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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.

Winemaking 101

January 30th, 2014 No comments

Eberbach Monastery | Winemaking

How is wine made? Whether you’re a newbie wine aficionado who wants to get the  basics down, or  a seasoned collector in need of a quick refresher course,  read our step-by-step guide to find out how your favorite beverage goes from grape to bottle.

The Harvest

The last stage on the vine is the first step in the winemaking process. There is often a very small window between when grapes are underripe and when they’re too far gone, so the harvest is all about timing. The vineyard’s location, terrain, climate, soil, and age can all contribute to when the grapes are ready (as well as their taste). Winemakers use science and experience to watch and test their grapes so that they’re picked at the perfect moment. Grapes can be harvested by hand (which prevents oxidations resulting from damaged skins, but is expensive), or by machine.

Crushing and Destemming

After the grapes have been harvested, it’s a race against the clock to destem and crush them. Wait too long, and the grapes you’ve spent a year carefully cultivating will be useless. Winemakers often work through the night during this phase of the process.

The grape crushing is not only a physical process: it serves a chemical purpose as well. Crushing serves to split the grape skin and allow the juice, or “must” to begin to run out. As it does so, the sugar from the must mixes with natural yeast in the grape skin. The yeast consumes the sugar, turning it to carbon dioxide and — most importantly — alcohol. This is the beginning of the fermentation process.

During this stage, the grape stems are also separated from the must. And if the wine is intended to be white wine, the skins are removed as well. If it’s meant to be a red wine, the skins stay so they can provide color and tannins to the finished product.

Fermentation and Pressing

Fermentation is the step that turns what could be merely grape juice into wine. At this point, the wine is put into large stainless steel tanks, or sometimes oak barrels, which add certain (tasty) flavors to the finished product. During fermentation, the grape’s sugars turn to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The winemaker monitors the wine during this process, and may add sugar to bump up the alcohol levels, or acid if the wine’s acidity is low.

For white wine, pressing is done right after crushing, and for red wine, it’s done after fermentation. This process turns the grape solids left after crushing into a thick liquid that winemakers can add to the wine to improve its color and flavor.

Malolactic Fermentation

This additional fermentation isn’t used for all wines. When it is, the winemaker adds lactic acid bacteria to the wine so it can smooth out harsh-tasting malic acid by converting it into lactic acid. Most red wines, and some of the fuller-bodied white wines undergo malolactic fermentation to create a smoother, mellower final product.

Maturation 

For this phase, think barrels: they’re the most common vessel used for the maturation process. French and American oak are the most common choices for the pleasant flavors they impart to the wine. Oak barrels also allow tiny amounts of oxygen to enter and interact with the wine, serving to mellow out some of the tannins in red wine and contribute complex flavor compounds to both red and white wines. Some modern winemakers are beginning to use stainless steel tanks for this process instead of traditional barrels. Because they don’t interact with the wine, they can be a good choice for certain varietals, and as they don’t need to be replaced and are easy to maintain, they are more economical.

It’s during this time that the winemaker might also do a step called “racking,” in which wine is moved from one barrel to another. This serves to separate the wine from the sediments that collects at the bottom of the barrel, and that can negatively impact the wine’s flavor. It also exposes the wine to a bit of oxygen, which helps flavors develop, giving the wine complexity.

Fining and Filtering

When the wine is ready, fining and filtering are done. These processes remove most of the sediment from the wine. (Sediment won’t hurt you, but it’s unsightly and can have an unpleasant taste.) Filtering will remove bigger solids such as dead yeast. Together, the processes turn a cloudy wine attractively clear.

Blending and Bottling

If the wine is intended to be part of a blend, this is when that process takes place. Winemakers don’t blend wines only to improve their taste, but also to adjust their color, alcohol levels, tannins, aromas, or pH. It takes a lot of experience and a sophisticated palate to blend wines well.

Finally, the wine is portioned into bottles, and each one is topped with an inert gas (read: one that doesn’t react with the wine and change its taste) like nitrogen or carbon dioxide. The bottle is topped off with a screw cap or traditional cork. Now, they’re ready to be stored for further aging, or drunk right away. Cheers!

 

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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!

