the resulting CO2 is trapped. After all the sugar has been fermented, the yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle/tank. Here the'll sit for months or years (depending on the wine maker) and add flavors to the now sparkling wine. This act of aging on the dead yeast cells is referred to as sur lie.

And while we're on the subject of sparkling wines, don't wait for special occasions to open these. They are delicious and refreshing and should be considered whenever you want to open a bottle of wine. They are among the most food friendly of wines. In fact, it's my favorite wine to drink with Thanksgiving dinner and I often start with a glass before any dinner I eat out. So start today, open a bottle to "celebrate" the fact that you learned what sur lie means.


12 August, 2010

What happens in the vineyard.

When I sit down to relax with a delicious glass of wine, I don't think I've ever appreciated all the work that goes into making that glass of juice. But how could I since I've never been in the vineyard during growing season. Well here's a video from Jordan in Sonoma that helps put me in the middle of the vineyard and shows some of the hard work that's so important right now. Specifically, leaf pulling. It's incredibly important that the proper amount of sunshine reach the grapes in order for them to ripen. This video shows how much hand work goes into this vineyard step.

Now, Jordon wines do not come cheap. The cabernet sauvignon sells for about $50 and their chardonnay sells for about $30. I think that one of the benefits of this video is that I now understand why wines like this command prices like these. It take a tremendous amount of care and attention to bring in the best possible grapes and it demands a great deal of hand work. A machine could never do this.

Thanks to Jordan for posting this video!


11 August, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Concentration.

(Image via Ivao83's flickr)

 Here's a word you'll sometime see in tasting notes. "Palate exhibits a good concentration of berry flavors." That's fairly self-explanatory, in that you expect the wine to have very deep and full fruit flavors. Concentration in wine is like pixels on your computer screen; you want more pixels, the sharper the the picture and the more detail you can see. In a wine you want more stuff, less water.

But how does concentration happen? Is it just luck or can a wine be manipulated into those concentrated flavors. Turns out, it can be both, but much of it is in the wine makers sights.

First, in the vineyard, vine pruning and selective reduction is crucial. Growers have the difficult task of selectively pruning away fruit early in the season. While this reduction of berries reduces they overall crop yield, the nutrients and sunshine have fewer berries to "feed". This increased energy improves the fruit overall. So while the grower may have fewer grapes to harvest, each one of those grapes as greater potential for producing really great wine.

Secondly, deprive the wine of water. The best grapes are grown under stressful conditions and one of those stressful conditions is low rainfall. While it is true in the most arid regions irrigation is common, the grapes must have some water, after all. But too much water will dilute the flavor of the grapes. Think of it as adding too much water to tea or coffee, the more water, the lower the concentration of coffee flavor. The same is true of grape, especially at harvest. Growers are always watching out for a big rain near harvest. If the grapes are still on the vine during a rain storm all that water will go straight to the grape, plumping them up and eventually diluting the wine.

Lastly, a wine maker can remove water from the grapes or the juice in a variety of methods. You may already be familiar with a couple of the techniques even though you don't know it. In the Veneto region of Italy, grapes are dried after harvest, letting them become raisinated. The dried fruit is then fermented and pressed resulting in Amarone. In Canada, grapes are frozen on the vine, which reduces their water content and then they're processed into ice wine. Water can also be removed from grape juice. Routinely in Australia, grapes become very ripe in the warm sunny conditions. Using a centrifuge, water can be removed from the juice resulting in those inky Shirazs (not to mention high alcohol Shiraz!).

So next time you're tasting a wine, pay special attention to the flavors, do you think they've been concentrated? or are they weak and diluted?


10 August, 2010

Good wines under $15.

Wine's holy grail is a great bottle for around $12. And there is a great deal of wine on the market in this price range. Well, here at Vinthropologie we have decided to take on the task of finding that holy grail (it's a tough job but someone has to do it!) So each week, we'll try to taste at least one bottle of wine that's priced below $15. We'll only profile those that we like since wine and matters of taste are so personal.

Up first, a delicious little number from the south of Spain. It's called Botani and it's made from the Muscat Alexandria grape. Now, this is a grape that I'm sure very few of us have tried. It's traditionally vinified into a sweeter wine but this is vinified dry, meaning that most of the sugar has been converted to alcohol. This wine is also unusual because it comes from an unusual region: Malaga Spain. Málaga is in far southern Spain, on the hot, sunny Costa del Sol, and it made its name on sticky-sweet wines made from raisined grapes. What you don't see from this region is a dry wine, until now. I have to say when I saw this bottle at Costco for $13.99 I was intrigued.

