Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Lunch for the History Books - Asador Etxebarri in Carracedelo, León Spain

Bucket lists often contain many different types of activities - exciting items such as sky diving or helicopter rides to a volcano, athletic items such as running a marathon, seeing natural wonders like the northern lights, getting more education like an advanced degree or learning a new language, or seeing specific works of art like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris.  If you read my posts regularly, you may have noticed that my mentions of bucket list items revolve almost exclusively around seeking out great food, wine, and travel related experiences. 

For my bucket list, I seek new and different experiences that relate to my primary passions - food and wine. It is more than just the eating and drinking I seek (though I enjoy both very much) - it is the passion of a great winemaker,  the artistry of a great chef, the expression of local terrior in the wine, the local cooking customs and the respectful and successful use of locally produced ingredients.  It is the culture of food, wine and how it is embedded in cultures in different ways that is my quest.  My love of cooking also drives me to increase my own knowledge of different ingredients, different regional dishes, and different customs that I can include in my own bag of tricks as a wanna-be chef.

My bucket list restaurants are not always the most highly rated with the most Michelin Stars or hightest Yelp rating - I am really looking for a unique experience, something off the beaten path that promises to please the palate - and potentially be the meal of a lifetime. My wife and I are not against paying a hefty price for a fantastic experience, but paying a high price will never guarantee a fantastic experience. Luckily - for our bucket list dining, or just nice restaurants we've wanted to try on special occasions - we haven't had a very disappointing experience so far.  Some were fantastic, some were just OK, but from every one so far we at least came away with something very memorable - even if it was just finding out about a great cheese called Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery at Restaurant Gary Danko.

One restaurant that has been on the bucket list for sometime is Asador Etxebarri in a small village in Léon, Spain. Fans of food tv shows like Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations may have seen segments about this hard to find restaurant where all of the cooking is done in a fairly primitive kitchen on wood fire grills. We are talking absolutely all the cooking!  Wood grilled cooking and a Michelin Star - this is the kind of unique combination that earns a spot on the Wino4Life (and Wino4Life Wife) bucket list.
Everything is Cooked on These Grills!

The address of this restaurant is not a mailing address but instead GPS coordinates. The restaurant is located in the village of Carracedelo in a quaint square next to a church. If you were just driving through, you would think this little village no different that hundreds of others that dot the hillsides of Spain. But this one holds quite a secret!  During this year's vacation in France and Spain, we booked lunch at Asador Etxebarri during our stay in San Sebastian. After a little over an hour drive in a heavy Spanish spring rain, our trusty Garmin GPS took us to the right spot without a hitch, and we were greeted, and seated at a fantastic upstairs table next to the balcony.  

My wife and I wanted the full experience, so we opted for the tasting menu and let our hosts choose the wine pairings.  One of the incredibly unique dishes we had heard about at Asador Etxebarri was grilled caviar - but unfortunately they have had problems getting access to the correct kind of caviar for their unique grilling method, so this dish was not available.  Our host promised we would not be disappointed, even without the caviar dish - and she was so very correct.  The wine pairing for the meal was fairly simple, a white wine for the all of the savory courses except one - which warranted a nice big red wine. Add a sweet wine for the desserts, and that was our wine pairing (Maridaje in Spanish). 

Our first wine and first course.  The wine was poured without any description, and our first course was presented - mushrooms of the seasons on a sort of water cracker, along with some delicious and fresh bread. The mushrooms were delicately flavored, but our wine was a bit cold at this point to show its true colors.

Our next course included three items, plus a butter for our bread. We were served the following:

Smoked butter made from goat's milk with black salt.  The salt tasted like it was also smoked in the kitchen to give the butter an additional smokey kick.  Awesome on the rustic, fresh bread.  I have never done this before in my blog, but I need to give a quick silverware shout out. The "stand up" butter knife we used was one of the coolest tableware things I've ever seen.  Some quick research after returning to our hotel after this meal let me know that I could be the proud owner of a similar knife for only about $120 (yes - owner of just one knife for that price).  Maybe for my next birthday?

