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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wine Tasting 101 - Italy Uncorked

Wine Tasting 101 - Italy Uncorked
Friday, April 25th 
6:30-8:30pm
Lafayette Community Center

Planning a trip to Italy? Want to feel like you are? Come join us for a wine tasting class of Italian wines.

The wines of Italy have something for everyone! Take a tour with us to a few favorite regions of Italy; Tuscany, Piedmont, Southern Italy, Veneto. The sheer diversity of styles, regions, and varieties offered up from Italy is amazing. From the tip of the boot to the northern Alps: tasty and unique wines in a range of prices and styles.

Come join us for an informative evening discovering the best Italy has to offer in wine & food. Class includes wine and food tasting, two hours of instruction and take home materials.

Please preregister on-line at www.lafayetterec.org. Click on Spring Registration. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Stormy Outside, Warm Inside


Here are three of my favorite reds to weather any storm.

Let it snow, people. I’ve got a list of favorite reds to weather any storm. I did some legwork, err…umm…some glasswork and have three great reds to wash away the winter blues.

Italian Reds:
If it’s a big storm, and you’ve got a big budget, go big with a big Italian red like a Barolo, which is made 100% from nebbiolo grapes. Another option would be to try a Barbaresco, which is also 100% nebbiolo as Barolo much less expensive. Snuggle up to the fire, pour a glass of one of these intensely flavored reds and cook up some risotto. The intensity of the wine will complement the richness of this classic northern Italian dish.

Cabernet Sauvignon:
Nothing says weather chaser better than a rich cabernet. The cabernet grape is a small berry with a thick skin, giving it a high solid to juice ratio and creating a wine high in color, tannin and extract. Some typical cabernet descriptors include cassis, cedar and currant. Big and balanced, cabernet is the perfect stormy match for a fatty steak or something gamey.

Zinfandel:
If the rations are low, Zinfandel is bold enough to keep you warm all on its own. Known as the quintessential California grape, so find some California cheese and enjoy. Many Zinfandels are usually priced for longer storms in case multiple bottles are needed.

Don’t shovel the driveway. Pop a cork instead. And since we don’t usually get snow in Lafayette, pop a cork anyway - It’s still winter right.  Which reds will you be sipping on throughout the winter?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving Wine Advice


The ultimate Thanksgiving meal is about more than the menu. If ever there were a food lover's holiday, Thanksgiving would be it. And one of the pleasures of my Thanksgiving is that every family member has a role in the big meal. My role is a peach. I'm the wine gal. It's a fine job for a number of reasons with my favorite being the many tastings I conduct leading up to the final wine choice. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. I do receive some advice along the way; don't bring anything too expensive and don't bring anything too weird.
To fit the bill, the wine needs to be a crowd-pleaser and match the menu. No problem. This year I think I've got it covered.

I’d like to share a few tips on planning the wine for this delicious yet tricky wine-pairing meal.

Red or White?
Either! Stuffing is a good guide: if you serve a basic bread-and-celery dressing, try a white such as Chenin Blanc or an off-dry Riesling. Add mushrooms or sausage and a red, like Beaujolais, is great. But the best rule is to let guests drink what they like.

Choosing the Right Wine?
Here's an easy answer: No single wine will work perfectly with your meal so serve a few. Regardless of which wine you choose, the style to look for is medium-bodied, fruity, and without a lot of oak.

How Much Wine to Buy?
A bottle is about five glasses, so plan on a bottle for every two people. If you’re serving wine before dinner, add a glass or two more per person to the equation.

With all that's going on in the world, Thanksgiving is a good time for us to count our blessings. Whether you're out at a restaurant or celebrating at home, I hope you'll be enjoying a good bottle of wine with friends and family.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Reading List


If you’re more in the mood for a staycation than vacation this summer, you can at least transport yourself in mind and spirit with a great wine read. Reading wine books will inspire you and help wrap your brain around the immense world of wine, and summer time is a perfect time to dig in. Here’s a list of a few books, both new and old, that will take you to some great wine regions or at least compel you with some fascinating wine tales.


Books on Wine Worth a Read
So, pull up your beach chair, pour a glass of something and crack a book open.

Judgment of Paris by George M. Taber
The Paris Tasting of 1976 was recently put to film in the movie “Bottle Shock.” This is the book that tells the story of the first time the world realized that wine can be great –even from places-other-than-France.

Wine and War by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup
The Nazi occupation of France was a flurry of destruction. Wine is the jewel of France and the Nazis had a lust for finery. During the 1940s, French winemakers came together to resist and protect their fragile world.

Napa: The Story of an American Eden by James Conaway
You don’t have to leave the country to find a great wine tale. This book chronicles Napa Valley, the fortunes made there, and the wine dynasties that have emerged from it.

The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace


A novel about one of the largest scams the wine world has ever seen. The story gets interesting when an American billionaire drops over $100,000 on a single bottle supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson. A page-turner made for a lazy summer day, this mystery is the true story of a 1787 Château Lafite Rothschild (Bordeaux).