This wine has a pale straw color with aromas of honey, lemon, and tangerine. It's seen a bit of French oak so it's a bit rounder than I expected, yet it is still very refreshing. On the palate you'll taste the honey and the tangerine and also a back note of herbs, although it's not grassy. It does have a slight bitter taste on the finish but that doesn't interfere with the overall crisp and refreshing nature of this wine.

I hope you seek this one out, you'll have fun with it.


03 August, 2010

A glass full of fruit.

(Image via elana's pantry's flickr)

 Last week I wrote a post about becoming a better taster, using the FEW method: Fruit, Earth, and Wood. Each time you taste, you ask yourself "What fruits do I taste? Is there anything earthy here? Do I taste wood?"

Well today I'm going to make the first question a little easier for you. For both red wines and white wines there are groupings of fruits that are more likely to show up in each. By learning these, you'll be able to find more fruit flavors each time you taste wine.

Let's start with white wines. There are 5 fruit types to look for in the aroma and on the palate. They are:

Tree fruit: apples, pears
Citrus: lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, tangerine
Stone fruit: peach, apricot, nectarine
Tropical fruit: Mango, banana, pineapple, papaya
Other: Melon, lychee

There are 3 fruit types for red wines:

Red fruit: strawberry, cherry, raspberry, cranberry
Black fruit: black currant, black raspberry, blackberry, black cherry
Dried fruit: prunes, figs, raisins, dates

And that's it. Don't feel pressured to name specific fruits. Start by trying to identify the fruit category. Once you are able to identify a category, then go a bit deeper. For example, Sauvignon Blancs are dominated by citrus fruits; once you identify it's citrus as yourself if it's grapefruit or lemon (or both!).

To get better a picking out individual fruits, there's only one way to improve your skills. Taste and smell lots of fruits and lots of wine. Smell fruit in the grocery store, you might get a few strange looks, but it's worth it.

Practice makes perfect as the saying goes. Consider it some of the most enjoyable homework you'll ever have.


30 July, 2010

Left Bank. Right Bank.

(Image via clodius_maximus' flickr)

Yesterday I was yammering on about a great Right Bank wine, only to have my friend say, "The right bank of what?" Hmmm, I guess my inner wine geek was showing a little too much here.

So here's the 411. Left Bank and Right Bank refer to two separate regions of Bordeaux in France. They are each located on two separate rivers (the Garonne and the Dordogne) which meet and create the Gironde Estuary. These geological features are important because they create very different growing areas and therefore, they create very different wines. There's a great map here.

Both regions favor growing a mix of different grapes to combat climatic variations. This acts like an insurance policy against things like hail or rain. By planting different grapes and creating a blend each year, the winemaker can be assured that he will have something good to offer the buying public year after year. So if the weather conditions render the Cabernet Sauvignon crop less than spectacular, there will be four other grape crops that can be used to fill the void. Those four other grape varietals are Merlot (giving the wine a nice softness and great color), Cabernet Franc (offering great aromatics), Petit Verdot (a contributor of color and structure) and Malbec (adding tannin and color).

First, the Left Bank. This region is famous for gravely soils that are heat retaining and well drained. These soils favor the Cabernet Sauvignon, which needs heat to ripen. It doesn't do well in the Right Bank because it has difficulty ripening in the region's cooler soils. The majority of the left bank wines will have a blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. The best assurance of good wine from the Left Bank is to buy from one of the better regions and to be prepared to spend a little more. Look for Paulliac Margaux (the region, not the famously priced Chateau), and St. Julien.

Second, the Right Bank. As I've alluded to above, the soils of this region are very different. The are more moisture retaining clay, which Merlot does very, very well in. This region, too, creates blended wines but Merlot will be the dominant grape. Interesting, though that the most expensive wines in the world can come from this region, even though the Merlot grape has been much maligned in recent years. Petrus and Cheval Blanc are two Chateaus that are much celebrated Merlot blends. And here's a bit of ironic trivia for you. In the movie Sideways, Miles loudly proclaims, "I'm not drinking any f*@$ing Merlot!" However, his treasure wine that he's been saving for a special occasion is a 1961 Cheval Blanc. Yep, a Merlot.  If you're going looking for a Right Bank wine, try something from Pomerol or St. Emilion.

Finally, a word about pricing. Be prepared to spend $30 to $40 for one of these wines. Bordeaux is typically overpriced (in my opinion). There are cheaper options out there, but frankly, they are not very reliable and relatively poorly made. If you're looking for a big red in a lower price point, you are better off buying something from California, Washington State, Australia or South America.


