Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Did you know... About Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir is a red grape from France. The name translates as “Black Pinecone” because of the dark color and shape of the grape clusters. Common in the wines of Burgundy, northern Italy, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, though some good wines are coming out of Australia, South Africa, and Chile. It tends to create a balanced wine, sweet with fruit, along with some more complex, earthy aromas. It is also a major part of the blend for Champagne.

In the U.S. wine industry, Oregon has earned a reputation for excellence in Pinot Noir.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quick Review: Viridian Pinot Noir

US, OR, Willamette Valley, Viridian, Pinot Noir, 2010
+ // Spicy, (Smooth finish) // Strawberry // Cherry, oak // Light

This wine was exactly what we expected from a Pinot Noir: light bodied with strong fruit notes, with just a hint of added complexity. It made it perfect for pairing with a range of meal options, and ideal for just enjoying a glass by itself, to end a long work day.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fancy Recipe, Everyday Wine

Wine is often associated with the fanciest of dinners. While Coke goes well with Mac & Cheese, it seems a little strange to drink it with Coq au Vin. At the same time, it also seems weird to drink a glass of wine with Mac & Cheese. We’ve been playing with that this past year, and exploring wine with everyday meals, but sometimes we still want to try a “fancier” recipe.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

How-To: Decant Wine

Although we’ve written about decanting wine in the past, it was just this week that we found ourselves forced to decant a bottle of aged wine and finally understood the utility in this practice.

Decanting a wine means to pour it into an intermediate container, before pouring it into your glass. This may seem like a strange step to take if you just plan on opening up a bottle at dinner time, but sometimes it is worth the extra effort.

While there are a wide selection of wine decanters available for purchase, any glass vessel large enough to hold a bottle of wine and easy to pour from will meet the casual needs.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Did you know... About Cabernet Franc?

Cabernet Franc is a red grape, originally from France, and related to the Cabernet Sauvignon. This is no surprise that it comes from France, as Vitis Vinifera grapes (the ones that are used in wine, not grape juice) had to be imported from across the ocean. Cab Franc grows best in temperate climates, and can also be found in northern Italy. In the U.S. it’s commonly found in New York, Virginia, and Ontario (Niagara wine region). It is a major component of France’s Bordeaux wines and in New World Meritage blends. In the New World, it can be found on its own, and produces flavors ranging from earthy to fruity, although the latter is more rare.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quick Review: Lamoreaux Landing Cabernet Franc

NY, Finger Lakes, Lamoreaux Landing, Cabernet Franc, 2005
+ // Earthy // Leather, Spice // Cherry, Pepper, Leather // Medium

We expected the earthy quality: Cabernet Franc wine typically has this flavor profile.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wine and Not-Hassenpfeffer

There a are a lot of recipes out there that call for wine to enrich the dish. The first one we ever tried was before we even started exploring the world of wine together, and a dish where the use of wine was unexpected: Hassenpfeffer. A strange dish; a rich, slow cooked, spicy stew made with rabbit, its a special treat that I make myself every year for my birthday. Out of deference to that fact that Tina is reluctant to eat rabbit, I make it with chicken, but the real star of the dish is the thick gravy, flavored with bacon, pepper, and red wine. In the past, I have made it with cooking wine from the grocery store, but now that I know a bit more about wine, I was able to buy a bottle of wine for both a cup to add to the dish and for a glass for us to enjoy with the finished meal. Since the main flavor of the meal is the 'pfeffer', or crushed black peppercorns, I selected a spicy red wine, a Lamoreaux Landing Cabernet Franc. While I hate to use a good wine in cooking, because a cup in the recipe is a glass that could be drunk, this worked out well. The wine was the perfect addition to the recipe; peppery, smokey, with a hint of fruit highlighting the best flavors in the dish. And in a glass with the dinner, it was the perfect "like with like."