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
This classic and widely read book (and movie) still holds up as a romantic read if Tuscany, Italy, is on your horizon.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wine Tasting 101 - Italy Uncorked 4/26



Planning a trip to Italy? If not, want to feel like you are? Come join us for a tasting class of Italian wines at the Lafayette Community Center this Friday, April 26th from 6:30-8:30pm. 

The wines of Italy have something for everyone! Take a tour with us to a few favorite regions of Italy; Tuscany, Piedmont, Southern Italy, Veneto. The sheer diversity of styles, regions, and varieties offered up from Italy is amazing. From the tip of the boot to the northern Alps: tasty and unique wines in a range of prices and styles. Come join us for an informative evening discovering the best Italy has to offer in wine & food. 

Class includes wine and food tasting, two hours of instruction and take home materials.

Please register on-line at www.lafayetterec.org. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The World's Favorite White Wine



How Popular is Chardonnay? 
Popular enough to have sparked a backlash like the ABC Club – Anything But Chardonnay. Almost without question Chardonnay is the world’s greatest white wine. With characteristics ranging from citrus and green apple in cool growing climates to pear, tropical fruit and fig in warmer areas, this classic white wine grape of Burgundy has become a worldwide favorite. 





Growing Regions: 
Chardonnay grows in nearly every wine producing area in the world but it shines in Burgundy, France. The french versions are often described as being more restrained and higher in acidity. Burgundy produces Chardonnay under many local place names such as Chablis, Pouilly-Fuissé and Meursault as well as wines with Montrachet in the name and in Champagne it turns into Blanc de Blancs.  Among the many other countries that have caught Chardonnay fever America, Australia and Chile are standouts. 

Style Variations:
Chardonnay styles can vary dramatically based on origin and winemaker. When well made, Chardonnay offers bold, ripe, rich and intense fruit flavors of apple, fig, melon, pear, pineapple, lemon and grapefruit, along with spice, honey, butter, butterscotch and hazelnut flavors. Winemakers build more complexity into this easy-to-manipulate wine using common vinification techniques: Look for the following words on Chardonnay labels: barrel fermented (which imparts toasty oak flavors); cold fermented (which preserves fresh, youthful fruit flavors); and lees contact or sur lie (increasing the contact time between the lees, or sediment, and the wine which adds complexity and richness). 

Food Pairings:
Pair Chardonnay in the leaner Burgundian style with roasted chicken or seafood; the more voluptuous New World Chardonnay can match the buttery richness of pasta dishes made with cream or cheese, with lobster or other rich seafood. Caution: Chardonnay can be hard to match with food if it is high in alcohol (13-14%) or has a lot of oak flavor creating a heavier weight and body. Spicy food tends to accentuate the alcohol and oak in the wine and usually are not pleasant together. 
Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of reds and similarly, Chardonnay is considered the king of white wines making consistently excellent, rich and complex whites. This amazingly versatile grape grows well in a variety of locations throughout the world and creates widely varied wines. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Wine & Chocolate Pairing 101 - 2/7/2013


                 Wine & Chocolate Pairing 101
Just in Time for Valentine's Day
Thursday, February 7th 6:30-8:39pm
Walnut Creek Community Center, Civic Plaza

Some say it can't be done, pairing wine with chocolate, but if you have the right wine to complement the right chocolate it can be a match made in heaven! 

Whether you are pairing a delicate white chocolate or a lovely dark chocolate with wine, there are a few pairing tips to keep in mind so join us for a decadent exploration of Chocolate and Wine. 

Class includes wine & chocolate tasting, take home materials and 2 hours of instruction. 
Please bring 5 wine glasses to class. 

You must pre-register at  www.walnutcreek.org class #21406

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Raise Your Glass!


Do some wine glasses enhance the wine better than others? Should you invest in expensive wine glasses? Are all 'good' wine glasses expensive? These are some of the questions I often receive from my wine students. In my opinion, yes, the glass makes a difference.

Why is this so? The shape of the glass can have a big effect on taste. Experts claim that the depth of the bowl and the curve of the rim change the amount of air exposure and directs the flow of wine onto the tongue to enhance or mute flavors.

Wine Glasses 101:

• 1. The size and shape of the bowl - The larger the bowl the better the wine's aromas can circulate. Glassware intended for red wine tends to be bigger, since red wines need more time and air to open up.

• 2. The stem length - The stem of the glass allows us to hold the glass without having our hand on the actual bowl and 'interfere' with the wine's temperature. No more, no less.

• 3. Stemless - Stemless wine glasses have become very popular. This is a good thing, as they are practical, especially for everyday and casual wine-drinking occasions. I am a total convert.

• 4. Fine lead crystal or regular glass - The finer the crystal the thinner the glass. This does make a huge difference. Fine, lead crystal really does enhance the wine drinking experience. However, these are expensive glasses.

• 5. Plain, colored or etched - In general plain, unadorned glasses are better for serious tasting, as they allow you to examine all the visual aspects of the wine such as the color -- its intensity as well as viscosity. However, most wine drinking situations are not 'serious tastings' so feel free to have some fun, add some color.