28 July, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Green.

 (Photo from Champagne Tarlant) 

Tasters often describe wines like Sauvignon blanc as "green," but there is a great deal of variance in the word green. If you're tempted to use that word, consider asking yourself to be more specific about what kind of green. Try taking your tasting note to a new level. Here are a number of ways a wine can be "green":

Green fruit: green fig, honeydew melon, green apple
Bitter green: arugula, green tea ice cream
Exotic green: lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaf
Smoky green: Lapsang Souchong tea
Citrusy green: lime
Vegetable: pea pods, green beans, green bell peppers
Green herb: sage, thyme
Piquant green: jalapeño chilies
Green outdoors: new-mown grass, meadows 


27 July, 2010

How to become a better taster.

 Are professional tasters just naturally better at tasting than the average person?

No, no, and no.

What makes them better tasters is that they taste more frequently and that they have systematic way of evaluating each wine. They use that system each time they taste, even if seems that they are pulling those flavors out of thin air (or sometimes thin wine).

Here's a quick guide for when you are evaluating a wine through either smell or taste: Just look for a FEW things.

Fruit, Earth, Wood.

Start by asking yourself, what fruits are here? Citrus? Apples? Tropical? Berries? Prunes? It's good to have a list of general fruit categories that you can use as a check-list. In a later post, we'll dive into those lists for both white wine and red wines.

Next, ask yourself, is there earthy notes in the wine? Earthy notes include mushrooms, dried leaves, forest floor, truffles, peat and more. However, if all you can detect is earthiness, you're good to move on to the next question. This is a good way to determine is a wine is from the old world as old world styles tend to emphasize earthy flavors over fruit flavors.

Finally, ask yourself, do I detect wood? What you're looking for here is evidence that the wine has been either fermented or aged using oak barrels or other form of oak. This will present itself as tasting like wood or perhaps cedar or in other forms such a vanilla, coconut, and smoke.

That's it. Use this system each time you taste a wine, and soon you'll be tasting like a pro.

Let me know how it goes!


21 July, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: AOC.

 (Image via steve_lacy941's flickr)

Today we're not really looking at a word, but an acronym. AOC is part of the wine classification system of France (and many other countries have adopted similar systems of regulations). It stands for Appellation d'Origine Controlee (with appropriate accent markings which I admit a cannot figure out how to do in Blogger) and translates to "Controlled Name of Origin." It refers to a specific place with delimited boundaries and the set of regulations regarding the grape growing  and winemaking standards the wine producer must follow in order to use AOC or refer to the appellation on their labels. Regulations include permitted grape varieties, minimum sugar levels at harvest, aging, and other winemaking techniques. AOC's can refer to a region, a district, a Commune,  or even a single vineyard. And yes it's complicated and does require some knowledge to be able to understand a French wine label.

I could go through some of the details here, but frankly, that could get a bit boring. My personal philosophy on studying a French wine label is you better have some French wine to taste alongside the "lecture."  What is interesting is the history behind why these laws exist. It all started with the new found ability to more easily cross the Atlantic Ocean via steamship in the 1800's. French and American wine makers started to "trade" grapevine cuttings and roots and along with those cuttings came a tiny louse called phylloxera. American grapevines and rootstock had immunity to this little pest but the French vines were devastated by it. By the mid to late 1800's the majority of the French vineyards were destroyed with little solution in sight. With huge pent up demand and little supply to satisfy it, fraud became rampant. North African wine, for example, was being passed of as prestigious Burgundy. In order to protect the consumer, the French government created a system of regulations that both protected the growers and assured consumers of the wine's authenticity. The system has been in place since the 1930's and is updated every now and again.

Now, I don't expect you to go out and learn about French wine laws, but do know that when you see AOC on a French label, you are being assured of some level of quality. Whether you'll like the wine is a different story.


19 July, 2010

A great sparkling wine from an unexpected place.

When you think of sparkling wine, you most likely think of places like Champagne or California. But would you have ever expected a quality sparkling wine, let alone a quality wine from New Mexico? I didn't think so, because this really surprised me, too. In fact, it's likely you've seen this wine at your local wine shop and didn't think twice about where it came from; you might have even thought it was from France. I'm talking about Gruet Sparkling Wine from the Gruet Winery just outside Albequerque, NM.

