Monday, June 30, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Eat This Drink That Series - Hot Dogs

An american classic meal that can be made better by the right wine pairing. In deciding what to pair - it's really all about the toppings.  So right after singing a chorus or two of "Who Let the Dogs Out...Who...Who?" check out my pairing advice.

Eating this?:

A hot dog in one of three configurations:
  • A simple hot dog with mustard, and maybe a touch of sauerkraut to add a nice acidic bite.
  • The delicious, topping packed Chicago dog with mustard, neon green relish tomato slices, pepper, pickle spear, and celery salt.
  • The chili dog - topped with a great chili (no beans please!), cheese and onions.
Drink this:
  • A simple hot dog can be paired nicely with a simple white wine, but I believe the way to go is a dry but fruity Rosé - just make sure it is a lighter colored wine which will tend to be lower in bitterness.
  • For the Chicago hot dog, a lighter white wine is best. A fruity Riesling from Washington State or Australia is a nice pairing. Sauvignon Blanc is another good choice with a good amount of acid, plus the grassy notes of the wine pair nicely with the various toppings.
  • A chili dog and a beer is always a good pairing, but a good hearty chili is also a nice partner with a fruity Red Zinfandel or Pinot Noir. 
Avoid this:
  • The Chicago dog's peppers, and spice from the chili on our Chili dog will not play nicely with big tannic red wines. The spice will accentuate the alcohol and throw the wine off balance.  This also goes for big oaky Chardonnays as well.
  • For the simple hot dog and the Chicago Dog, the acidity of the toppings needs a wine with a good amount of acidity. Avoid a Gewürtztraminer that may be too low in acid to hang.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Central California White - 2011 Zocker Grüner Veltliner

Grüner Veltliner, that white wine from Austria is one of my go-to white wines for food pairing. With aromas and flavors of citrus and herbs, it's like a squeeze of lemon and some fresh herbs to accentuate a dish.  My local Total Wine & More only carries a few brands of this wine - so I was intrigued when walking by the tiny Austria section and saw a new brand - Zocker. Wait... Edna Valley? Is there also an Edna Valley in Austria? Nope, this is a Grüner Veltliner from Central California, but stuck in the Austria section by the folks at Total Wine instead of getting banished to the "other white wines" section of the store. This island of misfit whites is home to such cast outs as Chenin Blanc, Viognier, and Torrontes.  So, after considering switching to Hugl, my usual Austrian brand, I decided to be adventurous.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Get to Know your Grapes Series - Syrah a.k.a. Shiraz

"Once I saw this wino who was eating grapes, and I said, 'Dude, you have to wait'" 
- Mitch Hedberg

Syrah Grapes on the Vine
As you may already know, Syrah and Shiraz grapes are one in the same. The name Shiraz is used mostly in Australia, South Africa, and some other new world wine areas.  Some wineries in other areas will also use the Shiraz name to denote that they are attempting to make their Syrah wine in a typical Australian style - big, concentrated and fruity. Syrah on its own can make big, tannic wines that can rival the big Cabernet Sauvignon wines. In Australia, Shiraz is what put their wine industry on the map.  Historically, Syrah was the key red grape of the Northern Rhone in France, where up to 20% of the white grape Viognier is blended with the Syrah to tone down the “bigness” of the grape and to add some great floral and white fruit aromas. In the Southern Rhone, Syrah is also used as a blending component with Grenache playing the role of lead grape.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Eat This Drink That Series - Picnic Time

The summer months means its time to pack up some good food and good wine (for those of legal drinking age) and head out to enjoy the outdoors.  Unless like me you live in the desert, in which case we just wait for November to roll around so we can get our proper picnic on. 

