Cheers and Happy (secular with some Christian and Pagan roots) Holidays from me to you!
'Tis the time of year in which people are attending a lot of festive parties, wearing ugly sweaters, and trying to make all sorts of warming beverages. I've started getting calls at the shop from people looking for pre-made mulled wines. Usually (since Chicago is a multi-cultural city,) I get requests for gluhwein or glogg, specifically. Now, you can certainly buy this stuff pre-made, but my real question is, "why would you want to?" Not because it isn't tasty and festive, (it is!) but because it is very easy and satisfying to make at home! There are lots of recipes out there, but as with much of my own cooking, I recommend you get creative. Start with a bold, fruity wine- maybe a cheap (hah!) Zinfandel or even a Merlot, some brandy, a little sugar, some cloves, cinnamon, orange peel, apple chunks, whatever you wanna throw in there, go for it! (Candied ginger, anyone? Mmmm.) Add the ingredients to taste, warm it up on the stove for a while and let your home fill with its delicious and delightful aroma, ladle it up, and enjoy with people you love (I'm feeling sappy, can you tell?) My one word of warning- beware the fumes directly over the pot (or don't if you want an extra kicky celebration.)
Cheers and Happy (secular with some Christian and Pagan roots) Holidays from me to you!
OK. Another cheaty non-original post. But, one of my classmates shared this a while ago and I found it too delightful to not share.
Those of you who are not familiar with your Myers-Briggs personality type may want to go here first. However, for anyone who has ever suffered through an HR retreat or college dorm retreat, you probably are no stranger to this guy. (I personally am a weirdo and lie right on the border between INFJ and ESFJ.)
Well, some hilarious (and likely bored) person over at Vino Lovers decided to link up your personality type to wine. Enjoy!
This is not really an original post- but I have some interesting news tidbits and miscellany I wanted to share. I've been listening to the awesome podcast "Stuff you Missed in History Class" and quite some time ago, they had a very awesome episode about ancient spirits, wines, and beers (give it a listen- it's fascinating!) Well, this week, an important archeological wine discovery was made- lookee! If they are ever able to recreate the recipe, I'd love to give it a taste! I'm sure that ancient wine tasted nothing like our modern wines, but I'd be so intrigued to find out!
My beer loving friends can, however, indulge in such a trip through time! Luckily, Dogfish Head has worked in conjunction with a team of archaeologists to recreate ancient recipes. Now we just need some wineries to get on top of it!
'Tis the season here in the US- the holidays are upon us and we are often left wondering what to bring to holiday meals. Now, I love Thanksgiving. I love the variety of food, I love cooking, I love the unabashed gluttony I am able to indulge in once a year. And I love wine. Good combo! I personally think you can pair just about anything with Thanksgiving dinner because it has so many varied components. Malbec too much for the turkey? Yeah, probably. But put it alongside bacon and chestnut dressing and it probably does just fine!
That said, there are some more versatile Thanksgiving options out there, so here are my recs.
1. Dry rose. I know I harp on rose a lot. I love it, what can I say? A dry rose goes with so many things, is juicy and refreshing, and the acid helps you digest your meal. What more can you ask for? Try a blanc de noirs sparkling rose, almost any dry french rose, or, if you can find it, a gamay rose. Mmm...
2. Speaking of Gamay- Gamay! Remember my Beaujolais post? (You should, it was recent.) Beaujolais and Gamay wines are pretty much the perfect turkey wine. Fruit-forward, light bodied, acidic and lightly earthy, they really just rock it. If you're bored of Pinot Noir, give a Beaujolais a whirl.
3. Sparkling Wine. If you get a good dry sparkler like a blanc de blancs, its fizz and light dryness will again be a great, versatile accompaniment to the myriad of dishes on your Thanksgiving table. Plus, it feels fancy! (Without the necessity of a high price tag. More for your buck = more gluttony! Yay America!)
4. Sauvignon Blanc. Now, this one can run either too fruity or too grassy, but a nice, tart version can be a delish option.
