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Five Tips for Flawless Wine and Cheese Pairings

February 11th, 2014 No comments

8354435679_02e6638c08_oWine and cheese is a classic combination. Whether it takes the form of a lavish spread laid out at a cocktail party, or a simple and elegant course at a dinner party, a wine and cheese pairing is something no guest is ever disappointed to see. But making the perfect wine and cheese match can be intimidating. These five tips break down the process and making finding the perfect wine and cheese combination a snap.

1. The only rule is: there are no rules.

Rules and tips can help you, but they can also make you feel paralyzed. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that the rules are meant to be broken. The most essential thing about choosing a wine and a cheese to pair is to pick something that tastes good to you. Trust your taste buds: if you want to come back for a second bite, your guests will too.

Here are some helpful tips for food and wine pairings.

2. Choose matching intensities.

You don’t want your wine to overpower your cheese or your cheese to overpower your wine. If one flavor swallows up the other, the balance will be lost. The best way to avoid that is to aim for the intensity of your wine to match that of your cheese. Mild cheese pair better with lighter wines, and pungent cheeses tend to pair better with more robust wines.

3. Go by region.

One good standby technique is to pair wines and cheeses from the same region. Similar soils and growing conditions tend to result in flavor compounds that are the same between the wines and cheeses from a specific region. For example, a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pacific Northwest region should pair nicely with a local smoked gouda.

4. Think about presentation.

The saying is true: we eat with our eyes. No matter how beautifully your chosen cheeses and wines work together, your guests just won’t fully appreciate them if you serve them with a flimsy knife for cutting, and crackers that don’t do them justice. Use a wood or marble cheese platter on which to display your cheese, with plenty of cheese knives, and a variety of crackers or a simple french baguette, sliced thinly.

5. Temperature is important.

It will be impossible to appreciate the full flavors of your wines and cheeses if you serve them at the wrong temperature. White wine should be served at 45-50°F, red wines at 50-65°F. Cheese should always be served at room temperature: bring it out of the fridge an hour before you plan to serve it to take the chill off.

How to Navigate a Wine List

January 15th, 2014 No comments

Even the most confident of wine lovers can get bogged down by a wine list that reads like a novel. Here’s how to safely navigate a restaurant wine-list and pick a bottle that’s sure to please everyone at the table.

Step 1: Choose a Color

Start by choosing between white or red by considering what you’ll be eating. You’re out to dinner, after all: the most important thing is that your wine complements your food. But feel free to throw that old “red wine with red meat, white wine with chicken and fish” adage out the window. A better method is to base your wine decision on your dish’s most prominent flavor. A chicken breast simply poached in white wine, for example, calls for a white wine that won’t overpower the flavor. The same chicken breast topped with a Marsala sauce, with its reduced wine and hearty mushrooms, is bold enough to stand up to a red.

Step 2: Balancing Act

Next, consider the heartiness of the dish you’re eating: the dish and the wine should match each other in body or richness. One of the best ways to do this is to consider your sauce. The simple buttery, garlic-y wine sauce in a bowl of linguini with clams plays well with a white wine with some heft, like a California Chardonnay. A pasta primavera with a simpler olive oil-based sauce, however, needs the lighter touch of something like a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Step 3: Match like Flavors

Here’s where you can get really creative. You can match the flavors and aromas in a wine to ingredients in your dish. A dish spiked with verdant cilantro, for example, can go well with a white wine with herbal, grassy notes. A steak topped with a sauce studded with currants would pair perfectly with a Cabernet rich with berry flavors.

Step 4: Think about Structure

The perfect pairing will result in a food and wine match that’s perfectly in balance. Certain components of the food you’re eating can  increase or lessen the acidity, sweetness, and bitterness of  the wine you choose.

Acidic ingredients like citrus juice pair well with acidic wines, making them taste softer and better-balanced. However, if a wine is already balanced, acidic foods can make it fall flat. Likewise, the tannins in a wine interact with the fatty flavors in a dish. Rich foods like steak diminish the appearance of tannins in wine and make it taste smoother. Salty and spicy foods, on the other hand, interact poorly with tannins, and can make a wine taste harsh.