Eating this?:
  • Picnic Grub. All picnics are not created equal, but here I'm talking about lighter cheeses, ham, cold chicken, tuna salad sandwiches, fresh fruit, and of course some salty snacks.
Drink this:
  • Riesling.  A well chilled Riesling with a big of sweetness (an off-dry wine, not a sweet dessert style wine) will go nicely with a big variety of foods. I especially enjoy the interaction of a fruity Riesling with lightly smoked meats or cheeses. I am not talking about the "smoked mozzarella" where they package the stuff in liquid smoke, but something that was actually smoked.
  • Bubbles. A simple sparkling wine - white or rosé is also very versatile, and can help turn a picnic into an even more special event. No need to go for anything expensive, just a simple California Sparkling wine, or my favorite a Spanish Cava - and you are good to go!
  • Sauvignon Blanc. Especially if you are having any salads with acidic/vinegar based dressing or anything with fresh herbs - Sauvignon Blanc is a great choice. Stick with the crisp, stainless steel fermented and aged wines and not the heavier versions that see some time in oak barrels. 
Avoid this:
  • Gewürztraminer. If someone points you in this direction, and some do for a picnic wine - they are not taking into account that this wine (although fun to say  - gah vertz trah me ner) is actually not a very easy wine to match up with food. It can be high in alcohol, low in acidity and is really best with stronger cheeses and rich, fatty dishes.  It is a very aromatic wine that is nice to sip on a hot day - but before or after that picnic only!
  • Avoid Big Reds. Unless your going to be grilling up a steak at the park, or your basket is full of stronger cheeses and sausages - leave the big red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah at home.  Lighter, fruitier reds like Pinot Noir or a Crianza Rioja would be better if you want to drink something red. Better yet - go just a little red and choose a Rosé.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Macedonian Red - 2011 Tikves Vranec Special Selection

Quick quiz - where is Macedonia located? My education through the years did not leave me with a lot of geographical knowledge and in fact I have learned more since I've started learning about wine than all my years in school.  Meeting some friends for dinner one night at a great little spot in Tempe, AZ right near to Arizona State University (Go Devils!) called House of Tricks.  Our dining companions had already selected a bottle of wine with our server's assistance.  How cool!  A wine from Macedonia, a country that Google would later inform me was located just north of Greece. Also, a grape variety I had never even heard of before - Vranec, which is (shout out again to Google) a native Macedonian variety.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Get to Know your Grapes Series - Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon on the Vine
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the wines you will most often hear as the perfect pairing to a beautifully prepared steak. With the right combination, both the wine and the steak can end up tasting even better - what I refer to as an epic pairing.  But who is this Cabernet Sauvignon?  Shouldn't we know a bit more about this grape that we are entrusting with our wonderful New York Strips, Ribeyes, and Skirt steaks?

This grape that can produce monstrous wine, full of fruit and tannin in some parts of the world, while also playing a role in softer and more elegant wines in France.  In fact, quality red wines from the left bank of France's Bordeaux region will almost always have Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary grape, blended with other grapes to mellow and round out the Cabernet.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Eat This Drink That Series - Spicy Hot Dishes

Feeling hot, hot, hot?  Dishes that are spicy hot from cuisines such as Mexican, Indian, and Thai can prove challenging to pair up with wine, but... challenge accepted!

Eating this?:
  • Dishes with heat from the capsicum in peppers. Foods with lots of spice, but without the heat are not quite as challenging to pair.
Drink this:
  • A wine with some sweetness from residual sugar or the perception of sweetness from being a very fruit forward wine - Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and some Rosés provide that sweetness.  Fruity Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Pinot Gris will also work nicely.
  • Bubbles! A simply, fruity sparkling wine can be a great companion as the fruit will balance the spice, and the carbonation can help cleanse the palate of the heat from the dish.
Avoid this:
  • Big wines. Spicy hot food will accentuate the alcohol in the wine, make high tannins wines taste even more tannic, and highly oaked wines will take even "oakier." This holds true for big reds as well as whites - an oaky Chardonnay will not pair well with the heat either.
  • Subtle, delicate wines.  You don't want to break out any of you old bottles, or super subtle wines or they will be lost against the strength of the heat in the food.  Your taste buds won't be able to detect the subtleties of the wine after being bombarded by the heat of capsicum!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Sonoma Red Blend - 2011 Carlisle Two Acres