While I love to go out for special meals, this was a perfect treat. Cooking a great meal with my own hands always makes for a wonderful day. And finding a perfect wine to pair with my perfect meal was an added treat, reminding me that all this "hard work" is paying off, and we are really learning how to understand wine and food.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How-To: Get a Good Deal on Wine

Drinking wine can be an expensive habit. While “Two Buck Chuck” and boxed wine can be an efficient alcohol delivery system, you need to invest a little more to find a wine to really complement your meal. There are a few strategies that will help you save some money, when you find a wine you really love.

-Retail Sales:
Wine shops usually run sales throughout the year, to move old stock. This is a bit harder to find the exact wine you are looking for, but sometimes it can result in an interesting find.
-Retail Discounts:
They also often offer discounts, when you buy a case of wine. This usually lets you mix and match some of your favorite wines, or adding some new wines into the mix, as well.
-Direct Sales: 
Wineries sometimes sell directly from their website, helping to cut out distributor and retailer costs, or at least buy some wines at a decent price, compared to special ordering through the local wine store.
-Flash Sites: 
Websites like Lot18, Wines ‘Til Sold Out, and Woot.Wine offer daily deals,marking down wines to help wineries and retails move overstock. Another method where its difficult to find the exact wine you are looking for, but where you can find something new and interesting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quick Review: Airplane Wine

South Africa, Leopard's Leap, Merlot, 2008
+ // Earthy // Cherry, Leather, Grass/herbs / / Plums, Cherry // Light

South Africa, The Gander, Sauvignon Blanc, 2010
/ // Sweet // Citrus, Apple // Apple // Medium

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Did you know? . . . Climate & Wine

There is a lot of talk out there about climate and how it affects wine. The formula is actually quite simple: Climate affects the following--
  • How ripe the grape can get
  • How long the grape can stay on the vine before harvest
  • The amount of alcohol in the wine
Think about a basket of fruit and the way the fruit changes flavor as it ripens. Green vs. yellow bananas or hard vs. soft peaches. The sugars that come through during ripening make the fruit sweeter. That's obvious, yes?
Well, the same is true for fruit that ripens on the vine. The longer you keep grapes on the vine, the riper they get. You'll pick up on this when you're tasting wine. It won't take long before you're able to note how ripe the fruit was when harvested. Whereas ripened grapes leave you with a sweet, lush flavor, unripe fruit often leaves you with a tartness. Overripe grapes (from hot climates) tend to leave you with petrol and high alcohol (or, "heat"). Obviously, the amount of time winegrowers can leave their grapes on the vine is determined by the climate and when first frost comes.
Knowing what we know now, you can start to imagine that wines from warmer climates (California, South Africa, Australia, etc.) are bound to be richer, deeper, and fuller tasting. Wines from cooler climates (New York, Germany, France, etc.) receive cooler sun while on-vine (and are therefore not as ripened when picked). In cold climates (Niagara) they might be picked earlier, too. These wines are often lighter, crisper, more tart, and do not age as well. An added caveat is that wines from hot climate have more alcohol content because part of the ripening process in hot sun results in higher levels of alcohol in the grape once fermented.
One last point to make: between warm and cold climates, there is a middle, "temperate" ground. New York's Finger Lakes Region, where mild climates can last through October harvests, produce delicious, but tart, wines is a prime example. That's because it was never really hot enough for long enough to produce the richer, riper grapes, even though the growing seasons are as long as they are in warm climates (think first frost in October).
When it comes to vintages (the harvest year), sometimes a particular region has a warmer climate. This was the case in 2009 in the Finger Lakes. People were talking about that year being a "good year" in the Finger Lakes. That's because the rieslings from that year benefitted from the extra warmth the season brought. They are much fuller, and lusher, than in a typical year.
In essence, that's what climate does to our wine. So, go out and experiment. Try a South African Shiraz and compare it to a French Syrah. Or a Chardonnay from California vs. one from Virginia.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Quick Review... Hunt Country Vineyard Chardonnay

US, New York, Finger Lakes, Hunt Country Vineyards, Chardonnay, 2009
+ // Crisp // Citrus, Floral // Vanilla, Citrus // Light

