Archive for September, 2014

Wine Mixed Drinks We Secretly Love

September 21st, 2014 No comments

We wine lovers can be a bit, well, snobbish! Or perhaps a politer way of describing us is, discerning. Not for us the $4.99 jug of alcoholic grape juice stacked up at the end of the supermarket aisle. No, we have refined palettes, educated tastes and we wouldn’t dream of sullying our favorite indulgence.

Actually, that’s not true, is it? ‘Fess up, we all have a secret passion for mixed drinks made with wine. And there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with that; the fact that we enjoy a wine based cocktail is not in conflict with our appreciation of wine in its pure form.

Here are some of our favorite wine based mixed drinks. If you haven’t tried these, go ahead, indulge!

Wine Mixed Drinks

The Spritzer

A spritzer is a mixture of white wine and something sparkling – generally soda water. The trick is to find an inexpensive white wine, preferably one with plenty of fruit, and to serve the whole thing very cold. Half and half is the right proportion, and top off with a slice of lemon or lime. Spritzers are perfect for very hot weather or for parties. They are thirst quenching, have a summery feel, and yet allow the flavor of the wine to be enjoyed. Alternatives to soda water are ginger ale and lemonade, but, most wine lovers feel this is a flavor too far.

The Bellini

This classic cocktail was invented in Harry’s Bar in Venice, a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway. It combines champagne and peach, and is just a perfectly delicious concoction.

You take a third of a glass of peach purée or juice, preferably fresh made from perfectly ripe Italian peaches, and two thirds of a glass of champagne. Add the champagne to the peach, and stir with a swizzle stick. Garnish with a slice of peach on the edge of the glass.

They can also be made with raspberries or apricots, but be sure the fruit you choose is fresh and full of flavor.

Bellinis are rather decadent, and are an excellent choice for a wedding where some of the guests are non-drinkers. Everyone gets to drink something lovely to toast the bride and groom, the virgin version uses sparkling apple juice instead of champagne.

Mulled Wine

This time our wine is red, and served warm. One of my most cherished memories is of the annual carol services at a thousand plus year old church in rural England. Unheated and candlelit, the entire village packed into the ancient church, where they read and sung the traditional nine lessons and carols. All the while, at the back of the church, the wine was being mulled and the mince pies were being warmed. The perfume of wine and spice and pastry was indescribably tantalizing, and at the end of the service, all gathered to make merry and drink the delicious brew.

Here is an English recipe:

  • 2 bottles of robust red wine – not your finest, but something good – a meaty Cabernet Sauvignon perhaps.
  • 2 large oranges sliced
  • 2 large lemons sliced
  • 1 large orange stuck with about 20 whole cloves
  •  (Tip – wash the citrus fruit in hot water before using to get rid of the wax coating – or buy organic)
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons of cherry brandy or other fruity liqueur

Put all the ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan, bring to just below boiling and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Don’t let it boil, as this will evaporate the alcohol. Serve in glass mugs or heavy wine glasses, with Christmas cake, mince pies or gingerbread. It’s Christmas in a glass!

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The Importance of the Correct Serving Temperature for Wine

September 13th, 2014 No comments

There is a tendency among those who know no better to serve every kind of drink at as close to sub-zero temperatures as possible. What do you say to your dear friend who, when you arrive at their house for dinner, takes your proffered bottle of fine claret and declares, “Don”t worry, we’ll put that straight in the fridge, it’ll be nice and cold by dinner time!”

Temperature for WineHeathens!

Yes, there are many heathens among us. We just have to remember, that when it’s red wine, you can at least allow it to stand in the glass until it has reached an acceptable temperature. And very few people don’t realize that white wine should be served cold.

So, Why All the Fuss?

When we taste, we taste four main elements – sweet, salty, sour and acid. (Eastern cultures add one more, savory.) To enjoy all the subtleties of flavor, we need our olfactory organ, in other words our nose. Wine doesn’t release its full array of flavor unless it is served at the temperature at which it releases those fragrances and aromas best; it’s that simple.