Carlisle makes some great Zinfandels and Syrahs which I have enjoyed very much in the past.  When I saw this blend I was intrigued, especially when I had to break out my wine books to lookup the Peloursin grape, a name I've never before seen on a wine bottle. Peloursin was crossed with the Syrah grape to make what we know as Petite Sirah.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Food and Wine Pairing - It's More about the Don'ts than the Dos

Finding a great food and wine pairing can be a daunting task. If you are trying to find a wine to match a specific dish, all the elements of the dish can impact a pairing.  A big tannic Cabernet Sauvignon is typically a great match for a beautiful mid-rare steak, but through a heaping spoonful of a spicy Argentinian Sauce on top, and suddenly that classic match begins to fall apart a bit.  There are a ton of factors to consider in finding a great pairing. If it is a main course - what is the protein? What kind of sauce? What is the overall flavor profile? It it spicy, acidic, sweet, bitter? A lot of things to consider, and that is why there is an profession that deals largely with this challenge on a daily basis - the Sommelier.

But what if you don't have access to a good Sommelier every time you need to figure out a food and wine pairing, don't worry.  The simple truth is that not every food and wine pairing needs to be great. Don't get me wrong, finding a great pairing in one of life's great joys. To find an epic wine pairing can be a life altering event (for me at least).  Not every pairing needs to be great, because there is nothing wrong with ending up with a GOOD wine pairing. 

To find a good wine pairing, my recommendation is not go get overwhelmed with a myriad of rules of food and wine pairing, and just focus on those few things you need to avoid.  What? Blasphemy! What if someone ends up with a white wine with a steak.  Grilled steaks in Italian cuisine can be marinated with lemon juice and served with a grilled lemon.  These flavors can match nicely with a big bold Chardonnay. Boom - you did it, no laws were broken, no arrests were made - a steak with a white wine and it will be a GOOD, but maybe not GREAT pairing. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Eat This Drink That Series - Summertime BBQ

The good ole summertime means ribs, steaks, meat, meat and more meat!!
Eating this?: 
  • BBQ Ribs or Steak with a Good Tomato based BBQ Sauce
Drink this:
  • Red Zinfandel is a great go-to wine, stick to the fruitier styles.
  • Syrah is my favorite, especially for any smokey BBQ. Again the fruiter styles will pair best.
Avoid this:
  • A Big Oaky Chardonnay.  A big Chardonnay can pair well with a piece of meat simply grilled, but the BBQ sauce and the potential for both sweetness and spice will not make for a happy coupling.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - South American White - 2011 Bodega O. Fournier Torrontés Urban Uco

So have you every heard of Torrontés before?  If not it is a white wine that you should get to know. Versatile for food pairing, great for sipping on a hot day, and like many wines from South America - great values can be found. Today's bottle clocks in at a mere $8.  Let's drink!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wine and Cheese Pairing - Two Great Tastes that Taste Better Together

Wine and cheese can pair up to make some of the most intriguing and satisfying food pairing combinations in the whole wide world. The problem is there are so many different types of wine, and so many different types of cheese it can be daunting to figure out a good match up.  The availability of  a good cheese shop used to be restricted to the culinary capitals of the world.  However, now with small artisan cheese shops on the rise throughout the countyr, and stores like Whole Foods bringing a vast array of cheeses to your neighborhood it is now easier than ever to find the right cheese to go with the wine you are serving.   Sometimes I select the cheese first, but mostly I decide the wine I want to serve, and find a cheese with characteristics that will complement the wine.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Summer Heat will Destroy Your Wine!

Feelin' Hot Hot Hot!
We are having record breaking temperatures of 110 degrees in Arizona and it's only the first of June! Time to provide a friendly reminder that heat (and it doesn't have to be over 100 degrees!) will damage a wine very quickly. 

Any temperatures over 75 degrees can start to flatten a wines flavors, and higher temperatures can cause a wine to taste "stewed" - which means tastes like raisins or (oh boy!) prunes!). So when buying wine this summer, make sure it is your last stop before heading home - or you could end up with an unpleasant "cooked" wine.