Monday, June 30, 2014

Pairing Wine and Pizza

We drink a lot of wine with pizza. Maybe most people crack open a beer, or down some soda, but for us on a Friday night, there is nothing like a hot slice with a nice glass of red wine. It's the perfect way to end a long week.

Picking the right wine for pizza is fairly straight forward. Just so long as you aren't dealing with a "White" pizza, the tomato sauce is going to be a defining flavor. You need a red wine, with some sweetness to complement the sweet acidity of the tomato. Then you need to pick the perfect red wine based on your other toppings. Most pizzas come with cured meats: sausage, pepperoni, or other most exotic options. This means saltiness, earthiness and maybe a hint of spice to the meat, which gives you some options with similar flavors in the wine.
  • Chianti will have that hint of spice and dark fruit suited for some of the spicier cured meats.
  • Zinfandel can offer some spice and red fruit for meatier options like sausage.
  • Pinot Noir can offer some sweet red fruit and earthiness to complement lighter cured meats.
If you are looking at veggies on your pizza though, it gets a lot harder. You might want to play around with white wine. Stick to Italy: a Pinot Grigio might be your best bet.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Wines of Mexico

Many people might be surprised to learn that Mexico has a thriving wine culture. One of the first things colonists brought from Europe were grape vines so they could make their own wine. In Mexico, the history of wine has been as tortured as in the United States, but there are regions that are starting to gain renown as worthwhile contenders on the national stage. The most prominent is the Baja California region, producing a predominance of red varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Did You Know?... About "Cooked" Wine

You might think the idea of a wine cellar is just an affectation of the rich, showing off how much wine they have by setting aside a room for it. That may be the case, but there is also an important reason for it. All wine, including red wine, should be stored in a climate controlled environment to avoid "cooking" the wine. The ideal temperature for storing wine is around 55 degrees. If a wine is exposed to greater heat, the wine will taste more like cooked than fresh fruits. Most of the time it is a flaw, but in a few rare cases its the goal of the winemaker to create those flavors, like in Madeira.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Did You Know?... About Tequila

Tequila is an alcohol distilled from the Blue Agave cactus, native to the region around the city of Tequila in Mexico. It is a strong liquor, usually at about 40% alcohol but ranging up to 50%. The flavors can vary depending on where it was grown and the aging process, but it tends towards sweet flavors with hints of flowers and herbs in its simplest form, smoothed out by smokey oak flavors as it is aged in barrels. It comes in four styles, classified by the aging process:

  • Blanco: "White", fermented for two months in stainless steel, but otherwise un-aged.
  • Reposado: "Rested", aged between two months to one year in oak barrels
  • Anejo: "Aged", spends one to three years in oak barrels
  • Extra Anejo: Aged up to 18 years in oak

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quick Review: Michelada, or "Beer Cocktails"

Michelada is a Mexican mixed drink, made with beer, lime juice, and usually some sort of sauce. The basic drink, with lime juice and a salted rim is a light and refreshing drink, great for a sunny day on the beach.

Hot spices and sauces can be added, to make the drink more savory and spicy.

Fruit purees can be added to make it sweeter.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Vacation Without Wine

It finally happened. We went on a vacation, and didn't find a single wine worth talking about. That may be because we didn't go to a well-established wine region, but it was still interesting to go out for some amazing food, and not have anything more than a decent wine to go along with it.

With an infant in tow, we decided to forgo our usual urban exploration for a casual, relaxing trip. We chose an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, hoping to spend some time lounging by the beach and swimming in the pools, instead of stomping down side-streets in a strange city in between trips to museums and restaurants. It did the trick for us, letting us spend time as a family enjoying the sun and water. A bonus was that we found a resort with a reputation for amazing food.

Normally, we'd expect some great wine to go along with this sort of world-class food. Mexico has its own growing wine culture, although it is focused on the Pacific Coast where climates match those of California. On the Gulf Coast side, however, it's hot, sunny and humid--more conducive to jungle than vineyards. Of course, in a resort like this, there are always extras you can purchase, like picking  bottle from their curated wine list, but we were there during off-peak season, and the wine cellar had been picked clean.

We drank a few glasses of the house wine to get us through the week. The white was fairly inconsequential, not quite able to pin it down to sweet or crisp flavors. The sweetness made it tough to enjoy in the warm weather, ending up a bit too cloying to be refreshing. We enjoyed the red with dinner, but a glass from the outdoor bar tasted like it had been "cooked."

