Friday, February 28, 2014

How-To: Pair Wine and Brussel Sprouts

When thinking about a nice meal with a glass of wine, brussel sprouts aren't the first food to spring to mind. They're not everyone's favorite vegetable, but when prepared correctly, you can avoid that stereotypical whiff of sulfur. Still, no matter how the dish is prepared, you can always taste the brussels sprouts. Earthy, but sweeter than cabbage or broccoli, with just a hint of that funk: they are a great vessel for other flavors. Many people just simply roast them with a bit of olive oil or butter, maybe adding some balsamic vinegar, or...that favorite ingredient to fix a dish--bacon!

Wine Pairing, Barolo, Brussels Sprouts

If you're looking for a wine to pair with brussels sprouts, look for a big wine, with some of those similar flavors: Earthy, funky, maybe a bit of sweetness.

  • Classic Cotes du Rhone, with big flavors of herbs and spices
  • Australian Shiraz (the same grape as the Cotes du Rhone) will give you just as big, but rounder, fruitier flavors.
  • Italian Barolo will have some interesting earthy flavors, but might be even bigger flavors than the brussel sprouts
  • Stone-y white wines like Chenin Blanc or some dry Rieslings can match the mineral flavors.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Did you know?... About Torrontes Wine

Torrontes is a white wine from Argentina. The wine tends to be crisp and aromatic, with flavors of peaches and apricots. The best versions can have a smoother, richer mouthfeel with a balance of acidity, fruit, and floral notes, but if a producer isn't careful the wine can have a bitter edge.

Torrontes white wine from Argentina

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

Enjoying Crown Heights at Mayfield

After moving to our new neighborhood, we've been exploring in search of the best restaurants. These days, normally with our little one in tow, our criteria has changed a bit. We need places with a little bit more space to park a stroller next to our table. We need quieter places, where the music and conversation doesn't overwhelm the baby. We need early dinner hours, so we can get in and out before the baby's early bed time. We need big bathrooms with changing tables. And we still need good food and good wine. That's a lot of requirements!

So, we've been fortunate to find a restaurant like Mayfield so close to home. It has most everything we now look for in a top notch restaurant: space, early dinners, and...the food. Fresh, seasonal ingredients. A menu with both simple, comforting items as well as some more adventurous fare. A diverse and interesting wine list (but nothing local, unfortunately).

We snuck in a little before dinner hour one night, grabbing a couple of glasses of happy hour wine before the kitchen opened. A Tempranillo got our taste buds watering, ready for dinner. With an appetizer of sweet and smokey roasted brussel sprouts, the wine was a fruity counterpoint to the earthiness of the sprouts. Dinner was Buttermilk Quail with garlic and greens with dipping sauces, and Fish and Chips. The red wine was suited to the quail, a sweet fruitiness to add to the sweet buttermilk. It didn't seem right for Fish and Chips, so a glass of Torrontes was in order. A light bodied wine with a big mouthfeel, it had some crisp tropical fruits that were expected, but also some floral notes that were surprising. Those floral notes didn't pair well with the fish, but the meal wasn't a complete loss.

Greens and Cornbread, Red Wine at Mayfield, Brooklyn

We like to explore new restaurants, but it's important to have favorites as well. A place you know what you are getting when you walk through the door, and that you know will give you a happy evening. We are still exploring, we'll be happy to return to Mayfield again soon.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Quick Review: Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

US, CA, Dry Creek Valley, Pedroncelli "Three Vineyards" Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
+ // Smooth // Ripe blueberry, Black cherry, Black liquorice // Cherry jam, Oak, Black pepper, Leather // Full 

Balanced well with spicy meatballs. We think it's more of a food wine than a sipping wine, try giving it a little time to breathe to really experience the complex flavors.

Decanted Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Did You Know?... About Oaked vs Non-Oaked White Wine

While they tend to be bottled quicker than red wines, white wines also see fermentation and aging time before they end up in the bottle. There are two main techniques for the fermentation process: stainless steel and oak barrels.

Stainless Steel: Most white wines spend some time in stainless steel tanks. This leaves the wine with its inherent flavors, usually resulting in bright, crisp wines.
Varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay

Oak: A limited few varieties of white wine are fermented in oak barrels. Time in oak will impart tannin to a white wine, adding layers of wood, smoke, and other more robust flavors.
Varietals: Chardonnay, Fume Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Semillion

Interestingly, we found a handful of esoteric aging methods, such as the use of clay pots or glass and concrete tanks. These are usually ancient, historic styles that can range wildly in the flavors they help create.

