Thursday, February 27, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2011 Cia des Vinos del Atlantico Valdeorras A Portela

Valdeorras is a region in Spain where, like Bierzo, Mencia is the grape of focus. A new generation of winemakers in these regions have elevated the simple wines historically made to much more complex and delicious wines.  The good news is that many of these wines are a great value.  I have tried and enjoyed quite a few Bierzo wines, but this will be my very first from Valdeorras.

Wine: 2011 Cia des Vinos del Atlantico Valdeorras A Portela
Region: Valdeorras, Galacia, Spain
Grape Varieties: Mencia
Obtained from: Purchased online at Ultimate Wine Shop
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: Dark purple at the core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Dark fruits like blackberry, a bit of smoke and a hint of something herbal.
Taste: Not as big a wine as I expected based on the color and the aromas.  Nicely balanced with some soft tannins, but surprisingly delicate. 

The Grade: I give this one an A.  A great wine for the price, well made and food friendly like many Spanish wines, but a bit bigger than many similarly priced Rioja wines.  You may have to search a bit to find a shop that carries this or other Spanish Mencia wines, but if you can find this wine, or a similar example, it will be worth the search.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pour Some Wine, Then Impress your Friends with Fun Wine Facts

Don't consider it showing off - consider it sharing information you have with a eager and soon to be thankful audience.  The next time you pour one of these wines (or any wine for that matter), bedazzle with a little wine trivia that your audience will soon be sharing with others like they knew it all along!  So as you pour... quote one of these "Did you know" gems and sit back and wait for the praise (at a minimum) and applause (an excellent possibility):


Wines from this wonderful region in the Southern Rhone have very interesting aromas and flavors including the herbs and spices that grow in the region. Grenache is the star red grape in this region.

Le Crib du Pope
"Did you know": The literal translation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, "the Pope's new house."  For a period of about 67 years, starting from 1309, the papal enclave was moved from Rome to Avignon in France. The Popes of Avignon built a summer home (palace more like) to chillax Pope-style and hence the name of the region today.

Another region in the Rhone Valley in France, Côte-Rôtie are Syrah based wines that are typically quite expensive, and can be a powerhouse of a wine.

The Slopes
"Did you know": Côte-Rôtie literally translates to "roasted slope" and refers to the many hours of sun exposure the steep slopes in the region receive.

Popping the cork on a bottle of Champagne... let the fun facts fly!

"Did you know": The word Champagne roughly translates to "open country," a region full of more fields than forest and hills.

"Did you know": A bottle of bubbly contains about 44 million bubbles. Don't believe me - check it out for yourself!

"Did you know": Dom Pérignon, a French Benedictine monk is often credited with being the inventor of Champagne. He was in fact the Benedictine Abbey cellar master, and helped further refine the process to produce sparkling wine. The legend likely started from an advertisement in the 1800s by the producer of Dom Pérignon, that may have hinted that the legendary Dom Pérignon actually invented Champagne.

"Did you know": You can buy a REALLY big bottle of Champagne. Having a really big party - the largest bottle is called a Melchizedek, and is the equivalent of 40 regular (750 ml) bottles of champagne.  If you don't need that much bubbly, you can go for the Nebuchadnezzar which in equivalent to ONLY 20 bottles!  Half as big, but twice as fun to say!

German Riesling

The many names of quality German Riesling denote the ripeness of the grapes at harvest.

"Did you know": Spätlese translates to “late picked.” These grapes are picked later than grapes that go into Kabinett Riesling.

"Did you know": Beerenauslese translates to “berry select”.  Grapes are harvested berry by berry, picking only the botrytis-affected fruit.

"Did you know": Trockenbeerenauslese translates to “dried berry select”.  Botrytis-affected grapes are harvested after they have shriveled grapes and have been heavily affected by the botrytis. 

Although available from various spots around the world, the greatest Gewürztraminer grapes vines are found on the slopes of the Vosgnes Mountains, in France’s Alsace region. 

"Did you know": Gewürztraminer's translation includes the prefix (Gewürz) which means ‘spice’, and its suffix (Traminer) refers to the Traminer grape, which was first grown around the northern Italian town of Tramin. 

