Archive for March, 2011

Red, White, and One Grape for Two Zins

March 30th, 2011 1 comment

red zinfandel

Zinfandel grapes (image from Wikipedia)

Recently, the Washington Post ran an article recommending various Zinfandels.  Although the recommendations were quite good, particularly the Frog’s Leap 2008, the Washington Post piece confused many wine newcomers.  White Zinfandels are well-known and well-liked, but few non-wine-expert-folks realize that Red Zinfandels exist. 

White Zinfandel makes up 9.9% of U.S. wine sales, which is six times greater than sales of Red Zinfandel.  This could mean people prefer whites to reds, or perhaps many folks are simply unaware that Red Zinfandels exist, which has been my experience. But they are well worth getting to know! Zinfandel grapes thrive in cool, coastal locations–like California’s wine country–and arrived in this state in the early 1800’s.  Red Zinfandels are spicy, peppery wines containing complex berry or dark cherry flavors.  In my own kitchen, they have paired very well with both American and Italian foods.  Hamburgers, steaks, and hearty pasta sauces make for delicious Red Zinfandel companions!  Like Rosés, Red Zins also work well as solo summertime sippers. 

While many people mistakenly refrigerate Red Zinfandel wine, it should be served around 65 °F.  Though this is sometimes “room temperature” to folks experiencing a New England winter, the same can’t be said for the rest of the country!  To keep Red Zins at their ideal temperature, consider investing in a small wine refrigerator that has a setting for serving temperature (as opposed to storage temperature, which is around 55 degrees). 

With all that said, what’s the difference between Red and White Zinfandel if the grape used to make both is the same?  Answer: Red Zinfandel is made using the entire Zinfandel grape, while White Zinfandel is made with naked Zinfandel grapes (the skins have been removed). Skins impart color, flavor and tannins to the wine, creating the characteristic differences between red and white wines.

American Wine “Newbies”: Blame Prohibition

March 28th, 2011 No comments

Contrary to what you may think after reading a recent article about wine “newbies” in Wine Spectator, Americans have been enjoying their wine for quite some time.  Historically, the first Europeans that explored this land dubbed it “Vinland” because of the massive grape vines they saw covering the terra firma.  In fact, the early American colonies included “wine making” as one of their goals in their founding charters.

The first commercial vineyard and winery of the infant United States, named First Vinyard, was established by an act of Kentucky Legislature in 1799 (Two oaken casks of wine produced at this site were sent to Thomas Jefferson in 1805).  Prior to this, Franciscan missionaries established vineyards in California, the first being near San Diego in 1769 (Yes, the toponym “California” was used on maps as early as 1562!).  And let us not forget about the wineries that appeared in the Finger Lakes region in 1860s, the Rocky Mountain wineries, and ones in the Midwest.  Today, in fact, there are almost 3,000 commercial vineyards in the U.S., and each state is home to at least one commercial winery, to say nothing of private wineries.

Marie-Francois-Regis Gignoux’s “American-Landscape”

Given America’s rich wine history, how can it be that the author of the article in Wine Spectator calls Americans “newbies”?  Drawing on his own experience, he states, “Most of us didn’t grow up with wine. My parents never drank wine. Indeed, they didn’t drink anything alcoholic except an occasional cocktail at a party in order to be “sociable.” I’ll bet you anything that the same could be said for most of your parents, too—at least if you’re old enough to be in the Baby Boomer cohort.” The “Baby Boomer cohort” gives us clue about why the author’s parents may have adjusted to a life without much wine: Prohibition.  Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, America’s once thriving vineyards had deteriorated, left unattended for over a decade.  Expert winemakers had passed away, unable to pass knowledge of their craft on to their children, and thus a generation of people grew up unexposed to wine.  What took a few hundred years to develop was destroyed in the blink of an eye (okay, a decade!).  It took many years for commercial American vineyards to recover, reaching almost 3,000 in number by 2003.