With these four steps, you’ll be able to successfully choose a wine to pair with any dish on the table. But as with all things wine, we encourage you not to feel limited. If you don’t like red wine, don’t let that stop you from ordering that porterhouse. After all, what matters most is that you enjoy yourself. Choose a wine you’d drink by itself, and you’ll always be happy.

See our recommendations for local San Diego shops that carry the wines we love!

How do I know if my wine’s gone bad?

October 22nd, 2013 No comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re out to dinner at a restaurant and are served a bottle of wine you’ve never had before. The waiter arrives and pours you a taste. You take a sip. The flavor is…strange. Is the wine just new and unfamiliar, or is something wrong with it? Unsure of what to do, you tell the waiter it’s fine, then spend the rest of the dinner wondering if you did the right thing.

We’ve all tasted wine that’s gone unmistakably bad. But it isn’t always easy to tell. Here are our most frequently asked questions about wine faults, so that you never wonder again.

1. What is “corked” wine?

Corked wine is wine that has been contaminated with a chemical compound called TCA, commonly referred to as “cork taint.” TCA is formed when fungi (which often occur naturally in wine) come in contact with certain chemicals in wine sterilization products. Infected corks will taint the wine. You’ll know a wine is tainted if it has the smell and taste of damp, soggy, or even rotten cardboard. Cork taint also dampens the fruity taste of wine. Neither pieces of cork floating in the wine nor mold on the top of the cork means that the wine has been tainted.

2. My wine has crystals in it — what does that mean?

Sometimes, you’ll get a bottle of wine with what looks like sugar crystals in the bottom. They are called tartaric acid crystals or “tartrates.” Tartaric acid is naturally occurring in grapes. When wine becomes very cold, or old, it can crystallize. Tartrates are not harmful to the drinker or the wine. In fact, they can be a sign that the wine is high-quality and has not been over-treated while it was being made.

3. My wine is cloudy — is that bad?

Cloudy wine usually indicates that yeast or another kind of bacteria is growing in the wine. Fizziness in wine can signal the same thing. While cloudy or fizzy wine likely won’t hurt you, it probably won’t taste very good.

4. I know it’s bad if wine tastes like vinegar, but what does it mean?

Vinegar-tasting wine means that the wine has been infiltrated by a bacteria called Acetobacter. It usually happens when a bottle has been left open for too long, or can also be a fault of the wine-making process. The reaction of Acetobacter with oxygen creates vinegar, and is actually how vinegar is produced.

5. Can a wine be too old?

Aging wine isn’t always a good thing. Over time, wine undergoes oxidation (this process can happen faster than it should if the cork doesn’t fit correctly or the wine is stored improperly). Wines that have been spoiled by oxidation taste dull and flat, and often turn brownish in color.

6. My wine tastes like struck matches. What happened?

Nearly all wines are made using sulfur dioxide, which helps prevent oxidation. But too much sulfur dioxide causes unpleasant aromas in wine, which smell like struck matches, or sometimes, rotten eggs. Occasionally, the smell is accompanied by an unpleasant tingling sensation in the nose.

Wine Review: 2008 Creō Clajeux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

August 30th, 2013 No comments

For many years, experts thought that the only worthwhile wines in the world came from Bordeaux, France. All that changed in 1976, at a wine competition in Paris known as the “Judgement of Paris.” There, French judges did a blind taste-test that pitted Bordeaux wines from France against Cabernet Sauvignons from California. Much to everyone’s surprise, the California wines blew away the competition.

Since the Judgement of Paris, California has been recognized as one of the world’s best wine regions. One grape California is especially known for is Cabernet Sauvignon. Different California regions produce different kinds of Cabernet Sauvignon. The hillside vineyards in areas like Howell Mountain and Mt. Veeder have thin, less rich soils, producing intense wines that, very like the wines of Bordeaux, need to be aged for years to come to maturity. In contrast, wines from the more mountainous vineyards are often big, bold, and fruity, with deep, dark colors and intense berry characteristics.