5. Viognier. This grape is a little chameleon. Depending on where it is grown and how the wine is made, it can show off tropical fruit, or even a mineral, oaky funk. Either one goes well with T-Day food. Mmm
6. Pinot Noir. Now, I guess this one is making my list only as a crowd pleaser. I think it is a boring, safe option for this kind of meal, but, it really can work. Depends on your personal tastes. I probably won't be taking one to MY meal, however, wherever that winds up being this year, but you do your thing.
Anyone else have any T-Day faves? Share away!
Very few of us are just natural wine lovers. Like beer, coffee, tea, wine can be something of an acquired taste. Some of us acquire the taste faster than others (and how!) but others require more of a gentle introduction. I remember when I first started drinking wine, I really only liked whites, and I preferred something sweeter. Nothing TOO sweet, but something with a hint of sugar was right up my alley. From what I see at work, this is true of a lot of newbie wine lovers- so which ones are likely to grab them? What might be the perfect "gateway wines" for those who don't yet know that they love it?
I'm going to throw out some suggestions, but I'd love to hear other ideas in the comments!
Sweeter wines...There are certainly lots of sweet wines on the market (I'm looking at you, Moscato and White Zinfandel... I've even been asked for a sweet malbec! Apparently such thing exists!) but these are often overwhelmingly sweet, syrupy, and lacking in any sort of complexity or flavor. They are WAY too sweet to drink with food, and will leave you hurting the next day if you don't drink enough water. Not worth it. So, what ARE some good ones?
1. Riesling (sweet or medium-dry.) With its floral nose, a well-balanced Riesling can be the perfect starter wine. If the acidity is right, the sugar will not be cloying, but neither will it be too bitter or too tart. Canada, Germany, and Austria in particular have some great, well-balanced versions, but you can also find good ones in the US.
2. Brachetto. This guy is a little more rare, and is actually a red. It usually is a little fizzy and on the sweeter size (it is compared in style to a Moscato di Asti a lot, but I think it has more to bring to the table.) Whereas lots of sweet wines are pretty one-note, this guy has a little bit more complexity. Now, for me personally, it is usually way too sweet. I'd have it as a dessert wine, but not on its own or with a meal. That said, if someone is really anti-wine, they might still love this one (and you can always use it to hook them and ease them into other stuff.
3. Gewurztraminer. This one can be cloying. It has very floral aromas and can have pretty high sugar content. That said, one that is medium dry can be just lovely when you've got a sweet tooth. Ask for one that's not so sweet next time you're out shopping.
Now, onto the less sweet wines... Some people who don't have a sweet tooth might be a little easier to introduce to wine, so which should you give them?
1. Pinot Grigio: Trying something mild like a Pinot Grigio might be the way to go. I sometimes criticize them because I think they taste like "white wine." They're a little boring for my taste, but perfect as a gateway wine because they're pretty inoffensive, good with food, and abundant.
2. Sauvignon Blanc (from anywhere other than New Zealand.) Sauv Blanc tends to be juicy and fruity, which can really appeal to a wide vareity of people and food pairings. I only advise shying away from New Zealand versions because they can be super grassy and vegetal, which isn't everyone's cup of tea.
Rose: See, I love a dry rose and think they're perfect gateway wines for people looking to head toward red. They go with anything and are also great on their own. Try one from Italy or Portugal for a fleshy, fruit-forward version. For a milder rose, try one made from Pinot Noir. (However, many of the roses on the market are VERY sweet. Icky. Sugar added- jolly rancher in a bottle... Make sure you're picking a drier version.)
Reds: Introducing someone to red wine can be a tricky process. If they are solidly on team white, then you at least know they're wine fans and can proceed accordingly. I'd recommend trying a fruitier wine like a Merlot, or even a lighter bodied wine like Frappato (though they're certainly harder to find) or even a Gamay. If they're more adventurous, you can start getting them into juicy and spicy Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet and beyond. Some of you might think I've forgotten Pinot Noir- I haven't- I just think its earthy funk is a little bit more of an acquired taste than those I've listed here. If you have your heart set on Pinot, try one from California or Australia as the warm-climate versions tend to have less earth and more fruit going on.
So, next time you're in mixed company (wine lovers and future wine lovers, that is) these would be my recommendations of wines to bring. They'll hopefully appeal to everyone- what are your recs? What did I miss?
