Thursday, January 31, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Australian Shiraz - 2011 Shoofly Shiraz

Shoofly wines are crafted by Australian winemaker Ben Riggs, who honed his skills also making wine in the Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Greece, Italy and the South of France. He consults on the winemaking at other labels including Penny’s Hill, The Black Chook, Woop Woop, Pertaringa, Geoff Hardy, Zonte’s Footstep, Jip Jip Rocks, Journey’s End and Tatiarra.  With that kind of experience you would expect him to focus on crafting more expensive wines, but Shoofly makes a total of four wines, all for about the same very reasonable retail price. They make two whites (a white blend and a Chardonnay), plus three reds (Shiraz, a red blend, and a Pinot Noir) - that all retail for the same price. So enough with the background, let's shoo the flies away and try some Shiraz!

Wine: 2011 Shoofly Shiraz
Region: South Australia.  Grapes can be from anywhere in South Australia (home to epic wine regions like Barossa and Clare Valley).
Grape Varieties: Shiraz (Syrah)
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $9.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Screw Top - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear with dark purple core and a water white rim.
Aroma: Very nice red fruit like cherries along with a nice spice aroma with white pepper, but with other spices I can't quite identify - perhaps nutmeg. The label mentions mint, but I'm not able to smell anything minty.
Taste: Really nice bold fruit taste with lingering spice on the aftertaste. A surprising long and pleasant finish - how much did this bottle cost again?

The Grade: I give this one an A+.  Cue the music and drop the confetti. As elusive as a good clear picture of Bigfoot or Nessie, we have before us a super bottle of wine for less than $10.  I have historically had a good bit of luck in the $10 to $15 range for red wines - but for less than $10 I have seldom found any keepers. I am going to see if the other Shoofly wines are available - since they all look like they cost exactly the same.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Take a Journey of Food & Wine Discovery - Try a Chef's Tasting Menu with Wine Pairings

At a basic level - wine is just a beverage and food is just nourishment.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with looking at food and wine this way - they don't have to be anything fancy, nor do they need to be over analyzed to figure out if the wine smells more like cherries or raspberries or if the food has the ultimate balance of salt, savory, sweet, acid, texture, and spiciness.

Costco is one of the largest wine retailers anywhere, and annually sells more than $1 billion worth of the beloved fermented grape juice (some of my dollars are in that total!). Annette Alvarez-Peters is Costco's head wine buyer, and on a CNBC special about Costco she said "But at the end of the day, it's a beverage. It's a beverage. I think you either like it or you don't like it." Although wine geeks were appalled by the statement, this wine geek agrees.... but only to a certain degree.

Wine Racks at Costco - But you Knew that Already - right??

Wine is basically just a beverage, but with such a tremendous variety of wines, made from a staggering number of different grape varieties, handled by different winemakers in different parts of the world, impacted by weather conditions from year to year - wine can be so very very much more. It doesn't have to be more than that to be enjoyed, but if you want to search further - it can be so much more than just a beverage. For me it is a passion so great that I want to have it as the focus for a second career, and spend many waking hours reading, studying, and of course sampling the wonderful creations from wineries around the world. 

In the same way, food can just be nourishment - a melted slice of american cheese on Wonder bread (like the Twinkie, I believe Wonder bread with still be with us even though Hostess is no more) is the kind of food that has launched a thousand lunches, but it can be so very much more in the hands of the right Chef. 

So, wine can be so much more than just a beverage, and food can be so much more than just nourishment - but that's only part of the story.  The intersection of a Chef who is passionate about food, but also has a good understanding of wine, and a Sommelier who brings in-depth wine and food pairing knowledge can result in a truly memorable and educational dining experience.  A way to take a culinary tour of the best food a Chef has to offer, and see how a successful food and wine pairing can be be proverbial whole that is greater than the sum if its parts - is to experience a Chef's Tasting Menu with wine pairings.  

Mmmmm.... Chef's Tasting Menu

These eating extravaganza's are not for everyone, but if you are some combination of a foodie and a wine lover, you may be in for the experience of your life.  These dinners are a large investment of both time and money, often taking two or more hours to experience, and usually costing more than $100 per person.  If spending that kind of money on any meal, even a special occasion, is ridiculous to you - then stay away! In reading Yelp and other reviews of Chef's tasting menus you see reviews from people who were not going to enjoy the meal no matter what they experienced, simply because the price was too high. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that - better to decide beforehand that one of these meals is not for you, than to spend the time and money and not enjoy it!