Prohibition Makes the Press

After such a drought, it’s no wonder many American people were slow to imbibe after adjusting to a life without wine or spirits. Many families did resume drinking after Prohibition, but now they often bought inexpensive, less-than-ideal jug wines.  In many ways, because of the lasting effects of Prohibition, the claim that “Most American wine lovers are almost as new to wine as most Asian wine lovers” may not be far from the mark in some parts of this country, but the article does not address why this may be so, and also fails to inform the casual reader about America’s previously-rich wine history that is, once again, thriving (and nowhere more so than here in SoCal!).

Classy Storage for Classy Wines: Go EuroCave!

March 25th, 2011 No comments

A Sleek and Modern EuroCave Wine Cabinet

It’s no secret that we love EuroCave wine cabinets!  Especially for someone living in a more contemporary home, these units fit seamlessly into virtually any space with a little bit of creativity.  Not only do they provide a perfect environment for wine, they also compliment your home environment. EuroCave cabinets are aesthetically pleasing pieces of furniture.  There are numerous options from which you can choose while customizing your EuroCave wine cabinet, and the customization process is a breeze when purchasing through Vintage Cellars (If you want to talk to a knowledgeable, friendly wine storage expert about your options, just give us a call!).  EuroCave cabinets are available in a variety of finishes to better match your household’s furnishings, and you can even opt for glass doors to show off your collection!  There aren’t many quality wine cabinets that perform as elegantly as they look; the EuroCave series looks gorgeous and functions just as beautifully.  These wine cabinets are truly gems.

The Wine Doctor Is In!

March 23rd, 2011 3 comments

Wine Ph.D.

With access to information about thousands of wines, all filterable to match criteria including price, varietal, region, and food pairing, Wine Ph.D. by Perk Software allows users to do all of this, plus more.  This informative, elegant program lets you view wine ratings from professional wine publications, rate wines yourself, photograph and catalogue your wines, add personal tasting notes, etc. Wine Ph.D. even gives users access to up-to-date health articles that discuss the benefits of wine, wine trends, popular winemakers, recommended values, and expert tips.  In addition, the application lets you look up wine words and terminology with which you may be unfamiliar. The latest release, version 1.2, even provides current wine lists for select restaurants, allowing users to plan meals around a given wine in advance, or vice versa!  (Perhaps your favorite place to dine is listed?)  At an inexpensive $4.99, this app is ready to find a home on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad (with iOS 3.0 or later.)  Wine Ph.D. is built by Perk Software

Wine Ph.D. Screenshot

See more of our app recommendations here

Simple Label, Complex Wine: the Cahuin Winemaker’s 2008 Select Red

March 21st, 2011 No comments

Cahuin Winemaker's 2008 Select Red

Never judge a book by its cover, or a wine by its label.  The somewhat plain, non-memorable label on the Cahuin Winemaker’s 2008 Select Red gives credence to this old adage.  This delightful, earthy and rich red consists of a fine blend of Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Malbec.  (The Malbec provides exceptional body, with earthy flavors including blackberries and plums.)  In fact, this wine recently took home the Bronze in San Francisco’s International Wine Competition in 2010.  I personally would rate it 91 or 92 points, though it received an “official” rating of 90 points.

Blends such as this, when successful, are so because the balance of varietals is just right; they work together to bring out the best flavor inherent in each.   This well-balanced red pairs particularly well with salads that include Thousand Island dressing, Russian dressing, and meals that may include pasta with rich sauce, pastrami, corned beef, whole potato fries, and caramelized onions.  Even mushroom burgers make a nice pairing, particularly with a bit of bleu cheese is melted atop the mushroom.  And, naturally, this wine goes well with a good cut of steak, like most wines from Argentina.

If, at first, you’re not as taken with this wine as I, have no fear; this is one of those wines that takes time to open up.  After a good 10 minutes, you’ll experience this wine in all its glory. Decanting it would be an excellent plan; I like this classic decanter by Riedel and it’s currently on sale for less than $40!

While it is not a wine that will call to you from the store shelf with an intriguing label, the Cahuin Winemaker’s 2008 Select Red will certainly dress up one of your meals!