In Healdsburg, California, above the Russian River Valley, below the hills of the Mayacamas Mountains, and east of the ocean, sits Clajeux Vineyards. Well-drained, rocky, volcanic soils and cooling breezes late in the day make this area a fantastic producer of Cabernet Sauvignon.

One wine that truly showcases this area is the 2008 Creō Clajeux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has aromas of red licorice and black fruits that are sweet like jam or preserves. There is a hint of flowers: violets and roses. On the palate, the 2008 Creō Clajeux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with blackberry and black cherry. The finish is long and complex, with solid but soft tannins.

The 2008 Creō Clajeux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a rare wine that is suited to both be drunk while young, and also being aged for several years. If you want powerful fruit, drink it now. However, this is also an age-worthy Cab from the Mayacamas, and is likely to benefit from six to eight years in the cellar. For maximum enjoyment, purchase a case: drink one now, and open another every couple of years to experience how this wine changes with age and judge when it has matured to perfection.

 

Jake’s Corner: A Great Cabernet Sauvignon

May 21st, 2013 No comments

Cabernet Sauvignon is often referred to as the “King of Red Wine Grapes.” Though it’s grown in nearly ever major wine-producing country, it is most famously cultivated both in the soils of the Left Band of Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley, Cabernet is one of the world’s most sought-after wine grapes.

Part of what makes Cabernet so special is its versatility. It yields many different styles of wine, from fruit-forward, smooth styles to big, complex wines that showcase their tannins. The flavors it imparts commonly include blackcurrant, plum, raisin chocolate, blackberry, spice and leather.

There are four distinct styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. First is the fruity, fresh, and easy-drinking style. These make great everyday wines, and are smooth with little to no tannins. Then there is the intense fruit category, which makes a big impact on the palate and has detectable tannins. Third is a more complex and elegant style, with soft tannins and smooth, rich fruit flavors. This type tends to be excellent with food. The fourth style is a big-bodied, dense one. These Cabernets tend to be big, with distinct tannins that soften well with aging.

Like most people, I love Cabernet Sauvignon, and am always on the hunt for a great one. On Saturday, I decided it was time to open my only bottle of Backus by Joseph Phelps. Back in 2007, I purchased one bottle of the 2004 vintage and have cellared in ever since waiting for the right time. Well, Saturday, with a dinner of a ribeye, creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes, was it. Here is my opinion:

The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Backus is absolutely mind-blowing. It has a deep ruby color with blackberries, licorice, and black cherry, with a hint of chocolate on the nose. The fruit is extremely well-focused and balanced. The 2004 Backus is a powerful wine with soft, elegant tannins. It is silky, yet pleasantly sweet. It’s a full-bodied, powerful Cabernet — very fruit-forward with balanced acid. The wine danced on my palate with cedar, ripe plums, black cherries and currant.  The finish had a nice hint of mineral a sweetness that lasted a long ten seconds.

After enjoying a wine like this, it makes me wish I had another glass (and an unlimited wine buying budget). If you can get your hands on a bottle (or a case), I’d highly recommend this great wine.

Jake’s Corner: Three Days in Wine Country

February 12th, 2013 No comments

Our very own Jake Austad, master of custom cellar designs, is an expert at touring wine country, and wants to share his tips and tricks. Jake has insider advice on the best vineyards to visit, the best places to eat, and tourist traps to avoid. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of your favorite vino, and hear how an expert does wine country. Check back, because Jake will be blogging regularly in our new “Jake’s Corner” posts.

Day 1:

I would start the morning up north in Calistoga at Chateau Montelena, known almost more for its historical value than for its wines. The winemakers at Chateau Montelena are part of the group that started the Napa Valley wine boom. Tthe first thing I’d do would be to make a noon reservation at Duckhorn (reservations are required). Reserve the estate tasting and tour for a great experience. To learn something a little extra, do the food and wine pairing.