Fresh, house made Buffalo Mozzarella cheese with just a slightly smokey flavor. Creamy, delicately flavored, delicious.

Salted (preserved) Anchovy on toasted bread.  Nothing like any Anchovy I've ever tasted.

In the heat of the moment, I did not take a close up picture of probably my favorite part of this course - Chorizo made from acorn fed Iberco Pork - the most decadent encased meat product I've ever been lucky enough to enjoy.

Now the white wine started to warm up a bit, and was really shining through with all of these dishes. It had a somewhat familiar nose, but was still very unique - and the way it highlighted both the delicate taste and subtle smokiness was very impressive. I had to know what it was! Our host brought out this bottle and told us this was not what we were drinking... huh???  This was a bottle of wine from the same winery, Castell d' Encus, but the actual wine we were drinking did not even have official labeling yet because it was an experimental wine from this winery.  The winery had just purchased some vineyards in Galacia, and so was experimenting with the Albariño grapes from the area. The wine we were drinking was actually a blend of Albariño and Riesling, something I've never seen before!  From my perspective the experiment is a great success - a wine with a great nose, nicely fruity, and very very food friendly.  At first I was a bit disappointed at having only one wine for so many courses, but what a special treat to get to try a wine like this one!

OK, now moving on with our meal (spoiler alert) - the same white wine joined us for the next five courses!

Next up was a lightly smoked Oyster with seaweed. I could easily have downed a dozen of these - so fresh and flavorful - still tasting of the ocean with just a hint of smokiness. Another tableware shout out - the oyster was served on a specially made plate to hold oyster shell upright so has not to lose any of the treasure inside.

Our journey through the sea by way of a wood fired grill continued with beautiful prawns just lightly grilled. Tasty from head to tail!

Next up was a first for us, a grilled sea cucumber with green beans. I know it is surprising that in all our years we have never tried green beans... HA!  No, but really - after seeing a sea cucumber in an aquarium I was in no hurry to consume one. The texture was surprising, seemed more like a vegetable than a sea creature. Not a tremendous amount of flavor - but not bad either.

Next was a group of baby octopi with caramelized onion and their own ink. Very delicately flavored and again just a hint of smoke from the grill - I'm beginning to notice a trend on how amazingly delicate dishes are treated on that rustic (or just plain primitive) wood fired grill!

A quick break for creatures of the sea to try a delicate mushroom broth. I was surprised how well our wine paired with this, I was afraid it may overpower the broth - but it actually complemented it nicely.

When our next dish was delivered - we (and by we I mean my soul mate and translator wife) had to ask to make sure we heard right - yes cod fish tongues in a smokey sauce. Count me in as a fan of fish tongues, these were delicious! The sauce started to kick up the flavors a bit after many delicately flavored courses, and that made me happy happy!

One last course from the sea - a fresh sardine from the grill. I never imagined a sardine could be so tasty. 

For our  course, the switch was made to red wine - FINALLY!!!. We were given a choice of a Rioja or a Ribera del Duero. So far our courses had been delicately flavored, but I was anticipating a perfectly cooked and nicely hunk of beef - so went for bigger is better and chose the Ribera.

Not surprisingly, this was a fantastic wine, made from Tempranillo like Rioja, but definitely Rioja's big brother.  Nice soft tannins, nice sour cherry and a bit of vanilla on the nose - we've covered the surf, now we ready for some surf!

This work of art was brought to our table - a beautiful chop of Galacian beef.  The level of char on this steak was legendary, and it was cooked to just between rare and medium rare.  In Spain, you are likely to find thin, scaloppine cuts of beef cooked well done, but other, thicker cuts are never cooked much above rare so as not to impact the flavor of the quality product.  Our meal started with a bunch of delicate flavors which were great - but I really appreciated a big finish with the savory courses and this beauty - one of the best steaks I've ever had.

Time now for a blood orange "smoothie". Nothing grilled here - but a great palate cleanse before we started on the sweets.