Cooking with Chardonnays

March 17th, 2011 No comments

chardonnay grapes

Chardonnay grapes image from

After my pleasant Chardonnay experience in early March, I decided to try my luck at incorporating a few Chards into my recipes.  To my delight, many of my dishes turned out quite well.  First of all, I used some splashes of Chardonnay on pan-fried salmon, covering both sides.  This proved delightful, especially when a creamy parmesan cheese sauce was drizzled over the top of the fish.  Next, I sprinkled some Chardonnay over a few chicken breasts I later coated with bread crumbs and baked.  This, too turned out to be quite yummy, and the Chard complimented the light taste of the chicken perfectly!

The following day, using up some trout in the freezer, I submerged the fish in Chardonnay for 15 minutes, then stuffed it with bread crumbs and sprinkled some dill on top.  Topping the baked fish with melted butter and a pinch of salt was the icing on the cake!  Lastly, I substituted some Chardonnay for half of the butter called for in a much-loved crab cake recipe.  The result was a bit curious at first; however, after adding a few drops of lemon juice atop each cake the rich interplay of flavors made for quite a delight! 

When deciding with Chardonnay to use in your food, consider the following: old world Chards can be either rich or light.  Make sure you use light ones when cooking less-rich dishes so you don’t overpower your dish.  New world Chardonnays are grown in areas that are warmer, and they tend to taste more rich, ripe, and oakey.  Full-bodied wines like these work best with dishes requiring richness, like anything with thick, creamy sauces. 

I hope this post inspires you to take a wine you may not be as familiar with and experiment with it in your cooking.  If you get hooked on cooking with a specific wine, but don’t want to feel pressured to finish the bottle each time, consider investing in a Vintner Wine Dispenser System or other wine preserver–they will keep your half-bottle fresh much longer than just recorking.

Have you experimented with a new variety of wine in your cooking? Tell us about it!

Fooled by Numbers: Wine Ratings and You

March 15th, 2011 No comments
wine rating

Wine Rating (image from Wikipedia)

Have you ever been browsing through a wine selection, and notice that some of the wines have a number rating displayed near them? Many of these ratings are given by fancy, highly paid staff from organizations like Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.  Sometimes, however, staff from the actual wine establishment where you find yourself may have given these wine ratings as well.  Here’s a quick summary of how many wine experts and wine aficionados rate wine: Wine is typically rated on a 100 point scale, although most rating systems regard wines under a score of 50 to be of poor quality. Rating systems usually award some points for appearance, taste, mouthfeel and finish. However, publications and individual reviewers have set their own rating scales and methods, so ratings are not necessarily consistent from one publication to the next.
Many factors contribute to a wine’s rating, and some wines receive higher scores because they score exceptionally well in select qualities; however, they could have missed the mark in others!  A wine may have a fantastic nose, for instance, but a very short finish.  Or, a wine may taste quite good but lack much depth and complexity.  Such catches inherent in this rating system are brought up in Leonard Mlodinow’s interesting-yet-pessimistic book The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

Although a single number cannot convey all the nuances of a wine, it can help us narrow our selection at a glance.  Higher rated wines “tend” to make better gambles.  This can be good if you’re in a hurry to stock up for an impromptu dinner party. If you’re trying to decide between two bottles that differ by only a couple points, you’ll probably be pleased with either selection. Some publications rate wines partially based on how well they believe the wine will age, so you may wish to take that into account if you are considering a case purchase for your wine cellar.

Ever since the adoption of a number system to rate wine, many people–especially those new to the world of wine–mistakenly dismiss wines with less than 90 point ratings.  (This is where a blind tasting works well to overcome a preconceived numerical value.)  Having conducted some of my own research into these numerical ratings by not only trying wines with a wide range of ratings, but looking into how the professionals rate their wines, I have arrived at the following three conclusions:  First, a wine with at least a rank of 80 will be worth your while (as long as it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and if it does, you’ll want to lean toward the highest of ratings).  Second, if there is a rating next to a wine, it means someone actually took the time to pay special attention to that particular wine, so it’s likely to be worth your time to take a closer look as well. Finally, I have found it important to remember the context in which the wine will be consumed. Is this a wine to celebrate your 50 year wedding anniversary, or a wine to have with take-out dinner on a Tuesday night? Numbers by themselves are all relative, so use your common sense when you make your final selection.