If you managed to resist the food at Duckhorn, I would travel into St. Helena for a late lunch at Brassica (Now called Cindy Pawlcyn’s Wood Grill and Wine Bar). It’s a Mediterranean place that has received rave reviews, and is a personal favorite of mine to boot.  At this point in time, you probably only have time for one more tasting. I would finish at Hall in St. Helena. Since Hall has no appointment needed and stays open until 5:30 PM, you won’t be tied to a tight schedule.  One of Hall’s new releases, a cab, was in the top 10 wines of 2011.

Since I’m a huge Iron Chef geek, I would eat dinner that night at Morimoto. It’s also in the revitalized river walk area in Napa, so if you’re looking to take a stroll before or after your meal, it’s a great place to do so.

Insider tip:  Don’t fall victim to the lure of the Napa Valley Wine Train. This tourist trap has three main pitfalls: 1. Trains are really not that romantic. 2. Unless they have improved the menu dramatically since 2000, the food is awful. 3. The wine list is not that impressive, and what is impressive is so marked up that you can’t bring yourself to drink it.

Day 2:

I would head up the Silverado Trail, especially if it’s a Saturday. The less inexperienced wine tasters will be driving up the 29, so this is a nice way to avoid them. Start the day with a 10AM appointment at Quintessa. It’s a property and vineyard tour, along with the wine caves and a tasting of three or four vintages. Like Duckhorn, it’s appointment-only, so you have to make a reservation in advance. I know the wine are fabulous. It’s also one of the few places in Napa that does estate-grown only. Quintessa is a Bordeaux-style blend that makes only one blended wine every year, so the vintage tasting will be unique.

After that, start heading back to Napa again, and hit Mumm just to clean the palate with some bubbly. It should be time to grab lunch, so I would cut over on Rutherford Road and hit Rutherford Grill for lunch. I love Rutherford Grill, and never miss an opportunity to go. There is a decision to make at this point. Option 1: One more tour at Chappellet, a unique experience that puts you up in the hills, and has some pretty good wine to boot. After a 90-minute tour and tasting, you should have enough time to hit Miner. If you are “toured out,” do Option 2: hit Miner on the way back towards Napa on the Silverado Trial. Most likely, you’ll make a quick visit, since you don’t want to miss your 2:30 tour reservation at Staggs Leap. Again, I’m a sucker for history, and Staggs Leap is another historic winery that started it all and has been around for over 100 years.

After Staggs, your last stop will be Darioush.  This winery doesn’t close until 5PM, and if you have anything left on the palate, they do some great cabs that are always cracking the top 100 wines of the year in the Wine Spectator. Take a nap after before hitting the French Laundry for dinner.  If super-rich French food is to much to stomach, try Coles Chop House or the Napa Valley Grill.

Day 3:

At this point, I’d pack the bags and drive over the mountain to Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley. Make a reservation at Charlie Palmer’s place, Hotel Healdsburg. Start at Zichichi and then drive south down West Dry Creek Road (eventually turning into Westside Rd). It’s a small, twisty, windy road but a offers a unique change from the large-cellar, big tour, big tasting rooms in Napa with little cottages and family-owned wineries. I’d go all the way down to Porter Creek Winery a few miles down. You taste their wines in a little cottage, and often, the winemaker is the guy pouring the wines. Porter Creek is also a fully organic place, tends to bottle a lot of grapes that are normally blended (like cab franc).

From there, start making the venture back towards Healdsburg.  Another great stops on the way is Williams Seleym (always a top 100 producer). It’s not a bad idea at this time to go park back at the hotel and walk around the square in Healdsburg. There is Stephen & Walker, which has a fabulous port, and several other places to check out. And if you need to switch to beer, there is a brewing company in the square. This way, you can take a day without reservations or a schedule, and just do whatever you want,  from a simple sandwich lunch to a pastry at the downtown bakery, to Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen for dinner.

Wine Pronunciation Guide

September 25th, 2012 No comments

Image credit: Dave Morrison Photography

Raise your hand if you’ve ever avoided ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant because you couldn’t pronounce the name. Bookmark our wine pronunciation guide and never fear embarrassing yourself again!