Valpolicella, Italy

"Did you know": The name of this wine region literally translates to the "valley of many cellars." I like it!
The Roman Empire
Sure, the ancient Romans loved to party, but...

"Did you know":  Wine may have been a contributing factor to the fall of the Roman empire?  To make wine for the rich and ruling class, Ancient Romans boiled unfermented grape juice in lead pots. The resulting syrup was added to lower quality wines and then sold to the rich and famous.  One teaspoon of this syrup could have caused Lead poisoning, which can lead to brain damage, infertility, learning & behaviors disorders - among other things.  

Not all historians agree, but lead poisoning could have caused some of the behavior among the ruling class that ultimately led to the fall of an empire.

"Did you know":  The tradition of a celebratory “toast” began with the ancient Romans, who would put a piece of spiced, toasted bread into their wine in order to absorb its unpleasant tastes and some of the excessive acidity. 

Know some other fun wine trivia? Share with us in the comments below!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Give the Wine Another Chance

Ever open a bottle of wine with great anticipation and give it a good sniff to find... wet cardboard, musty wood, grandma's basement?  Welcome to cork taint - a syndrome is caused by a chemical substance called trichloroanisole, referred to as TCA.  It is most commonly introduced to a wine through a cork tainted with TCA, but other steps in the winemaking process can also introduce TCA.

A certain percentage of bottles (I have read as many as one bottle per case) may be impacted to some degree - but the amount of TCA may be low enough as not to be perceptible. Nothing to fear, other that making the wine smell bad, TCA presents no danger to consume. The most recent "corked" bottle I encountered was an everyday Spanish Rioja that we drink all the time, and have for years in the US and in Spain. I have never had any issues with a bottle of this wine, and suddenly one night - pure wet cardboard.

If you are trying a wine for the first time and are disappointed by musty aromas - it may be cork taint, and a different bottle may be wonderful...give that wine another chance!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - California Red Blend - 2011 Onx Crux

I had seen a review of an ONX (pronounced like Onyx) wine in Wine Spectator, and read up a little on the winery. I was intrigued by their blending - which includes classic blending of Rhone varietals along with Spanish varietals like Tempranillo...not so classic a blend, which I like!  We got the opportunity to visit the vineyard during a recent trip to Paso Robles. A great visit, and great wines (we ordered two cases and signed up for their wine club!).

Wine: 2011 Onx Crux
Region: Paso Robles, California
Grape Varieties: Grenache (51%), Syrah (26%), Mourvedre (16%), Cabernet Sauvignon (7%)
Obtained from: Winery
Price: $45.00
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Dark purple at the center/core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Just excellent. The type of wine you want to keep your nose around long after people have started to stare at you.  Red fruit like cherries and raspberries, baking spices, a bit of dried leaves.
Taste: Also just excellent. Fruity, complex, very nicely balanced with a wonderful looooong finish.  Nice amount of tannins, but not too big to enjoy now.

The Grade: I give this one an A+.  Making me break my no more wine clubs rule is not an easy thing to do. There was no question here - all the wines I tasted at ONX were wonderful - some I like more than this one (is there such thing as an A++?). My biggest fear is that people will discover these wines, and they will get expensive and impossible to find.  I am not sure about distribution of this wine - but I highly recommend finding out how you can give this winery a try.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tackling a Restaurant Wine List in Its Many Forms

Ordering wine in a restaurant can be an intimidating experience.  When I first embarked on my journey to becoming a wino, and my question to the restaurant server changed from "what do you have on tap?" to "can I see your wine list" it was more than a little stressful for me.  Hey, you are already paying a pretty hefty markup to enjoy that bottle - no need for it to be stressful too! So here are a few helpful hints about wine lists to help you prepare to tackle most any wine list that is presented to you.

How are Wine Lists Typically Organized?
The answer to the most important question - how do you navigate the wine list to find a great wine to go with your meal - is a very disappointing "it depends."  The only common rules is that white wines come will come before rosés, which come before reds (although there may be more than one of these groupings). There will also be some distinction to identify wines that are available by the glass.  Some lists, especially larger ones, will have the first part of the list dedicated to wines by the glass.  Other, typically smaller lists may have two columns of numbers to denote pricing. A number in the first column means that wine is available by the glass, a number in the second column only means only by the bottle.