• 6. Champagne/sparkling wine flutes - The 'flute' shaped glass has long been considered the best for Champagne and sparkling wines as it allows the wine to manifest its bubbles with greatest intensity and duration.

Try it for yourself. Pour the same wine into two different glasses and taste the difference.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Let it Breathe


Does wine really breathe? The term breathing usually refers to the process of aerating the wine or simply maximizing the wine's exposure to the surrounding air. Wine needs to come in contact with at least a little air to release its bouquet. Technically, the air causes the esters - fragrant liquids - in wine to evaporate or volatilize. In addition the wine will typically warm up causing the wine's aromas to open up and the overall flavor characteristics to improve. That's why you swirl a wine in your glass before you smell it.  
Which Wines Need to Breathe 
In general, most red wines but only a few white wines and dessert wines can benefit from aeration. Many young, concentrated red wines, like an expensive Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux that can age for several years, undergo a sort of micro aging process by getting lots of air into them. The same goes for a young and concentrated or especially astringent white wine, such as a white Burgundy. The reason is that forced exposure to air begins to oxidize a wine, causing subtle chemical changes that affect both the flavors and the texture. 
How to Let Your Wine Breathe 
Just popping the cork isn’t going to get you there. Pulling the cork out of the bottle and letting the bottle sit there has little perceptible effect on aerating the wine. Under these circumstances only a small amount of the wine in the bottle has contact with air. The little space in the neck of  the bottle is way too small to allow your wine to breathe very much. The best and most entertaining way to accomplish real aeration is to pour the wine into another vessel. If you really want to aerate your wine, do one or both of the following: 
Decant - A decanter can be defined as any large liquid container with a wide opening at the top and able to hold the whole bottle of wine. This can be an orange juice pitcher, glass jar or clean flower vase you have on hand. The idea is to splash the wine as much as possible while pouring  to maximize the wine’s contact with air. The increased surface area is the key to allowing more air to make contact with the wine. 
Wine Glasses - The wine will do a lot more breathing in your glass than it ever would have while still cooped up in the bottle. Pour your wine into large wine glasses and let it aerate about 10 minutes before you plan to drink it. This is certainly the low-maintenance method and typically works quite well. 
In general, the Aeration Rule of Thumb: the more tannins a wine has the more time it will need to aerate. Lighter-bodied red wines, Pinot Noir for example, that have lower tannin levels, will need little if any time to breathe. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Taste for Wine Country


A Taste for Wine Country

Summertime is a perfect time to visit a wine country. I can think of at least three compelling reasons to spend time in a wine region. First, if you’re already a fan of a particular region’s wines, it can be an exciting experience to meet its winemakers who are passionate and eager to talk about their art. Second, there is no better way to explore the world then by visiting great wine properties; many older wine estates are built on the most spectacular sites. Third, where there is a first-rate wine, delicious food is rarely far behind.

Living in Northern California affords us the opportunity to visit wine country as often as we care to. Here are a few tips to make your visit a success:

  • Book the wineries in advance. You can try simply showing up at the winery but keep in mind that the finest places are often the least accessible.

  • Observe the basic rules of etiquette. If you have an appointment, call if you’re running more than 15 minutes late and don’t be a no show. Word gets around.

  • Dress comfortably. Wine touring requires a lot of footwork. If you’re sampling in a wine cellar, the floor will probably be cold and damp so come prepared.

  • Show interest. Listen to what the pourer is saying and ask questions but don’t pretend you are an expert. You’re there to learn and have fun.

  • Offer a few words of praise. Start slowly; odds are your host will begin with the lesser wines and work up to the more serious in the portfolio. Offering too much of a fuss too early on will seem insincere.

  • Remember to spit. You won’t be expected to drink everything you are given to taste, but if you drain each glass, your day will be over before lunch.

  • Do comparative tastings. Tasting rooms offer a terrific opportunity to taste wines against each other. If there are two chardonnays being offered for tasting, taste them side- by side.  You’ll enjoy tasting the differences.

  • Buy a bottle. You don’t have to but it’s a polite gesture, and if you’ve had a nice chat with the winemaker ask him to sign the bottle. Some wineries charge to taste and often deduct that fee from the cost of a bottle.

A visit to wine country can often be as entertaining as it is educational so get out there and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All American Grilling Wines


As a proud flag waver for America’s own grape, Zinfandel, Zin epitomizes California. Known as the quintessential California grape variety.  Much of the appeal of this American treasure comes from the grapes complexity. At the same time, Zinfandel tends to be very approachable and a shoe in for casual summer gatherings. 

