In the meantime, please scroll down and see my newest (now old-ish) posts!
Sorry for the technical difficulty and the lag in my writing. Life has gotten busy, but I'm working on it!
Thanks , as always, for reading!
Hey there, loyal blog readers! I think many of you probably assume I just fell off the face of the blogosphere. Not so! I have written some new stuff this summer, but... my email subscription client wasn't sending it out! Doh! So, I've switched to a new client and hopefully that will solve the issue. (If you're reading this message in your inbox, then my mission is accomplished.)
In the meantime, please scroll down and see my newest (now old-ish) posts!
Sorry for the technical difficulty and the lag in my writing. Life has gotten busy, but I'm working on it!
Thanks , as always, for reading!
You've heard me extoll the virtues of Vinho Verde, and the wine I'm going to discuss today is a similarly great summer sipper for hot, sticky days (a rarity in Chicago this summer.)
Txakolina (pronounced "shahkoleena,") is typically a slightly fizzy, super tart, super light, low-alcohol white wine from Spain's Basque country. (As a side note, in the rest of Spain, you may hear people refer to it as Chakoli or Txakoli- you can do this, but if you wanna be on the inside in Basque country, stick with Txakolina.) Like Vinho Verde, it is incredibly thirst quenching on a hot day, is meant to be consumed young, and goes incredibly well with a large variety of foods.
While most Txakolina you're likely to find in the US is white, you may also find a rose or even a red. There are some really unique and tasty rose versions out there- I like the Rubentis from Ameztoi (one of the largest and easiest to find producers from the region, they also make a really yummy white) And though I've never tried one, a few producers are making spicy, interesting, spritzy reds. The exact grape content, it seems, is not very important, though most are unique and native to the region, such as hondarrabi zuri, the main grape in white Txakolina.
The white versions I've tried have been the equivalent of a grown-up lemonade to me- tart, with hints of citrus, lemon-lime, and sometimes just a little bit of a floral thing going on. SO GOOD. They'd be just the thing to have with fresh seafood.
Next time you're invited to hang out by a pool, or are in charge of bringing a little aperitif/appetizer accompaniment, see if you can't find a Txakolina- odds are your friends will be new to it, and they're bound to be impressed.
I shared the Ameztoi- have you tried any Txakolina you'd like to recommend? Share in the comments!
I'm gonna get this out of the way- I'm sorry for falling off the blog for 4 whole months! It's not lost and gone forever- I've just been stretched a little thin as of late, and it was one of the first things to go. But I'm back, baby! I'm back!
I had a delightful and most impressive dinner at the home of some friends this week. The food was amazing (this is what you get for knowing chefs!) and we popped open a 2004 Domaine Durand Cornas. Cornas is a region in France's Rhone Valley and the wine is 100% Syrah. (It generally does well to age one, simply because they can have pretty aggressive tannins. Bitter and drying when it's young, but silky and complex as it ages.) Right out of the bottle, it had some serious funk going on- my hostess likened it to band-aids and blue cheese- but its tannins had softened a lot. It had a wee bit of a veggie thing going on at first too.
We sipped slowly and enjoyed, but by the end of dinner, it was nothing but fruit- pretty flat, which was sort of surprising.
Thinking about why this happened, got me thinking again about how darn cool wine is. It brings me back to the idea that wine is the intersection of art and science. Just awesome. Like everything in our universe, it's really just a series of chemical compounds bonded to other chemical compounds. Some of these are pretty weakly bonded and evaporate right away, and some take a long time, some even form anew inside the bottle, which is why flavors change and evolve! Exposure to oxygen speeds up the breaking away process, which is why we keep wine so closed up.
In a 10 year old wine, the most volatile of these aroma and flavor compounds had broken away a long time ago, so generally what is left is are the really tightly bonded compounds. Once they get some oxygen exposure, though, they're going to start to break free and become the smells and tastes that you experience!
You may've heard me say that 80-90% of the wine on the market is meant to be consumed within 5 years. The reason for this is that most wine is not sturdy enough, tannic enough, or complex enough to stand the test of time. Even a perfectly inserted cork will let in some oxygen, so the wine will never be the same as it was the day it went into the bottle (this is actually a beautiful thing. ) So, in the case of the majority of wine on the market, their compounds break down and evaporate too quickly. So, while some people may claim that old wine turns to vinegar, this is usually not the case (unless it has been exposed to bacteria.) It will just be the most boring, characterless wine you've ever tasted. You'll likely get boring, flat fruit flavors, and a weird, dusty, metallic aftertaste- not much more.