Aging wine in Stainless Steel Tanks, Oak Barrels
Traditional stainless steel barrels

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Quick Review: Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc 2012

US, CA, Sonoma, Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc 2012
++ // Crisp // Lemon, Lime, Pineapple // Lemon // Medium

One of our favorite California wineries, with a great variety of wines at several price points (our favorite being their Dry Rose of Zinfandel.) We've fallen in love with every bottle we've sampled.

White Wine, Pedronceilli Sauvignon Blanc

Monday, February 17, 2014

White Wine in WInter

Winter time can really limit your wine options. The cold weather encourages us to make hearty, warming dishes, and we look for wines to handle those big flavors. Fresh vegetables are long forgotten, and we hope our stockpile of root vegetables--augmented with the occasional imported tidbit from the grocery store--helps us make it through the dark months. Focusing on the handful of ingredients that last well through the winter allows us to find a recipe that helps us break from the red wine rut.

Broccoli is one of the few vegetables worth picking up from the grocery during winter. It's versatile and can serve as a base to a wide range of meals. You'll always taste the vegetable, but you can do a lot with seasoning and protein to add to the flavor. Fish and broccoli in a nice stew can make a great warming meal, yet avoid the gut-busting heaviness found in most other stews.

White wine glass, winter, wine with broccoli

For a lighter meal like that, look for a wine that has a hint of crispness to complement the fattiness of the fish, with a vegetable note to match the broccoli. Sauvignon Blanc fits the bill in this case: crisp, herbal, grassy. These are flavors that can brighten up a cold day.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How-To: Take Wine Notes

To help you remember the details of your favorite wine, it can be useful to write down some notes. This isn't High School History class, you don't need to write a page of details, but it's worthwhile to have some sort of system. In our earliest days of wandering the wine trails of the Finger Lakes, we would get home after a hard day of drinking and could never figure out if we liked the wine marked with a double star or triple smiley face more.

-Keep it simple
-Note how much you like a wine
-Note why you like it

Wine Notes, Wine Tasting

For the notes themselves, there are plenty of ways to keep them. Some people keep special notebooks. We tend to keep digital notes, useful for sharing here. And there are plenty of apps out there for smartphones that will help you out.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Quick Review: Montinore Estate Pinot Gris 2009

US, OR, Williamette Valley, Montinore Estate Pinot Gris 2009
+ // Crisp // Peach, Lemon // Lemon, Grass, Peach // Light

Oregon, Montinore Estate, Pinot Gris, White Wine

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Did You Know?... About Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape grown throughout the world. The typical version from France, especially in Bordeaux, tends towards strong grassy flavors. When aged in wood, the wine is considered "Fume Blanc", as the wood imparts the taste of wood with a hint of smoke. In warmer climates, Sauvignon Blanc can tend towards more tropical fruit notes.

Sauvignon Blanc, White Wine

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Quick Review: Special Delivery Rose de Pinot Noir

France, Alsace, Special Delivery Rose de Pinot Noir 2011
++ // Smooth // Plum, Petrol // Apple, Strawberry, Grapefruit, Floral, Mineral // Light

Complex, balanced flavor.

France, Rose Wine, Special Deliver, Rose de Pinot Noir 2011

Monday, February 10, 2014

Back to Miami with 15 Steps

We are fortunate to get a chance to get together with family every year in Miami. And while it is great to hang out and do some family meals, we still try to get away and enjoy the food scene in some way. A couple of times, we have wandered over to the Eden Roc Hotel and Resort to enjoy the restaurant there.

15 Steps is right up our alley. Focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients, the farm-to-table menu is easy and approachable, but well executed. Leaving behind the sleeping Little Vinacular with Grandma, we found ourselves with a few minutes to spare, so we grabbed a couple of stools at the bar before our reservation.

The cocktails were probably the high point of the night. We love to sip a glass of wine, but these days we seldom get a chance to just sit and enjoy it while we chat. We have a glass with dinner, maybe a glass as we relax in front of the tv, but having a small child means we don't often get to just sit at a bar for an hour or two. It helped that the cocktails were great, fresh and vibrant to get our mouths watering for dinner. The Elizabeth Taylor is still on Tina's mind: bubbly, bitter, sweet, and mouthwatering.