Style And Stylish - 
This uniquely American fine-wine grape has a history of moving in and out of fashion. Classic red Zinfandel has fruit aromas of dark cherries, plums, raspberries and blackberries and can range dramatically in style. These stylistic variations influence how the wine will likely pair with food. The styles you may encounter include:
  • Medium-Full Body; expressive fruit with some barrel age; often spicy
  • Full Body; ripe, higher alcohol, often more tannic and oaky
  • Late Harvest; dessert style, sweet, port-like, high alcohol

All About The Food - 
Unlike many other reds, Zinfandel is very compatible with food and especially loves the grill. Food pairings that work well include: 
  • Heartier dishes that have been grilled, braised or smoked. 
  • Many salty dishes as Zin is better then most reds due to its forward, sweet berry fruit.
  • Fruit based sauces particularly those with berry fruits.
  • Sharp cheeses like Manchego and washed rind cheeses like Taleggio.  

A Few Zin’s To Try - 
I recently participated in a 2009 Sonoma County Zinfandel tasting (yes, it was fun) and here are my top picks:
  • Seghesio Family Vineyards Home Ranch
  • JC Cellars St. Peters Church 
  • Carlisle “Carlisle Vineyard” 
  • Ridge Vineyard Pagani Ranch 
  • Ravenswood Sonoma County

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Red, White and Green Wine?


Can there be Green wine? The Green wine category showcases the wines and wineries that use sustainable, organic and/or biodynamic practices - both in the vineyard and/or winemaking process. As we look back on Earth Day 2012, I hope you'll be interested in discovering a few eco-friendly wine styles to toast the planet!  
Biodynamic
This particularly intense school of agriculture has both organic and spiritual aspects. Biodynamic agriculture views the farm as a single organism, with the plants, animals, crops, soil, air and celestial influences, such as the moon and stars, all interconnected. By balancing these elements, the farmer, in theory, makes his property self-sustaining, thus eliminating the need for artificial nutrients or pesticides.
Natural 
A small, strict, mostly French movement, "natural" winemaking uses organic grapes that are farmed and picked by hand, and are fermented with native (not manufactured) yeasts. No sulfites or other additives go into natural wine.
Organic
The use of the term organic is defined by the USDA: For a wine to be labeled organic, the vineyards from which the grapes are picked must be farmed without synthetic fertilizers, conventional pesticides or genetically engineered plant material. In addition, sulfites cannot be added to the wine as a preservative. 
Unfortunately, wines made without sulfites can re-ferment or oxidize in the bottle. That’s why many winemakers who use organic grapes also add sulfites. If their wines contain less than 100 parts per million, they are still permitted to label their wines "made with organic grapes."
Sustainable
Although there are no government standards for sustainable agriculture, practitioners generally promote both ecological and social responsibility by avoiding pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and by enriching soil with cover crops and composts.
What does it all mean?? Wine drinkers who really care about how a wine is made need to get to know its producer. After all, it’s the integrity of the winemaker that matters more than any certification process. And when you find a winemaker with both talent and integrity, you’ll probably find the best wines, natural or otherwise. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

What’s in Your Easter Basket




Easter is almost here and families everywhere will be gathering around the dinner table to feast with friends and loved ones. This may not sound like the best time to think about serious food and wine pairings, but if your family is anything like mine the end of Lent is one of the happiest of days. Chocolate, red meat, coffee or even (gasp!) wine, whatever you may have given up for the last 40 days, it’s time to reintroduce yourself. The Easter meal should be a happy occasion, and what better way to enjoy good company than with a little vino at the table? If your family celebrates Passover, wow the crowd with a tasty kosher wine.

The Easter Ham
Ham is often prepared with glazes or toppings that are sweet and can balance the inherent saltiness of the actual meat. Well-paired wines can accomplish the same objective. If I had to choose but one wine to accompany an Easter ham, I know what I’d choose in a heartbeat. Unfussy rosés are bursting with red fruit flavors and pair with a variety of holiday foods especially Easter ham. Rosé’s flavor profile has enough sweet fruit to balance the salt in the ham and enough acidity to support the combination without compromising the flavor in either the ham or the wine.

Rosé 101
Rosé wines are made from red wine grapes fermented just a short time with their skins. Colors range from light salmon to bright pink to medium-deep rose. The length of time the juice is in contact with the crushed skins determines not only the final color of the wine, but to a certain extent the amount of tannin extracted from the skins and seeds as well.

A Rosé By Any Other Name
Rosé spans the style spectrum. Because rosé refers to the color of the wine, as opposed to a specific grape variety, the wine can be made from a variety of red grapes and their blends, including Mourvédre, Sangiovese, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. With the variety of grapes used to make rosé, the character of the wine ranges from light and fruity to medium bodied with hints of tannin. Try rosé wines from California or Italy, but especially from Spain or from Provence, France.

I’m happy to bring in spring with a glass of rosé, and as rosé becoming more popular people will discover the joys of drinking pink.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Natural Pair


Wine and cheese are friends from way back. Both are the product of fermentation and both can express terroir, or the taste of the place they come from. In the case of cheese, the taste of terroir emerges from the different milk-giving animals; which can range from cows, goats, sheep and even water buffalos – my favorite cheese of all times.