We now were served a dessert wine in preparation for the sweet stuff. By now, our host brought us the bottle as she knew we would have questions about the wines.  This wine was from the Penedés region of Spain - home to Spain's sparkling Cava wine.  This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Albariño sweetened by the effects of Botrytis or Noble Rot. Deliciously acidic, aromas of apricots, peaches and baking spices, and sweet but not too sweet. Let's get our dessert on!

The dessert courses maintained the theme with grilled elements. Our first dessert (I love the term first dessert because it assumes more desserts will follow!!!) - was marshmallow with grilled strawberries. Yes, tender ripe sweet strawberries delicately grilled. Nicely sweet, and a perfect not too sweet combination with our dessert wine.

Our lunch of a lifetime wrapped up in great fashion - ice cream made from grill reduced milk with a red fruit infusion.  Again, just a hint of smokiness poked through, but did not detract from a smooth creamy ice cream made from high quality milk.


My bucket list lunch did not disappoint in any way.  After a fabulous meal, we requested the chef sign our menu - and we were invited in to see the kitchen and get his autograph.  

We met an incredibly gracious and kind man who seemed to just love what he does (if he's not cooking, the restaurant isn't open), and has not gotten wrapped up in all the fuss over having a Michelin-starred restaurant.  He showed us his "primitive" kitchen (his words), signed our menu, invited us to return and see them again soon. I truly hope we are able to return soon. The menu changes fairly often with ingredients available at different times throughout the year - so the experience could be very different, I just hope the steak always stays on the menu!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Wino4LIfe Motivation Check - Fame or Passion?

When I decided to start my Wino4Life blog I wasn't even aware of the Wine Blog Awards. Each year, wine blogs are nominated for awards by the general public, and top finalists for several categories (such as best blog, best blog post, best wine reviews, best new blog, etc) are selected by a panel of judges consisting of mostly wine writers and educators. 

My wife went ahead and nominated ye olde Wino4Life blog for best new wine blog (blogs can be nominated if in existence for less than one year).  I have been watching the Wine Blog Awards website with some anticipation - wondering if my passion for the topic was coming through enough to garner such an award as a newcomer.  Last week the nominations were announced, and alas Wino4Life did not make the cut.  

Originally a list of five, not down to three for some unexplained reason (???), the award will go to one of two people (one person was nominated for their personal wine blog and for a Village Voice blog).  The other person has been a wine writer for a Knoxville newspaper since 2006.

I pondered for a moment if the hours I spend trying to share my love for wine are worth it - am I looking for the fame of an award, or just looking for a way to share my passion with potential winos. The pondering only lasted a split second as I realized that I have loved what I have done to date, and look forward to providing more of my brand of wine information and insight in the future - and hopefully I will make it better and better as I learn and grow as a blogger. 

The nominated blogs for the Wine Blog Awards are from people who write about wine professionally - they have access to events, wines to review, information that I simply don't have as a passionate consumer.  I buy all (so far) of the wines I have reviewed - trying to find wines that would be widely available whenever possible, and living within the budget of a blogger relying on readers supporting the advertisers I have on my site.

However, this is exactly why I started this blog - to provide something a bit different than what is available on wine websites and in newspaper blogs - which there is a LOT of! I want to provide information from a consumer's perspective who has transitioned from a full on novice to an incredibly passionate wino over the last 15 years or so - not someone who has become a professional wine writer, and then decided to also blog.

So please let me know if you have any comments, suggestions, criticism, praise - any and all input appreciated - and stay tuned for more from Wino4Life!!!

Thanks to all you who read my stuff - I hope you find it helpful and enjoyable.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red Blend - 2008 Luzón Crianza Selección 12 Meses

Jumilla is a wine region in Southeastern Spain where Monastrell is the key red grape, often blended with Tempranillo plus Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I first became familiar with it a few years ago when I tried El Nido at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour.  El Nido is quite expensive at over $100 a bottle, but I wanted to give a try to something at about one tenth of that price. So here we go!