Miami, Restaurant, 15 Steps, Eden Roc

Really, the watchwords for the evening were "fresh and bright". A starting round of a tomato soup: rich and sweet with chunks of crab meat, and a carrot salad; crafted from whole carrots, earthy, sweet, and nutty. Dinner was a plate of scallops and another of mushrooms, gnocchi, and truffles. Paired with a bright, grassy Sauvignon Blanc and a earthy, fruity Pinot Noir respectively, the wines worked well to emphasize the farm freshness of the meal.

The only downside to the dinner was the service. Maybe it's an issue with the fact that it's a resort, where they add an automatic gratuity to the bill, so a waiter doesn't feel any pressure to serve. Or maybe the table next to us with an expense account looked like the bigger tip. But waiting for half an hour after dinner is finished and the wine glasses are empty to catch your waiter's eye (and after several attempts) doesn't leave us feeling like ordering dessert. Not a great end to the meal, but not bad enough to make us regret the cocktails and wine we enjoyed.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What Italian Varietals are Grown in the United States?

Exploring United States-grown Italian varietals requires some effort, but once you start looking, you find them everywhere. California's varying climates and vast production leads the way, with thousands of acres of Italian varietals under production. Barbera and Tocai Friulano are not uncommon there. Pinot Gris, the French version of Pinot Grigio, can be found all over the United States, as can Sangiovese, the grape used in Chianti. Other U.S. regions experiment with  varietals like Montepulciano, Aglianico, and even more esoteric grapes. It's fun to try something "different" from a favorite winemaker, especially from large producers known for their Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot. You might have to do some digging, however, to find these grapes in your local wine store. Some might argue that Italian grapes should stay in Italy, where they are meant to be grown. If we went with that premise, though, we wouldn't have wine regions in this country: all of our wine grapes were imported at one point or another.

Italian Wine Varietals, New Wolrd Wine

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What Are Orange Wines?

Orange wines are made from white grapes that are fermented on the skins. This imparts a deeper hue to the wine that ranges from amber to tawny. Orange wines, in fact, get their name from this hue. The time spent on the skins also adds an extra depth of flavor, imparting the tannins red wines are known for but which are seldom found in white wines. It's a style often associated with Italy and Old World regions like Slovenia. Other than the unique approach, the style of wines vary wildly, but most will retain the delicate flavors of a white wine. The difference is that those delicate flavors are matched with astringency that comes from the tannins.

Orange Wine

Monday, February 3, 2014

Italian Wines from The United States

Our focus on local wines means we haven't had any real opportunity to explore Italian wines. Even Italian grapes are hard to come by if you focus on local, because few New World producers grow them. Yet, they are out there. When we decided to try a case of Italian wines, we did manage to find a few bottles that met both our criteria - Local and Italian.

Channing Daughters in Long Island, NY is one of the few wineries on the East Coast of the US working with Italian varietals. Maybe the warming influence of the ocean along the coastline is close enough to the sea breezes of the Italian climate, because Channing Daughters is experimenting with a handful of Italian grapes.

The first wine we tried was their Ramato. Made from the Pinto Grigio grape, the wine is made in a traditional Friulian style, where the white grapes are fermented on the skins, like an "Orange" wine. On the nose, it was an aromatic wine with bright and vibrant floral and fruit notes, but was more bitter, reminiscent of dried fruits and flowers in taste. Despite the fact that this was a white grape, the dried flavors worked well with a meaty lamb pasta: the fattiness of the lamb blunted some of the more bitter flavors.

Orange Wine, Channing Daughters, Italian Varietals

On the other hand, their Ribiolla Gialla was bright on both the nose and tongue. Another orange wine in the style of the Friuli region, this grape had a lot of aggressive citrus flavors, orange both in color and flavor. Unfortunately, our pairing it with a meal of breaded chicken served with a pomegranate sauce resulted in the wine totally overpowering the dinner. We were hoping for something a little more herbal, but the sharp flavors of orange and orange rind buried the simple flavor of the chicken. We're confident, though, that this wine is meant to be consumed with food.

In the end, the bottles were a great reminder of why its worthwhile to keep an eye out for something a little different. We got a chance to support a great local winery, and learn about some new wine varietals at the same time.