Wine & Cheese Pairing Tips:
The first rule of thumb is that white wines usually pair better with cheese than red wines do – sorry red wine lovers. White wine’s acidity cuts through cheese’s butterfat beautifully. The creamy and nutty flavors in cheese can also bring a white wine to life by contrast. Along those lines, some consider Sauvignon Blanc the overall cheese-friendliest wine. Among red wines, the easiest to pair with cheese are the light and fruity varieties. Terroir-inspired combinations, wine and cheese coming from the same region, are almost always winners.

Pairings that Please:
• White or bloomy rind cheeses such as Camembert and Brie are the trickiest to match; safe bets include soft, fruity reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir or Beaujolais-Villages.
• Hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan and Manchego go with the widest range of wines; safe bets are medium to full bodied reds without too much tannin such as a softer style Bordeaux or good quality Cotes du Rhone-Villages. A buttery, medium bodied Chardonnay is a surprising star as well.
• Blue cheeses can be troublesome partners for any wine apart from the classic partnerships of Roquefort and Sauternes or port and Stilton. The salty with sweet principle prevails here.
• Strong, pungent cheese offers no safe bets. Sweet or fortified wines are likely to pair well or try an aromatic white such as the classic combination of Munster and Gewurztraminer.
• For Goat milk cheeses, Sauvignon Blanc is a good match especially with young soft cheeses; the more acid in the cheese the more acid the wine should have.
• Sheep milk cheese can handle a robust red made from Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache or Tempranillo grapes. Or try countering the cheese’s saltiness with a little sweetness in the wine.

Strategies for Harmony:
When planning a cheese platter, try adding walnut bread and a selection of dried fruits to create a more wine-friendly match. When serving a selection of cheeses, try to choose three or four which all pair well with a particular style of wine. Highly-oaked and super-tannic wines can be difficult to pair with cheese so be careful!

Pairing up cheese with wine can work like a charm. Just say cheese please and discover a delicious new dimension to your wine-drinking pleasure.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Warm Up




When winter weather swirls in, nothing could be cozier than a toasty mug of mulled wine. Mulled wine, the vine’s version of a classic hot toddy, is a traditional treat in many Old World countries and has been warming people for centuries. These are wines that have been sweetened, spiced and slightly heated - offering a delightful alternative to traditional coffees, ciders and toddy’s on a cold winter's night. Mulled wine is one of my favorite winter drinks because it is hot, sweet and possesses a very special power – it makes you beautifully warm inside.

Pick Your Potion
While red wine and apple cider are the most traditional of the spiced winter warmers, you can also use white wine, hard cider or ale. The primary spice combinations for mulled wine almost always include cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Nutmeg, star anise, allspice berries, cardamom pods, slices of fresh ginger, orange slices and lemon zest are also good additions. The trick to infusing the wine without making it cloudy and gritty is to use whole spices rather than ground versions.

Mix it Up
The mixture should be brought to a very gentle simmer over low heat and should not be boiled – that would cause the spices to turn bitter and make the alcohol evaporate. And, gee, that is the last thing in the world we want, right? To really allow the flavors of the spices to infuse into the wine, allow the mixture to simmer on the stovetop for at least half an hour.

Mulled Wine Recipe
1 bottle of dry red wine (Merlot can stand up to heat and the zing of spices)
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cinnamon sticks (plus additional sticks for garnish)
3 whole cloves
1 star anise
1 Tablespoon honey

Pour wine into top of a double boiler and warm over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients and stir until honey dissolves. Reduce hear, cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally. Ladle into mugs and serve, garnished with an orange slice or cinnamon stick.

Come in from the cold to the warm aroma of mulled wine. It’s simple, fragrant and beyond delicious. If you’ve never tried it before, you definitely need to. It’ll make you happy on a cold night!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Year's Toast


If your New Year's resolutions include: eating better, exercising more and getting healthy. The next time you raise a glass of wine to toast a friend's health, you may be doing more than expressing goodwill. For some of the same reasons "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" a glass of wine a day may set you on your way to wellness.

I'll Drink to That
Now is a great time to enjoy the pleasures of wine, especially since science is discovering the potentially powerful health benefits of drinking the fruit of the vine. A great number of studies have been done to determine the therapeutic and disease-fighting powers of wine, both red and white. When it comes to protecting the heart, red—not white—wine has always been the hero. We've all heard that red wine is good for us, but how good it is depends on who you are and how much and how often you drink it.

A Votre Sante (To Your Health)
When it comes to health, all alcoholic beverages are not created equal. While all may have the power to relax us, only red wine contains a lot of polyphenols, heart-friendly antioxidants that help inhibit plaque buildup in the arteries. Studies suggest that the polyphenols, or tannins, which derived from grape skins and seeds giving red wine its color also act as protectors against cell damage caused by nasty molecules called free radicals, produced by sun, pollution and cigarette smoke; all believed to be culprits in the aging process. Wine, however, is not the only source of polyphenols: they are also abundant in a wide variety of foods, including tea, chocolate and many fruits and vegetables.