Most Common Wine List Organizations Schemes

White, Rosé, Red. Smaller wine lists that don't warrant division into sections may be very simply organized by type of wine.

Grape Variety. Perhaps the most common organization you will see, the list will be arranged according to the grape variety.  Typically varieties that produce lighter wines first - so in the white wine section you will see Sauvignon Blanc before Chardonnay and in the red wine section you will find Pinot Noir before Cabernet Sauvignon.   Blend wines (with several different varieties) will usually appear at the end of their respective section - white blends at the end of the white wine section and red blends at the end of the red wine section.  Also, some wine lists will have a separate section with "Other" or "Interesting"  white or red wines.

This arrangement is simple in concept, but assumes the reader has enough wine knowledge to know what grape variety they would want with their meal. Some are avid Merlot or Chardonnay drinkers and would order their favorite in every case.

Country. Wine lists that offer many selections from throughout the world of wine may be organized by the Country of Origin.  Often the list may first be organized by "Old World" countries such as France, Spain, Italy, Germany, followed by "New World" countries like the US, South America, Australia and New Zealand.  The list may also be organized by white, rose, and red, with sub-sections for countries and perhaps regions within those countries.

Within the section for each country you may find additional sections for regions within the country if the list offers a big selection, or just wines in the white, then rosé, then red arrangement if the selection is smaller. 

This arrangement assumes the reader has even more knowledge of wine that the list arranged by grape variety.  If you want to select a reasonably priced, medium bodied red wine, you may need to peruse the Rhone, France section for a Cotes du Rhone, the Rioja, Spain section for a Crianza Rioja, and perhaps the Piedmont, Italy section for a nice Dolcetto.

Style. The least traditional, but probably the most useful to those without a PhD in wine, are lists organized by the style of wine.  Not style expressed in some fancy winemaking terms, but divided into categories like "Light", "Medium", "Full".  Having a heavier dish? - check out the full bodied reds. Having a lightly flavored appetizer or just want a nice wine to sip on a hot day? - try the light bodied whites.

My prediction is that you will start to see more wines organized in this manner. Not only is it the more helpful, but the newer generation of young winos care little about the snobbery of the old school wine world, and just want the easiest way to find the type of wine they want.  They want an interesting wine, one that tastes good, and one that matches the food they are drinking. They are not worried about only drinking wines from the right bank of Bordeaux because somehow that is automatically better than any other wine... and what would people think if they saw me slumming with a bottle of left bank! The horror!

Less Common Wine List Organization Schemes

Cost. OK, so I've only seen this once ever, but it happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in Arizona - Cowboy Ciao - so it gets a shout out. The wine list is literally 75 pages long - don't believe me? - check it out   Some mock it as being way overdone, for me I like the rebel nature to have such a big wine list, organize it in a very different manner, and I love the humor and tidbits of wine information you will find sprinkled throughout the list. 

Lastly, oh what a selection!!! I so enjoy perusing this list, and struggle with making a selection from all the usual and unusual selections they offer.  The list is broken down first by whites and then reds, with wines listed by price within each of those sections.

Why by price... well I think the folks at Cowboy Ciao explain it best in a blurb from the wine list itself.. so here it is: 

We believe there is a sea of wine that very few know about or have the chance to try. Rarities from Romania, aromatic Arizonans, bold bubbly from Barossa, Israeli ice wine, it’s a great big globe full of terrific vino and it’s our mission to bring it to you…in the neighborhood of 2000 listings in all.

To accomplish such a task, we needed to rethink how wine lists are traditionally formatted. By region? This list represents 40 plus countries, close to a dozen states and a municipality or two, so that’s out. By grape varietal? Hovering at 275, including countless blends. What does that leave? We chose mainly to organize this list by price. The majority of our guests have a price range in mind when it comes to wine, and we valiantly attempt to provide solid values from $10 to $10,000 (OK, $10,000 for a bottle may not be your idea of value, but in the context of drinking history, sometimes you have to both smell and pay through the nose).

Hybrid. Wine lists don't need to stick to one of the options - some will have an overall arrangement - say by Variety - by may want to highlight a certain selection of wines from one specific country or region - probably aligned with the cuisine they offer.

