Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wine Tip of the Week - To Open or Not to Open (that Gift Wine)?

One of your very thoughtful gifts has arrived at your house with a bottle of wine as a gift.  These are good friends to have!  A gracious "Thank You!" is a given,... but then what? Does an uncomfortable feeling come over you as you try to figure out - do I open this now?
The definitive answer is...maybe. Well, you say - that's no help!

OK then, here's the scoop:

  • If you asked someone to bring a wine for the dinner - then you should open it. Either before, during or after the meal, wherever you believe the wine will best pair.
  • If they ask you to open it.  A really good wino friend would not put you in this spot, and it can be difficult if you've have carefully planned the wines for the evening. But you can always open one more bottle, and point it out to your other guests as a treat provided by the bearer of the gift.
  • But... if the wine is truly a gift, then treat it like one. Say thanks, ask a question or two about it, then put it away to enjoy later. If the gift was a box of chocolates, you would not be expected to tear into them right away or if the gift was a set of beautiful Moroccan spices you would not be expected to douse your dinner with them. Much the same for a true gift of wine - for you to enjoy when and where (and with who) you choose.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Be Adventurous and Try New Wines - Nine Things I'm Glad I Tried

In a world full of countless choices when it come to wine, sometimes it's easy to just sit back and enjoy the comfort of your favorites over and over. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach to your wine selection (after all they are called favorites for a reason) it does rob you of the excitement of searching for and discovering great new things. Over the years my favorite wines have changed regularly as my tastes have changed, and as I've tried new wines. In some cases I think my tastes have evolved as I've learned more about wine, and tried more wine - but also some favorites have been de-throned by new favorites.  With trying new wines you may find something that you find delicious, or you many find something that is just cool or interesting - something with which to impress your wino (or wannabe wino) friends.  

I can't tell you exactly what to try - because I have no idea what you've tried or haven't tried, but I can tell you about some of the things I'm glad I tried. Many times these were types of wines where I had read or heard negative wine snob comments.  Instead of taking these negative comments as my default opinion, if something I read or heard piqued my interest, I would go ahead and give it a try.  Not all experiments will be a success, but in my case quite a few were!

1. Pinotage. Pinotage is South Africa's signature red grape, which is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. In the past I had read how some examples of this wine when not handled properly by the winemaker can develop aromas of paint fumes or nail polish.  


I first tried Pinotage as part of my International Sommelier Guild classes when we studied South Africa. The wine we tried was not nearly as horrible as I feared, and it actually had a distinctive aroma of ...Band-Aids.  That's right - the smell of a freshly opened old school plastic Band Aid brand.  Ever since I tried - it has forever been the "Band Aid" wine in my mind, and every one I've tried has been a good value, and typically have some very interesting aromas.  My favorite wine - no way, but very interesting, and a conversation piece to serve to friends and let them try and name that aroma!


...Cuz Band Aid Stuck on Me!

2. Good Spanish Sherry - Dry and Sweet. When many people hear "Sherry" they think of some cheap, sickly sweet gunk their grandmothers drink, or an even worse concoction sold as "Cooking Sherry."  On a cruise we took some years ago that included stops in Spain, one spot we hit was Jerez de la Frontera, where we toured the Tio Pepe winery and learned all about GOOD Sherry (or Jerez in Spanish).  Sherries are all fortified wines which means additional alcohol is added to the wine, but the process to make them is very unique.  Part of the process of certain style of Sherry relies on formation of a "flor" or a film of yeast on the surface of the liquid that allows the incredible flavors and aromas to develop underneath.
A View of the "Flor" of a Barrel of Sherry

Sherry is also made with a Solera blending process involving mixing different vintages through a series of levels of barrels, where no barrels are ever fully emptied, just filled in from barrels above.
Solera Process

Sherry comes in dry styles including light and delicate Fino and Manzanilla, slight darker Amontillado, and darker richer Oloroso. Sherry made from Pedro Ximénez grapes is typically made from sun dried grapes into a delicious, super sweet dessert wine (definitely not gramma's Cream Sherry!)