The Art of Living Well
Wine has played an integral role in everyday life, religious ceremonies, celebratory events and the enjoyment of meals by societies throughout history and continues to do so. While some of the recent studies concerning wine and health are more conclusive than others, many of them offers a good reason to make wine part of your daily life.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gifts with Taste


Would you like to make some spirits bright this holiday season? If you are still looking for a gift idea for the wine-lover or budding wine-lover in your life, here are a few ideas sure to satisfy. Wine is always in style and always a perfect gift for friends, family or colleagues. That does not mean it's always easy to pick out the right wine gift. You want the wine to match the occasion, the season, and the recipient's personality. Whatever your fancy, there is something to fit the wine-lover on your gift list.

Say it with Bubbles
This season, give the gift of bubbles. I'll use any excuse to pop a bottle of bubbly as there's nothing quite like the magical sound of a Champagne pop during the holidays. Bubbles in the glass represent celebration, fun and holiday cheer. Whether you're heading to a party, want to say thanks for being a great boss, or congratulations on anything and everything, you cannot go wrong with bottles that sparkle. With that said, it's hard to get good Champagne for less than $40 a bottle, so if you want European sparkling wine on a budget, look to France's neighbors, Spain and Italy. Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco are delicious and affordable alternatives to French Champagne.


Wine Clubs

If you don't want to say it once, but instead what to be remembered all year long, a wine club membership is the way to go. Wine clubs are a wonderful way to introduce wine lovers to new and different wines or help aspiring collectors to build their wine cellar. Whether they are starting from scratch or have been tasting for years, clubs are the perfect way to explore an array of new and different wines delivered right to your doorstep from vineyards all around the globe.

Just Desserts

If you're looking for the perfect wine present, consider a sweet treat. To enjoy one of the world's greatest sweet wines is a decadent pleasure. One we don't often allow for ourselves, which makes sweet wine the perfect gift. Great dessert wines are truly remarkable – they offer a unique balance of sugar and acid and combine the nuances of fine wines with a decadent treat for your sweet tooth. Today, a new generation of high-quality dessert wines are being made with the same complexity of table wines. From Port to Bordeaux's Sauternes and Australia's sticky Muscats, dessert wines deliver rich flavor and pure pleasure!
Gifts for the Cellar
Feeling generous this holiday season? Gifts for the cellar are wines worth splurging on. It is often said that 99 percent of the world's wines are made to be enjoyed within a year or so of their release. Wines worth aging make up the other one percent. This handful of the world's wines will develop and gain in complexity and texture over a period of years and even decades. Some wines are classic collectibles – Bordeaux, cult Cabernets from California and top Burgundies. These wines are ideal for anyone who appreciates quality, patience and age in their wine.

The shopping days are dwindling so whether you're looking for an affordable stocking stuffer or a bank-breaking indulgence for your sweetheart, spread a little holiday cheer with any of these tasteful recommendations and give the wine-lover on your list a reason to celebrate.

Cheers!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wine Types Demystified



I’ve come up with a list of terms my students often want to know about regarding the world of wine. Many of these are simply terms that you might hear in any polite conversation about wine. I have avoided almost all wine-tasting terms, which are a whole column in their own right.

Ready? Here they are, in alphabetical order.

Bordeaux. French region best known for classy reds made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Burgundy. French region best known for reds made from Pinot Noir and whites
made from Chardonnay.
Cabernet Sauvignon. Red-wine grape responsible for famous Bordeaux wines and many California “cult wines.”
Cava. Spanish sparkling wine.
Chablis. French region (part of Burgundy) making special, seafood-friendly wines from Chardonnay.
Champagne. French region making outstanding sparkling wine from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes.
Chardonnay. Great white grape of Burgundy. No. 1 “varietal” wine in America.
Chenin Blanc. Fine grape for dry and sweet wines. Sometimes used in U.S. to mean “cheap white,” but sometimes a fine varietal.
Gewurztraminer. Peppery white wine that’s a specialty of the Alsace region of France.
Merlot. Bordeaux blending grape. First bottled as a U.S. varietal in 1972 by Louis Martini. Top red varietal in the U.S.
Muscat. Honey-like grape grown all over the world to make slightly sweet to very sweet wines.
Nebbiolo. Great grape of Barolo and Barbaresco in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Pinotage. Spicy, unusual red wine of South Africa.
Pinot Grigio. Italian wine — same grape as Pinot Gris — that recently became the most popular imported wine in the U.S.
Pinot Noir. Great red grape of Burgundy. Specialty of Oregon.
Riesling. Great white-wine grape at its best in Germany.
Rioja. Spanish district best known for woody red wine.
Sangiovese. Great grape of Chianti.
Sauvignon Blanc. White grape that makes grassy dry wines all over the world. Also used in dessert wines. Same as Fume Blanc.
Shiraz. Australia’s signature red-wine grape. Same as Syrah.
Varietal. Wine named for a grape type, like Chardonnay. In U.S., a wine must be at least 75% of a grape type to be called that.
Zinfandel. U.S. red grape (originally from Croatia). White Zinfandel, with juice allowed a little skin contact for color.