Even years after I began my evolution to a wine geek, I did not have any interest in these tasting menus, preferring just to have my entree (usually a mid-rare steak and a starch side dish so I could imbibe in a nice big red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon), and not waste time with a bunch of little one or two bite dishes.  My mind was changed forever at the deft hands of Chef Claud Beltran, who at the time was at Restaurant Halie in Pasadena, CA (he is currently at Noir in Pasadena).  For full disclosure, Chef Claud is my wife's cousin - but relation or not, his Chef's tasting menu with course by course wine pairings  was a culinary life-changer for me.

Chef Claud Beltran Enjoys a Little Glass of Red

Since that experience, my wife and I have sought out Chef's tasting menus, and had much more memorable meals than we would have if we had stuck to the appetizer, entrée , and dessert model.  For me, I am also a wannabe Chef and restaurant Sommelier and have learned a great deal about flavor combinations in foods, and the impact that food and wine can have on each other from the tasting menu's we've been lucky enough to enjoy.  I now plan trips around specific restaurants we want to try - and my bucket list has increased with names of restaurants to dine at, along side such entries as seeing an active volcano and sipping several drams of Scotch at Glenmorangie Distillery in Scotland.

My hope is that this list will grow annually, and I will share our experiences in these glorious intersections of food and wine - but here are some of our most memorable Chef's Tasting Menu's so far:
  • Different Pointe of View - Phoenix, Arizona. A beautiful resort (Pointe at Tapatio Cliffs) with a very nice restaurant.
  • Binkley's - Cave Creek, Arizona.  Casual atmosphere, great food.
  • See Saw - Scottsdale, Arizona. Sushi tasting - sadly no longer open.
  • Moto - Chicago, Illinois. Molecular gastronomy, delicious food, and a sense of humor - highly recommended.
  • Comerc 24 - Barcelona, Spain.  Included a short rib with a cherry sauce that is one of my all-time favorite dishes.
  • Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco, California.
  • Encanto - San Francisco, California.  Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino's restaurant. Although no longer available, we had the "5th" Quarter tasting menu, all the other/offal parts - heart, kidney, pig's trotters. Unbelievably good!
  • Graham Elliot - Chicago, Illinois.  An unforgettable, and quite glutinous meal - no longer available, but at the time called the Repertoire. It included 15+ courses paired with appropriate beverages - not just wine. One course was paired with a cocktail with orange soda and Sriracha. Too hot for my wife to enjoy - but I loved it and haven't been without a bottle of Sriracha since!
  • Posh - Scottsdale, Arizona. Their menu consists of a list of ingredients, and you say what you don't like or want - and they take if from there!
  • Mugaritz - San Sebastian, Spain.  A memorable birthday meal for me, which included the Chef giving us a tour of their state of the art kitchen. I had picked this restaurant well in advance of our trip to Spain, and they then suffered a kitchen fire. Thankfully they were up and running in time for our arrival.
  • Topolobampo - Chicago, Illinois.  Gourmet+Mexican Food+Wine Pairing??? This was a fascinating meal for me as I could not begin to guess how they would pair Top Chef Master Rick Bayless' food with wines. Surprising to me anyway, a lot of the pairing was with French wine - very cool experience.
  • Alinea - Chicago, Illinois.  A bucket list restaurant for me that did not disappoint. I recommend you read the book  Life, on the Line about Chef Grant Achatz, and you too may want to experience this restaurant. 
  • é by Jose Andres, Las Vegas, Nevada. This somewhat "secret" restaurant is housed within Jaleo restaurant at the Aria.  The restaurant consists of eight seats situated around a counter where you watch each course being prepared by your Chefs.  Two seatings per night, so only 16 hungry souls get to enjoy this experience on any given day. You need to score Golden Tickets (yes, just like Willy Wonka), which for me involved getting up at midnight exactly 30 days prior to the day I wanted to send an email to request reservations.  Two words... WORTH IT! 
  • Alize at the Palms, Las Vegas, Nevada. Not only great food, but a view unmatched in Vegas.
What's Next? 