The flavors can be strong, and may take some getting used to as they are unique - but I have grown more fond of Sherry each time I have it.


A Traditional Way to Pour Sherry from a Cup Dipped in a Barrel

3. Rosé. Way back when - probably in the late 80's, I admit I joined in the White Zinfandel craze for a short time.  I'm not sure how it became so popular, but Sutter Home probably sold like a billion bottles of the stuff.  White Zin is typically semi-sweet, and not made to be anything special.  As I tried more wine, I found that there are many many things much more delicious and interesting than White Zin. However - there are also tons of Rosé wine that is nothing like White Zinfandel, and should not be foregone because of any wine snobbery against wines like White Zinfandel.  Most countries that make wine will make some type of Rosé, but California, Washington State, and France are home to some of my favs. 


Don't be afraid to drink pink!

4. Chardonnay and Merlot.  Another wine that became the go to for a ton of people was Chardonnay.  In some wine circles, the acronym "ABC" stands for "Anything But Chardonnay" as wine snob shunned the grapes popularity.  Chardonnays can be made in a big oak aged style, which is not my favorite, but can also be quite delicate and even made unoaked.  Try Chablis or other white Burgundy from France for a different take on the grape. Looking for an ultimate wine pairing for Chardonnay? Try raw oysters and Chablis.


Got Oysters? Try Chablis

Also, in the red wine world the  movie Sideways singlehandedly increased the sales of Pinot Noir and lowered the sales of Merlot. While the impacts were not earth shattering, they were definitely noticeable in the wine world.  Pinot is awesome no doubt about it, but Merlot is also a great wine when you are looking for something a little less huge and tannic than a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Also, Merlots can produce some great value wines from places like South America.  In interviews after the movie, the director said there was no malice toward Merlot - it just made a great line for the movie.


Miles Says That Would be A Big Negative on the Whole Merlot Thing!

5. Orange Wine. When I first heard this term I figured I would try this right after Pineapple or Elderberry wine - which could be never. However, Orange wine has nothing to do with the fruit, and everything to do with a different way to make white wine. The term Orange wine refers to a white wine made more like a red wine, where the juice is left in contact with the grape's skins. Deeper color and deeper flavors are the result - and I like it!


Orange Wine, but not.. you know "Orange" Wine

The first one of these I tried was at a dinner at Grant Achatz's Next Restaurant in Chicago - and I absolutely loved it.  I really need to check out my wine store and find some other versions of this to try.

6. French WIne.  Remember the days of Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast when France was on the shit list for not going along with the invasion of Iraq?  Well couple that with very hard to understand wine labels and a reputation for some of the snootiest people in the world - and who would want to try French wine? During the call for a boycott of French wine, some estimate it cost the French wine industry over $100 Million. 
Remember?

My exposure to French wine came mostly at my International Sommelier Guild (ISG) classes - and some I liked and some not so much.  French wines are typically very "old world" in style, that is made with fruit that is not as big and ripe and oaky as much of the "new world" wine.   They can be different, but from the place where winemaking started to some degree, there is much to be missed if you bypass the world of French Wine. To this day, one of my most memorable wines was at my ISG class when we were studying Rhone wines. We tried a Crozes Hermitage which is a Syrah based wine from the northern Rhone valley.  Syrah can develop some smokey attributes - but this particular bottle was unmistakably filled with the aroma of raw bacon. This was one of the moments when I realized I was starting to get the hang of the whole aroma identification thing.  To me, a good French Rhone Syrah will always be called the "bacon wine."
Mmmm... Bacon

7. Screw Top Wines. Another subject of much wine snobbery is the screw top wine.  However as more and more wineries move to the easy opening caps that eliminate the danger of cork taint in the wine - it's getting harder and harder to ignore the trend. For me, some of my go-to favorites are among the screw top crowd including Charles Smith Kung Fu Riesling, Charles and Charles Rosé, and Shoofly Syrah. 


You Can Unscrew Without Getting Screwed!

