Monday, September 15, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Don't Fear! Be Daring with Pairings!

Food and wine pairings - if you read about them or talk to people about them, you will hear about all sorts of rules. These rules have led to standard pairing suggestions which are OK, but staying within only those standard suggestions limits you and your potential food and wine pairing experiences.  You can't throw out all the rules, as many are based on how certain elements of food interact with certain elements of wine.  Spicy hot food with a big tannic red wine is simply never a good idea, but red wine with fish - sometimes is a good (or even a great) idea!  This week's tip was inspired by a wonderful dinner we enjoyed this week during our time in Spain.  

A small nearby town just happens to be home to two different Michelin starred restaurants. We were able to get reservations at El Corral del Indianu, a fantastic place that I can't recommend highly enough.  Our tasting menu was focused on great local products, with several dishes featuring tomatoes and several featuring fresh sardines and other fresh seafood.  The restaurant did not offer dish by dish wine pairings, but offered to select a sparkling cava, a white, and a red wine to pair with the meal. The completely outside the box pairing was when smaller glasses were brought to the table along with a bottle of Amontillado sherry. What is this in the middle of our meal???  Amontillado sherry is a darker dry sherry with an oxidized nutty flavor that can be an acquired taste, but one that I have definitely acquired.  I have used, and seen this type of Sherry used before or after meals, typically with cheese or nuts. 

The daring pairing with the sherry for our meal? A dish of slowly cooked goat with herbs, mushrooms, toasted onion and a red onion broth.  The dish was delicious - rich goat, earthy mushrooms, a first ever for me red onion broth that complemented the rich dish very well.  Now the pairing with the sherry.  WOW!  The excellent Amontillado sherry focused the nutty flavors in the meat and the mushrooms, and accentuated a tiny bit of sweetness in the onion broth. One of the most interesting and transformative pairings I've had in quite some time.  Think outside the box (or bottle) and don't be afraid to try a pairing that may be a bit wild and crazy, but also may be absolutely delicious.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - French Rhone Red - 2011 Michel Gassier Syrah Les Piliers

Today we'll be trying a Syrah wine from the Southern Rhone.  This bottle is not labeled as a "Rhone" wine, but rather as simply a Vin Rouge although the grapes are grown in Costières de Nîmes, the southernmost AOC of the Rhône.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Add a Corkscrew to your Packing List

Does this happen to you as much as it happens to me?  You're on vacation, and you run across a nice bottle of wine to enjoy perhaps as a little pre-dinner treat. You take it back to your hotel room, and there is no corkscrew... or worse one of those terrible "T" shaped hotel corkscrews that have cost me more in dry-cleaning that I care to admit.

After having this problem for years, we now finally put corkscrews in our luggage, and never take them out. For bigger bags that will always be checked, you can include the model with the small knife for cutting foil. If your bag is small enough that you may carry it on, find a bladeless version, otherwise you may be donating it to the TSA at the security checkpoint.   There are versions that have bladeless foil cutters, or your can always cut the foil a bit at the bottom with the corkscrew worm. Wine snobs will gasp at this method- but as long as it does the trick!

With airline travel things are always changing, so please check the TSA website for specifics on what you can bring onboard: TSA When I Fly Can I Bring My...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Washington State Red - 2011 Hestia Red Blend

During my latest trip to my favorite wine shop, I spent quite a bit of time browsing the "Red Blend" section.  Some look at blend wines (several different grape varieties used) as somehow inferior. For me, a blend gives the winemaker more flexibility to create something wonderful vs. being locked in to a certain percentage of one grape variety in order for the wine to be labeled as that variety.  Let's see if I'm right!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Enjoy Your Labor Day!