Choose Your Own. In our age of technology, you might find yourself presented with an iPad instead of a wine list.  Wine list apps allow you search the wine list by wine name, style, price, country, region... whatever you like.  
This was the case when we went to Alizé at the Palms Hotel and Casino. It was very cool, and I probably could have perused for an hour - but I limited my play time to only 5 or 6 minutes, and got back to the incredible views of the Las Vegas strip!  Our future may hold more and more wine lists like this at those special occasion restaurants - very cool!

There are Those Ready to Help You
Overwhelmed... don't be!  You will get better with experience, but if you ever find yourself confused or unsure just ask for help.  Depending on the restaurant there may be a whole sommelier staff, or no sommeliers but a server staff trained on the specifics of the wines offered.

Don't be afraid to ask for help - you can specify the type of wine you like, or even just the wine budget you had in mind and what dishes you plan to order - and let them help out.  You may prefer just to rely on the restaurant staff, or ... (cue next section!!!)

Do a Little Homework
Now that this one-time fad referred to as the Internet appears to be catching on, many restaurants will post their wine lists on line.  I like to come in prepared,  and already have a sense of the types of wine the restaurant offers, price range, and how the wine list is arranged.  I also pick out a couple of red wine options that I might do the trick (bottles of course), and perhaps an option for a glass of white to enjoy with a lighter appetizer.  Be warned though, in a restaurant with a good wine program the offerings will change quite often, so a bottle you picked out from the on-line wine list may not be available.  I have occasionally done some homework on a wine list, and the actual list had almost nothing from the on-line version. In these cases I did get at least get a sense of how the list was arranged, so was more easily able to find another option.  

You may not want to take the time to do this type of homework - and I understand not wanting to make a trip to dinner that much effort. I do it because I enjoy it, and while I sometimes ask for help from the Sommelier if the wine list is full of obscure choices - I mostly prefer to make the wine selection myself. 

Also, the restaurant's wine list may offer some wonderfully obscure wines or wineries that you may want to try. A little homework beforehand can give you a chance to learn more about the wine or the winery to decide if it is worth a try.

Remember What You Ordered
Not so much about the wine list, but a recommendation for wine ordering in general. Remember exactly what you ordered - winery, grape variety, vintage,  and any special designation (single vineyard, reserve, special wine name). Take the time when the wine is served to look at the bottle. The server or sommelier should immediately identify if there is anything different from what you ordered, for example the vintage you ordered is gone, they have the next vintage available.

Why you ask... you never know!  Early in my wine tasting experiences we attended a great tasting on Italian wines.  During this tasting I was introduced to a very intriguing wine from Piedmont - Barolo. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo is typically big and tannic while remaining quite acidic.  The aromas are an interesting blend that can include flowers and road tar.  Not a wine for a spaghetti with tomato sauce, but for Italy's bigger dishes perhaps a meat sauce made from a game animal.  During my Barolo love phase, my wife and I visited one of our favorite Italian restaurants. They usually had some special dishes that were bolder flavored - so I was anxious to order a Barolo and see how awesome it was with a good Italian dish.  The server brings out a bottle, flashes it briefly and says we were out of the '96, this is the '97. OK, he identified a change in vintage...that's cool.  At this point I had ordered a few bottles in restaurants while actually knowing a little about what I was doing, but honestly paid little attention to the bottle when presented to me. This time I did pay a bit more attention and saw the bottle was in fact a 1997, but it was a Barbera.  I told the server, "wait, that's a Barbera"... his response "they are basically the same wine."  You may or may not be familiar with Barbera - but if not the wine does come from the same region as Barolo (Piedmont, Italy), but that is the only similarity. Barbera is a simple, highly acidic "pizza wine." The high acidity goes nicely with the acidity of a tomato based pizza sauce.  I have nothing against Barbera, and will have it with a good pizza in a second, but same as a way dude!  At this point I was afraid I was on the way to becoming a wine snob... I folded my arms, looked at the sever and said "really! Barbera the same as a Barolo, I have never heard that before."  Fluster, the server said "only about 10% of people who come in here would have known the difference" and walked away.  About two minutes later we have a new server who brings back the wine list for me to make another selection!  I wonder how often a little switcheroo happens to an unsuspecting diner?  Best way to make sure it doesn't happen to you?  Read that bottle!!!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - All Chardonnay's are Not Created Equal

Chardonnay evokes thoughts of a big, buttery, oaky white wine that some love and some hate.  This type of Chardonnay has it's place in the world - but you will be missing something if this is the only approach to Chardonnay you ever try.  Oak aging and malolactic fermentation as part of the winemaking process give chardonnay those oaky and buttery characteristics. 

