Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Did You Know?... About Wine Manipulation

The world of cocktails is just as interesting as the world of wine. While trying some artisanal bitters, we learned that it's a seemingly simple process of adding additives to an alcohol to infuse it with flavors. In this case, Hella Bitters steeps flavor packets of citrus or aromatic spices in neutral spirit. This struck a chord with us, because while this is the accepted and only way to make the bitters we use in cocktails, the same type of manipulation is frowned upon in the world of wine.

Adding flavor packets is probably the biggest offense. It's possible for a winemaker to add powdered tannin to a wine to give it some more backbone. They can also add acid to help a flabby wine. They can even add oak chips instead of letting it age in expensive barrels. These are all seen as cheating by many, the ways we compensate for weak grapes through artificial means.

A little more common is adding concentrates, specifically what is known as "Mega Purple." This is a concentrate of grapes that adds color and fruitiness to red wines. Its use isn't something winemakers will admit to, but some claim it shows up in everything from mass produced to higher quality wines.

Chaptalization is the process of boosting the alcohol content of wine by adding sugars during fermentation. It's the easiest manipulation, but is actually illegal in some wine regions like Bordeaux.

These are the hidden "secrets" of the wine industry. Most of this doesn't mean much to the average consumer--if you like a wine, what's the difference how it came to be? If you are looking for an expression of the skill and craftsmanship of the wine grower as much as the winemaker, however, it's worth keeping an eye out for those who keep their wine making natural, and leave the manipulation to those beverages where it's required or expected.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Unfamiliar Pairings at Moim Restaurant

Even after all our time here in Brooklyn, we are still pleasantly surprised when we discover the unexpected. Stumbling upon neighborhood gems like Moim--hidden in the nooks and crannies of the neighborhood, a recognizable storefront often bypassed--remind us why we choose to live here.

On a side street in a basement space off the main drag in Park Slope, it's not so much of a surprise that we had never tried Moim Restaurant. Once we had, given the quality of the meal, we were surprised that we hadn't heard more about the restaurant. A modern take on Korean food, in a modern space, it's a unique addition to the neighborhood. Assuming you're not intimidated by Korean dishes, the fairly simple offers a nice selection of Korean BBQ dishes. For us, the best part might have been the fact that they offered New York wines.

As you know by now, readers, we love to find New York wines at restaurants. Although we've paired New York wines with all sorts of takeout food at home, we can't recall a time we've found New York wines on a restaurant menu that feature Asian dishes. There was no way we could pass this up. We picked a bottle of Rose of Merlot, hoping for a flexible wine. The earthy and spicy notes mirrored the funky, spicy dirt flavors of the fermented cabbage in the Kimchi Tofu, and its crispness offered a much needed counterpoint to the rich seafood in the Korean Bouillabaisse. A regular Merlot would never have worked.

While we love to talk about the natural pairings of local cuisines with local wine, it's good to be reminded that good food and good wine from anywhere, working together harmoniously, can make for a great meal.

Friday, April 25, 2014

How-To: Pick an Alternative to Chardonnay

Maybe you are having a guest over who refuses to drink Chardonnay. Maybe you are out at a bar that doesn't serve Chardonnay. The good news it that Chardonnay is a versatile grape that falls on a large spectrum of flavor profiles, which means other white wines can often seem close enough" to it.

On the left is the Chardonnay grape based on region, and on the right is the comparison grape. (And yes, the Rioja mentioned is a white Rioja, which is less common than its red counterpart.)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Quick Review: Madrona Vineyards Chardonnay 2012

US, CA, El Dorado, Madrona Vineyards Chardonnay 2012
++ // Smooth // Vanilla, Butter, Pear // Grapefruit, Pear, Honey, Orange rind // Full
A roller coaster of a wine. Big, bright acidic grapefruit to start bringing you to a great height of flavor, with a crest of of sweet pear and melon, with a plummeting drop of bitter orange rind bringing you home.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Makes a Bad Wine?

We've talked about wines that are corked, that have been left open too long, or that are simply spoiled. There are other reasons wines might be considered "bad." Sometimes the winemakers themselves make a mistake or don't have the right ingredients to work with, and the wine is flawed before it even goes into the bottle. Here are some terms that help describe these wines.

  • Austere: Aggressively acidic, with no balance of flavor
  • Flabby: Soft and weak, with absolutely no acidity
  • Green: Under-ripe grapes, leading to under-ripe and under-developed flavors
  • Tight: Elusive flavors, but unlike the others, this might just be temporary. This can sometimes be remedied by decanting a wine to let it "open up."
  • Hot: Sometimes you can smell the alcohol wafting off the liquid. Not good. Hot is a term for "high in alcohol content".