Alvarinho: ahl-vah-ree-nyoh

Albariño: al-bah-ree-nyoh

Barbaresco: bar-bah-RES-coe

Barbera: bar-BEH-rah

Barolo: bar-ROW-lo

Beaujolais: boh-zhuh-LAY

Bordeaux: bohr-DOH

Brut: BROOT

Cabernet Franc: KA-behr-nay-FRAHNGH

Cabernet Sauvignon: ka-behr-NAY so vihn-YOHN

Cava: KAH-vah

Chablis: sha-BLEE

Chardonnay: shar-doh-NAY

Châteauneauf-du-Pape: shah-toh-nuhf-doo-PAHP

Chenin Blanc: SHUH-ihn BLAHNGK

Chianti: key-AWN-tee

Colombard: KAHL-hm-bahrd

Cote Rotie: coat-row-TEE

Côtes du Rhone: koht deu ROHN

Cuvée: koo-VAY

Fumé Blanc: FOO-may BLAHNK

Gamay: GAM-may

Gewürztraminer: guh-vurts-TRAH-MEE-NER

Grenache: gruh-NAHSH

Kir: KEER

Languedoc: lawn-geh-dock

Madeira: muh-DEER-uh

Malbec: mahl-behk

Merlot: mehr-LOH

Montepulciano: mawn-teh-pull-CHA-no

Montrachet: mawn-rah-SHAY

Mourvedre: moor-VAY-druh

Muscat: MUHS-kat

Nebbiolo: neh-be-OH-low

Nouveau: NEW-voe

Petite Sirah: peh-TEET sih-RAH

Petit Verdot: puh-TEET-vare-DOE

Pinot Blanc: PEE-noh BLAHN

Pinot Gris: PEE-noh GREE

Pinot Noir: PEE-noh NWAHR

Pouilly-Fuissé: poo-yee fwee-SAY

Pouilly Fume Poo: yee-foo-MAY

Prosecco: praw-SEHK-koh

Riesling: REES-ling

Rioja: ree-oh-hah

Rosé: roh-ZAY

Sancerre: sahn-SEHR

Sangiovese: san-joh-VAY-zeh

Sauternes: soh-TEHRN

Sauvignon Blanc: SOH-vee-nyawn BLAHNGK

Semillon: say-mee-YOHN

Shiraz: she-RAHZ

Spumante: spu-MON-tay

Syrah: see-RAH

Tempranillo: temp-ra-NEEL-yo

Trebbiano: treb-e-AH-no

Verdelho: vehr-DEH-lyoh

Verdicchio: vehr-KEEK-kyoh

Viognier: vee-oh-NYAY

Zinfandel: Zin-fan-DELL

Grüner Veltliner: Your New Favorite White Wine

September 11th, 2012 1 comment

Austria, home of Grüner-Veltliner.

Summer is coming to an end. But it doesn’t go quietly: the most sweltering weeks of the year are now upon us. The dark, heavy reds of winter are the last thing on your mind. So what to drink?

If you haven’t yet tried Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s dominant white wine varietal, it’s time you did. Grüner Veltliners can vary widely from bottle to bottle, but most are medium-bodied dry wines. Most Grüners are high in acidity, making them refreshingly perfect for hot summer nights. They can vary from fruity, with aromas of apple and pear, to very mineral, to spicy, with notes of pepper.

Grüner Veltliner is a great wine to pair food with: its subtle acidity is a good foil for all kinds of dishes. Austrians serve it with everything from Wiener Schnitzel to strong-tasting vegetables such as broccoli and artichoke. Grüner Veltliner also pairs well with spicy foods: try it with your next Thai or Chinese meal.

Some Grüner-Veltliners are meant to be enjoyed soon after bottling, but others have the kind of complexity that aging agrees with.    If you haven’t tried this varietal before, pick up a few bottles: some to save for a rainy winter day, and some to toast the end of a long, beautiful summer.