With Chicago receiving its first really cold weather (including snow) of the season last week, I got to thinking about the delicious product that can happen when grapes freeze while still on the vine- icewine! (or Ice Wine, or Eiswein, depending on where you are.)
Much like its late-harvest cousins, the circumstances have to be just right for icewine production. It is always risky to let the grapes hang after typical harvest time. While sugars do continue to concentrate in the berries the longer they hang there, other problems can arise like rots (which, unlike Sauternes or some other "noble rot" wines, we do not want with icewine,) or even destruction by insects or birds (they like sugar just as much as we do.) However, if it is a particularly dry year in a cooler dry climate (no rot risk,) and a hard early freeze is expected, this can mean gold for icewine producers.
What happens is that water in the berries freezes, so when pressed, all that comes out are the sugars and flavor components, leaving behind most of the water. This makes for a VERY sugary concoction (though as you can imagine, not a very high juice yield- which is why many icewines are pricier.) Once fermented, this wine still retains a high sugar concentration, making it a great dessert-sipper.
For producers, this is a laborious, risky practice. Sometimes they stumble into it by accident when hit with an unexpected freeze, but in cold-weather climates, it is a goal for many winemakers. It usually involves staying up all night, monitoring the temperature in the vineyard and then running out to harvest and press immediately, often outside in the cold so that the berries don't thaw. This means you have to have a LOT of people out in below-freezing temps in the wee hours of the morning, picking berries like mad, knowing you'll yield very little juice. CRAZY TIMES at the winery! Cold, cold, crazy times.
So, next time you're in the store and you're looking for an icewine, don't balk at the price- they're labor-intensive and not a guaranteed success for their producers. But when they work, and you've got a sweet tooth, they really hit the spot!
In honor of Halloween, here is a wine themed Halloween costume post. (a big shout out to my friend Corey for the idea.) There are some great ones out there- if you've dressed in a wine theme before, let us know in the comments!
Every year, on the 3rd week in November, France celebrates Beaujolais Day- the day that the year's release of Beaujolais Nouveau is made available. These wines are harvested in August/September, fermented, bottled and meant to be consumed very young (within 6 month-ish of release- don't let them go past May!) or they begin to lose their characteristics. So, why does it get such a celebration? What's the good (and bad) hype about?
Well, in some ways a lot, and in some ways, nothing. Beaujolais as a region has a lot more to offer than just Beaujolais Nouveau, and often gets an unfairly bad rap because of the simplicity of that one wine- however, that wine is also pretty widely loved as a table wine. To top it off, there have been some interesting scandals in the region that I'll go into in a little more detail below.
Here's the basic deal with the Beaujolais region- The Beaujolais AOC is technically part of France’s Burgundy region (and is Burgundy’s biggest wine producer), but borders on Rhone and shares many of its climatic elements with warmer temperatures than the rest of Burgundy. It is best known for producing red wines but also does some rose and white (which is usually Chardonnay and referred to as Beaujolais Blanc.)
The traditional red grape of Beaujolais is Gamay Noir, an ancient cross between Pinot Noir and the white varietal, Gouais. Its skins are deep purple and it tends to grow well in climates where Pinot Noir can grow. However, it ripens earlier and makes a stronger, fruitier wine than Pinot Noir. Gamay wines from Beaujolais tend to have slightly higher acidity due to water stress in the region and are light bodied and fruity. Gamay’s flavors range from light candied fruit, red cherry, strawberry, and even banana notes, to richer raspberry, and pepper notes. Gamay roses tend to have a candied fruit quality and hints of watermelon. (One of my absolute favorite roses is a Gamay- though not from Beaujolais- it is from Savoie.)
Most of Beaujolais’ red wines are fermented using whole cluster or carbonic maceration. Remember? This is done to extract lots of those juicy, fruity flavors without introducing too much tannin from the grape’s seeds and skins. Therefore, they tend to be deliciously light (a good red choice for American Thanksgiving- something the French surely couldn't have anticipated) yet are still decently complex and flavorful. If you don't love tannins, give red wines from Beaujolais a whirl.