So, what happened with this Cornas? Well, most likely, it was aged just a few years too many. The flavor and aroma compounds had broken just a little too free in the bottle. The ones that were left tasted and smelled pretty great when first poured, but quickly dissipated, leaving only the most simple of flavors and smells. Not bad, certainly not vinegar, but I think my host was disappointed after all these years...
The good news was that he wisely opted not to decant- Decanting would've introduced even more oxygen into the wine, releasing all those compounds super quickly! That would've been a drag (the only benefit I can see of decanting a super aged wine is to get maximum wine out of the bottle without getting sediment into your glass.) Many slightly younger, bolder wines would do well with a decanter, but not this one!
I confess, I've not had any wines much older. I think a 14 year old wine is the oldest I've had. It was a Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape, and it was, hands-down the coolest wine I've ever had (a kick ass gift from my awesome boss at the time, Mindy.) We did decant it, and it rocked. A divine accompaniment to our Christmas roast.
Any of you have any memorable aged wines (either good or bad?) Share in the comments!
How to solve a wine emergency? Below are some theoretical questions, answered with lightening speed by Wine-Medic (aka yours truly,) advice columnist extraordinaire...
Five seconds ago, my clumsy boyfriend spilled red wine all over my lovely light blue dress. It was a gift from my grandmother on her death bed. What can I do!? HELP!
- Seething and Dripping
Grab the baking soda. QUICK! There is literally no time to spare. I wish you hadn't taken so much time writing to me. Rip that dress off. Sprinkle it liberally with the baking soda, and don't miss any of the red wine spots. Don't let it dry- at all! In fact, now get the spots damp and let the baking soda keep doing its thing. Now, throw it in a sink of cold water, gently rubbing the baking soda into the stains. Rinse well and dry. That stain should be gone. No need to banish old CBF to the sofa tonight. Congrats.
My husband and I have been saving a very special bottle of wine for our anniversary. But when we went to pop the cork, it broke off in the bottle. What can we do?
-Thirsty on Our Special Day
Fear not. It takes some doing, but all will be just fine. Grab your trusty (and preferably quite sharp) corkscrew and softly and gently screw it down into what is left of the cork in the bottle. Now, if the cork nubbin is still quite long, you may be able to screw it in enough to pull the rest out without breaking through the bottom of the cork. If not, it's still ok. Do what you gotta do to get that cork out.
Now that the cork is free, get a funnel and some cheesecloth if you have them handy, if not, a strainer will do just fine. Grab your trusty decanter, lay the cheesecloth down inside the funnel, and pour that deliciously special wine through the cheesecloth and into the decanter. You should now have all of the cork remnants left on the cheesecloth and your wine is saved!
If you need to wimp out and not drink the entire bottle (pshaw, I say,) then give your bottle a rinse, shake all of the water out, and pour your wine back into the bottle, putting the stopper back in. This isn't ideal because you're introducing more oxygen into the wine, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
As a side note, storing your bottles on their sides will help keep those corks from drying out and that'll keep this from happening in the future. A sharp corkscrew helps too!
Enjoy. And felicitations!
I spilled red wine on my host's lovely carpet. What do I do? Help! This is why I never get invited to dinner parties! I'm NOT graceful. I want to be discreet before anyone notices!
Well, if you have baking soda, see above. If not, and discretion is a priority, grab the salt shaker. Go! Fast!
Pour salt all over that spot. Gently pat it into the wine. It should help draw the liquid out. Dab your napkin into your water glass, and gently blot away the salt and the stain. Voila. All should be good. Also, take some deep, cleansing breaths. Clearly, people like you, despite your lack of grace, or you wouldn't get invited out. Have some self-confidence! People like you. They really like you!
I was just invited to an impromptu pre-dinner drink at the home of a girl I really like. She asked me to bring white wine, but it isn't cold. It is July and sweltering outside. What can I do?
-Feeling the Heat
Don't sweat. Grab that bottle, a mixing bowl, and pop over to McDonald's on your way to her house. Buy a bag of ice for $1. As soon as you get to her house, put that ice in the bowl with some water, drop the bottle in, and in about 10 min, you'll have a bottle that is cold enough to sip in the heat. After 20, it'll be as good as from the fridge! Use those 10 minutes to dazzle her with your sparkling wit- the wine will just be icing on the cake.