Tips for Hosting the Perfect Wine-Tasting Party

September 12th, 2013 No comments

 

Drinking good wine with good friends is one of life’s greatest pleasures. If you love to entertain, but hesitate at the work and expense of hosting a dinner party, try a wine-tasting party for your next get-together. With just a few glasses, some bottles of wine, and perhaps a snack or two, you’ve got the makings of a memorable night. Here are our favorite tips for hosting a successful wine-tasting party:

  • Start by choosing a theme. Try tasting all wines from Tuscany, or comparing Cabernet Sauvignons from different parts of the world.
  • When shopping for the wines you’ll taste, look for a wine merchant that displays staff tasting notes, or hosts tastings itself–both good indications that the employees are knowledgeable wine enthusiasts who can make good recommendations.
  • Limit your tasting to five or six wines. More will overwhelm the palate.
  • Keep it simple by providing one Bordeaux glass for each guest to use for the whole tasting.
  • Cover the table with white tablecloth–it’s the best background against which to judge the wine color.
  • Traditionally, a tasting pour is two ounces. A standard-size bottle will provide a taste for eight to 10 guests.
  • Make sure to provide a bucket into which guests can to dump unwanted wine.
  • A good rule of thumb: put reds in the refrigerator 15 to 30 minutes before guests arrive. Take whites out of the refrigerator a few minutes before you pour them to take the chill off.
  • To help your guests cleanse their palate between tastings, set out bread and water. In case they want a little something more to nibble on, serve a few snacks, too. A few ideas: a plate of olives, a charcuterie board, a few cheeses, a selection of crostini.
  • Work from dry to sweet white wines, and from light to heavy reds. It’s also best to start with younger wines and progress to more mature ones.
  • Make a tasting card (or print out this one from Epicurious.com) that lists the type of wine, the year, the vineyard that made it, and a brief description of the wine’s attributes. Or keep the cards blank and put each wine in a bag (or cover it with foil) to create a blind wine tasting.
  • Serve a popular wine from the tasting to guests who want to linger afterwards.

Do you have any tips for hosting a great wine-tasting that we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments!

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.

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!

So, You’re at a Benefit Dinner… and the Wine is Terrible!

July 10th, 2012 No comments
What to do if the free wine is terrible

Image from Service Culture International: www.choosingservice.com

Perhaps you’re at a dinner to benefit a worthy cause, but the wine served with your prepared-in-bulk meal is mediocre at best, or in the worst situation downright undrinkable: what do you do?  Is there a graceful way to handle the situation?  If wine is being served with your meal, chances are you’re not out at the Eagle’s hall for a spaghetti supper benefit.  Therefore, if your benefit is in an established restaurant, you’re in luck!  Restaurants have wine lists, and that’s exactly what you need to ask to see.  Ask your server for the wine list, pay an additional sum separately for a bottle of something good, and share it with the rest of your table.  (They’ll thank you for it, and you’ll make some new friends on the spot!) If the restaurant has a walk-in wine room like the Vintage Series Wine Room 1300, perhaps it’s possible for you to take a peak inside?  It never hurts to ask.  Cheers to finding good wine!

The Easiest Wine-Pairing Rule

June 26th, 2012 No comments

Without referring to the internet (or your latest wine-pairing app), how can you tell what wines go “best” with what foods?  Here’s the simplest wine pairing rule that almost always produces yummy results: if it grows together, it goes together!  That’s right.  Tried-and-true wine and food pairings often originate in the same region, and because of this synergy many pairings (and wines themselves) have been “perfected” over hundreds of years to best match the local cuisine.Pair your food with wine characteristic of the region.

For example, goose and duck go great with wines made where they roam abundantly in Catalonia, Spain.  Try pairing them with a regional favorite like a bottle of red Vall Llach, Cellers Pasanau, or Clos Mogador.  Goat cheese, a common product of France’s Loire Valley, pairs superbly with Gerard Boulay and Henri Bourgeois. (See our blog post on wine and cheese pairings here.) Having bistacca alla fiorentina as an entrée?  Pair this classic Italian dish with Italian wine from the same locale: Brunello di Montalcino!

When in doubt, pair your dish with a wine produced in the same region.  Remember: if it grows together, it goes together.  A wine’s label usually presents valuable clues about its origin, so ask to see it if you’re unsure.  Your waiter or chef may also have excellent suggestions once you’ve narrowed down the options, so don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.  If you do have a smartphone handy, check yourself with a program like WineStein Pro to see if you’re on track!  Cheers to easy pairing!

Where Not to Have a Wine Tasting

June 19th, 2012 No comments
Allen Kelsey Grammer is Frasier Crane

In an episode of “Frasier,” Doctors Niles and Frasier Crane begin the show with a blind wine tasting…

Niles:  Now, now, let’s move on to number seven.

Frasier: [while blindfolded:] Ahhh… Touch of oak, hint of currant, whisper of…

Frasier’s father enters with his dog, Eddie, on a leash.