Here is what we have planned for upcoming food and wine pairing excursions:
  • Next Restaurant.  Pun intended. After such a memorable meal at Alinea, we wanted to try Grant Achatz's next restaurant, which he aptly named.. NEXT! The concept for this restaurant is a theme/menu that changes every three months. We were able to score reservations for "The Hunt"... take a look at this video, that while safe for work should still be called food porn:
Next Restaurant - The Hunt
  • Asador Etxebarri - Carracedelo, Spain. A restaurant where all the cooking is done on wood burning grills, and the food has earned the restaurant recognition as one of the best in the world.
  • Casa Marcial, Parres - Arriondas, Spain. Great food can be found in small out of the way towns - and that's what we're hoping for with this restaurant.  With their take on Spanish dishes like Squid in its Ink - I can't wait to try. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wine Tip of the Week - There's an App for That!

Like most every other topic on the planet - there are Apps for that! These SmartPhone Apps will help you with tools to navigate the world of wine - while at home or on the go.  Here are some good ones to try (best of all - most are free!):
  • Hello Vino (Free).  Wine recommendations, image recognition of wine labels, huge database of wine - good stuff! I have used this app for a while now, but haven't tried the label image recognition. There is an extra cost for this - I just bought 20 label recognition for 99 cents, and will let you know how it works for me.

  • WineDJ (Free). Have you wine & food pairing figured out - how about suggestions for music?

  • ($1.99). If you use Cellartracker to keep track of your wine stash - this App integrates with it for easy access to what you have on hand.
  • WineSpectator WineRatings+ (Free - Sort of). For perhaps the ultimate listing of wine ratings and reviews - there is this WineSpectator App. While free to get the App, access to the database of wine reviews comes at an extra cost of $2.99 per month - but for that cost you get updates of  more than 1,000 new reviews each month.  I personally subscribe to Wine Spectators e-Magazine and their website, but am considering switching to this service.

Suggestions on other good apps? Share them with us in comments below!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Great Wine Quotes - Horace

Wine brings to light the hidden secrets of the soul, gives being to our hopes, bids the coward flight, drives dull care away, and teaches new means for the accomplishment of our wishes.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Red Rhone Blend - 2009 Les Halos De Jupiter Cotes du Rhone

French wines can be a challenge to buy because as with many European wines, the label tells you what wine region they are from, but nothing about the grape varieties or blend (I plan on having a whole series of postings to talk more about "What's in a Wine Label)".  Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire,  and other French wine regions each specialize in certain types of grapes (white and red),  but instead of bringing a wine encyclopedia with you to the wine shop, I recommend becoming familiar with some go-to types of French wine - and from there you can experiment and grow your list of French wines you enjoy. For me, I have found Cotes du Rhone to have some very good examples of everyday red wine just to enjoy, or to pair with a meal - so that's my pick for this week's tasting.

Cotes du Rhone wines come mostly from the southern Rhone region near to where other famous wines like Chateauneuf du Pape are make. These southern Rhone red wines are made from some combination of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, Counoise and Mourvèdre grapes varieties, with Cotes du Rhone wines being mostly made from Grenache.  This week's Halos de Jupiter Cotes du Rhone is a blend of Grenache from very old vines (85%), Syrah (10%) and Mourvèdre (5%).

Wine: 2009 Les Halos De Jupiter Cotes du Rhone
Region: Rhone, France
Grape Varieties: Grenach, Syrah, and Mourvèdre
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $15.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Clear, dark red/purple core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Fairly muted, with nice blackberry and baking spices with a little hint of something herbal - maybe toward rosemary or even just dried leaves. Very nice overall - with French wines you can tend to get a good combination of fruit and non-fruit aromas.
Taste: Definitely a more fruit forward version for a French wine, but definitely has similarities to a Chateauneuf du Pape.  Seems like it will be overly acidic (mouthwatering feel), but it dissipates quickly to leave a nice balanced finish. More complex and interesting than other Cotes du Rhones I've tried. 