First, let's tackle why this delicious wine comes from such an unexpected place. It's been determined that fine wine is best produced between 30 and 50 degrees North and South latitude. New Mexico is at 31 to 34 degrees north of the equator so it just squeaks by. By comparison, North Africa is at 38 degrees and Southern Italy is at 40 degrees latitude. Still this seems like it could be too warm to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both traditionally cool climate grapes that are used in these sparklers.  The secret is the altitude. They grow at 4300 feet so while it may get hot during the day, it can very cool at night, dropping 30 degrees. This is significant because this night time cooling allows the ripening process to slow down, exactly what these grape varieties need -- a long growing season.

I was lucky enough on Saturday night to attend a surprise birthday party for a friend and one of the guests brought the Gruet non-vintage Rose. It was delicious and like most sparklers, pairs with most everything very nicely. Here are the tasting notes from the website:

This nearly garnet Rose, like all our non-vintage sparkling wines, is aged 24 months en tirage. It has a lovely, bright floral bouquet with hints of strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. On the palate, it is rich and fruity in a dry, Brut style. The flavor of berries continues on the palate, revealing more strawberry, raspberry, cherry. 

Gruet is widely distributed, so seek some out and enjoy!


15 July, 2010

Paella and Bordeaux

(Image via bluewaikiki's flickr)

I must admit that I prefer white wines with seafood dishes so the headline of this WSJ post caught my eye. Lucky Jay McInerney is a neighbor of Eric Ripert, the famed seafood chef of Le Bernardin in New York. The article relays a tale of a great paella dinner cooked by Ripert and served with a great Bordeaux.

What makes this pairing work? Says McInereny, a heavy hand with the chorizo. Yum. Sounds like a dish and a pairing I'll have to try soon. Maybe I can get my Ribs and Red friends to join in. Anyone else up for some fun?

Check out the post, you'll be inspired and jealous.


14 July, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Bouquet and Aroma.

(Image via supermariolxpt's flickr.)

What do you smell when you sniff your wine? Where do words like tobacco and mushrooms come from? These are words that typically describe a wine's bouquet versus its aroma. (You're getting two words today since it's impossible to talk about one without describing the other.) Yes, these are technically different terms in wine tasting, yet they are often used interchangeably and often confused. 

Aroma describes those smells that are derived from the grape itself. These words will be familiar to you. They are all the fruit and floral words you read in tasting notes. Green apple, lemon, mango, peach, raspberry, black currant, strawberry, cherry, violets, gardenia, figs, and hundreds more.

Bouquet on the other hand describes those smells that are derived from processing or aging the wine. This is where the funkier terms come in: Mushroom, cigar box, damp leaves, vanilla, earth, leather, tobacco, cedar, and so on. 

This is one of the ways that professional tasters can detect the age of a wine. An older wine will have a predominate bouquet while its aromas will be muted. Why would that be important, you ask? When wine is being purchased as an investment or a high end wine is being served at a restaurant, you need to be wary of fakes or being served the wrong wine. Knowing how something should taste helps them be better consumers of wine. 



13 July, 2010

Twin Cities Wine Event: Andrea Robinson

 (Photo from Andrea's Website)

When I was first learning about wine, I came across a show hosted by Andrea Immer Robinson on the Fine Living Network. The Fine Living Network is now defunct and I don't recall the name of the show, but I do remember that Andrea made wine accessible and down to earth. She gave simple guidelines (note: not rules) for choosing wines to pair with foods.

Andrea's now an enterprise or really a brand with great books and a great website. She also works with Macy's Culinary Council and they are hosting a free food and wine pairing event at the Macy's Southdale in Edina. The event will launch Andrea's new wine glass: The One, an all purpose wine glass good for both reds and whites. It's something that I know many people who enjoy wine but don't like the fussiness of it all will appreciate. I just checked them out and they are very pretty.

Here are the details:

Wednesday July 14
Macy's Southdale in Edina (third floor Home Department)

Andrea will pour forth a lesson on the basics of proper food and wine partners while she shares some of her favorite recipes for you to sample. This Master Sommelier and Chef will also introduce her new stemware collection - "The One"TM - which is available at Macy's and is a line created to take the guesswork out of choosing the proper wine glass. Customers making a purchase of the The One TM stemware the day of the event will receive a complimentary copy of Andrea's 2010 Wine Buying Guide for Everyone. Following the cooking demonstration, Andrea will be available to meet greet customers and sign copies of cookbook purchases made the day of the event. Andrea's latest cookbook, Great Wine Made Simple, will be made available for purchase the day of the event.

You'll need to call and make reservations for this event as seating is limited. The number is  1800-329-8667. Click here for more information.

Thanks to Genna at 100andsouth.com for the heads up on this event!

Maybe I'll see you there!


