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Posts Tagged ‘cabernet’

Don’t Blame the Oak

December 1st, 2011 No comments

Oakiness: you read about this quality on some wine bottles, along with acidity, tannins, and sweetness. How long a wine ferments in oak barrels does impact its taste, nose, and texture, but a lot of winemakers don’t like to discuss this part of the aging process.  In recent years, they’ve become afraid people will jump to conclusions that their wines are too “oaky”, meaning that the grape flavor is overpowered by heavy oak flavors.  And winemakers have good reason to fear; oak aging is often wrongfully blamed for wines that are too dry, dull, tannic, or thick.  (The real cause behind such wines is almost always unripened grapes, not oak aging, however!)

Oak Wine Barrels

Oak Wine Aging in Barrels, photo by Sanjay Acharya from Wikipedia

While inferior wines aged in oak are abundant, so are several of the world’s most prized, quality wines; these gems possess an intriguing degree of complexity (plus have a fantastic shelf life) because of the oak aging process.  Wines that benefit the most from oak aging are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay.

When discussing such wines aged in oak, words like leather, cedar, mushroom, and vanilla may be familiar to you.  These flavors have been perfected over the years by fantastic winemakers who still produce oaked wines.  (Do a little field research, i.e. tasting; they are out there!)  You can usually tell a quality, oak-aged wine with ease: enhanced by the oak, it tends to be much smoother, more rich, softer on the tongue, and better balanced than a non-oaked wine.  Of course, you will taste some oaked wines that miss the mark entirely, but remember that in these instances the reason for the wine’s failure was not the oak, but rather the initial grapes.  Think about the old computer programming phrase “garbage in, garbage out,” (abbreviated as GIGO).  With computer programming, as well as winemaking, the final product is only as good as the quality of the initial input, or grapes, in our case!  For more information about the science of aging wine, visit the Vintage Cellars Wine Storage Education Center.

Music and Wine, by Dave Matthews

November 29th, 2011 No comments
Dreaming Tree Wine Bottles

Dreaming Tree: a collaboration between Dave Matthews and Steve Reeder

Dreaming Tree…  That’s a song title, right?  Actually, it’s the product of Dave Matthews’ musical mind, along with winemaker Steve Reeder’s wine talents.  When Matthews was performing at Robert Mondavi Winery, Steve Reeder was there and conversing with representatives from Constellation wine brand.  Ideas centering around the perfect union of wine, food, and music were flowing, and someone asked Reeder’s opinion about working with Dave Matthews to create wine.  After a little research, Reeder called Matthews “a true artist,” in the sense of the multi-talented artists of the Renaissance, adding that Matthews also has a small Virginia winery, as well as a farm.  In short, Reeder was delighted to initiate a collaboration.  Reeder sent Matthews some Simi wines to sip, and Matthews reported back what he liked, and why he liked it.  After some trial blends, the duo of “Dreaming Tree” has produced three new wines.  These include a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend.  Sold at around $15 a bottle, the wines are “Wine Institute certified sustainable” meaning that their bottles are lightweight and eco-friendly.  Reeder commented that Dave is concerned about being socially responsible, and that this type of packaging is the “right” thing to do “for the right reasons.”  Reeder also commented that just as Dave Matthews loves music, so does he love wine!

Wine Review: Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

September 22nd, 2011 No comments
Gnarly Head 2009 California Cabernet Sauvignon

Gnarly Head 2009 California Cab

I’ve been a big fan of Gnarly Head’s Cabs for many years, and the Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is no exception.  This regal, concentrated wine is rich with dark fruit flavor (currants, black cherries, and tart cranberries), and has a velvety “cab” texture that briefly exposes its well-integrated tannins just before a subtle taste of cloves and violets.  Its consistent, black peppercorn “spice” Riedel Sommeliers Magnum Wine Decantermakes it a perfect companion for meals with meats.  Traditional “steak and potatoes” will always be a good combo, but the wine seems to pair even better with lamb dishes; lamb chops, roast leg of lamb and rack of lamb are perfect companions for the Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.  The wine works cooperatively with Italian dishes, too, especially pastas with tomato or cheese sauces, or meatballs.  A glass to accompany a robust cheese ravioli or tortellini plate is quite nice!  And decanting a bottle makes it even more immediately amazing.  Try using a stately Riedel Sommeliers Magnum wine decanter to help you quickly open this impressive wine. Cheers!

What’s Up With Tannins?

July 13th, 2011 No comments

Recently, we recommended serving a Cabernet with steak and butter-rich foods, partly because of the wine’s tannins.  But what are tannins, actually?