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Quick Review: Lamoreaux Landing Chardonnay 2007

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Lamoreaux Landing Chardonnay 2007
++ // Crisp // Butter, Citrus, Vanilla // Green apple, Really ripe pineapple, Vanilla // Light-med

Smooth finish. Not too heavy, a blend of complex, delicate flavors. Other end of the spectrum from the big, buttery Californian chardonnay. 2007 is known as a "good year" in the Finger Lakes, and when friends gifted this bottle to us, we were thrilled.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Time for Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a contentious wine: some people drink nothing but Chardonnay, while others will drink anything but. Like everything else in the wine world, we are pretty flexible about it. It's not often that we drink it, but there is a time and a place for a good glass of Chardonnay.

Chardonnay is a wine where it is important to know a little about what you are getting. Like Riesling, which can vary from a sweet, unctuous wine to a dry, acidic version, Chardonnay can vary wildly in its flavors, depending on how it was treated. In this case, its as much dependent on how the wine was aged as the nature of the grapes. An "oaked" Chardonnay, where the wine was aged in oak barrels, will pick up characteristics of the wood; smooth toast and butter flavors evening out the crisp acidity of the grape. An "unoaked" Chardonnay, aged in stainless steel, will keep those bright acidic flavors.

For us, the right time is when you are looking for a white wine with a big flavor to go with a big meal. Other white wines can serve as a counterpoint to big, spicy flavors, but its not often that they can present anything other than bold, crisp flavors that dissipate quickly. With fatty bacon pot pies with a grilled corn and tomato salsa, most white wines might get lost, or be so acidic that they would cut through the flavors of the food. But a Chardonnay, even when it is crisp, can offer a smooth blend of flavors that is hard to find elsewhere; delicate enough on the palate to be refreshing, but bold enough to catch your attention.

Some people can't stand Chardonnay, but we're not among them. Like all wine, chardonnay has its time and place, and can bring something wonderful and unique to a meal.

Friday, April 18, 2014

How-To: Pair a Wine with Multiple Courses

A good way to save a bit of money at restaurants is to buy your wine by the bottle. The price is still marked up higher than if you bought the bottle at a wine store, but significantly less than if you bought as much wine by the glass. The downside with this approach is that its tough to find a wine that will pair well with multiple courses, including dishes for several people.There are a few things to keep in mind if you are going to try:

  • Plan ahead: If you are selecting wines by the glass, you have time to choose while you select your dinner options. But it's difficult to pick a bottle if you have no idea what your entree will be.
  • Keep the food similar: It's tough to find any wine that will pair with both fish and beef.
  • Ask for recommendations: The restaurant may have wines specially selected to be served with multiple courses.
  • Keep the wine flexible: Avoid wines that are too light, too big, or that have simple flavors that need specific foods to bring out their best points. Flexible wines like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Semi-Dry Riesling, or Pinot Grigio can help you with a range of food choices.
  • Find something everyone enjoys: You might have to bow to the pickiest drinker at your table. Some people are just certain they don't like a certain type of wine or always and only drink another type. That's OK. Maybe this time you acquiesce, but your next dinner out, you push the envelope a little.
What does this look like in reality? Tina often chooses a delicate starter and then a heavier entree, or, vegetables at first and then meat to finish. She'll often select a light Pinot Noir, or, when feeling gutsy, a very rich, buttery chardonnay. She finds both quite flexible for this sort of pairing.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Quick Review: Bogle "Phantom" 2010

US, CA, Bogle "Phantom" 2010
+ // Smooth  // Chocolate, Leather, Cherry, Cloves, Nutmeg // Maraschino cherry, Leather, Pepper, Dark chocolate // Full

This is a Zinfandel. Whereas Italy has its Primitivo, California has the sister grape, the Zinfandel.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Did You Know?... About Wine Vintages

When winemakers release a new wine, they are careful to label the year the grapes were picked. That way, we wine drinkers can understand a little more about the wine. In addition to the natural characteristics of the varietal, the terrior of the growing region, and the style of the winemaker, the year the grapes were harvested gives us some clues as to its character. In this case, it all comes down to weather. An unseasonably warm year can result in extremely ripe grapes, giving bigger flavors than usual. An uncommonly rainy harvest season may mean that the grapes were harvested early, leading to under-ripe, tarter flavors. In most cases, it won't matter much. You will seldom find two different vintages of the same wine on the shelves of your favorite wine shop. In fact, you might be weary if you do find a wine more than 4 or 5 years old on the shelf, it's possible that wine didn't sell and might now be "off". But, some of the most impressive restaurant wine lists might have several vintages of the same wine to suit different situations. A less renowned vintage might keep the price point down on wines from famous producers, giving less discriminating drinkers the chance to try something, possibly still amazing, at a more approachable price point. When in doubt, as always, we'll advise that you ask lots of questions, just like we do.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quick Review: Cantele Primitivo 2001