12 July, 2010

Gewurztraminer: Love it or hate it.

I think of all the wines and grapes I've introduced people to, Gewurztraminer is the most polarizing. People either love it or hate it. Those that hate it often believe it's a very sweet wine, which it can be as it is vinified in a variety of styles. Others find its aggressive aroma off-putting; it's very floral and fruity with aromas of roses, gardenias, peaches, mangoes and lychee. Those that love it have come to know its spiciness as unique and easy  to distinguish. They know it's a great accompaniment to spicy foods such as Asian cuisine or Indian cuisine. Some just avoid it since it's so hard to pronounce. Ga-verz-tra-meaner.

The first time I had a Gewurztraminer was in college. It was probably at the first wine tasting I had ever attended. At this point I was a fan of sweeter wines and was often seen drinking wine spritzers made with Piesporter Michelsburg, which at the time, I didn't even know was a Riesling. One of the group had brought the Gewurztraminer. We had no idea how to pronounce it, so we just called it #2, the order in which we tasted it. We liked it, yet never figured out how to pronounce it so for years after we always referred to it as #2.

As time went on, I moved on to other wines, often finding the Gewurztraminer in restaraunts too sweet as my palate started to perfer drier styles, until one day when I had my first taste of Singapore cuisine at Straits in San Francisco.

Singapore and Malaysian cuisine is wonderfully flavorful and spicy, dominated by ginger, garlic, coconut, lemongrass and chilies. Straits did a wonderful thing and had wine recommendations for each of their dishes and that's how I found one of my favorite Gewurztraminers by Navarro of Mendocino.

This wine is not the typical sweet Gewurztraminer you often find on the wine by the glass list. It's a dry wine yet still incredibly aromatic and fruity. It's been hit with most everyone who's tried it. This wine is worth seeking out, yet you may need to order direct from the winery. Good news, however, if you order a case you will get a discount and they often give free shipping. And they have many other wonderful wines. You can even order one of their sampler packs. Here are the tasting notes for the Dry Gewurztraminer from their web site:

Floral aromas leap out of the glass in the 2008 bottling and the flavors suggest peach, quince and lychee. There are hints of vanilla from the oak casks and yeasty notes from aging on the yeast. It is dry, refreshingly tart and balanced to complement sausages, curry or Pad Thai. Gold Medal winner. Best of Class.


07 July, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Structure.

(Image via obenson's flickr)

For the longest time, I would read tasting notes and see that a wine had good structure. But, honestly, I had no idea what that meant. At first, I thought it must mean that it was big and bold, since it's often a word used with wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. And then I would run across a Riesling that was described as having a good structure. Huh? These wines are very different.

So I tried a Google search and found this: "structure: the way a wine is built; its composition and proportions." Hmmm. Clear as mud, right?

What I have come to learn through my studies with the International Sommelier Guild, is that structure is the components that support the body of the wine, just like a skeleton supports the human body.  So in wine, it's the tannin, acid, sugar and alcohol that supports the luscious fruit. Without these components, any wine will be boring and flabby, no zip, no reason to want to sip again and again. These components make the fruit come alive in your mouth.

These also do something more. A well structured wine gives it the ability to age for many years, evolving into something different, more interesting. Tannin and acidity in particular can be particularly off-putting in a wines youth. However, with age, they will soften and blend into the fruit creating something spectacular, just like a good stew or chili become better the next day.


04 July, 2010

Seduced by a pretty label.

When faced with a line of unknown options, I usually look to the staff reviews for a description of the wine. It can go a long way in helping me understand what the drinking experience is going to be like. But at some wine shops and liquor stores they neglect this simple selling tool. In these cases, I'll admit, the label can do a lot to influence my purchase. While I avoid critter labels, I do find myself drawn to great design and intersting stories.

This is exactly what happend to me and a friend last Friday. It was a beautiful afternoon (although a little hot, but we in Minnesota really shouldn't complain about heat), perfect for whiling away the afternoon on the deck. The perfect wine? A nice Italian prosecco, bubbly, light and refreshing. We had been to lunch and decided to stop by the liquor store for a cold bottle since neither of us had any chilled already.  None of the labels that were available were familiar to us, but this bottle stood out.

It's fairly rare to see the color of blue on a wine label, which made the La Marca Prosecco our choice for the afternoon. And this wine is as delicious as it is pretty. It's dry and crisp, a little less sweet that most proseccos, which in my book is a good thing. I could taste load of ripe apples and a little bit of lemon. It also had amazingly tiny bubbles, smaller that is typical for this style of wine, very impressive, indeed.