Wine: 2008 Luzón Crianza Selección 12 Meses
Region: Jumilla, Spain
Grape Varieties: Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo
Obtained from: Purchased at Ultimate Wine Shop
Price: $11.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Deep purple in color with a pink rim.
Aroma: Dark fruits like black cherry, a bit of smoke and just a hint of something herbal.
Taste: Full bodied with nice fruit flavors - just a bit harsh on the tannins at this point - but this may soften with age.

The Grade: I give this one an A-. The tannins are a bit harsh at this point- but a nice full bodied red for just over 10 bucks.  The mix of varietals makes for a very interesting red blend.  Buy a bottle to try now, and one to try in a year or so to see the difference aging makes with wine.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vacation Quest - Try and Live Like a Bit Like a Local for the Full Experience

Have you ever thought about someone visiting the town you live in from another City, State or Country? Would they get the real feel of what it's like to live in your neck of the woods by staying in the local hotel, dining at the local Yelp approved restaurants, and hitting all the tourist handbook spots?  As my wife and I have travelled throughout the years, one of our common quests regardless of where we were headed was to be more of a traveller than a tourist.  Don't get me wrong - we still hit the touristy spots to see the best sites a place has to offer, but we also try and find ways to experience our destination a bit more like a local might. For me, that mostly translates into shopping at local food markets, and doing a little home cooking on the road.
Great Words of Wisdom from a Guy Who Has Been All Over the World

In planning this year's vacation, I focused on finding accommodations at most of our stopping points that were some type of Apartments, so we could shop for groceries locally and I could try my hand at cooking just as a local would.

Paris, France
Our first stop on this year's vacation was Paris.  To date we had only travelled through Paris on our way to Spain, but for nearly no difference in our Air France airfare, we were able to add a few days of a "stopover" before continuing on to Spain.  

After doing some research about local areas near cool places like the Louvre and Notre Dame that still offered access to street markets of local vendors, I had booked a studio apartment at the Residence Villa Daubenton in the Latin Quarter of Paris. 

Unfortunately our studio Apartment was nothing like the photos they featured on TripAdvisor, etc which looked spacious, well equipped and complete:
Hmmm... This Must Have Been the Upstairs Apartment!

Our kitchenette looked nothing like this - it was tiny, tucked in a corner, and most of the equipment provided was damaged or outright broken. The worst was a coffee maker where the handle was not connected at the top of the pot, so when I picked up our first pot of fresh hot coffee, I almost ended up wearing it!  On the upside, our room had a fabulous private courtyard, and was only a couple of blocks from Rue Mouffetard, a wonderful pedestrian only street with fantastic restaurants, bars, and local vendors.
Rue Mouffetard, Paris

We quickly found a favorite local wine shop, right next to a great cheese and sausage shop.  Many of our evening meals were quite simple, some great wine, some fantastic locally made cheese and sausage - we enjoyed the incredible quality goods, while we chatted about the great sights we had seen during the day at the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, or just walking the streets of Paris.
One of My Favorites from a Strange and Creepy Exhibit at the Musee d'Orsay

A definite benefit to wine shopping in Paris was a selection of fairly reasonably priced Burgundy wines.  This 2009 Domaine Arnoux Savigny Premier Cru was less than $30, and paired nicely with a set of cheese that my wife and her high school French scored us at the local shop.  
Mmmm... Burgundy!

We enjoyed an incredible Roquefort blue cheese, and an equally scrumptious Brillat Savarin. Brillat Savarin is a nicely acidic triple creme cheese that I've bought at Whole Foods at home in Chandler, AZ before. The one Whole Foods had was great, but was nothing in comparison to this one.  Round out our veggie-free dinner with a hard sausage and it was an incredible end to a great day in Paris.

Shop Local and Enjoy!

Oh, and I did figure out a way to get the coffee out of a half-handled coffee pot, so our mornings were typically the classic, if a bit cliché,  coffee and croissants!

Barcelona, Spain
One of the most anticipated of our vacation stops for me to live a bit like a local was Barcelona.  Barcelona is home to a magnificent market that I visited once before - but at that time was not able to buy or enjoy any of the incredible products - I was just able to look and dream. This market is the Mercat Boqueria on the La Rambla. I loved my first opportunity to work through the market years ago - but ever since I've craved going back and actually shopping and preparing some of the most beautiful seafood and produce I've ever seen.