8. Wine Club with a Waiting List. Sometimes the best things are worth waiting for - even for years or more. When you hear about a wine you want to try, have some at a friends house or restaurant, but it turns out to be a wine available only through a wine club with a waiting list - don't give up. I was on a waiting list for Kosta Browne and Kanzler Pinot Noir for around two years, but now my patience has paid off with a few wonderful bottles of each to enjoy every year. Another winery, Carlisle is one that I have been very excited to try for a long time. I literally found out two weeks ago that my number has come up - and my shipment will arrive in December!  Wine clubs can be a great way to get wine at a discount, and in some cases are the only way to get anything from some limited production wineries.


The UPS Man is Like my Santa Claus!


9. Wines from Up and Coming Wine Regions. One of my latest interests are wines made from Mencia grapes in Bierzo, Spain.  It is not a new wine region, but some great winemakers have become interested in the area - and now it is producing some really good wine. The great thing about trying wines from up and coming regions is that you don't have to pay the premium for a big name region, or be subjected to the law of supply and demand as bottles of wine from popular areas are bought up by those following the latest trend. It's easy - find out what people will be drinking in the next year or two - and drink it first! How do you find out about new regions... read, read, read! Wine Spectator, Wine and Spirits, wine blogs, articles - whatever you can find. If you find yourself reading several write-ups of the same area, it may be worth looking into.
Donde Está Bierzo? (Number 6)

Please join me in the on-going fight to stay out of a wine rut - set yourself a goal to try something new at least once a month - and let us know about your wine revelations from being an adventurous wino!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2009 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5˚

Among our current prize bottles are a Vega Sicilia Unico, and its cousin - Valbuena 5˚.   I could wait no longer to give this one a try, so after a quick stop at Whole Foods to get some Machego cheese, quince paste, and dried Spanish chorizo - the wait was over!


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Weekly Wine Review - Chilean Red - 2013 Anakena Ona Special Reserve Pinot Noir

One of our favorite experiences at the Aspen Food and Wine classic this year was a tasting of the wines of Chile.  I have dabbled in Chilean wines, but hadn't really had a chance to taste the diversity of wines, or hear the passion of the winemakers.  We wound up putting a visit to Chile on our must-do list to try more delicious wine, and see a country will the Andes on one side, and the ocean on the other!  Not too many choices back home at Total Wine for wines from Chile - but I did find a Pinot Noir to try... so .... let's drink!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2009 Bai Gorri Rioja B70

Need an easy dinner for a Friday night? Cheese, charcuterie, some good bread, and of course some wine. For us, it's typically Spanish themed - some aged Manchego cheese, Iberico ham, and one of my favorites - drunken goat cheese.  Wine pairing in this case is easy and no big surprise - Spanish!  In this case I cracked open a bottle I'd been saving from our last Spain trip from the Basque part of Rioja - Rioja Alavesa.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Store at Room Temperature - Except Not When the A/C Breaks Down!

Wino4Life Wife's turn to blog today!   A while back, Wino4Life wrote about the importance of the temperature  of wine, particularly “room temperature”.    For the majority of you, room temperature is acceptable where you can leave bread, fruits, and even wine out - just like that, in the open, non refrigerated!!   Well, for us, in Phoenix Arizona, we have to be a bit more particular with what’s left out!   Let alone, the horror of "oh crap, the air conditioner just went out” situation, which we just lived through, this past weekend.

Wino4Life does practice what he preaches.  We do own wine refrigeration units (yes plural), we have off-site wine storage, but when Wino4Life sees a deal he can’t pass up, he may purchase a bottle or two (think case or two) extra.   Our extra did accumulate over the winter, and exceeded our wine fridge capacity, so we kept it in a closet, downstairs (where the room is cooler), and has been kept for the past few months at a very good “room temperature” in the 70’s. While not the ideal temperature to store wine for aging, for temporary storage it isn't terrible.  It wasn’t until the air conditioner failed us in the blazing Arizona summer, that we realized we had a little more than a few extra’s hanging out in the closet.  WHAT DO WE DO???