Upcoming California Wine Events

July 24th, 2012 No comments

Good morning, wine lovers! At Vintage Cellars, we know you love wine, and we’re pretty sure you love California, too (we sure do!). There are dozens of fantastic wine events in California–in fact, you could probably go to a different California wine event every day for the rest of the summer if you really wanted to. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like us, you simply don’t have the time for a wine event per day. But we’re here to help. Here’s a list of some upcoming California wine events you might want to visit.

  1. Magic & Wine: Really! On August 5 in Malibu, you can hit a wine tasting followed by a David Minkin magic performance. This unusual wine event only has a few tickets left, but other dates are available.
  2. Make a Wish: Drink wine for a good cause. On August 12 in Ventura, you can taste from a list of 100+ wines and bid in a silent auction, all to benefit the Make A Wish foundation.
  3. Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival: From August 9-12, the LA Food & Wine festival will be dishing out fabulous food and wonderful wines. Wolfgang Puck is already sold out, but there’s lots of other options available including Asian themed and caviar events. Check out the lineup–this is about 15 wine events in one!
  4. San Diego Wine Classic: Right here in San Diego, this one’s a bit further off but that just gives you time to plan! November 14-18 in San Diego, it’s billed as being the largest Southern California wine event. There’s a detailed calendar on the website, and it looks like there’s something for everyone.
  5. Cabernet: If you’re into Cabernets, this one might be for you. It’s a pre-release tasting of two 96 point Cabs: the 2009 Robert Craig Mt. Veeder and Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons. August 29 in Carlsbad.
  6. 5 Course Dinner Tasting: Also on the 29th, Groth Vineyards is having a 5 course dinner and wine tasting in the Normal Heights area of San Diego. Also heavy on Cabernets!
  7. Foxen Winemaker Dinner: August 12 in San Diego, Wine Vault & Bistro is hosting a tasting dinner. The food and wine menu are both available and it sounds like a truly delicious evening.

If you’re looking for a great wine event in southern California, these are all great picks. There’s also an extensive calendar of SoCal wine events (as well as other regions) at this website.

Have you been to a recent wine event in California, or know of a San Diego event we missed that’s a must-drink? Tell us about it in the comments!

Dare to Drink Wine by Yourself?

July 17th, 2012 No comments
Enjoying wine alone lets you give it your full attention.

Image from Wine Online Club: wineonlineclub.com

Although there’s a stigma surrounding drinking by yourself, sometimes it can’t be helped!  What if circumstances make it so that you must dine alone?  What if your dinner companions call last-minute, sending regrets, after you’re already seated at your restaurant of choice?  Dining and drinking alone does not have to be a sad affair.  In fact, there are benefits.  You can devote your full attention to your great glass of wine, and since most restaurants now offer “wine by the glass” (as well as half bottles), with the right questions you can turn your no-show meal into a fun “wine tasting for one!”  Here’s how…

Ask for samples.  If you’re going to order a glass of wine, ask your waiter for a few samples of the wines you’re interested in.  In most cases, the response will be positive, and you’ll be able to sample some of the wines you’re considering (at no extra charge!)

Ask about “additional” wines not found on the “by-the-glass” menu.  Quite often, especially as the night progresses, there’s an open bottle of something good sitting in the kitchen.  Why?  Perhaps a decent bottle of wine was opened, but then sent back by another patron?  Perhaps someone ordered just a half bottle of wine, earlier, the other half just sitting around?  You’ll often be allowed to purchase such leftover (and usually more expensive) wine by the glass if you ask!

Order a couple full bottles and share them with other patrons!  You’ll make some happy friends very quickly, and they’ll often offer to return the favor come dessert time!  (Here we come, dessert wines!)

There’s nothing to be ashamed about enjoying wine alone.  And in a restaurant setting, you’re hardly alone; you’re surrounded by the restaurant’s wait staff and other guests!  If you must drink wine alone, relish the moment!  Try for a mini-tasting, ask about “special” wines, or share a bottle.  Some restaurants with walk-in wine rooms, similar to the Vintage Series Wine Room 2600, will even allow single diners to take a peek inside.  It never hurts to ask, and you might spot something really good!  Cheers!