The Grade: I give this one an A. A very nice example of Cotes du Rhone - a little on the fruit forward side which I enjoyed, but still quite complex.  This wine cries out for a good food pairing - beef, lamb, or even a roasted chicken.  Fantastic wine for the price - I think I will give it a try the next time I make Thomas Keller's Roasted Chicken (if you haven't tried this simple yet exquisite recipe - you really need to - I usually pair it with an Oregon Pinot Noir).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How About a Wine Tasting Party?

Do you have friends who are also winos? Friends who you want to convert to winos? Now that the hectic pace of the holidays has past - how about a wine tasting get together? One option I really enjoy is to have a "pot luck" wine tasting where guests bring bottles of wine - and I especially enjoy giving my guests a challenge by providing a theme.  Themes can be geeky like non French Bordeaux blends, or wines from bio-dynamic wineries - but unless your entire guest list are ultra-geeky - then how about a fun, but just as challenging theme?  You and your guests will get to try some interesting wines, tell a fun story about why they picked the wine they brought - and overall just have a great time!

Here are some ideas you may like, or that may get you thinking about a unique theme of your own:

Wines with a Movie or TV Connection. This is a favorite theme of mine and I'm always hopeful that a guest will bring a bottle of two of the 1972 Petrus that Denzel Washington sipped in Safe House, but no luck so far. The wine can be featured in a movie or TV show, winery owned by a movie or TV star, a movie or TV star's favorite wine - lots of possibilities including these:
Bottle Shock - The Movie
  • Bottle Shock (a total wine geek movie - I love it!) - Chateau Montelana Chardonnay.
  • The Kids are Alright - Fiddlehead, Seavey, or Amorosa wines.
  • Fess Parker Wines - He played Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on TV!!!
  • Mario Batali's La Mozza Wines. He cooks, he owns a winery - MY HERO!!
  • Lorraine Bracco's Bracco Wines. After surviving being Tony Sopranos psychiatrist, she moved on to another career!
Wines with Funny Names.  A theme can be as simple as finding wines with goofy names. Perhaps a prize for the goofiest? Here are some examples to get you going:

  • Mommy's Time Out Wine.  Not sure if they make a Daddy's time out, but if not may I suggest Glenmorangie or Laphroig?
  • Bitch Wine.  Actually a pretty good Australian Grenache.
  • Broke Ass Wine. Enough said!
  • Suckfizzle Wine. I have officially added this word to my vocabulary - for more than just wine.
  • For this last one, I'll just give you the label. This wine was made a few years ago, so unfortunately no longer available - but it gives you an idea of the humor that is out there amongst all those wine bottles (say the name slowly out loud):

Wines with a Sports Connection. Wine and Sports together - what could be better?  A great idea for a different spin on a Superbowl party - wine can even go with nachos and buffalo chicken wings!

  • Mario Andretti Wines. Dude can drive, and makes great wines including a fantastic Sangiovese from Napa Valley.
  • Mike Ditka Wines. Daaa Bears!
  • Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Estates Riesling. Maybe an "Ice" wine in the future. (Sorry for the wine geek Bazinga!)
  • Coyote Canyon Wines. Since the NHL is up and running again, I had to have one for my Coyotes - but a mascot reference is a great idea as well.
Wines with Suggestive Names.  For a more adult and risqué theme - perhaps some like these:
  • Menage a Trois from Folie a Deux Winery.  Three's company?
  • 69 Ways to Have Fun from Three Brothers Wineries. Perhaps a bit more than suggestive - their description of the wine is "Like the long-lost bra left under the strip poker table, this floral wine is best served under wraps and slowly uncovered.  Once in play, it's sure to keep the momentum going.  We dare you to count the ways that you can have fun."
  • Foreplay Chardonnay from Naked Cellars. Their tagline is "We aim to Tease!"
  • Love my Goat from Bully Hill Wines. Well...maybe this one isn't such a good idea.
Wines that Made You Think of Your Host.  Use this one if you are brave and thick skinned enough to see what sort of wines your guests will bring.  For extra torture, when a guest brings a wine you can try to first guess why they chose the wine they did, before they explain. Again - only if you are very brave!!!

These are just a few ideas - I'm sure there are a ton of others. Please let us know what you come up with as an idea for a creative wine tasting party that challenges your guests to pick an appropriate bottle to share.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Wine Tip of the Week - Just Enjoy It!