An "un-oaked" Chardonnay is a whole different ballgame - they are aged in stainless steel barrels and are a much lighter, crisper wine.   French Chablis is a very famous version of un-oaked Chardonnay, but there are many others from throughout the world - California, South America, and New Zealand. So ask your local wine shop to set you up... a new favorite may be on the horizon.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2008 Bodegas Del Rosario Bullas Tesoro Seleccion Bullas

I am a big fan of Spanish wine.  Wine is such a part of the culture of Spain that you can count on finding many food friendly, value priced wines from all over Spain.  This wine was from a region I have never tasted before, Bullas in south eastern Spain.  The main red grape variety of the region,  and the main grape in this wine is Monastrell (called Mourvedre in France). They also throw in 25% of Syrah to the blend.  Tesoro translates to treasure - so let's see if it lives up to the name!

Wine: 2008 Bodegas Del Rosario Bullas Tesoro Seleccion Bullas
Region: Bullas, Murcia, Spain
Grape Varieties: Monastrell (Mourvedre) 75%, Syrah 25%
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $14.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear - dark purple at the center/core with a pinkish rim.
Aroma: Very concentrated with lots of blackberry and blueberry - no surprise coming from a warmer region toward the south of Spain. Also a bit of smoke and a hint of licorice. Overall very nice.
Taste: Not as full bodied as I expected from the color and aromas - but not a lightweight either. Overall a nicely balanced wine, but a little too much heat comes through from the alcohol level (14%).

The Grade: I give this one a B+. A nice wine for the price, the only issue I have is the heat from the alcohol. Very interesting and pleasant aromas, a very good everyday wine if you are looking for something more full bodied than many everyday Spanish wines. If you can find it for around $15 like I did - I would say it's a nice value "treasure."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Birthday Dinner for Wino4Life Wife - A Meal Made in Only 72 Hours

Saturday night was the scheduled night for Wino4Life Wife's birthday dinner (undisclosed anniversary of her 29th birthday)... and it was Wednesday night so time to start cooking.  I am not a really inefficient cook - a little inefficient, yes - but does a birthday meal for two really take that long to cook? The answer is yes, if you are making Modernist Cuisine's 72 hour Short Ribs.  Actually, the entire menu was:
  • 72 hour Short Ribs
  • Red Wine Glaze
  • Mashed Potatoes (with Diastatic Malt powder). 
  • Probably some wine!
This was a bit of a roll of the dice, as I have never made any of these thing before...sure I've mashed a tater in my day, but not using Diastatic Malt powder (more on that later). 

72 hour Short Ribs
My new favorite cooking gadget is my Sous Vide water circulator. The recipe for the ribs is pretty simple, buy short ribs, double seal in vacuum bags, setup Sous Vide at 144 degrees, and let them cook for 3 days. 

Not very complex you say?  Hey I had to add water to the thing several times over the two days! Cooking for such a long period of time at a low temperature allows the meat to retain its moisture, but with the low temperature a long cooking time is needed for the meat to become deliciously tender.

Red Wine Glaze
OK, I had the ribs a cookin' in ye good olde boil in a bag, but a short rib really needs a great sauce to complement it. I again turned to my new friends at Modernist Cuisine for a red wine glaze recommended to go with the 72 hour Short Ribs.