Dinner is in 2 hours and I'm out of wine. What do I do?
Go buy more. Duh. And get a few bottles. This will save you from having to send me the same dumb letter tomorrow.
If you have any legit questions for Wine-Medic, leave them in the comments!
I studied a little bit on Biodynamics in school, and this past weekend at the store, we did a tasting of all Biodynamic wines- after all is said and done, I really want to be gung-ho on Biodynamics, but the truth is, I'm just not sure I'm totally sold...
I suppose my outlook on Biodynamics is similar to my outlook on lots of things- it's fine to have a core set of values and beliefs, but if you adhere to any set of credences too rigidly, you can go off the rails... And I think that's where I fall on Biodynamic viticulture.
If you aren't super hippy dippy, you may be wondering what Biodynamics is. I'll give it to you in a nutshell, and provide some links to where you can find out more if you're curious. Bear in mind, I'm no expert on the subject, I'm just going with what I already know.
Biodynamics is an agricultural approach founded in the early 1920s in Austria by Rudolf Steiner (who also helped found the first Waldorf Schools. An interesting, probably brilliant, and kooky man.) It views agriculture from a holistic standpoint, treating soil health, plant growth, and livestock as all part of the same big ecosystem (that's the part I really like.) The goal is to let each of those elements feed the other, with limited interruption by humans and no synthetic chemical use.
So, for instance, in a biodynamic vineyard, you would use no synthetic fertilizers (only tea treatments made from manure,) no synthetic pesticides (some oil-based treatments for mold and fungus are ok, as are some other tea-brew concoctions. Bugs and rodents are kept away by encouraging other animals to hang out in the vineyard and eat them!) You'd also likely plant a cover crop to help with re-introduction of nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil, and would have critters like chickens running around eating bugs and fertilizing the soil with their droppings. Actually makes a lot of sense here, right? Well, yes and no. First, this is only really practical in drier areas where rots and molds aren't a huge issue. I'm not saying it can't be done, but the risk of total crop loss is pretty high if you try to do Biodynamic treatments in really wet areas. Scientifically, oils and tea sprays don't work as well as synthetic chemicals. They just don't.
There is scientific evidence to support the idea that the manure teas and fertilization efforts of Biodynamics are very useful, and obviously low-environmental-impact options. Vine nutrition stays pretty much as well balanced on a Biodynamic plan as on a conventional nutrient addition plan. They do a good job! Hooray!
Furthermore, if you're in a low disease and pest area, why not give Biodynamic treatments a whirl? You don't need to be putting nasty chemicals on your plants, so why taint the soil, expose workers to toxins, and mess with an already pretty good system? No reason!
Now... for the stuff I don't really buy wholeheartedly... Biodynamics also has some kind of unusual practices- practices that seem more like religious doctrine than anything, because in many of the scientific journals I've read, there's no science to back them up. (And I like science.) For example, rather than planting, watering, harvesting, pruning, etc, based on a calendar year or on what's actually physically happening with the vine, Biodynamics uses a lunar cycle. Yes, they plant, prune, and harvest according to the cycle of the moon. For real.
Another of the more offbeat practices involves packing a cow horn full of manure and burying it in the vineyard. Now, you can argue that as the horn breaks down, it releases silica into the soil- which, it does- but only in the small area directly surrounding the horn, not into the larger vineyard block. Seems more a superstitious ritual than a scientifically backed agricultural approach.
I think Biodynamic certification also doesn't make sense for many small growers. The rules and regulations regarding Biodynamic certification are even more strident than those for Organic certification because the list of no-no additives is a lot longer. For small wineries, simply taking the time to follow protocol and keep up with the necessary paperwork can make Biodynamics (and Organics) cost and time prohibitive.
"So," you may ask, "why do it?" Well, there's the obvious, selfless, altruistic reasoning of "because I want to leave the planet a cleaner place." And, that's valid for a lot of people. I love the idea. If we all did it, can you imagine what a pristine, healthy, lovely planet we'd have?
But, as so many of us aren't really that nice, why else would a person practice Biodynamics? Well, some wine producers believe that by not messing with a vine's nutrient balance very much, and by not using pesticides and synthetic chemicals, you're allowing the natural soil, sun, and water to affect the flavors in the berry- you're allowing a truer expression of terroir to shine through the fruit.