Italy, Salento, Cantele Primitivo 2011
++ // Smooth // Blueberry jam, Petrol // Blueberries, Blueberry jam,Nutmeg, Black pepper // Med-full

We're liking Primitivo more and more. It's juicy, fruity, and luscious on the tongue. The fruit makes it taste "sweet," although it's technically not so sweet in terms of Residual Sugars.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coming Back for More at Bar Corvo

It's become important for us to have regular restaurants. If we find ourselves with a little free time on a Saturday, we can't waste it wandering the neighborhood trying to find something new. Every second seems to count these days. Instead, we rack our brains for the places we've had good meals recently, so we know where we can expect a good time.

We've been to Bar Corvo a few times. When the chef of renowned al di la Trattoria of Brooklyn opened a family friendly bar and restaurant around the corner, we could never manage to beat the dinner rush to get a table. Now, it's original "new-ness" having worn off, it's a bit easier to find a seat. Of course, it helps that we are now usually the first ones there at opening time. (We have early dinners now to ensure we can keep to our daughter's bedtime schedule.)  

The space is welcoming as you enter through the door, opening on to the bar and a large common table. Low lighting and smaller tables in the back keep the restaurant feeling intimate, and an eclectic selection of music keeps a pleasant background noise level when you have families and couples over lapping. And of course, the food is great.

Fritto Misto
We decided to share a bottle of wine for the evening, but that's always a bit of a trick to find a wine flexible enough to complement a range of dishes. Starting with a plate of fried veggies, or Fritto Misto, we needed something with a hint of acidity to cut through the fat oiliness. We had to consider how we'd pair deep fried lemon slices from the appetizer dish, refreshing and savory at the same time. Our main courses of pork chop with kale and polenta and wild boar pasta also promised fat, but instead of an acidic wine, we would prefer a red wine to match the pork.

We finally decided on a Primitivo, for its combination of fruit and spice flavors. In this case, our choice was too big for the light vegetable flavors of the Fritto Misto, as expected. However, the sweet red fruit flavors helped brighten the kale and the sauce for the wild boar, which were both on the bitter side.

That is the difficulty with picking one bottle for multiple courses--finding that flexibility. In this case, the appetizer was a miss for our wine selection, but the main courses worked well. Maybe we will have to go back soon to try a different combination.

Pork Chop with Kale and Polenta

Friday, April 11, 2014

How-To: Read an Australian Wine Label

Being a New World wine country, Australian wine labels are a bit more understandable to American wine drinkers. The name of the producer and the wine region might not be familiar, but most of the rest of the info will look the same

The label will always include information on:
  •  The brand 
  •  The name & address of the wine maker
  •  The  country of origin
  •   The region, where applicable
  •   The grape used
  •   The alcohol content
Same language. Same info. Not much different than any American wine label. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Quick Review: Cinquante-Cinq Viognier

France, Languedoc, Cinquante-Cinq, Viognier, 2010
/ // Smooth // Lemon // Butter // Medium Bodied

Much less crisp than the nose (lemon) would suggest, the crispness does come out with rich tomato sauce, adding the perception of spicy-heat.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Did You Know?... About Australian Wine

Australia is more than just a land of Yellow Tail wine, although they're a big reason we even know about Australian wines in this country, thanks to their horribly large production and distribution throughout the United States. Tina fully admits their Pinot Grigio was her go-to wine in her 20s, and their Shiraz her second go-to wine and first introduction to that grape. In the United States, "Australia" and "Shiraz" do seem to be synonymous, although there is so much more to the continent's large wine industry.

Wine growing is focused in the south, in the regions of New South Wales, South Australia, and West Australia. According to recent data, Australia produces about 4% of the world's total wine. Shiraz is by far the most produced grape in the country, but there are significant amounts of other wines produced as well, including standards like Chardonnay, Suavignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The country also produces a wide range of wines from less common grapes, including small amounts of Italian varietals.