Frasier:  …what is that?  What is that?  Oh yes, wet dog!

While amusing in a sitcom, similar scenarios have played out in real life.  Because such a big part of wine tasting is connected with a wine’s nose, tasting wine in less-than-ideal locales can unfairly color your judgement of the soundness of a wine.  Here are some places you’d best avoid holding a wine tasting…

Where the dog sleeps, cat goes, or hamster scurries:  Strong pet odors from dog beds, litter boxes, or small mammal cages can make even the most appealing nose seem foul.  If holding a tasting in your living home, make sure there are no trace animal odors lingering in the room or on the furniture where you plan to gather.

Near a restroom:  This goes for restrooms inside restaurants, too (though most quality restaurants position their restrooms a good distance from their dining areas).  Still, save yourself and your guests embarrassment and disgust.  Never hold a tasting within flushing distance.

Near livestock: Though outdoor country wine tastings have increased, tasting wine close to cattle is usually less-than pleasant.  What is more, the scent of excrement can imbue a wine’s nose with a convincing “barnyard” aroma, masking the true nose of the wine altogether.

Outside near fast food restaurants:  Exhaust from the kitchens of fast food joints, in particular, can be extremely overpowering.  It’s hard to get a decent sniff of wine if your nose is bombarded by the scents of big burgers and fries.

Near pools:  Almost all pools utilize chlorinated water.  Because our sense of smell and taste are connected, having a wine tasting next to a heavily-chlorinated pool can color the wine with a chemical taste.  This is very apparent when tasting Zinfandels.  Just try taking a sip next to the pool, then take another sip 10 feet away; you’ll be amazed by the difference.

Near smokers:  Cigarette smoke can greatly kill the nose of many wines, and can add an artificial “tobacco” hint to some wines.

Within wind distance of a garbage dump:  Refer to “Near a restroom,” above.

In a heavily perfumed area:  Unplug your whole-room air freshener before you taste.  Strong scents of pine, violet, vanilla, etc., will unfairly impact the perceived scent of your wine.

In a moldy room:  Aside from obvious health hazards, tasting wine in a pungent, moldy room will not boost its rating.

…You get the idea!  To learn more about the nuances of wine and wine tasting, visit our Wine Storage Education Center.  The next time you host a wine tasting, be sure to take a good whiff and ask yourself “Is there anything in here that really smells?”

How to Swirl and Sniff Wine Like a Pro

May 29th, 2012 1 comment

At tastings, many newcomers to the world of wine are unsure about the proper etiquette surrounding swirling and sniffing wine.  Is there a right way to do it?  Or is it a little like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup slogan: there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s?

wines lined up and ready to taste in proper wine glasses

Wines lined up and ready to taste! (Image from Wikipedia)

Since wine’s scent and taste are both key elements of any tasting, swirling and sniffing are encouraged in order to get the best overall sense of a wine.  While most newcomers think taking a single long, drawn out sniff from their glass completes the process, that’s only a beginning part!  Before even smelling your wine, you should be swirling it.  Swirling aerates wine, opening it up so that its inherent scents and flavors are brought to the fore.  You can swirl your glass while it is on the table, or you can hold your glass by the base or stem to swirl it.  What matters most is that you actually do swirl your wine!

Once your wine is swirled a bit, put your nose into the glass as far as it will go. (Don’t submerge your nose in the wine!)  Inhale deeply for a couple of seconds.  Use your diaphragm (your “belly”) to take in a full whiff of the wine’s aroma.  Swirl your glass a little more, then inhale again, smelling the wine a second time.  Swirl, sniff, swirl, sniff, etc.  See if you can identify the scents you are smelling.  Do you smell the wine’s fruitiness?  Do you smell berries, cherries, or figs?  Do you smell lemon, grapefruit, peach, or mango?  Observe how swirling and aerating your wine helps bring out a variety of curious scents hidden, before, in your wine.

While there are several quality wine glasses to choose from, wine glasses made specifically for the types of wine you’re tasting often allow you to perceive that wine’s aromas to the fullest.  For red wine tasting, consider using Riedel “O” stemless glasses, available as a mixed set, designed to enhance the main red varietals.  For white wines, consider a glass designed for your specific varietal, like a Riedel Vinum Classic Sauvignon Blanc wine glass for tasting Blanc fumé, Fumé blanc, Rotgipfler, Sancerre, Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon, Spätrot-Rotgipfler, and Zierfandler.  Breathe in, and enjoy the experience!  Cheers!