Along with any bottle of wine comes a slew of information about how it came to be.  The country, wine region, vineyard, soil, weather, vintage, date of harvest, winemaking techniques, aging are just some of the elements that impact a wine.  Much of the content of wine magazines talks about these elements for each wine, plus what it smells like in the glass, and what meal it will accompany best.
As a wine geek, I have a great interest in this type of information, and enjoy understanding the back story of the efforts, passion, and creativity that preceded the wine I'm about to drink. However, often (quite often in fact) I prefer to just sit down with a bottle, a loved one, and just enjoy it! You don't need to know the brand of guitar that B.B. King uses to thoroughly enjoy his music, or need to know where the paper came from in your favorite novel (for anyone out there who still reads old school paper books) to enjoy its contents.  Sometimes, wine just needs to be a beverage - so JUST ENJOY IT!!!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Great Wine Quotes ― Ernest Hemingway

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Riesling - 2008 Villa Maria New Zealand Riesling Private Bin

New Zealand is known for some outstanding Sauvignon Blancs in the white wine world. I was very interested to see this Villa Maria Riesling from New Zealand that got some love from Wine Spectator with 91 points.  Hearing Riesling can be a turn off to many who immediately thing of über-sweet versions like Blue Nun that have graced the grocery store shelves for many years.  Forget about those - there are many, many, many examples of Riesling from Germany, France, Washington State, and Australia that are wonderful. Some have a certain level of sweetness, but are balanced by acidity so don't leave a cloying sweet aftertaste. Rieslings from Alsace, France can be bone dry, while examples from Germany range from dryer to super sweet. Here is a word to impress your friends with - Trockenbeerenauslese (pronounced TROCK-EN-BEER-EN-OWS-LEH-SEE) which is a super sweet dessert Riesling.  So... let's see what New Zealand has to offer us!!!

Wine: 2008 Villa Maria New Zealand Riesling Private Bin
Region: Marlborough, New Zealand
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $12.99
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Screw cap - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Clear, very light yellow color with a water-white rim.
Aroma: Very lively nose - sharp citrus with grapefruit and lime, a bit floral, and a hint of my favorite aroma present in some Rieslings - a petroleum/gasoline aroma. Believe it or not, some good petrol in the Riesling nose is a good thing. Wow - very impressive nose!!!
Taste: Excellent taste with brisk - mouth watering acidity and nice fruit flavors for an aftertaste. A hint of sweetness is nicely offset by the acid. The taste did not disappoint!

The Grade: I give this one an A+. For less than $15 this is a great wine - tasty enough to drink alone, yet it would also go nicely with seafood, or perhaps Mario Batali's Spaghetti with Artichokes and Pancetta. Also, with other Rieslings I've had a pasta salad with smoked gouda from Whole Foods - It is amazing how the smoked cheese and a Riesling interact - I highly recommend you try with this Riesling or another like Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Charles Smith Wines.

Go get some of this - you will not be sorry - give Riesling a chance!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Red Blend - 2010 Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux

Before I became a wino and needed to (gasp) pick out a bottle of wine for some special occasion, I remember Columbia Crest as the brand where all grape varieties cost the same - I think it was $6.99 at the time.  As that was about as much as I thought wine was worth at the time, I'm sure I have tried more than one from their lineup.  I have not however, tried anything recently, so I was intrigued when I read about their "H3" line named for the Horse Heaven Hills vineyard in Washington State.  Columbia Crest makes a few grape variety specific whites and reds in this H3 line, but I decided to give the "Les Chevaux" blend a try.  Continuing with the vineyard's name theme, Les Cheveux means "the horses" (sorry to any French 101 or Rosetta Stone French students - but I didn't know until I looked it up!)  This one is a blend of 80% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Syrah.  I have had great examples of all those varieties from Washington State (shout out to Charles Smith for his stellar creations), so was intrigued to try this blend.

Wine: 2010 Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red Blend
Region: Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $15.99
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: I thought this one might benefit from some extra aeration, so I broke out my Vinturi aeration gadget.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear with a dark, inky purple center with .
Aroma: The nose is very muted. I was expecting more from the blend of grape varieties, however the wine has a very pleasant aroma, with blackberries and a bit of earth and wood - but not the overly oaky nose that many wines at this price point may have.  I tried some without aeration, and I got next to nothing on the nose - so GO AERATION!!!
Taste: Very fruity, nicely balanced. I was expecting more complexity, but had to remind myself this is not a $50 Washington Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, but a $16 everyday wine. The wine has the smooth tannins (mouth drying feel) of a more expensive wine, and I think it would go nicely with a medium rare steak or even a hamburger (don't forget the blue cheese)!  The aftertaste is pure fruit - and there is nothing wrong with that!