Some of the Incredible Sites at the Mercat Boqueria in Spain

In Barcelona, I picked an Apartment on one end of the La Rambla area next to the popular Plaza Catalunya.  The Amister Apartments are associated with the Amister Hotel in Barcelona and there was absolutely none of the disappointment we experienced in Paris. Great location, and fantastic Apartment, with a well stocked kitchen - perfect!!! 
Amister Apartments in Barcelona - Score!

Now off to the market! The market has a great selection of meats, but the freshness of the seafood was completely irresistible.  We purchased mussels, clams, chorizo, some type of crabs that resembled rock crabs.  A quick stop at a wine shop on La Rambla to get a nice bottle of $15 Albariño to have with our haul, and a bit cheaper bottle to use for cooking. Remember - always use wine good enough to drink for your cooking or it will ruin your food!  I used the chorizo to flavor some olive oil along with an onion, threw in the clams first, then the mussels for a bit - then added the less expensive Albariño and let it cook until the shellfish opened up.  Finish the dish with a bit of parsley for color - and boom!  Awesome if I do say so myself.  The crabs were also fresh and good - but a lot of work to cook, clean, and get at the delicious crab meat!


Delish - but a Lot of Work!

We had only two short nights in Barcelona - one devoted to cooking and one devoted to trying a great local restaurant - Paco Meralgo (those of you Spanish speakers may get the joke with the name - hint, say the name slowly).   Our next trip to Spain will definitely include more nights in Barcelona to try more goodies from the Mercat Boqueria, plus time to try more of Barcelona's restaurant scene. I can't wait!!!

San Juan de Parres, Asturias, Spain
The bulk of this year's vacation was spent in a small town in the Asturias region of Spain. Asturias is in northern Spain, and is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen - and I have been lucky enough to visit here several times. Lots of great hiking, breathtaking sights, and lots of great local food.  This is my wife's native land, and I can see why she loves to return as often as possible. We picked a new place to stay for this year's visit - San Juan de Parres which is a small small town just up the hill from Cangas de Onis.  I had picked out what looked to be a new tourist Apartment - Apartmentos La Senda.  Upon our arrival we found brand new Apartments - maybe stayed in once or twice before - absolutely gorgeous.  Oh - and the view out the front picture window was not bad either, check it out:

View from Apartmentos La Senda

One of the great features of these Apartments is that each unit has it's own charcoal grill in the backyard. Asturias is milk country - which also makes it beef country. Shopping at the butcher counter in Spain in different than grabbing something at CostCo or Safeway at home. In Spain, it really is a butcher counter with large slabs of different types of meat - you just need to say what you want and how thick, and they will cut it for you on the spot.  To try out our backyard grill, we went for a couple of gigantic "chuletas" or chops on the bone.  In Spain the meat tends to get cut thin, so we had to specifically asked for a bit thicker cut, so we could get a good sear on the meat, and still have it come out mid rare.

A Couple of Chuletas Ready for the Grill

The Finished Product

The best steaks I've ever made I do believe - and matched with one of my favorite wines - a 2009 Alto Moncayo Garnacha (Grenache) - we were stylin' while living like the locals!

I typically do most of the cooking at home, but in her native land my wife gets inspired to cook up some the local specialties of her homeland.  She started off with a Spanish Tortilla - nothing like a Mexican tortilla, this is a hearty combination of potatoes, onion, chorizo, and eggs - great with a Rioja!

Spanish Tortilla

Next up was an excellent pot of Fabada - an Asturian bean stew made with Chorizo, Morcilla (blood sausage) and a nice chunk of Spanish bacon.  Delicious - plus add some wine and it definitely gets you all ready for the afternoon's siesta!!! Just a quick two or three hour nap, and I'm ready to go for the night!