01 July, 2010

Ribs and Red.

Not long ago I got together with friends for a rose tasting. We went through 6 or 7 bottles of rose (between the 4 of us) and at the end of the evening, we vowed to do a Ribs and Red evening. Well, what I really like about these friends is that they follow through on their less than sober declarations. 

Our first annual (hopefully, there will be a second next year) Ribs and Red fest was last Saturday night and it was a resounding success. There were no shortage of ribs, three of us made a couple of racks each. You can see how amazing they looked and how different all three versions were. 

These baby back ribs were made with both a dry rub and a sauce. The sauce was homemade with peaches and had an amazing fruity flavor. Just look at that mahogany bark!

These spare ribs were dry rubbed and offered up with a variety of sauces from an apple mustard sauce to a traditional bbq sauce.

These St. Louis Cut ribs were dry rubbed with Memphis Dust and served with a homemade BBQ sauce from Amazingribs.com. Since I made these, I can offer you the recipes for both. Just click on the links for both to get the recipe. BTW, there are many more great BBQ recipes on the site I'm linking you to. Can't wait to try more of them.

Everyone brought at least 2 wines. We had everything from Carmenere to Zinfandel so there was a great variety to taste with. Here was our line up: 

Fortunately for our livers, we didn't get to open each one. We started by opening 5 of them and placed them along side the ribs and let everyone pair them with the ribs at their discretion. Here are my notes:  

MontGras Carmenere
Carmenere was once a Bordeaux grape that was brought to Chile in the 1850's. It was thought to be Merlot until recently when it was DNA typed. Chile has had great success with it. This particular bottle was quite good. Some Carmenere's have lots of tobacco and cocoa flavors, but this one was very fruity with lots of black cherry and an undertone of earthiness. Had the tobacco and cocoa been more forward this wouldn't have paired well with the ribs. However, with all that fruit, it paired wonderfully. 

Guenoc Zinfandel
Zinfandel is a classic pair for bbq ribs. In fact, my wine instructor here in the Twin Cities has a group of friends that get together annual for a ribs and zin. There's a lot of pressure to bring the best Zin. This one didn't disappoint. It had great flavors of dried fruit and blackberry; very jammy. For some in the group, this was the best pairing with the ribs.

 Henry's Drive Shiraz
This was my personal favorite of the wine pairings. Australian Shiraz is another classic pairing with ribs, (note, not French Syrah. The latter is too earthy and too gamey to pair well.) This particular wine was loaded with great fruit: blackberries, black raspberries and vanilla and coconut flavors from being fermented and aged in oak barrels. The tannins were incredibly soft and luscious. The one downside of this wine was the high levels of alcohol -- a whopping 16%. I almost passed on it because of that. Glad I didn't.

Torremoron Tempranillo
This wine was a miss with the ribs. On its own or with a different food pairing, we all thought this would be a good wine, but alas with ribs, it was just too high in acid and tannin. That said, it had nice fruit flavors of cherry, cranberry and fig. I'd like to try it with something different at another time. 

Etim Seleccion
Lastly, we tried this Spanish wine from the Montsant region. It's a grenache blend that garnered 91 points from Robert Parker last year. At $9 a bottle at Costco, I couldn't help but pick up a case in hopes that it would age well year to year. Our assessment was that it was OK with the Ribs, but not great. Compared to last year, it had really flattened out. There was still good fruit in the mouth but it had lost more of it's zip than I had expected and the flavors were a bit muddied. As my friend suggested, it might make a better cheese and olives wine.

Whew. It was a great evening and we'll definitely repeat a Ribs and Red event in the future. In the meantime, what do you like to drink with ribs? (BTW, beer is also a good answer as that's what my husband drank all night during Ribs and Red!)


30 June, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Veraison.

Not too long ago I posted pictures of champagne grapes int her early flowering stage from Champagne Tarlant. It's only fitting that we talk about grapes at another stage of development. This stage pictured here is called veraison. This is the stage that signals the beginning of ripening, "when the grapes change from the hard green state to their softened and colored form" (to quote the Oxford Companion to Wine.) The grapes are moving from green to red-black if they are red grapes and to yellow-green if they are white grapes.

This all happens fairly quickly and not evenly as you can see from the photo above. During this stage, sugar is increasing and acid is dropping. And that balance of sugar to acid is critical if a wine is going to be bright and zippy rather than dull and flabby. It is critical for the vigneron to pick all grapes at the right moment. Unfortunately for him or her, this can happen at different times in the same vineyard depending on the microclimates of the site. That's why they harvest the same vineyard several times and why it's important to pick the grapes in a fairly narrow range of time. 