Remember, you don’t need to memorize this list to enjoy a delicious glass of your favorite wine. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrate California Wine Month


Break out the Pinot - September is California Wine Month, and that makes it a perfect time to enjoy a glass of California wine.  California Wine Month celebrates the state’s ideal climate for wine, and its importance to the California economy. Did you know that California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world and makes 90 percent of American wine? In celebration, learning about wine can be one of the easiest and most fun things you do all month.

Here’s my Top Ten list of ways to make wine more accessible all month long:

1. Open A California Sparkler For No Reason - There are so many reasonably priced bubblies that they can be a better bargain than many still wines. Put a bottle in the fridge and open it for dinner.

2. Drink More White Wine With Cheese - I've discovered that white wine generally tastes better with most cheeses than red. The acidity in white wines is what does the trick.

3. Take A Flight - Try a wine bar you have never visited and order a flight of wine.

4. Take Notes - You'll find that the wine will change with time, air and warmth. When you go back over your notes, you might be amazed at the changes.

5. Stop Holding Back Bottles - I'm as guilty as anyone of saving wines instead of enjoying them. Without waiting for a special occasion, invite friends over and open some of those gems you've got stashed away.

6. Visit A Local Winery - You’ll be amazed at the diversity of wines and styles in your own neck of the woods.

7. Try Different Wines - There are more than 5,000 grape varieties in the world, but many of us drink the same one, or ones, week after week (the equivalent of eating chicken every night).

8. Try A Wine You Think You Don’t Like - Are you sure you don’t like Riesling? Things change, including your taste.

9. Order the Least Expensive Wine On The List - This takes courage, but I've found that many restaurant wine buyers work hard at finding great deals. Why not take advantage.

10. Enroll In A Wine Appreciation Class - Taking a wine class can be a fun and un-intimidating way to learn more about wine. Whether you take a class on the basics or one with a narrower focus, you'll learn something new and have fun in the process.

Hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Got A Wine Question?


In addition to writing about wine, I teach wine appreciation classes and one of my favorite things about teaching is answering students’ questions. During my wine classes, we take a non-intimidating attitude to learning about wine, and focus more on wine discovery. My hope is that these commonly asked questions encourage you to pull many corks in the quest for higher knowledge.

Q: Does the temperature at which wine is served matter?
In a word, Yes. The temperature at which you serve your wine will affect its aroma, taste and presentation. The volatility of wine's flavor compounds are important, so getting it right will improve the drinking experience. Wine should be chilled to 50-55 degrees for white and rose wines, and just below room temperature for red wines, about 65 degrees.

Q: What’s the best way to store opened wine?
I don’t face this problem often but know that if you’re going to drink the rest of the wine within a day or two, simply recork it and store at the temperature at which it’s normally served - see answer above for more on this. Exposure to oxygen makes the aroma and flavor of wine deteriorate, so if you want to keep it longer, pour the leftovers into a smaller bottle – the less air space, the longer the wine will continue to taste good – and store in the fridge.

Q: What does the term terroir mean?
Terroir is the French term for soil, often used as a comprehensive term to describe the characteristics of a vineyard’s soil and microclimate and the resulting flavor profile of the wine made from its grapes. All of these factors contribute to giving the wine its specific personality.

Q: What does Malolactic Fermentation do to a wine?
Secondary fermentation is otherwise known as Malolactic Fermentation – MLF for short. MLF converts tart-tasting malo acid, naturally present in grape must, to softer-tasting lactic acid. MLF tends to create a rounder mouth feel and a creamy texture in wine.

Q: What does the pucker you might feel in your mouth when tasting a red wine come from?
Tannins, chemical compounds in grape skins let loose into the wine by extended skin contact. Additionally, during the aging process oak barrels infuse tannin into the juice. Tannins are a natural preservative and also give wine structure, texture and provide an important flavor dimension in wine. Tannins are good!

Q: Do all wines get better with age?
The short answer is NO. Some wines are meant to be consumer while they are young, and bad wines never get better.

No matter where you stand on the learning curve, even the most expert oenophiles agree: For those who are willing to learn, wine is a teacher for life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wines that Pack a Punch


In July with the mercury still rising, there is nothing more refreshing then a pitcher of sangria. For most people however, the word "sangria" brings to mind a blend of bargain wine, cheap spirits and soggy fruit. This classic Spanish red wine punch has been through some hard times. But making outstanding sangria is simple, and the combinations are endless and delicious.

Traditionally the punch, which gets its name from the Spanish word sangre, meaning blood, is made by infusing red wine with a splash of brandy and fresh fruit then serving it over lots of ice. The Spanish brought the centuries-old recipe to the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Today you can create your own version of this uncomplicated summer drink by mixing red, white, sparkling or rosé wine with quality spirits, exotic fruits and aromatics for a sangria you can be proud to serve.

Tips for the Perfect Sangria
You can follow the basic formula or create your own twist on the classic recipe; either way, the goal is to create a flavor-forward concoction with just the perfect balance of fruit and acidity.