Find Your Own Way
For me, cooking is a great way to experience a key part of other cultures - food!  Even if cooking on vacation doesn't sound relaxing to you, do try and find ways to experience the local culture of your chosen destinations in the spirit of a traveller, not a tourist - you will not regret it!!!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish White - 2011 Pagos Del Ray Analivia Rueda

I am a huge huge (huge) fan of many Spanish red wines and Spanish Cavas (Spain's answer to Champagne) and have been for many years. Recently I have been becoming more and more a fan of Spanish whites.  If you are looking for a white that will go really well with lighter dishes, Albariño from Galacia in Spain is a great choice. Today I am going to try a white wine from a region I've never tried before - Rueda.
Rueda Wine Region - Nearish to Galacia

Wine: Spanish White - 2011 Pagos Del Ray Analivia Rueda
Region: Rueda, Castilla y León, Spain
Grape Varieties: Verdejo
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $13.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Artificial Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear - light yellow with a greenish tint and a water white rim..
Aroma: Very nice with citrus, flowers, and a bit of mineral.
Taste: Very fresh and fruity - and nicely acidic.  A good length of finish, with the fruit flavors slowly giving way to the minerals.

The Grade: I give this one an A. A great wine for a hot day, or a great match for a nice fish or other seafood dish. An excellent wine for the price.

Aeration - Getting Your Proper Swirl On (Reprise)

This post combines a two part post I made late last year - but I wanted to repost as it is a very important topic - one of the most important in my mind - for getting the most out of your wine. So - one good swirl deserves another!

One of my main goals is to help you to get the most out of the wine you buy. Whether you’ve decided to throw down $50 or even $100 on a nice Cabernet Sauvignon to serve along with a nice steak or are just enjoying a bottle of your favorite $10 everyday wine, you want to make sure you can get the most of your wine purchase.  Many times I have opened a new wine I’ve been anxious to try with great expectations only to take a sniff and.... nothing or at least not much aroma at all.

I chose aeration as the topic for my first couple of posts, as I believe it is one of the most important factors in getting the most out of your wine. Getting a wine aerated is more involved with red wine and can be aided by some wine gadgets out there, but most whites, rosés, and dessert wines can also benefit from some amount of aeration.

Aeration is simply the introduction of air, specifically oxygen to help release the aroma of the wine which is critical for your to experience the actual flavor or the wine.  

We are only able to distinguish five “tastes”:
  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Umami (pronouced like a child announcing to their mother they don’t like Brussels Sprouts - “ew-mommy”) or savory. Think of the taste of Miso soup or Soy Sauce minus the saltiness. <+>

If all we were able to perceive in a wine were these five tastes, wine (or any other food or drink for that matter) would not be very interesting.  Where things get interesting is the addition of our perception of aroma and texture (texture refers to how light or heavy the wine feels - think skim milk vs whole milk).  The human nose has about 1,000 different type of receptors to detect aromas, and has the capability of detecting about 10,000 different aromas (Read More). 

Catching Some Air

For most all white wines and rosés, all you really need to do to aerate is to swirl the glass as you drink. Some red wines will benefit from a little extra aeration action as we’ll discuss later, but once the red is in the glass, the same swirling advice applies.

Swirling really does help, so don’t be afraid - and just do it!. Here is a video that shows some swirl technique

I recommend keeping the glass on the table as much as possible, I have had many fewer accidents that way.  The choice is yours, just keep some Oxy-Clean handy!

When you get that glass of wine in your hand, take a whiff and see what type of aroma you can detect. It is not important that you identify every aroma (like the “Flutter of a nutty Edam Cheese” from the movie Sideways), just get a sense of what the wine is showing you. Then give that glass a good swirl and take another whiff. Notice any changes?  I typically continue to swirl and sniff throughout the glass (or bottle) to see if the aromas change over time.  Don’t forget - the aromas will impact what you experience as the flavor of the wine, so all this swirling business can help how you enjoy the important part - actually drinking the stuff!

Not only does swirl help you maximize the flavor of the wine, but it can also be a conversation starter.  “Hey I’m getting some green grass and cat pee aroma from this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. What about the rest of you?” (Read More). It might be best to leave off the Cat Pee part if you are a guest enjoying someone else’s wine!  