This recipe was a little more involved than the ribs... and contained a few ingredients. In fact, to get about 1/3 cup of glaze, the ingredients were:
  • 3 lbs of ground beef
  • 1 lb of sweet onions
  • 1 lb of carrots
  • 1/2 lb of leeks
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 4 cups of water
  • 3 lbs of beef bones
  • Italian Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Bay Leaves
Imagine all those flavors condensed down to 1/3 cup... mmm!!!  The recipe involves browning the ground beef, cooking down the veggies, and throwing it all in a pressure cooker for a couple of hours.  One helpful tip if you try this recipe, start the sauce a day before you need it. After you cook everything in the pressure cooker and strain out the solids,  put the liquid in a bowl in the refrigerator overnight.  The fats will congeal and rise to the top - discard this part and use only the dark brown aspic like stuff at the bottom of the bowl. This will save you from a ton of skimming off fat when you do the final boil down of the glaze.  Also, don't skip the final part of the recipe that calls for dark soy sauce and balsamic vinegar to taste, the glaze is delicious without - but these extra flavors really make the taste pop!

Mashed Potatoes
To make the whole birthday dinner a comfort food experience, you've got to go with the classic companion to short ribs with some mashed potatoes.  For my birthday dinner, my wife made me the potato puree from Joël Robuchon. That recipe calls for 1 lb of butter and a bit of milk for every two pounds of potatoes. It was definitely decadent, but the potato flavor was really lost to me... not that there's anything wrong with a butter puree, but I really like to actually taste the potatoes - that's just how I roll!

Yet again I turned to the folks from Modernist Cuisine to help out with a potato recipe.  Their recommendation was very intriguing indeed. Uber-creamy potatoes with... drum roll please... NO BUTTER OR MILK OR CREAM... wow.  The secret is in something called Diastatic Malt Powder which has an enzyme that breaks down the starch in the potato so that it is smaller, and therefore a creamier potato... or at least that's the idea.

All I did was peel, cube, and boil some Yukon Gold potatoes (boiled with a good amount salt and a bit less sugar) - then drained, added the Diastatic Malt Powder, and put the mix through a potato ricer.  The potatoes then go into a Ziplock bag, and into very hot tap water (about 125 degrees) for 1/2 hour... that's it!

The Wine
A special occasion like the wife's b-day needs a very special wine.  A good excuse to break out a 2008 Darioush Darius II that I've had aging in the wine fridge for a few years.  This wine could definitely age for many more years, so I opened it up early on Saturday morning to give it a good 10 hours of decanter time before dinner. Hey... if the ribs get 72 hours of attention, the wine deserves at least 10!

The aromas were already fairly powerful when I first decanted it... a very good sign.  Lots of blackberry, and a note of wood - but not really oaky, more like cedar.  I couldn't wait to see what 10 hours in the open air would bring out!

The Verdict
As dinner time neared, I had also decided to make a before dinner cocktail, or quoting the movie Easy-A "I hope you don't mind, but we had a few pre-cocktail party cocktails... like before the cocktail party... with cocktails."  When we had the Bocuse d'Or menu at Next Restaurant in Chicago, they kicked off the meal with the New Orlean's classic Sazerac. It was my first and it was awesome. A pretty simple recipe, with a sugar cube, Peychaud's Bitters, Rye or Bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace Bourbon), some Absinthe just to rinse in the glass mostly for the aroma, and a twist of lemon peel.  Very delish if I do say so myself.  I will definitely be making these again... good thing otherwise what would I use up a whole box of sugar cubes???

OK... finally after (only) a little more than 72 hours - time to eat!  I opted to go the full comfort food route and served everything family style.  With the number of our favorite pizza delivery joint handy just in case - we dished up and dug in...