The super warm climate means these wines are often "hot", or, high in alcohol content, and almost always very lush and "ripe" tasting thanks to the ability of these grapes to get ripe quickly on the vine. Rare you'll find a "crisp" wine, in other words, coming out of their wine regions.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Quick Review: Mt Billy "Circe" 2006

Australia, Southern Fleurieu, Mt Billy "Circe" 2005
+ // Spicy // Cherry jam, Cedar // Cedar, Elderberry // Full

A blend of Shiraz & Viognier. Spicy, as is to be expected from a Shiraz, but mellowed by the floral notes from the Viognier.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Last of the Winter Reds

Winter is finally behind us. It's time to clear some of those big red wines from the rack, before the weather gets too warm to enjoy them.

 Normally, you might pair a red wine with a meat-heavy dish. But we like to mix it up every once in a while, and try red wine with a vegetarian meal, which would traditionally be matched with white wine. With the right preparation, those delicate vegetarian flavors can be coaxed into something deeper that can stand up to a red wine.

Carrots roasted with the spice Garam Masal and a bit of nutmeg, and then pureed with jalapeno peppers. The sweet and earthy carrots pick up a smoky flavor from being roasted with the Garam Masal. The jalapeno adds green vegetable flavors, and of course some heat. Complemented with some drop biscuits stuffed with shredded radish, kohlrabi and lettuce, you are looking at a very green meal, but stuffed full of spicy and earthy flavors. Perfect for a cool spring night to ward off the last winter chill. And perfect for a big spicy red like Syrah.

Pair like with like. That's a useful rule of thumb for pairing wine with food. In this case, the spicy flavors need something to either match them, to make them really pop on the palate, or something sweet and unctuous to help soothe your mouth between bites. The earthy, smokey flavors can easily overpower most wines, so you need a real full-bodied wine to match. Malbec or an Old Vine Zinfandel might have worked, but we went with Syrah. In this case, it might have been a bit too much spice, as both the food and the wine were a mouthful on their own, and created fireworks of blossoming heat when combined. But like a plate of spicy chicken wings, sometimes that's just what you crave to help remind you that the warmth is just around the corner. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

How-To: Read a Wine List--Different Names for the Same Wines

It's useful to remember that the various wine regions around the world label their wines in their own way. A "Pinot Noir" here is labeled "Burgundy" (for its region) there. While there are some differences based on where the grapes are grown, most of us will probably like a Pinot Noir from Oregon as much as we do one from France. So keep an eye out for these names.

Burgundy: The famous red wine from France is typically made from Pinot Noir. The white wine from the region is made from Chardonnay.

Bordeaux: The red wine from this region of France is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. In the US, this blend is often referred to as Meritage. The white wines from Bordeaux are made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Syrah: This grape is found in some of the great appellations of the Rhone region of France, like Hermitage. It is also the same grape as Shiraz from Australia. It is not the same grape as Petite Syrah.

Sauvignon Blanc: The regions of the Loire Valley in France, like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, use this white grape, and it is used to make Fume Blanc in the New World (where it is aged in barrels to give it its smoky - or, fume, notes).

Zinfandel: Very similar to the Primitivo in Italy, although there has been recent argument they are not the same grape.

Pinot Grigio = Pinot Gris, although the "style" of the wine produced is different.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Quick Review: Wines at Vitae pt 2

Chile, Curico Valley, Echeverria Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2007
++ // Sweet // Forest, Leaves, Grass, Floral // Burnt Carmel, Honey // Light

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Bother Remembering Wine Names?

With wine, there are a lot of things to remember. Regions, winemakers, varietals, vintages, and more. It's a lot for to keep track of for most of us. It will be worth your while, however, to remember this key trick (one we use all the time). If you are looking for Chardonnay, but the glass from California is a little too expensive for your tastes, knowing that cheaper glass of Chablis or Burgundy on the menu is exactly the same grape can be a saving grace. Knowing the most common wine regions in France and the main grapes grown there can help you pinpoint what you want on the most longwinded, foreign-sounding wine list. Still learning? You should never be afraid to ask the server for a "Chardonnay" on the "less expensive" side. If they know their stuff, they'll point out that Chablis for you.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Quick Review: Wines at Vitae pt 1

Italy, Piedmont, Travaglini Nebbiolo 2010
++ // Earthy // Oak, Leather, Berries  // Minerals, Coke, Cherry, Blueberry // Full
A little rustic at first, opened up to fruity. Good sweet flavors with sweet fresh burrata. Fruit flavors complemented duck.

France, Chablis, Isabelle & Dennis Pommier 2011
+ // Crisp // Grape, Funk, Underripe lemon // Grape, Lychee // Light