Tannins are polyphenolic compounds naturally found in plants that bind to proteins and other organic compounds.  In other words,  they are naturally found in the skins, stems, and leaves of grapes, and they are attracted to proteins, like those in meat.  Thus, pairing highly-tannic wines with protein-rich dishes makes them seem less astringent, much smoother.  The wine’s tannins race toward the meat instead of your saliva!

Grapes that have very thick skins, like Cabs, naturally give rise to more tannic wines, as do juices that spend more time sitting in their skins after being pressed.  This is why red wines have a greater tannic content that whites; juice from white grapes is not kept in lengthy contact with the skins after pressing.  A wine’s texture is also impacted by the volume of tannins.  An astringent, dry, tart-like quality can be “felt” in youthful reds with high tannic content.  Because tannins mellow over time, however, older well-aged reds do not possess this feisty quality.  (This is one reason why aging wine appropriately is important.)

Because tannins are produced naturally, you may not be surprised to hear that several of your favorite foods also contain them: walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, cloves, cinnamon, red and white beans, smoked fish and meats, and chocolate liquors, just to name a few!  Tannins have even been known to display antibacterial properties, according to a study conducted by Hisanori Akiyama, Kazuyasu Fujii, Osamu Yamasaki, Takashi Oono and Keiji Iwatsuki.  For more info about tannins and related topics, check out the article “The Science of Aging Wine” in Vintage Cellars’ Wine Storage Education Center.

bowl of strawberries and blueberries, fruit with tannins

Image courtesy of art.com

Wine Review: 2007 Forefront Cabernet Sauvignon by Pine Ridge

July 4th, 2011 Comments off
2007 Forefront Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

Image courtesy of Snooth.com

The delicious, first-class 2007 Forefront Cabernet Sauvignon pours out a regal, dark purple.  With a powerful nose consisting of aromas including blueberries, raspberries, slight truffle, leather, and light vegetable notes, this scintillating wine pleases before it is even sipped.  On the tongue, it certainly demands attention, too!  Surprisingly well-balanced for such a young Cabernet, it is mouth-watering, rich, and meaty.  Its pleasant berry tastes also mix splendidly with well-integrated, smooth tannins.  The finish, excellent and long, gives rise to hidden coffee, dark cherry, and chocolate flavors.  Try a bottle with steak and butter-rich dishes to neutralize the tannins and bring out the wine’s inherent fruit flavors.  Or, match the wine’s oak influences by serving with grilled or smoked meats.  And for tasty dessert ideas, this wine pairs exceptionally well with dark chocolate recipes.  This is a big, harmonious, excellent wine worth every penny!  Open a bottle today, and consider saving a few sips for friends using The Keeper Wine Preservation System.

The Keeper Nitrogen Wine Preservation System

Wine and Food: What Not To Mix

Wine and Food Pairing pic courtesy of pjwineblog.com

We’re often told what wines go well with certain food items, but we rarely discuss which wines and foods don’t mix well.  Here’s a few “don’ts”

  • Though a Chardonnay pairs well with chicken, salmon, and creamy sauces, it fails to delight when sipped with hot, spicy foods!
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  • Even a good bottle of Pinot Noir can become offensive when served with hot and spicy foods, and vice versa.
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  • If you’re having a semi-spicy dish filled with tomatoes, it’s best to avoid serving Pinot Grigio–the wine often mistakenly believed to “go with everything”.
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  • Dry Rieslings do not mix well with sweet foods and sugary dessert items.
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  • Neither will Sancerre or a Merlot (though many people often try the latter and are surprised by the unpleasant result!)
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  • When serving fish dishes, avoid serving a Shiraz.  And even a decent Cabernet may be too much for select fish dishes–it depends on the fish, and your taste!

  Remember: it’s all about balance.  You don’t want a strong wine to overpower a light food item, or a hearty dish to overpower a lighter wine.  Have fun with your wine pairing adventures, and refer to the advice above to avoid any (unpleasant) surprises!

Wine Recipe: Boeuf Bourguignon

September 25th, 2010 1 comment

Boeuf Bourguignon with pastaAs the cold weather approaches, my tastes start changing.  After months of craving chilled Rosé or Pinot Grigio, I start to want deeper, richer wines.  I’ll start with rich, buttery Chardonnays, turn to Pinot Noirs, and eventually end up wanting only the biggest, boldest reds, like Cabernet Sauvignons.