For us, it was a strange experience. We normally center so much of our travel experiences around wine. I wouldn't say it was refreshing, but we still managed to enjoy our meals and our vacation as a whole. We just needed to focus on the margaritas.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Quick Review: Eagle Vale Shiraz 2008

Australia, Margaret River, Eagle Vale Shiraz 2008
++ // Smooth  // Jammy, Pepper, Green pepper // Blackberry, Chocolate, Cedar, Tabacco // Full

Smooth flavor, but with a lingering spiciness. Opened up to fruity, with a undertone of tobacco-y bitterness. Layers of flavor, but very drinkable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Quick Review: Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2011

New Zealand, Martinbourough, Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2011
++ // Smooth // Flowers, Grass, Kiwi // Flowers, Mango, Vanilla // Medium

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wine and Indian Cuisine in a Different Style

Friday nights at home, we eat a lot of Indian take-out. It's quick and easy, and can be tasty in a simple way. But real Indian cuisine can be something quite different. Done with care and skill, the flavorful spice mixtures and sauces can rival the best French cuisine. Of course, it's a bit more rare, but in NYC you can find anything, including some great Indian restaurants.

On a recent Friday night out, we decided to switch it up, and go out for Indian food. Manhattan's trendy Tribeca neighborhood has a lot of interesting restaurants, including an outpost of the Tamarind empire. A formal, spacious restaurant, it was quite a bit different than our usual restaurant adventures these days. We where there early, but the space filled quickly with a younger, boisterous crowd. Before the tables filled in, we faced that rare problem in NYC: a server a bit too solicitous, who asked if we needed something just a bit too frequently. This left us feeling a bit rushed.

Of course, the other big difference from our usual Friday night was the quality of the food. Take-out Indian is one thing, but a carefully crafted dish, cooked carefully and with quality ingredients in the same Punjab style is a world apart. A fish curry, made with a Goan sauce of spices in tomato and coconut was sweet and spicy. The last big difference from our usual Friday night was the wine options. In this case, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand brought some sweet tropical flavors that matched the coconut and cooled the hot peppers. Always important with Indian food.

When thinking about food and wine, everyone thinks about Western food. Its good to remember that wine works with just about everything, if the food is prepared right and you pick a good wine that complements it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How-To: Pair Wine with Indian Food Take-Out

Indian food is one of those cuisines that doesn't really have any history of pairing with wine. It wasn't a native drink in India, and the English tended to stick to their gin & tonic. That doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy Indian food with a glass of wine today. Why not? When both are so accessible now.

Of course, as a country of 1.2 billion people, "Indian Food" is more of a varied topic. But most American versions fall under the slightly less broad category of "Northern Indian" cuisine, with things like Tandoori, Naan, and paneer coming from this region that captures a wide range of global influence due to the spice trade. The food tends to be full of spices, but decidedly less spicy than "Southern Indian" cuisine. At least in comparison to Western dishes.

Take-out Indian food tends to rely heavily on stewed sauces for their complicated flavors. Tomato-based sauces can benefit from red wines with a hint of sweet fruit, like a Pinot Noir or Merlot. Cream-based sauces can use a crisp white, like Chenin Blanc to counteract their fatty richness. This works for more mild-spiced dishes.

You must remember the heat level, though, Some heat in a dish can be matched by a wine with it's own white pepper notes, like a Malbec. But the stronger heat of a Vindaloo needs something to cool it down, like a thick, sweet Riesling.

Finally, most casual Indian food in the United States tends to focus on ingredients Westerners can recognize,  the main protein or vegetable, which you can try to match your wine against. Pork isn't too common, and beef is basically right out, but you'll see plenty of chicken, mixed vegetables, fish, and even lamb.

As you can see, like all major cuisines, there is enough diversity of choice in Indian food that allows for just as much diversity in your wine selection to match it. Good luck!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Quick Reveiw: Heart & Hands Dry Riesling 2012

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Heart & Hands Dry Riesling 2012
++ // Fruity/Sweet // Peach, Flowers  // Peach, Vanilla, Honey  // Medium
Closer to semi-dry, with very ripe fruit flavors. Not as complex

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Noticing Trends: Riesling

We've been at this for three years now, and in that time I think we've tried more Riesling than any other grape. If you look back through our reviews, you definitely see some trends for this varietal. In our experience, Rieslings can be most commonly described as:

Descriptor: Crisp
Flavors & Nose: Peach, Apple, and Lemon
Body: Light

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Quick Review: Cono Sur "Bicicleta" Riesling 2012

Chile, Valle Central, Cono Sur "Bicicleta" Riesling 2012
+ // Crisp // Petrol, Lemon // Lime, Green apple, Herbs // Medium
Semi-dry, pretty long lasting on the tongue. A little more savory than we are used to.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Trying a New Riesling

At this point, we are pretty confident about Riesling. We've tried traditional German Rieslings, a whole slew of Rieslings from New York, and some amazing ones from California. So upon discovering a Riesling from Chile, we jumped at the chance to do some comparison.

Going with what we know, we poured a glass to go along with Friday night take-out from the local Indian restaurant. Riesling does well with spicy dishes. Even the lightest and driest version usually have a thickness and sweet flavors that cool the tongue. Of course, with a truly hot vindaloo, you can't really expect any wine to stand up to the searing heat. But with a milder Malai Kofta (vegetable balls in a lightly spicy tomato cream sauce), a nice crisp Riesling can cut through the richness of the cream and soothe the tongue after the hot chilies kick in.