We enjoyed this wine at a Chocolate pairing event: paired with walnut in milk chocolate, the crispness really popped with the saltiness of the walnut.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Burger and Wine

Sometimes we over think wine pairings. Yes, the crispness of a well selected Pinot Grigio complements the delicate flakiness of Cod in lemon butter sauce, but sometimes you can just grab a bottle of wine from the rack and enjoy it with something simple, picked up from the corner restaurant on your way home. In our stretch of Brooklyn, we don't have many fast food joints, but we're starting to see some of the more interesting burger joints. Not long ago, a Five Guys went in a small space near our subway station. After a late night at the office, I decided against cooking dinner at home. I moved past the window full of huge bags of potatoes, waited in line behind local families stopping off for some grilled goodness, and agonized over the possibilities. After ordering their double cheeseburger and fries, the smells taunted me as I waited for what seemed like ages, but was more like 5 minutes, then dragged my overflowing bag home. Breaking open a bottle of MacRostie Chardonnay, I sat down to a hearty meal. Wine experts would tell you that white wine and red meat do not mix. I don’t care. The wine was rich and full bodied, heavy with the oakiness so common in California Chardonnays. It actually overpowered the burger, a surprise when the opposite would normally be true. But the hints of sweet vanilla were perfect for the gooey American cheese. Those same oak notes that overwhelmed the grilled meat were perfect for the real treat of the meal; the french fries. Large chunks of salty, oily potato with just a hint of extra spice, the nutty, woody flavor of the wine matched the nutty flavor of the fries perfectly, while the saltiness of the fries brought out the slight crisp notes of the wine.

While its great to enjoy a bottle of wine with a complex wine with a well prepared wine at a nice restaurant, its good to have a wine at home that works with a simple takeout meal at home after a hard day. And its great to see our American wine producers remembering that's important, and creating wines that serve our native cuisine. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

How-to: Understand How Wine is Served

Some years ago we ordered a bottle of wine at a restaurant and enjoyed our usual giggle at the way it was being served – pour a little, ask customer to sample, then pour full glasses. It always felt so silly. We’ve never sent back wine, and wouldn’t do so unless it was spoiled, in which case it wouldn’t matter if a full glass had been poured. This particular time, however, a friendly server laughed with us, and Tina took that opportunity to ask her why wine is served the way it is.

1. They will always present the bottle, before uncorking, to the person who ordered the wine. Yep, that means whoever says, “we’ll have the malbec” will be presented with the bottle, held slightly at an angle with the label facing. The server will then say the name of the wine. He/she at this point is asking you to agree this is the bottle you’ve ordered. This always poses a problem. I often don’t remember anything about the wine we’ve ordered by the time the bottle gets to us, beyond the varietal. I try hard, and should try harder: it would be terrible to get stuck with a $300 Chateau ABC when I’ve asked for a $50 Chateau XYZ. Just nod, that’s usually best.

2. They uncork the bottle and pour out an ounce-sized sample to the person who ordered the wine. If you want someone else at the table to sample, say so, that’s totally fine. However, it should be the person who orders who says, “I’d like John to sample, thank you.” The server treats this bottle as though it is yours, much like they’d treat an entrĂ©e you’ve just ordered. They will just not give the first taste to someone else at the table unless you say OK.

3. After tasting the sample, unless you notice something extremely OFF with the wine, simply nod and say thank you and the server will begin pouring, usually finishing with the person who ordered the wine (although if it’s a male-female couple, will often finish with the male, regardless). Tina often says “mmm delicious” which always makes Nate laugh (no need to impress the server, after all), whereas Tina usually ends up teasing Nate about his “serious” taste and nod, acting almost as though he’s actually considering to send the wine back, which, as explained above, we never do.