I wish a relaxing, fun, and safe Labor Day for all my readers out there.  Summer is winding down, so here is a great last choice to get out an Picnic (Don't forget the Rosé and the Sparkling Wine!), or a great chance host an outdoor party for your friends and family (maybe throw in a fruity, light bodied red for your red wine lovers). Most importantly - stay hydrated and stay safe!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Australian Red - 2010 Rubus Shiraz-Viognier Low Yield

I love browsing the aisles of a good wine shop looking for a new gem to try. Part of this activity is naturally deciphering the wine labels to figure out what may await me in the bottle. This particular bottle attracted me partly because the wine label is more informative than most. The front label alone tells me 1) the vines are low yield which means more concentrated flavor 2) the grape varieties and exact percentages (a touch of viognier is sometimes added to add floral aromas and can impart a silkier taste to the wine), and 3) the region - Barossa in Australia.  Sounds good to me... let's try it!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Don't Forget About the Food!

You take a sip of a red wine. Wow - mouth puckering tannins, that one is not for me! But wait, what are your plans for this wine? To sip on its own or to serve with a beautiful steak marbled with the right amount of tasty fat?  Look beyond those tannins - is there a good level of acidity, how are the flavors on the finish?  If you are picking a wine to serve with food, remember that the food and wine will interact and hopefully both will be better from the pairing.  The tannins in the wine will interact with the char, the fat and the protein (cooked mid-rare please!). The tannins will be tamed and the flavors of the steak will be heightened. Without those tannins, the pairing would not have been as successful.  A white wine that may seem too acidic when tasting, may be just what you need to cut through a dish - perhaps something deep fried. Without the acidity to cleanse your palate, the dish may seem too heavy and not as enjoyable.

Something to keep in mind while you are looking for the right wine - a nice fruity low tannin wine is great for sipping, but you must keep in mind what food you may serve with the wine and look for the characteristics in the wine that will team up nicely with your food selection.  It is not always easy to determine from tasting a wine what are characteristics that will accentuate a food pairing, and what are the characteristics of the wine that may just be shortcomings. It will take some time and some hits and misses, but practice makes perfect!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish (Basque) White - 2010 Bodega Iturrialde Bizkaiko Txakolina Gorka Izagirre

After the labor intensive process of shelling and cleaning a bunch of great shrimp from Whole Foods for my first ever attempt at making Spanish style Garlic Shrimp, I wanted a great wine to enjoy along with the garlicky goodness.  Commemorating our upcoming trip to Spain which will include a stop by the Basque Country in San Sebastian - I picked the most consumed white wine of the area - a Txakoli (Choh-co-lee).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Wine Glass Storage

As you progress towards becoming a wino, you might find your inventory of wine glasses starting to grow. As you begin to appreciate the need for different glasses to serve and enjoy red wine vs. white wine. vs sparkling wine, you may find yourself running out of place to store all this glassware!  
 I have a couple of tricks to help you out. You will need to dedicate some cupboard space for your wine glasses, but the first way to limit the impact is to figure out how much glassware you will need on a regular basis.  Find a primo spot for this glassware, and keep your extra glasses (you do have extras for breakage and those big dinner parties right???).  Another trick is to store the glasses one up, one down - this way you can fit more glassware into a single space.  I'm sharing some pictures of my readily available wine storage. In only two fairly small shelves I have 8 very big red wine glasses, a wine decanter, 6 white wine glasses, 4 sparkling wine flutes, and 4 small dessert wine glasses (plus 3 martini glasses and two Scotch glasses for those non-wine moments...shhhh don't tell anyone!).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Get to Know your Grapes Series - Malbec

When people find out how "into" wine I am (translation - I'm a wino!), the first question is often "what is your favorite wine?" The questions makes perfect sense to ask - but is very difficult for me to answer... so invariably I end up answering "it depends."  What is the weather - hot, cold, sunny rainy? What am I eating, if anything? What am I doing - relaxing, socializing, cooking, hanging outside by the pool? How am I feeling? What time of day? What day of the week? Is it my first, second (or third) wine of the day? There are so many great wines that I love, and (hopefully) more great wines I find with each passing week - it is difficult for me to say my favorite.  I have been lucky to try a few once in a lifetime wines that were monumentally good - but to declare them my favorite would be frustrating as a favorite to me is something you enjoy regularly.

