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Some Dry Red Wines

June 5th, 2012 No comments

Are you new to the world of wine?  Unsure what wines are considered to be “dry?”  Read on!

Quite simply, dry wines have the greatest alcohol content; their juice ferments until almost all of the grape’s sugar is utilized.  Thus, dry wines contain little residual sugar and are not “sweet.”  What common wines are considered dry?  Here’s a little list for the eager wine student:

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  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Pinot Noir (the wine that “goes well with everything”)
  • Merlot
  • Sangiovese
  • Shiraz
  • Tempranillo
  • Red Zinfandel (it’s the White Zinfandel that’s the sweet stuff!)

Keep in mind that some of these wines may taste “fruity,” but do not confuse a wine’s fruitiness with its “sweetness.”  Fruit flavors often naturally balance a wine’s absence of sugar.  Also, don’t confuse a wine’s tannins with how dry it is.  Tannins can give sweet wines a “drier mouth feel,” but their abundance does not make a wine dry.  Remember: it’s all about the sugar!  Curious about how these wines taste?  Why not buy a bottle of each and host a few mini tastings, yourself?  You can easily save any leftover wine with the WineKeeper 4-Bottle Showcase preservation system. Cheers!

Red Wines For All Foods

April 5th, 2012 No comments
Chicken, traditionally served with white wine, can also be enjoyed with red wine.

Traditionally served with white wine, chicken can also be enjoyed with red! (Photo by Steven Walling)

If you’ve read our recent post, If You’re Going to Drink, Choose Red!, you may be wondering how to effectively increase your red wine consumption by substituting it for white.  The good news is that there’s a red wine alternative to just about every “traditional” white-wine dish!

Though it may take you (and some of your guests) a little time to get out of the mindset that certain foods must always be enjoyed with either whites or reds, specifically, the rewards are more red wine consumption at your table and (quite often) more interesting pairings!

Let’s start with fish!  When it comes to the creatures of the sea, white wine has been given dominion.  However, there are excellent reds that will not overpower your fine, flaky fillets.  Try a baked or grilled fish dish with a bottle of Cabernet Franc or a nice Cote du Rhone.  These red wines, because of their low acidity, blend quite well with almost all of your typical fish dishes.

Next comes pasta!  If you’re eating pasta with tomato sauce, experiment with almost any red!  Reds, in general, are fantastic with tomato sauces (especially those with meatballs!)  If your pasta is covered with a tantalizing cheese sauce, consider pairing your plate with a light Burgundy or Merlot.  These two wines are excellent compliments to cheese sauces of all kinds, even ones that incorporate a bit of spice!

Lastly, we come to chicken!  Like the numerous reds that go well with tomato sauce, I urge you to experiment!  For a few starters, consider pairing your bird with a bottle of Pinot Noir, Chianti, Barolo, or (a personal favorite) Beaujolais.  Beaujolais works especially well with recipes involving cornish game hens sprinkled with rosemary, as well as barbecued chicken.  Have fun, be adventurous, and keep track of the reds you find work best with your favorite “white wine” foods.  Enjoy!

Easter Wine Pairings

April 3rd, 2012 No comments

Easter is a time to celebrate with family and friends.  When meals are involved, the focus is often on a roasted ham or a nice leg of lamb.  But what wines go best with these dishes?  After all, hams are often prepared with a variety of glazes, aren’t they?  Read on!An Easter ham perfect with a glass of wine.

No matter how sweet your ham’s glaze may be, ham is an inherently salty meat.  Keeping this in mind, the best wines for any ham are Rieslings or  Gewürztraminers.  Both sweet wines complement the salty flavor of ham without impacting the taste of the glaze, or the taste of the wines themselves.  If you’d prefer a more buttery mouth feel to accompany your glazed ham, a slightly oaked Chardonnay is also a possibility.  For drinkers who prefer red wine, Red Zinfandel is a spot-on alternative; the bold presence of its fruit flavors will complement any sweet ham.

If you’re serving leg of lamb, consider a traditional pairing like Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or Merlot.  You’ll want a wine that is fruity and acidic so that it complements your lamb (a meat with big flavor!), but does not subdue its flavor.  If some guests want white wine, while others desire red, consider having two or more bottles of wine open simultaneously.  Save any left over wine with the convenient WineKeeper 3-Bottle Executive for more relaxed enjoyment later in the evening.  Cheers, and Happy Easter!