As you may know, I'm not 100% on the terroir hype bandwagon either, however, I can actually see how this may be true. If you're a regular reader, you know I have a soft spot for small, craft producers who don't aim for a generically uniform product from vintage to vintage- I like that grapes are different from year to year, from season to season, based on weather, disease, water, etc. That's life! We're all affected by these things and I don't think wine should necessarily pretend to be unaffected. By not messing with your vines through chemical additions, you really are giving yourself over to nature in many ways (even though Biodynamics does advocate for a schedule of manure additions.) The grapes will be different from year to year, even from vineyard block to vineyard block. Terroir will be allowed to shine through.
And that, to me, is the difference between the mom-and-pop joint, and the big corporation, right there.
Ultimately, I guess I'm not 100% on team Biodynamics, and if it were my vineyard, I can't imagine I'd go all the way to obtain certification. However, there are enough awesome elements of it that if I lived in the right place, I think it'd be great to try out the elements that work, and to toss the bits that don't (pretty much my mantra on life.)
Any questions? Deeper insight into Biodynamic viticulture or farming? Throw them my way in the comments!
With 27.27% of the vote... Spill the Wine, by War.
Submitted by my fab classmate Mark Ward! Congrats Mark! I'll shoot you an email to get your address and a little prize is a'comin your way!
Thanks for playing, folks. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming by next week!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the submissions are in! Check out the songs below (give a listen and/or read the lyrics -I've posted links below the poll, in case you aren't familiar with them,) and vote for your favorite!
Maybe it's the obscurity of the wine reference? The catchiness of the tune? Or, maybe you just love the band- go ahead and give them your thumbs-up.
Votes will be tallied one week from today and the winner announced via a special post.
Democracy + wine = prizes!
Be an informed voter- check out the songs below (they won't match the order of the poll as you see it- options are randomized there.)
Lady on the Water
Seasons in the Sun
Save the Wine
I Drank the Wine
Kisses Sweeter than Wine
Time out of Mind
Poison and Wine
We Don't Have to Take our Clothes Off
Champagne from a Paper Cup
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
Spill the Wine
California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade
Red, Red Wine
(And not included in the poll due to Scott's honesty about Google assistance, but with an honorable mention nonetheless:
Wenn das Wasser im Rhein goldner Wein wär)
OK. Chicago winter is dragging on and has killed my inspiration and hope, so I need something fun and different!
Here goes- In the comments to this post, name your favorite songs with wine in the title or lyrics. You may submit as many songs as you like, but try to do selections you actually thought of on your own, not something Google found for you. It can be a song from any genre. Please list the song title and artist.
I'll cut the submissions off on Wednesday, March 26th (you have over a week to brainstorm.)
Once I've collected the responses, I'll do another post with a poll listing all the submitted songs and the person who originally suggested song that wins the most votes will win a wine-related gift from me! A prize, if you will. (And if only one awesome person posts a bunch of songs- I'll still do the poll, and then that person will get a prize as closely related to the winning song as I can think of/afford on a shop-girl's pay. I've thought this through!)
OK. That's it! Brainstorm, submit ideas, and don't let me down- it snowed here this past weekend- again. I NEED THIS TO BE FUN.
I read this post over on Jezebel a few weeks ago, and while it is maybe a little sensationalized (what with the box of wine labeled "fillers," and all,) I actually wholeheartedly agree with, and often espouse the mantra that where wine is concerned, cheaper ain't always better. (In fact, most often, cheaper is worse.) It may not taste noticeably worse to you, but there are reasons beyond taste to avoid the well-known-cleverly-rhyming wine from one of my favorite grocery chains and its ilk...
The reason you can buy wine for $2 a bottle is that it likely uses inferior fruit- the growers grow as many grapes per vine as they can, meaning the flavors and nutrients in each berry are less concentrated (a poor vine can only spread its nutrients so thin.) These nutrients wind up becoming things like sugar, acid, and flavor and color compounds. So if there are fewer of them, the quality of the juice that goes into making the wine suffers.
Furthermore, these mass-produced wineries don't take very good care of the fruit during/after it is picked. It is often machine harvested by machines that come along and shake the vines until the berries fall off. They don't sort out the twigs, moldy, shriveled, or unripe berries. Often, a mechanical sorter will kind of shake out the worst of the twigs and leaves, but not all. This debris, along with the inferior fruit, all gets made into your wine.