When I do think about the wines from grape varieties I most enjoy, there is also no real overall favorite, but the red wine grapes that come to my mind immediately are:
  • Syrah/Shiraz - The depth of flavor and variety of aromas (including such epic aromas as raw bacon) lead me to try a lot of this grape.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon - With a well cooked steak, can't be beat.
  • Tempranillo - Spanish Rioja's are a go to to pair with food, or just to sip (or gulp!).
  • Grenache - Grenache based blends from the Rhone or California, and wines from Spain (called Garnacha there) are also very complex and interesting.
I could probably name several more here, but my overall point is that it would probably take a while before I would mention Malbec on this list, but quietly...slowly, secretly, Malbec has become one of the wines that I enjoy regularly.  In the history of wine, Malbec is one of the blending grapes used to make French Bordeaux (along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot to make up the big Bordeaux five).  I do enjoy Bordeaux and Cahors which is a Malbec based wine from another region in France. But this use or old world style of wine is not the Malbec I'm talking about so fondly. I am talking about the grape that rocketed to a primary spot when it was taken to South America, primarily in Argentina.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Washington State Red - 2010 Kestrel Tribute Red

Pop quiz - I selected this wine because:

a. I have been experimenting more with blended wines
b. I have very much enjoying the wines of Washington (taste and value)
c. I was looking for a wine for a Hunger Games viewing party
d. All of the Above
e. Nothing I hate more than a Pop Quiz

(Hint: the answer is between c. and e.!)

Wine: 2010 Kestrel Tribute Red
Region: Yakima Valley, Washington State
Grape Varieties: 52% Mourvedre , 44% Merlot
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $20
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Eat This Drink That Series - Raw Oysters

Raw oysters are not for everyone. To serve at home they take some skills and special tools. They look a little bizarre. You need to buy them alive and very fresh in order to enjoy raw. But if you buy a shucking knife and a protective glove, forget the looks, find a good fresh source to buy from... and WOW! Pure, fresh, wonderful flavors of the ocean.  For a wine pairing, think of the delicate flavor of a raw oyster  how a squeeze of lemon juice elevates the flavor of seafood, especially oysters. The right wine with the right level of acidity and a delicate enough flavor profile will provide you with one of the most epic wine pairings you will ever experience!

Eating this?:
  • Raw oysters - shuck em, being careful not to lose the liquid (liqueur) inside.
Drink this:
  • Chablis. This Chardonnay based French wine is grown in soil that contains fossilized oyster shells. It was literally grown to pair with oysters! Chablis typically sees only a little time in oak, so the wines will be nice and crisp and excellent for this pairing. Cheaper Chablis can be disappointing, so you may want to splurge for a Grand Cru to get the best result.
  • Sauvignon Blanc.  When you are looking for an acidic white wine, Sauvignon Blanc is a great option. California, French or New Zealand versions will go nicely with oysters.  Be careful to not to get a version that is oaked (sometimes bottles as Fume Blanc).
  • Sparkling Wine - but be careful! Champagne or other sparkling wine is often paired with oysters, but you want to be careful to get a crisp fruity version so the taste does not overpower your oysters. A Blanc de Blanc Champagne which is made from all (or almost all) Chardonnay grapes is a good bet.
Avoid this:
  • Avoid Red Wine. You will almost never hear such a generalization in food and wine pairing.  The truth is you could look to a super light red like a Beaujolais made from the Gamay grape for a possible pairing, but there are too many spot on options to mess around with anything in the red world.
  • Avoid Fuller Bodied Whites. Especially avoid big buttery, oaky Chardonnay wines. As fantastic as a Chablis will pair with oysters, the same grape made in a fuller bodied style will destroy the delicate taste of the oyster and will likely end up making the wine taste unbalanced.