The Temperature for Reds

In general terms, we talk about reds being served at room temperature. But which room? A Scottish croft heated by a dim peat fire on a snowy February night? Or a veranda on a summer’s day in tropical South America, where at twelve noon, the natives swoon, and no further work is done?

It’s not worth being obsessive, although when you are enjoying fine wine in private, a little obsession is acceptable. When serving red wine in company, or drinking it in a restaurant or bar, the wine should be served just a few degrees lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow it to warm very slightly in the glass, enjoy the aromas that develop, and then start to sip when it has warmed up a couple of degrees. Sweeter red can be a little warmer, sparkling reds a little cooler, roses a little cooler still.

The Temperature for Whites

Warm white wine tastes flat and dull, quite horrible. Whites are nicest served at around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Much colder, and they will have no discernible bouquet, and you may as well drink water or fruit juice. So, keep white wines in the refrigerator for several hours before you plan to serve them, and if they have got too cold, allow the temperature to rise a little by taking them out before you intend to serve them.

Ice in Wine

If you live in a hot climate, and are enjoying some of fresco wine drinking, then it is by no means foolish to lob a few ice cubes into your wine to keep it at a drinkable temperature. We are of course talking about quaffing wines here, not fine wines. Plastic ice cubes can be used if you are concerned about diluting your wine, but, as you are likely to be drinking at a fairly steady pace when it’s warm, you might actually appreciate a little water in your wine, as is traditional in all wine producing countries on informal and family occasions.

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The History of American Wine Making

September 4th, 2014 No comments

The history of American wine making goes back to the very first settlers, who arrived to find that there were wild grapes growing which could make wine of a sort. In fact, it’s possible that indigenous people were making wine long before this, but unfortunately we don’t have any reliable records to prove that.

The wine that was made from wild grapes was not pleasant to European taste, and experiments began to grow the more familiar vitis vinifera, the first plants of which were established as early as 1629 near San Antonio, New Mexico.

American Wine Making

Until the 19th century wine production continued at a low level, but then came the discovery of a native grape, Catawba, which made a very decent hock like wine. Vineyards of Catawba were established in Ohio, and a wine was produced which was said to rival Champagne. Unfortunately, these vineyards were wiped out by a fungus, but wine making continued in other areas, particular around Lake Erie and in New York State.

One of the driving forces of wine making was the need for communion wine, but the influx of Europeans from wine drinking countries meant that there was also a ready market for good home produced wine for the table.

The Californian industry was established in the mid eighteenth century, the need for communion wine being again the driving force. The local wild grapes made poor wine, so root stock was imported from South America, the Criolla grape. This made acceptable but relatively moderate quality wine.

An immigrant from Bordeaux, France, Jean-Louis Vignes, decided to try and improve the quality of wine produced, and imported vine stock from his home country. By the mid nineteenth century his vineyards were producing a thousand barrels of decent wine a year.

Because of its more suitable climate and soil, Californian production moved to Sonoma Valley, where General Mariano Vallejo became an important producer. The real boost to quality wine production in California came when Agoston Haraszthy, considered to be the father of modern wine making in California, purchased dry sloping land and advocated a no irrigation technique which produced grapes with excellent flavor and concentrated sugars. Eventually he was tasked by the US government to bring quality vine root stock from Europe to develop the American wine product, and so began the rise in quality of American wines that we so enjoy today.

California became the center of the wine industry by the late nineteenth century, but due to natural disasters such as insect plagues, the San Francisco earthquake (which on its own destroyed thirty million gallons of wine) the Great Depression and of course, prohibition, the industry fell on seriously hard times. It survived by producing communion wine, which was not prohibited, and producing wine in small “home-made” quantities, which was also legal during Prohibition.

When the wine making industry was re-established after Prohibition, American tastes had coarsened, and the demand was for sweet “dago” wines. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the entire industry took a turn for the better, with the establishment of American Viticultural Areas. With the encouragement of the University of California, Davis, the Californian wine industry in particular began to improve its vineyards, introduce better varieties, and work on producing the world beating wines which we enjoy today.

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