My cooking starts to reflect this change, too.  I begin to shun salads, and leave the grill alone for weeks.  I cook soups, roasts, and rich, thick stews.  My favorite way to combine my cravings?  Cooking with wine, of course!  Today, let’s talk about a classic: Bouef Bourguignon (you can call it Beef Bourguignon or Beef Burgundy too; I won’t judge).

This is my grandmother’s recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon.  It uses a good dry red wine, like Burgundy or Chianti, and it’ll satisfy those cravings for a dish rich with the flavors of wine.  Enjoy!

Grandma’s Boeuf Bourguignon

Ingredients:

1 3-pound filet of beef, trimmed and cut into large pieces

1/4 lb bacon, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups wine

1 1/2 cups beef stock

1 T. tomato paste

A few sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

1/2 pound pearl onions, peeled (you can buy already-peeled frozen ones to save yourself the work)

8 carrots, cut into large slices

2 T. butter, room temp, and 2 T. flour (to make a roux)

1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced

minced parsley for garnish

Directions

Heat a pan over medium-high heat.  Salt and pepper the meat.  In a few tablespoons of olive oil, brown the meat on both sides until it is nice and brown on the outside but very rare inside, 2-3 minutes per side.  Remove the meat and set aside.

Turn down the heat under the pan to medium-low.  Saute the bacon until browned and crisp.  Drain all but 2-3 tablespoons of fat from the pan.  Add the garlic and cook for no more than a minute.

Deglaze the pan: pour in the wine, and with the heat turned up high, scrape and swirl the pan until you’ve loosened all the delicious brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the stock, thyme, bay leaf and tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, turn down to a high simmer, and let it cook for 10-15 minutes.

Strain the sauce and return it to the pan.  Add the onions and carrots and let simmer until cooked (20-30 minutes).

In a small bowl, mix the 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of butter until it forms a paste.  Whisk into the sauce.  Simmer for a few minutes until it thickens.

Saute the mushrooms in butter over medium-high heat in a separate pan until tender and browned.  Add them, along with the beef, and the bacon, to the pan with the sauce and vegetables.  Reheat for 5-10 minutes.  Check for seasoning.  Serve in shallow bowls with pappardelle, mashed potatoes, or a baguette.  Garnish with parsley.

Boeuf Bourguignon on Foodista

Which Wines Age Well?

September 7th, 2010 No comments

Some VERY old bottles. Let’s hope they have what it takes to open up well!

Aging a bottle of wine has a very distinct, qualitative effect on the contents. But it’s a very unpredictable effect. This leaves wine aficionados in a rough place–you don’t want to spend the time and the money aging a nice bottle of wine, only to open it up and find out that: a) you didn’t wait long enough, b.) you waited too long, or c.) it wasn’t a good candidate for aging anyway. Although wine aging is imprecise, there are some clues that can help you, like some psychic detective who figures out the crime in advance, determine the right bottles to cellar.

Sugar content and alcohol: A high percentage of sugar and alcohol slows the aging process, keeping the wine chemicals from reacting too fast and becoming unbalanced, or worse, turning to vinegar.

Tannins: Highly tannic wines are generally great candidates for aging. Tannins are phenolic compounds present in the skin, seeds, and stems of grapes (and thus, usually only in red wines). You know the wine you’re drinking is tannic when it gives your mouth a dry, puckering sensation that can be very unpleasant. But as tannins age, they bind to each other, losing their astringent quality and making the wine supple and smooth. They also bind to other compounds in the wine, changing their chemistry and giving the wine new, complex flavors.

Structure: Tannins don’t mean good aging by themselves. They need the proper acidity and fruitinesss to back them up.  Having great tannins or wonderful fruitiness alone isn’t enough. A wine that will age gracefully needs to have a backbone–or “structure” to it that will keep the wine from deteriorating into muddiness as it ages. A wine with good structure should have tannins backed up by distinct acidity and concentrated, nuanced fruit flavors.

Varietals that age well:

Riesling: A wonderful candidate for aging. A good Riesling can go on improving, growing rounder in flavor, virtually forever.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabs from Bordeaux, California, and many other places have the bold richness needed to age well. When determining whether a Cab will develop delicious secondary and tertiary flavors, ask yourself if it has the structure, tannins, and richness of fruit needed to hold up to years of aging.

Chardonnay: It depends. A rich, buttery Chardonnay doesn’t have the structure to age well and will fall apart within a few years. But acidic Chardonnays with rich mineral tastes can very well improve with aging.

Fortified wine: Port, Madeira and the like age wonderfully because their high quantities of sugar and alcohol act to slow down the aging process, meaning that they can open well after even hundreds of years.