Of course, so far, I've simplified things a little too much (and frankly, upheld that old stereotype that ALL wines from Beaujolais are like the simple Nouveau.) Not so, actually! There are also some pretty fancy, complex, and ageable wines produced in the region- and, in keeping with the French tradition of breaking things down to super, super, super specific categories, the following general classifications can be used: Beaujolais AOC (this one covers about 60 villages, and Nouveau usually falls into this category.) Beaujolais Village (39 villages,) Cru Beaujolais (higher quality, and includes only 10 villages- often doesn't even put Beaujolais on the label, in order to escape the stigma!)
So, while you generally know that most red wines from the region (especially those from the AOC and Village denominations) will be light, fruity and low on tannins, what if you find a higher quality Cru Beaujolais wine in the store?What can you expect? Well, it's tricky! There's a lot of variation and they range from light to heavy with varying recommendations for aging! I'll try to break it down a little- just because I find it interesting. If you do not, feel free to skip ahead! Remember, I had to research these, I haven't yet tried them for myself.
Lighter wines (meant to be consumed within 3 years):
If so much of the production from the region is Beaujolais Nouveau (50%) and they are popular enough to merit an international celebration, then why do these high quality wines try to shirk its reputation? What gives?
Well, part of it is that while tasty, the Nouveau wines aren't really much to write home about- you'll drink them, you'll like them, but they won't be game changers for most people. You're unlikely to take extensive notes on them, remember them for years, or rave about them to your friends. However, there's more to the story than just simplicity...
The 2001 vintage was not a universally good one for ol' Beaujolais Nouveau... Some winemakers were accused of making such terrible wines that year, that a lot of it had to be destroyed, in order to salvage the reputation of the other producers who'd made wine that year- a sort of "one bad apple" situation.
OK, so not the biggest deal- moving on... right? Well, kinda. In 2005, one large producer in the region also had a pretty crappy year. In order to avoid throwing out the whole batch, they secretly blended in some higher quality wines from other vintages (big no-no in France- or anywhere really, but especially France) and did not label the wine as such. Word got out and people were NOT happy. They felt they couldn't trust wines from the region. Then in 2007 (yes, again! the aughts were not good to Beaujolais,) 100 producers were accused of illegally adding sugar to their wines at the beginning of fermentation (a process called Chaptalization.) To the average wine drinker, these things might not seem like the biggest deal, but to the international wine community, it was just another series of reasons not to trust wines from the region or expect quality from them...
So... What Now? :
Are you wondering what to make of all this? Understandable. Well, I think my bottom line is "give it a whirl!" I'm personally excited to see what the 2013 vintage will have to offer. I've been underwhelmed by Beaujolais Nouveau in the past, but am willing to give them another chance- and, I'll say, on behalf of the region, I've had some pretty tasty Gamay reds that were not Nouveau, so give those a try too! Head to your local wine shop and give them a try!
Best yet, check out these food pairings for Gamay wines and wines from Beaujolais (hint- it is versatile...) Chicken, Salmon, Morroccan lamb. Mmm.
Questions? Comments? Boring? Overwhelming? Share in the comments! (Sonja, thanks as always, for reading and commenting!)
The title of this post could apply to lots of things in life, I'm sure (at least for me these days...) But one thing I've found is that the more wine I taste, the more wine I forget I like (or dislike!) So... what to do? Now, I know this is dorky, but I've started keeping a google spreadsheet of every wine (and beer) I try. I know they make wine journals, but I'm not about to tote one around in my purse, and I want to be able to access it from anywhere- which is where technology saves me. Now, just know, I'm not fancy with my notes, but I do like to keep track of anything from details of each sip and sniff to just a vague lasting impression. For me, the things that are important to record are the following:
Go forth, drink up!
Did you know?
One of my favorite fall wines, Blaufrankisch, is also known as Lemberger? I just learned this week that they are one and the same! The more you learn!
So... I didn't post last week (DOH) so I'm doing a little longer one this week to make up for it. Again, this is one of those "in a nutshell" posts. I could do 3 or 4 posts on each of the things I touch on in this one... and maybe I will someday!
I feel I've been focusing pretty heavily on winemaking, and not so much on the viticulture, or grape growing portion of my knowledge lately. So, lest I forget those grapes... here's a post on how humans manipulate the vines to give us what we want from their fruit!