The juice from these berries is often fermented and stored in ENORMOUS tanks. Think this vs this. There is literally almost no way any sort of artistic slant could be put on wines in these tanks. There is therefore likely to be an almost bland consistency with these mass produced wines. They have a chemical formula basically- a ratio of sugar to acid to tannins that they aim for. They test the juice, tinker with it, make additions to get it to the right formula, and bottle it to get it to you. A 2011 will taste the same as a 2012 which will probably taste the same as the same wine made in 2001. They are not going for vintage variability and craft- consistency is all.
While fine, handcrafted wines may be aged in oak barrels (expensive suckers, those oak barrels, especially when you consider they don't hold much compared to those tanks above) these mass produced wines, as the Jezebel author mentioned, probably get their oak flavor from chips or sawdust. They dump a bunch of oak dust in there, wait, strain it out and call it a day.
So these are all quality issues, which honestly, you may not be able to taste when all is said and done (though I argue that in a side-by-side blind comparison, the differences between handcrafted and mass-produced wines are clear) but there are other things at play- like helping the economy of wherever your wine is made. These large wineries charge less because they cut out a LOT of labor. Hire someone to carefully pick only the best grapes? Someone to sort out the bad fruit and the sticks and stuff? No thanks. That's what MACHINES are for. Buy a bottling line that requires humans to run it (something smaller wineries are forced to do as they cannot afford automatic ones)? No thanks. That's why we buy ROBOTS! Pay a highly skilled artisan to make oak barrels (a person known as a cooper, BTW)? Nah. We'll just put sawdust in it.
Everything is automated. From production to quality control. Vine to bottle.
So, what to do? Maybe you don't want to drink a $40 bottle of wine on a Tuesday night with dinner. I get it. I don't either, much of the time. That's ok! There's usually a middle-road. Instead of your drugstore $4 usual offering, why don't you look in the $15-20 range? Sure, you might not be able to crank through a bottle a night, but should you really be doing that anyway? Hmmm? (raises eyebrow...) By the time you hit $15-20, you're able to shop wines from smaller producers, often with a vintage listed on the bottle- and 2010 will mean something. It won't taste like 2008. Likely, it was made in a real barrel, tasted and tinkered with by a real person, the grapevines pruned and picked by real people, bottled by a real person (like me!) and it will probably have more character, nuance, and complexity of flavor than its $4 cousin. Try a side-by-side comparison and see if you don't believe me.
I could keep going on and on, but this post is already onerously long, so I'll refrain. But if you have any questions or comments, let me know!
Cheers (and remember, don't be a cheapskate!)
We've been talking a lot about rare or unusual varietals at work lately, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a little info about one of my faves.
Depending on where you live, and what kind of wine stores you have access to, you might have a hard time finding Fie Gris. But if you can, it's worth it. (It's so unusual, it doesn't even have a wikipedia page!)
Fie Gris is thought to be an ancient ancestor of Sauvignon Blanc and is, to this day, really only grown in France's Loire Valley. Furthermore, not many winemakers are making 100% Fie Gris wines, let alone exporting them (I'll give you a few to look for below.) However, if you can find them, you won't be sorry!
Like Sauvignon Blanc, Fie Gris is often juicy and full of fruit, though has much less fruitiness than many American and Australian Sauvignon Blancs, and no grassiness of South African SB. It is lightly perfumy, crisp, and tart- making it a lovely summer wine, but also a great food wine. Because most of the soil in the Loire is pretty flinty, they also get a touch of mineral flavor to them (not a BS wine term, I promise- think of licking a wet stone.)
If you feel like stepping outside the box and trying a new, unusual variety, give Fie Gris a shot. It's delicious and worth the hunt. Don't believe me? Ask my parental units! My stepsister gifted my mom and stepdad a bottle at Christmas, which they thoroughly enjoyed- so much so, they say they may be ruined on Chardonnay- something I never thought possible!
Here are a few to look out for at your local wine shop (we've carried both, and the internet seems to tell me they're out there in other places too.)
Prey et Fils
Eric Chevalier (incidentally, the importer, Kermit Lynch tends to import great stuff. Dependably really good. If you see his name, it's a good bet it'll be a tasty bottle.) I have a bottle of this stuff in the fridge, waiting for a special occasion! We'll pretty much never carry it again at the shop, so I feel glad I snagged a bottle!
Let me know if you try any and what you think- also, if there are any other good versions out there that you know of, let me know!