Because it was 4th of July, (and a Sunday), we literally took to calling every Air Conditioner repair company from Yelp that had positive reviews in the hope anyone could come and resolve our problem.  At about 9 am, the temperature upstairs (where most of the house is, think loft) reached 80 degrees.  This is when Wino4Life sprung into action to help save the wine!!  

Years ago, Wino4Life had seen camping hacks, and had learned to make a portable air conditioner with a styrofoam ice chest, an electric fan, flexible tubing, and some ice.  With many bottles of our precious wine in peril, he immediately sprung into action!   He made 3 of them, 2 were upstairs trying to cool us down, and one with the wine, with towels in place to keep the cool air in place.    This was working until the temperatures reached 90 degrees.    At that point, we started looking to check into a hotel, not just the temperature, but the fact that our Air Conditioner needed a part from stores that were closed for the holiday, so would not be fixed until Tuesday!  The great folks at Klee’s Climate Control (much shout out to Chuck!!) couldn’t get a part until stores opened up on Tuesday!  

Wino4Life Wife (that's me trying out the whole third person reference thing) suggested we take the wine with us to the hotel.   Well, what sounds great in concept, it was a few cases of wine, let alone transporting wine, in 110+ weather waiting in a car, while we loaded and unloaded to a hotel room.  Not a good idea.    So Wino4Life brought down the other 2 portable A/C’s, to try to keep the temperatures down.   What did this whole setup take?  Well, I don’t wish it for anyone!    Wino4Life was going to the grocery store, buying blocks of ice about every 5 hours, alternating with freezing gallons of water jugs, because that is how long a 10 lb block of ice lasted!   Each cooler took 2 blocks or 2 frozen gallons of water!    

Now if you’re thinking, well, that’s a bit much, what a pain to do this - YES, yes it was.  It was not just a hell of a task, but stressful in thinking that this inventory could go bad.  The alternative was to let the wine raise to “room temperature” which that room did get to the mid 80s (while the upstairs reached and stayed steady at 97).  Wino4Life and Wife could not risk it.  Hence the ORDEAL and pain to rescue this wine!   The highest the temperature got in the closet (he measured it with our thermostat we usually keep outside, he just put it in the closet with the wine) was 77.  Still risky.   Thankfully, Tuesday evening, when the house was still on it’s way to cooling down, Wino4Life needed to be sure - and chilled then opened one of the bottles.   Thankfully, there was no heat damage. 

What we’ve learned with this insane home incident, was to call around locally (Phoenix) for wine storage facilities.  Yes, having your Air Conditioner unit break down in the middle of 110+ daily temperatures is a freak incident, but when and if it does happen - what’s worse - risk losing your inventory or multiple trips to your local store getting ice blocks!!   We chose ice blocks!

Wino4Life Wife... Out!!!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Weekly Wine Review - Chilean Red Blend - 2012 Emiliana Coyam

I was lucky enough to check off a bucket list item this past weekend. We decided to sacrifice the splendor of 120 degree June temperatures in Arizona to trek to the 2016 Aspen Food and Wine Classic. We decided to make a last minute change to our presentation on the last day, and traded our spot to see the Top Chef winner in order to attend Chile Untamed.  It turned out to be a fantastic surprise, and put a visit to the wine country in Chile on our list of future vacation plans. One of the wine we had was presented by the winemaker, an energetic Spanish girl who instantly bonded with Wino4life wife.  Coyam is a certified organic and biodynamic red blend from the Calchagua region.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Weekly Wine Review - Napa Red - 2011 B Cellars Beckstoffer Dr Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

We found ourselves about to try a new recipe for a less starchy side dish - broccoli tots!  What better way to welcome this new recipe to the family than with a beautiful New York strip steak and a big ole' Napa Cab!



Friday, May 27, 2016

Wine Tip of the Week: Eat This Drink That Series - Pairing Wine with Fish

The classic recommendation to serve white wine with fish is for the most part a good one - but far too general to be of any help at all.  There are many, many types of fish and many, many, (many) types of white wines so the classic recommendation is not as straightforward as it may sound.  Here are some simple rules to remember based on what I call the "fighting class" of the fish you will be eating.