Take a Bath, A Wine Bath!

March 20th, 2012 No comments

Bathtub

There’s been a lot of discussion about the benefits of wine consumption, lately, but a new trend has appeared that takes wine enrichment to the next level: bathing in it!  That’s right, it’s called “vinotherapy,” and it purportedly reduces wrinkles, repositions unsightly cellulite, and even helps lift the face.   Begun in the world’s first “wine spa” in France (appropriately), the full-body wine treatment also includes being wrapped and massaged in delightfully-aromatic wine extracts.  The “secret” to the procedure is grape seed oil, which is believed to increase blood circulation when applied topically.  Participants often begin their vinotherapy regimens by bathing in a jacuzzi of warm, red wine, since the force of the jets offers cardiovascular benefits.  To minimize cellulite, a wine and honey wrap is then applied, or a Merlot wrap designed to refresh the skin and help eliminate toxins.  Some people even follow this treatment with an all-grape diet for 3 days following the procedure (Though I doubt your doctor will approve)!  If your face could use a tune-up, a  “vinolift” may also be in order.  This natural facelift procedure utilizes resveratrol (found in grape skins), as well as gentle electrical pulsation.

Even though antioxidants found in grapes have been shown to slow the aging process, skeptics remain unconvinced that the amount of them absorbed through the skin during vinotherapy provides much benefit.  Still, if you’re a wine lover looking for an unforgettable spa experience, vinotherapy may be a nice preview of heaven.  Cheers!

STACKED Wines: a New Packaging Concept

January 26th, 2012 1 comment

STACKED Wines

We’re the first to admit we love an interesting innovation in the wine world. Wine is full of tradition and history, and that’s great! We love old-world styled wine cabinets and stone-trimmed cellars, but there’s also a place for fun, modern things like sideways wine racks and this interesting new concept for packaging.

Currently a California phenomenon, this curious, creative method of wine packaging will be making its way to the other states in due time.  Created by former UC Irvine students Doug Allan, Jodi Wynn, and Matt Zimmer, STACKED Wines have made a splash in Newport Beach!  What are they?  Four single servings of wine stacked on top of one another, reaching regular bottle height.  The “four-stacks” contain as much wine as a regular bottle.  Basically, each container is a stemless “glass” containing pre-poured wine.  The containers pop apart easily, making it fun and simple to enjoy wine in numerous on-the-go scenarios.  No longer do you need to fuss with corkscrews, fragile bottles, or be forced to drink from cheap, plastic cups when hiking, biking, having a picnic at the park, or traveling.  STACKED Wines are convenient for other outdoor functions like barbecues, concerts, and boating, too.  Currently, STACKED Wines offer a Merlot and Chardonnay, but more wines will be added as the company expands.  Their first major retail launch is planned for this March, so keep your eyes peeled residents of Orange County!  (To the rest of the country: this packaging innovation will soon make its way to you, too.)

What do you think? Intriguing idea, or gimmicky nonsense? Have you tried the wine?

Mulled Wine: a Late Summer, Early Fall Treat

September 13th, 2011 No comments

Traditionally known as a “winter” drink, mulled wine can also be enjoyed in the late summer/early fall season.  It actually makes a great segue into fall, and its familiar aroma often brings back happy childhood memories. (And since there is abundant evidence that connects our sense of smell with episodic memory, a warm cup may just surprise you with an image you’ve long forgotten!)  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 bottle dry red wine (a Merlot is especially good)
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cloves (whole)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 pinch of allspice
  • 2 strips of orange peels
  • 2 strips of lemon peels

Mix your entire bottle of wine with the water, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, orange and lemon peels in a saucepan.  Simmer over low heat for 25 minutes.  If desired, add more sugar for a sweeter drink.  A bit of honey can also be added, or even substituted for sugar, for an alternate variation.

And while enjoying your own mulled wine, ponder this profound passage from Marcel Proust’s The Remembrance of Things Past: “When from a long distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

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 Baskets Make Great Wine Gifts

December 15th, 2010 2 comments

Wine baskets are wonderful gifts that everyone loves.  As a result, they can cost hundreds of dollars at fancy food stores.  But why spend the cash when you can easily make them yourself?  They’re simple to create, and they make great, personal gifts that your friends and family will really appreciate.  You can fill your wine gift baskets with almost anything, so get creative: the possibilities are endless!