Here's how everything turned out:
  • The Ribs. Wow! Fall off the bone tender! When cooking Sous Vide it is possible to cook meat too long - where it gets too tenderized and is an unpleasant texture to eat. Not the case here after 72 hours - tender but still had a good braised rib texture. I also liked the color was not dark like a well done braised rib - still some pink to it.  I would look for a bit more lean rib next time, I got these at Whole Foods and figured they would be the best, but I think Whole Foods is working on providing more affordable products (trying to shake the "Whole Paycheck" nickname) and these ribs may have been one of those products.  I know ribs have a lot of fat and therefore flavor - but a bit more lean would have been even better.
  • The Glaze. This glaze was not easy to make, several hours (of actually cooking - not boil in a bag!), but the taste was absolutely amazing.  We did not need any more than the 1/3 cup or so that the recipe ended up making - the flavor is so intense, but so An excellent accompaniment to the ribs - if they're going to cook for 72 hours, you'll have time to make this sauce.
  • The Potatoes.  I didn't know what to expect with these potatoes, but I was very impressed with the results. I ended up only putting a small pat of butter on top when served - no other dairy, and no salt since the potatoes cooked in a nicely salty water. The texture was incredible - super creamy,  and no surprise - total potato taste.
  • The Wine. With all this great food, I'm glad I picked a wine that was big enough, and good enough to stand up and not be overshadowed.  I probably should have opened it for a 24 hour decant, but even with 10 hours it had great aromas of blackberry, licorice, and cedar.  The wine had a nice amount of tannins, and a very long finish which matched nicely to the long finish of the intensely flavored glaze. I wish I had a Châteauneuf-du-Pape to try with the ribs and glaze, because that or another Rhone wine is what I usually think of for this type of dish. But this wine was excellent.
Overall a home run in my opinion, and my #1 customer and wife seemed to agree.  Whew! Now I need to start planning for next years Wino4Life Wife birthday dinner... any suggestions???

Monday, February 10, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Take the Time to Smell Stuff!

One of the very interesting aspects of enjoying wine is attempting to identify the myriad of aromas that can be produced by fermenting grape juice and aging it in oak barrels. But to become proficient at identifying smells - you need the time to really smell things you come across. So often I when I smell a wine I know it is a smell I have encountered before - but I struggle identifying what it is. 
Wine Aroma Wheel from UC Davis

So, take some time to smell the fruit you are eating, different types of flowers, chocolates, licorice, coffee, cocoa, bandaids, latex gloves... anything you've ever heard used to describe the smell of a wine. Also, seek out things that may not be common to your area - like gooseberries and currants in the USA to further educate your wine nose.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Portuguese Red - 2009 Quinta de Ventozelo Touriga Nacional Douro

A couple of weeks ago, Total Wine & More had a fabulous coupon - 20% off wine from the "Old World." So I stocked up on a few items from Spain, Germany, Italy, France, and this little number from Portugal.  From the land famous for sweet Port wine, I have found more and more delicious and value priced dry red wines.  I cracked this one open to try on Super Bowl Sunday (without giving too much away - the wine was much better than the game!!!).

Wine: 2009 Quinta de Ventozelo Touriga Nacional Douro
Region: Douro, Portugal
Grape Varieties: Touriga Nacional
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $16.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear, dark purple in color at the core/center with a pinkish rim.
Aroma: Very concentrated dark fruit aromas like dark cherry and blackberry.  A hint of dark chocolate, coffee, and something a bit floral...very nice!
Taste: Very nice and fruity, with a nice long fruit driven finish.  Nicely acidic with a nice touch of tannins. Many of the characteristics of a good port - without all that sweetness!

The Grade: I give this one an A.  A delicious everyday wine, I will definitely get more of this one.  I recommend trying wines from Portugal, either this one or others - as they have a long tradition of winemaking, but have historically exported more of the sweet Port wines. Really interesting varietals are used, like Touriga Nacional - a grape which is to Portugal as the Tempranillo grape is to Spain.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Valentine's Day Special - Pairing Wine with Chocolate

Valentine's day is almost upon us once again. A traditional gift for the lover's holiday is Chocolate - but this year consider pairing that gift of delicious chocolate with the right wine to create a flavor pairing that is out of this world!


Like wines, there are many many different types of chocolate - and finding the right wine can be quite a challenge.  Chocolate can be sweet, bitter, salty, infused with various flavors - all these factors must be considered when pairing with wine.  Find the right pairing - and WOW... the chocolate tastes better, the wine tastes better... everybody wins!!!

Here are some pointers in pairing wine with chocolate - this topic is a hot one, and you will read about many absolutes like never pair chocolate with a dry red wine... which does make some sense when you consider a general rule of food and wine pairing is to never serve a wine with a dish that is sweeter than the wine. 

But one of the best pairing combinations I've ever experienced was a red wine and dark chocolate combination (I talk more about this in a bit)... so don't be afraid to experiment a little!  The bitterness of a quality dark chocolate is able to pair with the bitterness of the tannins of a red wine, and accentuates the fruity notes in the wine. 