Lightweight Class.  
Fish: Light and flakey fish with a mild flavor. Examples - Tilapia, Bass.
WIne Pairing:  Light and crisp wines - Sauvignon Blanc (some NZ and CA examples may be too flavorful - try Washington or Loire). Spanish Whites such as Albariño, Spanish Cava or Verdejo, and the über food friendly Grüner Veltliner. (Yes - double umlaut sentence - I am a wild man!). Stay away from Chardonnay (unless very light and unoaked), and Viogner, both would overpower your lightweight contender of a fish.

Middleweight Class.
Fish: Flakey fish, but with more pronounced flavors. Examples - Trout, Catfish, Halibut.
Wine Pairing: These fish can take a wine with a bit more flavor. Try Chardonnay (can be oaked, but be careful with super oaky, buttery, high alcohol versions). Riesling (Washington or Dry German Kabinett level). Sauvignon Blanc (more flavorful versions from California, New Zealand or Pouilly Fume). Italian Soave is another very food friendly white with a bit bolder flavor.

Heavyweight Class. 
Fish: Meatier fish such as Salmon, Mahi Mahi, Shark, Swordfish, Tuna, or Monkfish.
Wine Pairing: Bring on the flavor! Oaky Chardonnay, Viognier,  Dry Rośe, Champagne, White Rhone (France). You can even start to introduce light bodied reds at this weight class - stick with lightweight, fruity versions of Pinot Noir, Rioja, or Cotes du Rhone.

Small but Powerful. 
Fish: Oily, "fishy" ones such as Anchovies, Sardines, Herring, or Mackerel.
Wine Pairing: Acidity will help cut through the oil. Whites:  Oaky Chardonnay, fuller bodied Sauvignon Blanc or a crisp, dry Rośe.  Reds - Lighter, fruitier Pinot Noir, Rioja, Chianti.

Don't be afraid of red wine and fish - the "white with white, red with red" advice is far too conservative for a wino to ever live by!  You can crush a delicate fish with a red wine, but the right light bodied, slightly fruity, and nicely acidic red can bring a whole new aspect to your fish dishes!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Weekly Wine Review - California Rosé - 2015 Chase Cellars Zinfandel Rosé Hayne Vineyard

Like many of my era, some of my first wine that didn't come from a convenience store (shout out to Boone's Farm) was White Zinfandel.  Beringer? No way - I rocked mostly some Robert Mondavi Woodbridge.  After growing up drinking sugary sodas and "juices" from Hi-C out of a can (no need to refrigerate sugar water with extra preservatives), my taste buds seem to gravitate to the sweeter pink wines on my grocer's counters.  These memories made me smile when we received our latest wine club shipment from the awesome Zin-masters at Chase Cellars.  A rosé of Zinfandel you say.... a white Zinfandel by a fancier name I say.  Neither Mondavi's or Chase's are white anyway... so I guess Rosé is the better term.  It's been a while since I've had a... whatever name you want to call it... so let's see how the 2015 version stands up to those wines of old!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Weekly Wine Review - California Red - 2012 Alpha Omega ERA

Patience is a virtue is a universal truth, but especially true when you become a wine club member.  Many wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa will be sent to you years before they will be ready to drink. However, a lapse in virtue is something that will happen from time to time.  For me I just couldn't wait any longer to try the flagship wine from Alpha Omega winery.  A wine I requested on the strength of tasting and thoroughly enjoying their other Cabernet wines at the winery.  This one isn't a pop and drink, time for a little decant time!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Weekly Wine Review - California Red - 2012 Chase Cellars Bourn Zinfandel Hayne Vineyard

When you think Napa, you probably think Cabernet.  Ah, but man (or woman) cannot live by Cabernet alone.  I love visiting Napa, and I love it even more when I find a great non-Cabernet wine... or in the case of Chase Cellars, a winery that focuses more on Zinfandel. Today I'm tasting a single vineyard Zinfandel.