The Grade: I give this one an A. These are the type of wine finds I truly enjoy. A $16 wine that gives you a glimpse of what Washington State grapes can produce.  If you like this one, try some other Washington wines for some variety beyond California. The H3 is not a super complex wine, but for the money a really nice find.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wine Geeking Out - My Journey Continues

Back in 2007 to amp up my wine knowledge, I spent my Sunday's over the course of 6 months learning lots of great wine geek information, and tasting lots and lots of wines.  The classes, offered by the International Sommelier Guild, were 6 hours long and consisted of a couple hours of lecture, tasting  5 or 6 wines in the late morning, then more lecture, and then 5 or 6 more wines later in the afternoon.  Not a bad way to spend a day!

Given the need to actually concentrate and retain the information, it was a process of taste and spit (what a waste!) - and wine is supposedly a sophisticated pursuit! At the end, there was a test of 150 or so multiple choice questions, 4 essay questions (yuck!) and blind tasting of four wines. 

For the wine portion of the test, you had 4 glasses of wine, two red, two white - and you needed to provide tasting notes and identify the variety of grape and the wine region where the wine was made.  Luckily, a passing grade was possible with good tasting notes and getting at least one of the wines correct. I was able to identify the two white wines (Riesling from Mosel, Germany and Chardonnay from Napa, California), but missed on the reds (Syrah from the Rhone in France, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa). I was able to pass all parts of the test, and now proudly display by "International Sommelier Guild Wine Fundamentals Level 2" certification.  I really enjoyed the class, and realized that I was truly a potential wine geek, and wanted to learn more. Unfortunately, ISG's next level class for Sommelier certification was scheduled but never actually held in Phoenix. 

I have given up on ISG and decided to pursue my geeking out with two other organizations. The first is the International Wine Guild.  My wife and I were both scheduled for their Level I class back in November, but a stomach bug forced me to cancel - damn!!!  We have been rescheduled for a class in March - and I am very much looking forward to it.  It will be a bit of a review from by ISG class, but since that class was six years ago, my old brain needs a refresher. It will also give my wife a chance to see if she also likes all the wine geek backstory to the wine or if she would rather just be an avid consumer.  If we pass the class, we will be certified Cellar Managers.

Also, yesterday kicked off my self study to get certified with the Society of Wine Educators Certified Specialist of Wine.  I will be pouring over the 250 page study guide getting prepped for the examination (this one is all multiple choice questions).

I will be sharing any fascinating new information (light on the wine geek speak as I pledged!) on my blog.  Already from my study yesterday I learned that if you see ruby and orange color highlights in a red wine it is likely higher in acid, while black and blue highlights mean a lower acid red. I LOVE THIS STUFF!!!

Anyone looking for a way to get educated on wine, even if just as a enthusiast, I recommend looking into any of these courses.  If you have any questions - just let me know!!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wine Tip of the Week - Where to Buy Your Wine

Your local grocery store operates in a business of super low margins - namely typical food/grocery products.  For the sake of convenience, some "non food" items in a grocery store will cost you more than they would elsewhere. One such item is wine. One of our go-to everyday bottles is El Coto Rioja that we first enjoyed during my first trip to Spain.  In Spain, literally a 3 hour drive from where they make the stuff, it costs around 6 Euros, or about $8. Upon returning home, for a while I was able to find it at Total Wine & More and Whole Foods for $11 or $12 a bottle - but I have not seen it at either place for years, so I get our supply from one of my favorite online wine shops - Ultimate Wine Shop for less than $10 a bottle.   Upon a recent trip to our local grocery store, I was surprised to see El Coto on the shelf, so my wife and I proceeded to empty out the shelf until we decided to check the price... drum roll... it was "on sale" with your loyalty card for only $19.99!