How do you use wine ratings? Share your thoughts in the comments!

iWine for Your Wine: A Great iPhone App

March 10th, 2011 2 comments

The ability to consult your own palm-sized wine journal, at any time, is now available for a flat $2.99.  That’s right!  Brought to you by Ageasoft, LLC, iWine is an iPhone app that makes a wealth of wine knowledge accessible at your fingertips.  Packed with extensive wine info, wine experts will be delighted by this handy wine encyclopedia-cum-oenophile.  And if you’re just embarking on your wine tasting journey, there’s a library of wine varietals, varietal types, and regions built right in.  Like having a personal sommelier with a photographic memory, the iWine app allows you to keep track of your wine collection by supplying images of your wines as well; now, you can recall not only the names of your favorite wines, but also the appearance of their bottles–pretty cool if you have an extensive collection of wine to navigate through!  And unlike other apps where wine ratings are automatically given, iWine allows you to personally rate the wine you taste using either a 5 diamond or 100 point rating system.  Nifty!  Compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, this app is definitely going to make an nice addition to my iPhone!

iWine Screen Shot

iWine is available on iTunes AppStore. We’ve already featured lots of wine apps for iPhone and Android–but if you know of a good one we haven’t featured, let us know in the comments!

Avoid the “Cooking Wine” Woes

March 8th, 2011 1 comment

Although “cooking wine” is sold in supermarkets across America, I would never use it for cooking.  The myth that “since wine evaporates while cooking no one can tell the difference” is flat wrong.  If this were the case, why bother cooking with wine at all?  Yes, many sulfates disappear during the cooking process; however, a wine’s essence and characteristic flavor remain, no matter how faint!  Because of this, if you use a cheap “cooking wine” your meal will turn out less-than-desirable.  Take it from me: cooking wines are extremely salty!  Plus, they often contain additional ingredients that will taint the taste of your dish.  If you can’t stomach a wine on its own, cooking with it will certainly not improve your meal. So snag a decent bottle out of your wine cellar or wine cabinet, or make use of a day-old half bottle from the fridge–the one case where a wine you won’t drink is okay to cook with.

If you’re a little creative, wine can easily liven up just about any food.  Here are a few quick ideas you can use in the kitchen when inspiration strikes: drizzle a dry red over a heavy, red meat; add warm wine to meat or poultry to tenderize it more; glaze meats with a butter and wine mixture; substitute wine for water (but don’t do this when making rice!); make a baste from your favorite wine and oil to use on meat and poultry…if you have a favorite way to cook with wine, share it in the comments!

Discovering the “right” amount of wine to use in every dish takes time and experience.  When beginning, it’s best to start with a little and add more as desired.  Sample your dish as needed until you’re satisfied.  Enjoy! Check out these past blogs containing a mouthwatering steak and wine recipe, and a well-known French chicken dish.

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Pin the Tail on the Wine: Blind Tasting with Pleasant Surprises

March 3rd, 2011 No comments

Bottle Shock, a highly amusing film from 2008 featuring a well-cast Alan Rickman, introduced moviegoers to the concept of blind wine tasting.  Based on actual events, the climax of the film occurs when an American wine from California scores higher than a haughty French wine during a blind horizontal taste test.

blind wine tasting

You can use some numbered bags…or just wrap bottles in wrapping paper.

Tasting wines without looking at the bottle–or the cost–and relying on your own experience to rate a wine is an enjoyable challenge.  Blind tastings like this can be extremely enlightening.  What is often surprising, at the end of such a tasting, is discovering the actual price of each wine tasted.  I have attended blind tastings and have seen wines with low taste ratings sold at prices well above what they deserved. On the other hand–and this is always a delight–I have rated wines very highly that were priced much lower than one would expect.  Needless to say, stocking up on gems like these is always advisable! (And may we suggest a nice wine cabinet or custom wine cellar to keep them in?)

Blind tastings are also a terrific way to learn about your personal preferences. You are not being influenced by preconceptions based on rating, price, or bottle logo (the ones with animals on them get me every time!).  Because of this, you’ll often encounter a good wine you would have passed by on the shelf!  In addition to broadening your horizons, blind tasting is simply fun.  If you haven’t attended such a tasting, find an event in your area or better yet, host your own!  The experience is more than worth it.