Pinot Noir: Professional opinions vary. Many experts think that the taste of a young Pinot is so great that you shouldn’t hang on to one for more than five years. But others hold that a well-aged Pinot is the holy grail of the wine world. This grape, so unpredictable on the vine, is unpredictable in the cellar too.

Syrah: Most Syrahs age well, but only up to a limit–about 10 years.

Merlot: Merlot is a very forgiving wine. Many bottles taste great young, but will still benefit from some time in the cellar. So Merlot is a great varietal to experiment with–try a variety of ages and see what suits your tastes.

Zinfandel: Like Cabernet Sauvignon, many Zinfandels have the potential to age to greatness.

Old Italian wines: Yes, they’ve already been aging, so you might say they don’t count, but these wines can make a valuable addition to your cellar. Italian wines from the 50s and 60s age wonderfully because they were made by farmers with primitive equipment. Their wines ended up very high in tannins, making them great aging candidates.

Varietals that don’t:

Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and most Rosés: They don’t have the structure necessary for good aging.

Wines under $15: They’re made to drink now.

Champagne: Though some champagnes can age well, becoming rounder, softer, and less bubbly over time, most are not meant to. If you’re holding on to a 20-year old bottle from your wedding, you probably won’t like it.

Why age at all?

You may have heard that since most wine nowadays is drunk within 48 hours of purchase, winemakers are starting to cater to the customer who plans to open the bottle right away. There is some truth to this statement–some winemakers, for example, are tending to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes when they are very ripe–almost too ripe. This results in a wine that is high in fruit, acid and tannins, meaning that you can drink it younger, but not necessarily that it tastes good. Wines like this lack the subtlety and grace of a “true” Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a richness of background flavors that makes drinking it anything but a one-note experience.

Wines that have the foundational flavors to age well–a balance of tannins, acids, fruit, sugar, and alcohol, will develop secondary and even tertiary flavors, meaning that the wine will keep surprising the palate with new tastes and aromas from the first sniff to the end of the bottle. These flavors, which can remind the drinker of smoke, leather, figs, soil, or a thousand other subtle smells and tastes, make the drinking of a properly aged bottle a completely unique experience.

Hints for wine collectors:

No one can predict the perfect age at which a wine should be opened.  If you want to come as close to perfect as possible, the best thing to do is buy a case of wine at a time, and open a bottle every so often to gauge how it’s coming along. And don’t think of it as a waste–it’s an entertaining an educational experience to see how the flavors change as a particular vintage matures. Alternatively, you can look online to find people who have opened the vintage you’re holding on to, and see what they thought of it. This is the best way to determine the right age.

Be sure to keep tabs on the ages of the wines in your cellar. Remember that there’s no use aging wines if you’re just going to let them turn to vinegar in a forgotten corner. Keep tags on your bottles‘ necks so that you can read the label without disturbing the contents, and keep a detailed record of everything in your winery, whether on paper or digitally (such as with an  eSommelier wine cellar management device). Don’t forget to include tasting notes when you finally open the bottle.

Wines for Easter

March 28th, 2010 No comments

The Easter Bunny is hopping our way, bringing with him (or is it her?) eggs, chocolates, and of course, a big Easter feast. Whether you view Easter as a meaningful religious event, the day that frees you from your Lenten sacrifice, or simply as a time to get together with family and friends and celebrate springtime, Easter always involves a great meal.  And if you’re reading this blog, to you, a great meal calls for great wines.

Ham is one of the most traditional Easter dishes.  Ham’s dominant flavors are saltiness and, especially if your ham is glazed, sweetness.  Ham calls for a wine that can cut through those strong flavors without overwhelming the more delicate flavors of the actual meat.

Highly acidic wines are your best choice.  Wines that also fall on the sweeter side can be great choices too, because nothing balances salty flavors better than sweet ones.  But be careful–if your ham is glazed, the combination of sweet glaze and sweet wine could be too much for your guests to handle–and if they’re overwhelmed with sweet flavors, they won’t be able to enjoy their Easter candy!

Riesling and Gewurztraminer are classic choices for a reason–their crisp and acidic but delicate natures make them the perfect companion to ham.  If you aren’t looking for a sweet wine, make sure that the bottle you’re choosing is dry–many wines of both varietals are sweet.  A Pinot Grigio or a lightly-oaked Chardonnay could also be good choices to accompany ham, so if one of those varietals is your favorite, don’t be afraid to serve it.