Cue the UB40 - Red, Red Wine can benefit from some special attention for aeration. For your everyday bottle, just getting your swirl on will probably suffice, and who wants to turn enjoying an everyday wine into a big event with gadgets to find, use, and clean afterwards?? For other wines, say a nice Cabernet Sauvignon you just bought for some nice steaks (red wine pairs nicely with the protein in the steak, medium rare is the best meat temperature to enjoy with your wine) how do you know if you need to do more that just swirl?  The good news is that most red wines, except very old and delicate ones (10 - 20 years old) will benefit from additional aeration. 

Here is a good spot to give a quick mention differences between wines made in the U.S. and those made in most other places in the world. The guidelines that country’s like Spain must follow require the winery to age the wine until it should be ready to drink, before  they are allowed to release it to the public. U.S. wines on the other hand often get released to the public before they are ready to drink, needing some number of years of aging in the bottle to be at their peak. This is another benefit of good aeration, it will take the place of bottle aging allowing you to enjoy your wine now, so you don’t have to buy a bottle now for that steak dinner you will be having one, two, or even five years from now. So, for those Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Washington etc red wines you buy - I recommend a bit of aeration beyond just the swirl.

Below are links to some gadgets out there all designed to provide wine aeration. I have seen a recommendation to throw the wine into a blender for a while (I haven’t tried this as my wine may end up tasting like margarita’s or pesto). The choice of what to use is yours, as long as it aerates, there really isn’t a wrong choice.

The Aeration Gadgets - It’s All About the Accessories

Gadget #1 - The Decanter. The use of a decanter is something that wine geeks like to argue, and some geeks would disagree with my opinion that aeration is vitally important. The process of decanting a wine, or pouring it into another vessel, gives you an opportunity to pour the wine through a stainer to remove any sediment that may have formed in the wine as it aged in the bottle. It is perfectly normal to have some sediment, especially if the wine label identifies it as an “unfiltered” wine.  Your wine may or may not need to be poured through a strainer, but another benefit of decanting is that it helps aerate the wine.  In fact, many decanters like the one pictured below are designed with a super-wide bottom to expose your wine to the maximum of air. The wine will get some aeration from being poured into the decanter, and some additional aeration if your decanter is shaped like the one below, but I also like to give the decanter a swirl every 10 or so minutes to help promote even more aeration (this may take some practice, but don't be afraid to give it a good swirl). I use and recommend the flat bottom model (wasn't that a Queen song?) - like the one pictured on the left below:

Gadget #2 Wine Aerator. With a name like this how can you go wrong - this thing Aerates!!!. With these gadgets, you pour the wine through the aerator, either as you pour into the glass, or even as you pour from the bottle into a decanter, thus achieving multi-gadget status. There are different brands, the one I use and really like is the VinturiIf pouring into a bottle, you just hold the aerator above the glass. For a decanter, the aerator will fit in the neck of most wine decanters so you don’t have to hold it. It take a little work to pour wine quickly enough so that it doesn’t come out of the aeration holes, but slowly enough that it doesn’t overflow out the top. Practice a bit with water until you get the hang of it. I see on Vinturi website they now offer a separate aerator for white wines and one for spirits. I’m not sure about spirits, but using the same aerator for both red and white is absolutely fine. 

There are aerators that fit in the neck of the wine bottle. I have not tried this type, and while I am sure they are easer to use, the amount of aeration will likely be less. I would classify these as better than not using an aerator, but would suggest something like the Vinturi.

Gadget #3 Breathers.  I have seen these gadgets being promoted at some wine events, but have never tried one. The idea is to add air bubbles to the wine either by a hand pump, or through a battery powered pump like the one pictured below. I have not personally used one of these, but I don't believe they would be effective, as very little of the wine would be impacted by the bubbles.  I may be wrong - so let me know if you've had a good (or bad) experience with one of these gadgets!