To start, you need some kind of attractive basket or box.  Visit your local craft store for wicker baskets or large tin pails.  Wooden wine cases also make great receptacles. For a unique container that’s a gift in itself, use a leather brigade bucket by Mulholland Leather.

Then pick a wine theme and get to filling!  Here are some ideas:

A chocolate-themed gift basket. Visit a chocolate store and pick out a variety: white, milk, and dark chocolates all pair well with wines.  If you know the person’s favorites, play to them.  You can even try some unusual chocolates: they may include goat cheese, herbs, or even chilies.  Next, pair some wines with the chocolates you’ve chosen.  For a dark chocolate lover, strong, rich reds like Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are perfect.  For the milk chocolate lover, try something smooth like a Pinot Noir or something sweet like a Muscat.  White chocolate pairs well with sweet wines like Muscatos or even something darker and tannic for contrast, like a Merlot.  For our full wine and chocolate pairing guide, click here.

A summer-themed gift basket: Line a basket with a checkered picnic cloth, then fill with beautiful summer fruits, like strawberries and peaches.  Add some goats-milk cheese (it’s at its peak in the summer) and some crackers or a baguette.  Finish with summer wines like Rosé or Pinot Grigio.

A gift basket for the new wine lover: If you know someone in your life who’s just starting to appreciate the pleasures of wine, help them out!  Fill a basket with a few bottles of your favorites.  Try to think outside the box and introduce the person to some types of wine he or she might not have heard of.

A wine and cheese basket: This one’s a crowd-pleaser.  Pairing wine and cheese can be intimidating, so see our easy wine & cheese pairing guide for help.  In general, stick to white wines and pick a variety of cheeses (like brie, gruyere, and cheddar).  Include a few different types of crackers, a bunch of grapes, and you’re ready to go.

A wine game gift basket: Give everything they need to have their own wine-tasting party.  Include several types of wine, or a a few bottles of the same type at different price point.  Place bags over the bottles or cover the labels, and add paper for note-taking.  Maybe they’ll even invite you over to play!

Interested in our recommendations for wine lover gift ideas?

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 to Pair with Summer Tomatoes

August 9th, 2010 No comments

It’s the height of summer, and tomatoes are at their juicy, sweet best right now.  I’ve been eating them in salads, on burgers, and even by themselves.  As you know all too well if you grow your own tomatoes, the season for these beauties is a short one, and as you know if you’ve ever even tasted a home-grown tomato, there’s simply no comparison between the sweet flavor of the real thing and the watery, lifeless store-bought version.  So anyway, tomatoes are the thing to be eating right now.  But what to drink with them?

Pairing wine with tomatoes can be tricky.  You want a wine that doesn’t overwhelm the delicate sugars of the summer tomato, so don’t reach for something strongly tannic.  You also don’t want something with too much acidity, as tomatoes are acidic enough already.  What you really want is a wine that will bring out the fruitiness and subtle sweetness of the tomato, showcasing this short-seasoned treat–because, really, it’s good enough to shine on its own.

Although you want to be careful not outcompete the tomato flavor, raw tomato dishes like caprese salad and gazpacho need a wine with a bit of acidity to match the tangy quality of this summer fruit (not vegetable!) in its freshest state.  Try a fruit-forward Sauvignon Blanc or even a Pinot Grigio.  The bright, crisp qualities of these wines will match up to the acidity of the tomato, while the fruit will play up its sweet, juicy characteristics.

Cooking tomatoes lowers their acidity, so if you’re going with a richer, cooked tomato dish such as pasta with a fresh tomato sauce or stuffed tomatoes (fill them with fresh breadcrumbs and chopped basil, or cous cous with herbs), go with a lighter, fruity red wine.  Play with what you like here; just be careful to avoid overtly tannic wines, or you won’t be able to taste the tomatoes.  Try a Merlot or fruity Pinot Noir.  The 2008 Les Jamelles Pinot Noir would be perfection.

If your or your neighbor’s garden is overflowing with ripe red tomatoes right now, try having a tomato-themed outdoor dinner party!  Serve a caprese salad with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc, and follow it with simple pasta in a fresh tomato sauce with a soft Pinot Noir.  Extra points for a tomato dessert!