Tender, flavorful spring lamb is also a popular choice for the Easter meal.  Lamb is earthy yet delicate, with a powerful, lasting flavor.  Lamb is made for red wine.  The perfect red can vary with the method of preparation and cut of meat you’re using.  Sauteed veal medallions will require a more delicate red than roasted rack of lamb.  Grilled lamb (and grilling is a great way to celebrate the beginning of nice weather and capture the fresh nature of springtime) needs a wine that can stand up to the smokey and charcoal-y flavors it creates.

Bordeaux is the classic pairing for lamb, and it’s a good choice that will match well with this meat no matter how you are preparing it.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Malbec can also be great choices.  Look for a wine with the structure (read: tannins) and finish to handle the strong flavors of lamb without overpowering it.

If you’re celebrating a traditional Passover or will have a Jewish guest in attendance, you might be thinking about Kosher wines to serve.  You’ll be happy to learn that kosher wines have moved on from that sweet, syrupy grape juice stuff that was the only available choice in the past.  Kosher wines today are produced around the world and in all classic varietals.  Because of kosher wines’ bad reputation, the good ones often won’t advertise the fact on the label.  Look for the U in a circle, meaning kosher, or the U in a circle followed by the letter P, which means that the wine is kosher for Passover (its makers had to adhere to ever stricter standards).  These symbols will usually be located on the back label.

Whatever you’re serving or whomever you’re serving it to, there are great Easter wine options out there.  Happy Easter!

Wine and Chocolate: The Perfect Valentine’s Day Gift

February 8th, 2010 No comments

To all you boyfriends and husbands out there: it’s that time of year again.  Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, which means that you’d better get thinking about what you’re going to give the lovely woman in your life.  Sure, there are the old standbys like a dozen roses or a nice dinner out, but the gift that will truly wow her is something a little more original and personal.  If she’s like me, she’d like nothing better than a box of good-quality chocolates and a bottle or two of wine to enjoy with them.  Choosing the chocolates and wines you think she’ll like best is fun and creative, and shows that care and thought went into your gift.  If you play your cards right, she might even let you share!

Matching wine with chocolate can be an intimidating task, especially since no two experts seem to agree on pairings.  But luckily, many of the same rules that guide us in pairing wine with food can help us decide which wines might go best with which chocolates.  Just like in food pairing, the most important consideration is balance.  You don’t want either the wine or the chocolate to overpower the palate, so pick wines and chocolates of similar intensities.

White Chocolate: The extra sweet, delicate flavors in white chocolates respond well to wines that enhance their buttery qualities, like Sherries or Muscatos.  Though experts often recommend pairing chocolates with sweet wines, I find that this matchy-matchy approach results in a cloyingly sweet tasting experience.  The combination of a sweet wine and a sweet chocolate can be overwhelming to the palate, making it difficult to pick up the more subtle flavors in both the wine and chocolate.  If you feel the same way, try a Pinot Noir or a mellower Merlot with your white chocolate–the key is to pick a wine that isn’t too tannin-heavy or acidic.

Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolates provide perhaps the widest range of possibilities for pairing.  If you prefer to pair the chocolate with a sweet wine, try a Muscat, a Riesling, or a sweeter sparkling wine.  Dessert wines and port wines, especially Ruby Ports, are a classic pairing for milk chocolates, as the richness and heaviness of a port blends well with the creaminess of milk chocolate.  And if the milk chocolate you’ve chosen happens to surround some succulent strawberries, don’t mess with something perfect–choose champagne!

Dark Chocolate: Some women (including me) feel if it isn’t dark chocolate, it isn’t really chocolate at all.  If your significant other doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth or loves strong, rich flavors, she might prefer chocolate of the dark and decadent variety.  Dark chocolate needs to be served with a wine that can match up to its strong flavors.  The higher the percentage of cacao in the chocolate, the stronger the wine needs to be.  Ports are a great choice on the sweeter side, but I find that dark chocolate pairs best with bold, spicy reds.  Try a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel for a truly mouthwatering flavor combination.

For a unique tasting experience, try a chocolatier that specializes in unique flavors.  Chocolates made with chili powder or filled with goat cheese ganache are unique and interesting, and their savory flavors can break up the sweet-on-sweet monotony.

If you want to give something a little different, pair your wine choices with a chocolate souffle, chocolate mousse, or chocolate cake, either chosen at a great bakery, or (for the especially intrepid) homemade.

For an especially romantic gift, consider setting up a private wine and chocolate pairing session, just for the two of you.  Pick a variety of wines and chocolates and taste all the variations.  Besides encouraging great conversation and a romantic mood, this method will let you and your sweetie discover your favorite flavor pairings.

See some of our suggestions for Valentine’s Day wine pairings.