This is what we would expect from any Riesling. So, what did we get from the Chilean Riesling? For the most part, it matched up to what we know: it was crisp, with citrus and apple flavors. What was different and unexpected was some strong savory herbal notes that reminded us of sauvignon blanc... in a good way.

Friday, June 6, 2014

How-To: Be Strategic at The Wine Shop

While we prefer to restock our wine rack with a casual visit to a wine shop--wandering the shelves and chatting with the shop keeper--this sort of experience is not always an option. We found ourselves pressed for time on the last day of a huge sale at one of our favorite wine stores, Union Square Wines, in New York City. Spending an hour or so picking a dozen bottles wasn't in the cards, so we had to figure out a way to get in and out quickly, yet still find interesting wines worth the effort.

The sale was 30% a case (12 bottles), so we knew we had to start with a strategy to do this quickly. The store is huge, and the selection wide. Because early summer is the time we enjoy Rose wines, we decided to start there, then supplement with a few reds and whites for flexibility. Within minutes, we had to adjust our plans when we couldn't find as many Rose wines as we had hoped (we did manage to fill half the case, before moving on to reds and whites).

Without specific dinners planned, we moved to selecting some flexible red and white wines: Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc. Also a few table wines.

Some people might pick a case of their favorites, but we are always looking to try something new. Of course, in our mind, a new vintage of wine we have enjoyed counts. A couple of Roses from Channing Daughters jumped out at us and were added to the cart.

Summer is a time for grilling, so an aggressive red or two works. Argentinian Malbec is almost a surefire win with a grilled steak dinner in the backyard. We also selected a Pinotage from South Africa to test with our grilling.

Sometimes, you need something very different. A bottle of Zweigelt reminded us of our trip to Austria, so we grabbed a bottle. We have no idea what to expect, except a trip down memory lane.

This trip felt a little more haphazard than the last, where we focused exclusively on Italian varietals selected with the help of the wine director. This hodge podge selection may be less thematic, but gives us the opportunity to create our own theme over the course of our tastings. Keep an eye out as we'll be discussing these wines throughout the summer.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Quick Review: Vinum Cellar Pinot Noir 2012

US, CA, Vinum Cellars Pinot Noir 2012
+ // Smooth // Dried Cherries, Cola, // Cherry, Leather, Clove // Med
Mushroom salad w/ blue cheese: this wine brings out the earthy notes and adds a sweetness.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Noticing Trends: Pinot Noir

We've been at this a few years now, so we can look back at our notes and see what we think about different wines.

In our experience, Pinot Noir seems to be described as:
Description: Earthy
Nose and Flavor: Cherry
Body: Medium

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Quick Review: Outer Limits Pinot Noir 2012

Chile, Aconcagua Valley, Outer Limits Pinot Noir 2012
+ // Earthy // Perfect strawberry, Forrest leaves // Tart cherry, Cola, Tobacco, Leather, Graphite // Medium

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wine With Caribbean Food

Friday nights are our casual nights: dinner ordered in, a fun movie, and a bottle of wine.  In our neighborhood, the trick is finding a wine to go with Caribbean food. We always get a great meal, but the Caribbean lacks the wine culture to match. With hearty meat or seafood dishes with a heavy influence of Indian spices, this unique food is hard to match to wine.

We do eat a lot of Indian food on our Friday nights at home, and we feel like we have found good pairings to match. Most of those dishes seem to rely on their spices, rather than the protein, for flavor (whether fish, goat, or chick peas). We usually pick a rich white wine to counteract the heat between bites. In contrast, the Caribbean food we have tried seems to use a lot of those same spices, but with a heavier hand on the meat: resulting in a much more earthier palate while retaining the spice. A white wine can get lost when matched with goat or ox-tails, so we have been seeking a red wine that can match the full flavors yet deal with the spice.

Pinot Noir seems to be pretty versatile among red wines. It's lighter and fruitier than many other varietals and can still bring some other interesting flavors. Most red meats can benefit from a little bit of sweet fruit flavors, but many Pinot's have an earthiness that matches the iron rich protein. With curried goat, you are looking at a lot of savory, even gamey flavors that need that bit of earthiness from a red wine, so we pulled down a bottle of Outer Limits Pinot Noir. We've never had a Chilean Pinot Noir, but it did what we expected, bringing a balance of sweet flavors to the spicy and savory curry. With rich side dishes like creamed spinach and macaroni pie, the wine helped round out the greasy mouth-feel left from the fat in the food.

We like to use a nice bottle of wine to transform a casual night in on Friday into a special evening. Finding the right wine for take-out food isn't always intuitive, but it's fun to keep searching for the perfect match.