Makes me appreciate why good wine cost so much. It's not all just marketing.


28 June, 2010

Glassware: does it matter?

Image via  martinvarsavsky's flickr.

I had always wondered if buying better and more expensive glassware for wine made a difference. Glassware makers like Riedel (pronounced Ree-del) always claim it does. They offer the wisdom that the shape of the glass can direct the flow of the wine over your tongue helping to emphasize certain characteristics of the wine such as acid which you reportedly feel on the sides of your tongue. However, the idea of the tongue map (where you taste sweet, bitter, acid and salty on different areas of the tongue) has long been debunked.

So I signed up for one of Riedel's glass tasting classes with more that a little skepticism. But it didn't take long to be humbled by what I learned. The tasting started with sitting in front of 5 glasses: one plastic beer cup, one standard restaurant glass, one Burgundy glass, one Bordeaux glass, and one Montrachet (Chardonnay) glass.

Our first taste was of a French Chardonnay from the Montrachet glass, which was balanced and delicious. It highlighted both the acid and the sweetness. Second we tasted the same wine from the plastic cup: it became harsh and almost burned the back of my throat, highlighting the alcohol. To make matters worse, you could not smell the wine. The same was true of the standard restaurant glass.

Next we tasted a Burgundy (Pinot Noir), full of fruit with a smooth texture and finish. When we tasted the Burgundy from the Montrachet glass, the wine lost its balance. Now it tasted green and acidic. When we tasted it from the restaurant glass, the tannins were enhanced and the wine was astringent.

And so the night went. I won't bore you with anymore details of wines and glasses, but needless to say the night made a believer out of me. I've repeated this experiment many times over for others (albeit on a smaller scale) and have convinced many of them as well. So how do you pick out wine glasses? Here are a few tips and guidelines I've come across:
  1. Buy glasses with a large enough bowl to swirl the wine in. I get irked when a restaurant uses a small wine glass and then fills it virtually to the rim. One of the great pleasures of wine is the smell and if you can't swirl the wine and then get your nose into the glass, then you can't smell it well. Look for a minimum of 10 ounce glasses and then fill it a little less than half way full. That empty space inside the glass is where all the good stuff happens.
  2. Look for glasses that taper to the top. This allows for the aromatics to collect in the glass, enhancing your experience. Both the plastic beer cup and standard restaurant glass at the Riedel tasting had straight sides. This really dulled the aromatics to the point where you really couldn't smell much from the wine.
  3. Look for thin rims, preferably polished cut rims versus rolled. I know, it sounds like I'm being a bit too picky here, but I think this matters more than what the glass is made of. A thin glass will allow for the wine to glide into your mouth where as a thick glass kind of sloshes it in there. 
  4. Spend about as much on a glass as you would on a bottle of wine. This advice makes sense to me, in fact, it even makes sense to spend a bit more. My rationale is this, if I can enhance a cheaper wine with a glass, then I get more bang for my buck out of every wine I buy. 
I'm not one to believe that you need a different glass for every style of wine. I personally use all purpose reds and whites that I purchased from Crate and Barrel most of the time even though I have a set of Riedel Sommelier series (a bonus from attending the Riedel tasting class) that retail for about $100 a stem.

I am, however, partial to glasses with stems. The Riedel stemless O series are very popular, but I find holding them awkward and don't enjoy all the fingerprints that wind up on the glass after only a few drinks. I also prefer real glass over plastic, but truth be told, neither substance will affect the taste or smell of the wine.

At the end of the day, you can enjoy wine from a jelly jar, a mason jar or that plastic beer cup if that's what you have on hand. After all, it's about the wine, not the glass. Oh, and those $100 stems I received. . .
they sit on the shelf, untouched. I'm too afraid I'll break them.



23 June, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Tartrates.

Ever open a bottle of white wine and see white crystals on the bottom of the cork? Or for that matter have you ever seen white stuff in the bottom of your glass of white wine? You might think they look like sugar or perhaps a bit of glass. Fear not, your wine is not bad, it's just a tartrate.

Tartrates are cystalline deposits that separate from the wine during fermentation and aging. It orginates as part of tartaric acid, the most important acid found in wine. Without it and other acids, wine would be incredibly bland. Acid also acts like a preservative, allowing both reds and whites to age. As the wine gets older, the acids soften.

So next time you see the white crystals in your wine, impress your friends by dismissing them as just part of the wine making process.


22 June, 2010

Nebbiolo, the king of Piemonte.

Image via TorreBarolo's flickr.