Understanding this basic process helped relieve much of the worry around “what am I to do now?” after the wine arrives at the table. We hope you’ll also feel more comfortable in what’s expected, too.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Quick Review... Silver Springs Winery Merlot

US, New York, Finger Lakes, Silver Springs Winery, Don Giovanni Bold Merlot, 2005
+ // Earthy // Earth, Oak, Cherry // Oak, Pepper, Cherry // Full

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Did you know... Wine Markup

If you have ever compared the price of a wine from your local wine store to your favorite restaurant, it seems absurd. But thanks to the complexity of our wine distribution system in the US, its even more complicated than that. If it costs a wine maker $10 to make a bottle of wine, they may markup the bottle $12 to sell to a selling agent. A selling agent may manage the marketing and re-selling to distributors, charging $15 for the same bottle of wine. The distributor will manage the sale of the wine to retail stores and restaurants, charging $20. A retailer may mark that bottle up to $25 for sale to customers. A restaurant relies on that bottle of wine for a much greater percentage of their profits, and may mark up the bottle as much as 400% when selling by the glass.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Quick Review... Plantaze

Montenegro, Vranac Barrique, Plantaze 2005
++ // Smooth // Berry, caramel // Cherry, chocolate // Heavy

Monday, February 6, 2012

Homestyle meal at Kafana

New York City lets you try some of the most interesting things for dinner. To share a bit of his heritage, a friend invited us out to a Serbian restaurant, deep in the Lower East Side. A tiny space, filled with pictures and memorabilia from the Old Country, it really felt like the neighborhood joint for the local community. The menu was short, but the list of specials was nearly as long. Both were filled with dishes with names new to us, but populated with ingredients more than familiar from other Eastern European meals: Pork, cabbage, potatoes.

Our host selected a wine for the evening that we have never seen before, a Plantaze from Vranac Barrique in Montenegro. The wine was smooth and heavy, with strong fruit and chocolate notes that let us order some hearty food. We ordered some dishes to share around the table to try some new things, and some wonderful main courses. Another first for me, I enjoyed my first blood sausage. An earthy, herbal, meaty sauce packed into a thin sausage casing, it made for a powerful counterpoint to the luscious wine. We did discover that cabbage is hard to pair with wine, which might explain the greater prominence of beer in cabbage rich cuisines. This will require more research.

Photo courtesy of Kafana

Friday, February 3, 2012

How-To: Pair wine with Snack Food

Without a wine culture built up around it, there are no hard and fast rules for which wine to drink with all your football game food. But we are willing to give some recommendations.

Buffalo Wings: We’ve tried this before. Rich, buttery, and spicy: Pair with a full bodied sweet Riesling.

Pizza: This isn’t so unusual. Pair it with a full bodied Italian red to complement the peperoni and tomato sauce.

Chips, Pretzels: Salty food is a bit of an puzzler. Try it with something equally as biting, like a crisp white wine.

Chili: With or without beans, a deep, earthy Merlot will hold up best.

Burgers: The balance of earthy and fruity flavors of a well crafted Cabernet Sauvignion will bring out the best flavors in your burger.

Nachos: Another experiment we’ve tried, we’d recommend something a crisp white, to avoid competing with the complicated layers of flavor.

Its not often that you snack in courses, so pairing wine with a couple of wings, a handful of chips and a bowl full of chili makes it hard to find the perfect wine. So ultimately, just pick a wine you love, have some options for your friends, and just enjoy the day. Or you could just go with beer.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Quick Review... Dr. Konstantin Pinot Noir

US, New York, Finger Lakes, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Pinot Noir, 2008
+ // Spicy(with hints of fruit) // Leather, jam // Leather, Berry, Plum // Medium
Aged in French Oak, this wine reinforces the spice notes of the Pinot Noir over the usual fruitiness of the New World style.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Did You Know?... Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Gris

Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape. The slight difference in the name comes from the European roots of the grape, which is called Pinot Grigio in Italy and Pinot Gris in France. Depending on where the come from, they style of these wines can range from crisp and aromatic from France, to bone dry from Oregon, to floral and honeyed from Italy.