With each type of chocolate I've included several recommendations - plus a "Go Wild" option if you are feeling particularly adventurous. 

Wine with White Chocolate
Not technically a chocolate since it doesn't contain any cocoa, white chocolate does provide a nice blank palate to highlight the flavors of a good wine pairing. Always look for a good quality chocolate and avoid “white chocolate” products that contain vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter.

Recommendations: White dessert wines like Ice Wine, Muscat, Orange Muscat, Moscato d’Asti, Sweet Tokaji, Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Sweeter Riesling (Beerenauslese) or even a Demi-Sec Sparkling wine. 

Go Wild: Try a good quality red dessert wine with a fruitier character, like a Vintage Port.

Wine with Milk Chocolate
With Milk Chocolate you do need to take into account the sweetness. Without the bitterness of darker chocolates, the sweetness is the highlight of this chocolate, and therefore needs a sweet wine.  I believe that "darker" sweet wines (e.g. not white) offer more complexity of flavor to go along with a high quality milk chocolate.

Recommendations: Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Italian Vin Santo (If you can find it!), Tawny Port, Ruby Port, Madeira, Late Harvest Zinfandel, and sweeter Rieslings (although a white dessert wine, the complexity and strength of flavor in many sweeter, high quality, Rieslings stand up nicely to chocolate).

Go Wild: If you go for a classic Valentine's day treat with Chocolate dipped strawberries, you can try a different type of pairing.  The addition of a bit of acidity from the Strawberry can let you try a Chardonnay fruity that has some characteristics of baking spices.
Wine with Chocolate & Caramel
When adding some caramel to the mix, I like to stick to the wines with those darker, more caramel like flavors that you can find in Madiera and Pedro Ximénez Sherry.

Recommendations: Madeira, Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Italian Vin Santo, Tawny Port,

Go Wild: If a darker chocolate covers your Caramel you can try a dry red wine. Try a fruity pinot noir that will contrast nicely with the salty caramel flavors.

Wine with Dark Chocolate
With the wonderful bitterness of dark chocolate, many dessert wines will still work as pairings,  but now you can also experiment with dry red wines... and I recommend that you do!

Recommendations:  Ruby Port, Vintage Port, Late Harvest Zinfandel, Maury or Banyuls (both fortified French dessert wine made mostly from Grenache).

Go Wild: Big and fruity dry red wines can make fantastic pairings. Think Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah/Shiraz. Lots of fruit flavor, and don't be afraid of tannins - the bitterness of the tannins is what pairs up with the bitterness of good dark chocolate. One of my favorite flavor combinations of all time is Ghirardelli Espresso Escape Dark Chocolate with a big Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine picks up the flavor of the espresso and provides a super-long, super-complex set of coffee, chocolate, and red fruit flavors that is just stellar.  On my personal list to experiment with in the future - other big tannic wines like Tannat and Barolo with dark chocolate.

Wine with Salted Chocolate
Chocolate with added salt is quite popular - with the added saltiness accentuating the complex flavors of good quality chocolate.

Recommendations: Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Italian Vin Santo, Madeira, Ruby Port, Vintage Port, Late Harvest Zinfandel, Maury or Banyuls (both fortified French dessert wine made mostly from Grenache) 

Go Wild: Amontillado Sherry with a bit of sweetness, and a briny nuttiness can match up nicely with the bit of extra salt added to the chocolate.  A bit of a warning, Sherry wines like this can be an acquired taste - but give them a try with an open mind and you may become as fond of them as I am!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Time to Plan for Wine Spectator Grand Tour

The Wine Spectator Grand Tour is one of my very favorite wine events. It provides an opportunity to meet representatives from hundreds of different wineries from across the world, learn a lot about wines, and taste wines from across the globe. Also - if you go to Las Vegas this year, you can also meet me and Wino4Life wife! You're most likely to find us in the Spanish Wine aisle! See you there!

More than two hundred of the world's finest wineries will pour one of their best wines at each stop.

The Grand Tour this year will be in 3 locations:

  • New York City - April 29, 2014
  • Washington DC - May 1, 2014
  • Las Vegas - May 3, 2014