When did my love affair with Nebbiolo begin? When you fall this hard and fast for a grape, it seems like one would remember that first bottle, that first sip, but I think I started to swoon before I had even met the grape. When I was younger I heard more experienced oenophiles gush over Barolo, but of course when I browsed the shelves it was clear that it was too rich for my wallet.

It's also not an easy grape to get to know. Drink it too young and you'll be greeted with a mouthful of gripping tannin and acid leaving you to wonder what all the fuss is about. But drink one that's been hanging around for awhile (even decades) and all those structural elements have faded into the background to reveal plum, cherries, spice, licorice, roses and even tar (in a good way). All that mouth drying tannin will be come a soft back drop which the fruit can play upon. 

Nebbiolo is a fussy grape that's hard to grow outside certain conditions, that's why we see so few examples outside the Piemonte region of Italy. It seems to love the dry, warm conditions of this region. Too warm, too cold, too wet and the grapes don't flower, fruit doesn't set or it rots. Australia, the U.S., even Mexico and South Africa have all had their flings with it, but with marginal success. High maintenance indeed. 

So how does one get a fix for this wine without breaking the bank? First, get to know a little more about the Piemonte region. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are made from Nebbiolo and carry a regional label. These are the heavy hitters in the area. I'll still pick a couple of these up whenever there is a good sale. And I cellar them for a few years. That way I always have at least one on hand for a special occasion. Other regions to look for are Gattinara, Ghemme, Langhe and Nebbiolo d'Alba. However, in Itally, wines are either regionally labeled or varietally labeled. I was able to find one of these last night at Bar LaGrassa for a fairly reasonable price.

This Enzo Boglietti from Langhe was listed at $52 (by comparison, they had a Barolo for $100 and many Barolos are well over $50 at retail).This was full of fruit and very earthy. While it was good with the rich pastas that my husband and I ordered, I still think this 2006 could age for a number of years and still improve. Even so, the bottle was empty when we left. 


18 June, 2010

Champagne flowers.

I'm used to seeing pictures of big, purple berries hanging on the vines, but it's unusual to find photos of flowering vines. These photos are by Champagne Tarlant, from the Champagne region of France. And they are stunning. These flowering buds will develop over the summer and become grapes during that time. Hopefully Tarlant will post more photos as they develop. Enjoy!

All photos posted with the permission of Champagne Tarlant.


16 June, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Charmat

 Image via WordRidden's flickr.

Most of us refer to all sparkling wines as Champagne. However, as I've written before, only sparkling wine from the French region of Champgagne can legally be called Champagne. One of the reasons (and there are many) for the desire to protect the quality perceptions of the Champagne region is the method by which they make it. Methode Champenoise is a method where a second fermentation takes place in the bottle. This is a very expensive, labor intensive and time consuming method of making sparkling wine.

Enter Eugene Charmat, a Frenchman, who in 1907 invented a bulk processing that allowed for the second fermentation to happen in a pressurized glass tank. It's best suited for sparkling wines that will not benefit from aging. So if the bottle isn't a candidate, there's no reason to add expense to a wine whose fresh and fruity flavors are meant to be enjoyed young.

 Image via vmiramonte's flickr.

Prosecco is just that kind of wine. Virtually all Prosecco is made with the Charmat method. Simple, fruity and often the perfect apertif or refreshing brunch wine. Or apparently during a knitting club. Give it a try!


15 June, 2010

When good wine goes bad.

I don't think I've ever read a blog post about a bad wine. Or in my case a wine I let go bad due to neglect. So I thought I would serve myself up as a cautionary tale for others.

Drink your Rose. Don't sit on it.'Cause soon it will look like this:

Yes, believe it or not this used to be one of those beautiful pink wines that I've been gushing over recently.

Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking on this one. Okay, that's not entirely true. I'll confess that I received 2 bottles of 2006 St. Supery Rose in a wine club shipment in probably 2007 or 2008. I opened one bottle right away but wasn't blown away and wasn't inspired to open the second. So I let it sit until now; now when I know it's past it's prime and I need to make room for other wines. I should have known better. And while it pains me to send anything down the drain, this just had to go. (Just for the record, almost everything I've received from St. Supery has been fantastic. I'm still sitting on a bunch of reds I can't wait to open and I adore their Sauvignon Blanc.)

You can see that it's starting to turn brown. It tastes oxidized, too. It's like drinking prune juice, only not as good. It's sad to see this happen; I should have shared it or given it away to some one who would have appreciated it.

Okay, lesson learned. I'll never let a wine go past it's prime again.