Gadget #4 The Wine Whisk. I do not have one of these, but I really do need to get one and at our next restaurant outing, surprise my wife by whipping this bad boy out and giving my wine a good whisking!!! If you want a whisk - you can get one here
Right Wine Glasses Can Help

Good wine glasses do actually make a difference in helping to achieve aeration. Lead Crystal glasses have a microscopic texture (wow - didn’t I say I would go easy on the wine geek stuff and I’m already talking about the microscopic textures of wine glasses - oops!!!) that help to aerate the wine as you swirl. Wine glasses that are truly made out of glass do not have this feature. In future posts I will talk more about wine glasses and other benefits of crystal, but for now I’ll just say that crystal is better for enjoying your wine, but you definitely don’t have to buy the most expensive glasses to realize the benefits.

Temperature Matters

In an upcoming post I plan to talk more about temperature’s impact on wine (drinking and storage), but since we are trying to open up our wine and get the aromas released, it is important to note that temperature does matter.  The colder a wine is the more muted the aromas will be. Wine that you keep in your regular food refrigerator will be too cold to release much in the way of aromas.  If you have a glass of wine that feels very cold, the good news is that you possess an effective wine warming gadget already - your hands. Just hold the glass in your hands, and your 98.6 degrees will start helping your wine show all it has to show - aroma-wise anyway!

Bottom Line

Aeration will help most all types of wines, however you achieve it - by getting your swirl on or by using one of the myriad of aeration gadgets. If your are ordering a red in a restaurant (especially something “big” like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or a Red Zinfandel), don’t be afraid to ask your server to decant it - just remember this is one of the ways you get the most out of your wine purchase. Also, most restaurants that have wine decanters will bring them to your table. You can watch the technique of the person serving you wine to pick up some pointers for decanting at home.

Just remember - Enjoy that wine and keep swirling.

- Wino4 Life

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wine Tip: Wine and Eggs - Has this Pairing Thing Gone Too Far???

Enjoying brunch doesn’t mean you are trapped in the land of sparkling wine and mimosas.  The fattiness of an egg based dish means you need to stay away from any high alcohol wines (the fat will accentuate the alcohol and make the wine seem out of balance - referred to as “hot”). As long as you follow this advice - even a lower alcohol red wine can be your choice.

Often you can look to what else is in the egg dish to figure out what to drink alongside. One of my favorite ways to eat eggs is to add some good Spanish chorizo and onions.  With these additional ingredients, a Spanish Rioja is a great partner. 

Rioja, made from the Tempranillo grape has enough acidity to handle the eggs, while the Chorizo and onion are greatly enhanced by the wine.  Look for “Crianza” on the wine label which denotes it is a fairly young Spanish wine which has not spent too much time aging. Reserva and Gran Reserva Riojas are great (some really great!) wines, but not for our brunching purposes. 

Add some Iberico ham which also pairs nicely with Rioja, and you will be one happy, happy, happy bruncher!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2009 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso

Emilio Moro makes some great Ribera Del Duero wines. These tempranillo based reds from Spain are like a kicked up version of Rioja - same grape but used to make bigger and more concentrated wine. The price tag for these wines tend to be a bit steep - but often worth the price.  I was pleased to see that one of Emilio Moro's lesser expensive wines - Resalso - was available in the US.  Let's see if the little brother wine made from 100% Tempranillo can make a good everyday wine.

Wine: 2009 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso
Region: Ribera del Duero, Spain
Grape Varieties: Tempranillo
Obtained from: Purchased at Ultimate Wine Shop
Price: $12.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Dark red at the core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Nice dark cherry with some blackberry. Also some woody - cedar box or cigar box and some minerals.
Taste: Very nice tasting - not a complex wine, but nicely balance with very good acidity.  A bit Tannic, but the tannins are not too harsh. Also has a nice fruity finish that is surprisingly long. This wine will be as food friendly like many Rioja wines - for under $15!

The Grade: I give this one an A. A very nice every day wine that is great for just sipping, or served with a meal.   If you try and like this one - try some of Emilio Moro's other wines. I was able to try their 2009 Malleolus de Sanchomartin Ribera del Duero and it was really excellent. They make three wines that fall between the Resalso and the Malleolus de Sanchomartin, and though I have not tried them all - I do believe they will all be excellent as well.