Grapevines are pretty fascinating little plants. If you've ever been to a vineyard, you've noticed, I'm sure that they grow in neat rows, and most often the vines have been trained to grow up along trellis wires (there are lots of different ways to train vines. Sometimes they're allowed to sprawl down on the ground, sometimes they are trained up onto an overhead trellis and they then hang from above... lots of ways. Lots of reasons for doing it each way...) Have you ever wondered why we grow them this way? What else goes into getting them to grow the way we want them to?
Well, in nature, grapes can grow like weeds. They'll find a tall tree, climb it, and just go to town. This isn't great for people- we aren't really made for climbing tall trees. So, to make things easier for ourselves, we have trained them to grow on wires, trained at just the right height for picking!
However, a lot more than just ease of harvest goes into our care of grapevines. We discovered that if we whack and feed and coddle the vines, we can get them to give us better, more flavorful fruit! Ideally, vines have a perfect balance between their foliage (called canopy) and fruit to make sure the fruit is flavorful and sugar rich. If the vines spend too many nutrients growing new shoots, the fruit will suffer. Contrastingly, if the vine grows way too much fruit, each berry will have less sugar and flavor compounds.
Only so much the vine can do- so we've taken it upon ourselves to manipulate it to give us the best crop possible.
How do we do this?
A) Nutrients. Depending on the soil, the grapes may not have enough of what they need to grow and produce good fruit. Nitrogen, in particular, is vital for wine grapes because the yeast needs it for fermentation. So, we test the soil, we test the vine's tissues, and we see what it needs more or less of. Some nutrients are applied topically, and some to the soil/water.
B) Watering. Ideally, you water the vines early in the season, get them to grow, and start fruit, and then late in the season, once the grapes have changed color, you shut them off. This forces the grapes to taper off growth and use their energy and life processes to concentrate all their sugars. (The bigger the berry, the more water, the more diluted the sugars and flavors.)
C) Pruning. People have different preferences and styles for pruning, just like they do training systems. But the basic idea is the same. Keep just the right amount of canopy to keep the fruit from getting sunburned, keep enough airflow that molds and other diseases don't take root (depending on where you are located) but don't let it go so crazy that the vine sends nutrients to canopy growth instead of to the berries.
You have to prune at the right time in the season too. If you do it at the wrong point, you can actually stimulate more growth, channeling those sugars to the wrong place again... Or contrastingly, you can chop off developing fruit and really get yourself into trouble.
Most small scale producers would rather have a little bit less tonnage harvested in favor of really high quality fruit. Smaller is often better. However, a lot of large wineries that produce wines in tanks the size of a building (no joke) would rather maximize the amount of fruit harvested and are willing to sacrifice a little bit of quality (one of the reasons your grocery store wines are cheaper than the small-scale boutique wines you buy in tasting rooms. )
Some growers, however, believe that we meddle too much with the vines' fruit/canopy balance. They argue that in nature, the vines actually manage to balance themselves just fine and we should back off.
It is becoming popular in many circles to train the vines onto wires early in their lives, to perform necessary winter pruning, but to otherwise pretty much leave them alone during the growing season. Don't mess with pruning or chopping. They still pay attention to watering and nutrients (and in many climates have to still worry about pests and diseases) but will try to be as hands-off as possible.
There are conflicting studies, but some show that the fruit quality is just as high and yield is just as ideal in these vineyards as in those that do more canopy management...
I have mixed feelings and can see the pros and cons in each situation. However, I think I'm inclined to mess with the canopy. I'm too much of a control freak, and there's too much risk involved with having a crummy crop to step back that much. I'm all for meddling and getting them to give us what we want. We know how, so why not?
This is a very, very bare-bones explanation as to what goes into growing a healthy vine. But there you go. Any questions? Was this confusing? Those who know more than me- did I omit any major points? Talk amongst yourselves in the comments.
Did you know?
In some regions of Portugal, until pretty recently, farmers would grow grapes for winemaking on giant poles and under them, they'd plant their gardens and food crops for their families. Talk about maximizing your horizonal space!