Find a good local wine shop to support, or a shop like Total Wine & More that specializes - the extra trip to another store will pay off very quickly. All grocery stores may not mark up the same, but since the El Coto incident I have paid attention to wines I recognize, and I have noticed you will pay a premium at most of ye olde grocery stores. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - California Red - NV Smart Cookie Blend

Santa's generosity this year included a Christmas Eve sinus-infection type malady for my wife, which in the spirit of the season was shared with me by New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, Our Holiday season this year was heavier on Kleenex than on the wine and spirits we usually enjoy for Christmas and New Year's. I tell you that just to let you know that my sniffer is still a bit impacted, but being the dedicated wino that I am - I am playing through the pain to bring you this week's Wine Review!

I headed to Total Wine & More today with nothing particular in mind to review, just decided to pick something in the everyday bottle category that I normally wouldn't pick for myself.

After a few laps around the store, I noticed a display of Smart Cookie Vineyards California Red Blend. Hmmm... Smart Cookie, I would be stupid not to try it! The back label promised the aroma of double chocolate chip cookies so... SOLD!  The label did not specify, but I did a little research and the blend is Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine: Non Vintage Smart Cookie Red Blend - Can be a blend of grapes from more than one Vintage
Region: California - Grapes can come from anywhere in the State
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $9.99
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Artificial Cork in very good - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Clear, with an intense inky purple color.
Aroma: I searched for the promised double chocolate chip cookie on the nose, but I could not find it. I would even have settled for a single chocolate chip cookie - but for me I only found some earthy aromas and some red cherry.
Taste: The initial taste was nice and fruity, with some nice acidity (mouth watering) and a little bit of tannin (mouth drying). The aftertaste is where things went a little awry - the best way I can describe is the same lingering sweetness and taste as a concord grape juice. Not really what I want in my wine aftertaste.

The Grade: I give this one a C+. The sweetness on the finish means this is not at all my type of wine.  But for less than $10, I'll give it a passing grade as this may be a good wine for someone transitioning to drinking red wine - who may be looking for something with a bit of sweetness (but I would not call it a sweet red wine). The sweetness may also make this wine pair with spicier food, like a Korean BBQ with some of my favorite Sriracha sauce.

I'm off to the grocery store to get the ingredients for Chocolate Chip Cookies - I'm getting some today one way or the other!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cooking with Wine - Taste Matters.

I have always like to cook (facilitates the fact that I also like to eat), but as my interest in wine grew, so did my interest in cooking and finding great food and wine pairings.  In some recipes, wine is in the ingredient list.  There are two big rules I follow when cooking with wine:

The first is never, ever, ever buy the stuff in your grocery store called "Cooking Wine" typically found near the oils and vinegars.  This stuff is mostly made of really bad wine with salt added... Mmmmmmm!!  You want to be able to control the amount of salt in your dish, so adding cooking wine can throw off your dish's seasoning. Worse, is the fact that cooking wine is made with poor quality wine - which leads us to rule #2.

Rule #2 is never cook with a wine that you would not drink.  There is no reason to use an expensive wine to cook with, but using a reasonable everyday wine makes a difference. Remember - cooking will eliminate the alcohol in the wine, but the other flavors of the wine will be imparted to your dish.

When I have some wine left in a bottle, I will save it aside for cooking later. This occasion is the one time that it is OK to keep wine in your food refrigerator. In fact, I have a screw top red and white bottle that I pour any leftover wine into.  Different wine varieties being mixed for cooking won't matter that much as long as you're not dumping a sweet Riesling in with a buttery Chardonnay - and creating a possibly unpleasant concoction. 

Another option is to use ice cube trays to freeze your leftover wine until you are ready to use. You can then grab out the amount you need for your cooking. Unlike Vodka or other spirits, wine will actually freeze. Works great for both reds and whites.

Wine can also be used as a flavorful way to make your cooking a bit healthier.  Instead of sautéing in oil or butter, replace up to half of with white wine to reduce calories while adding flavor and moisture.  Also you can replace up to half the oil in a marinade with wine to make it healthier, plus it acts as an acidic ingredient which can help tenderize the meat.

If you are unsure what wine to use in a particular recipe, a wine that would taste good with the finished dish is a safe one to use. Cooking the wine will keep it from tasting just like wine poured over your food, but the flavor characteristics will remain.