Pick Your Wine Carefully
The sangria formula is a simple one. For a classic red sangria, use a Tempranillo wine from Spain. Pinot Noir is also a good choice, either way make sure the wine is not too tannic. For white sangria, try a crisp, dry white wine like an unoaked Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. For a spritzy sangria, use a sparkling Spanish cava. Keep in mind that the heavier the wine, the heavier the sangria will be on the palate -- and likely, the less refreshing.

Look for Market-Fresh Seasonal Fruits
There is no set rule about which fruits to use. Don't be afraid to experiment because part of the fun is choosing the best mix of what's fresh and what goes best with the wine and any food you're serving. Look for mangoes, pineapples, peaches, strawberries and at least one citrus fruit for some zip.

Select a Sweetener
In addition to wine and fresh fruit, some recipes call for a sweetener such as honey, orange juice and sometimes a small amount of added brandy, triple sec or other spirit. Another way to go is to make a simple syrup by dissolving 1 part of sugar in 1 part of simmering water. Cool completely before adding to the sangria.

Let the Sangria Hang-Out
The key to a sensational sangria is to let it sit overnight, refrigerated, so that the flavors meld. If sangria is made right before it's served, the flavor of the fruit will be distinct from the flavor of the wine. By steeping the fruit in the wine overnight an okay sangria becomes an excellent one.

A well made sangria is a perfect summertime pick-me -up so raise a glass to sunny days and picture perfect nights with a sip of something cool and refreshing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cracking the Code: Wine Labels Part 2


Say you're in the wine store and you want to buy something new. You have nothing to go by outside of the label. Will the label tell you anything you should know? Welcome to the second part of a two-part series exploring the news you can use on a label of wine. Here are a few helpful definitions:

Vintage Date: This is the year in which all or most of the grapes in the wine were harvested. Some vintages are better than others within a given region, and the best age at which to drink a wine can vary by grape, region, and production method. Not all wines are vintage dated.

Old vines or vieilles vignes. Theoretically, older vines produce fewer, but more flavorful, grapes, but the problem is that no one has defined what an "old vine" is, so anyone can put this on the label.

Brand Name: The winery that produces and sells the wine, called a chateau in France. Since total unknowns may offer undiscovered treasures and even the most revered wineries can turn out flops, brand name alone is not necessarily enough to judge a wine.

Quality Level: European Union labels usually indicate the wine’s status within the country’s quality hierarchy. On a French label, the term “reserve” generally tells you that the bottle in your hand has been aged a bit longer, while on an American label the word's meaning depends upon the winery's whim. High-quality producers take it seriously and put their best grapes into reserve bottlings.

Varietal Designation: The dominant grape or grapes in the wine, and in the U.S., one of the first places to look for the sort of flavors to expect. Varietal designations are rare on French labels.

Appellation of Origin: The more specific the better; this is the name of the place where the grapes in the wine were grown, which can be a country, state, county, region, or viticultural area.

Alcohol Content: Just like it sounds. Most wines are 7-14 percent alcohol by volume.

Estate Bottled: Indicates that the wine was continuously under the control of one winery in one location. One hundred percent of the grapes were grown, crushed, fermented, finished, aged, and bottled on the property. These “artisan” wines likely to emphasize the unique properties of the grapes, the vintage, and the winemaker’s vision are the common practice in most regions of France, while stateside, estate bottling is seen mostly in boutique wineries.

Trade Name: The name of the bottler or importer. The more discerning importers’ names are considered an important indication of quality - and when buying wines from tiny French estates might be just about all you have to go on. Wines made outside of but sold within the U.S. must list the importer on the label.

Once you speak a label’s language, it’s impressive how much you can learn about a bottle of wine just by looking at it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wine Label News


The technical terms and mysterious locales mentioned on many a wine label can initially confuse more than they help the would-be consumer of a bottle's contents. Add in the language barrier and elaborate classification system found on European labels and you may be tempted to ignore the message on the bottle altogether. But resist the temptation. Like an introductory chat with a new acquaintance, labels can tell you a lot about where a wine comes from and how it’s made, as well as help you define your preferences.

Every bottle of wine must have a label and that label must provide certain information about the wine. The country where the wine is made requires some of the information on the wine label. The country where the wine is sold requires other label information.

In Europe, appellations speak volumes
By now, most winemaking countries have some sort of government-sponsored agency overseeing the sort of label that gets slapped on a bottle of wine. In this regard, France serves as the model. The most developed, defined, and refined wine labeling system in the world hails from France, where all information boils down to one word: appellation.

The French Institute National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) is the oldest and strictest wine-regulating system on the planet. This body governs the geographical limits of winemaking regions and for each one sets the acceptable grape varieties, approved percentages for blends, maximum amount of wine produced per acre, minimum aging and additional specifics.

Varietals rule in the U.S.
In the United States, on the other hand, varietal names take center stage on most wine labels. You may be more likely to scan a wine list or market shelf for a Cabernet than for a bottle from, say, the Stag's Leap appellation in Napa, and most people think grape first when forming first impressions.

Because American labeling laws regulate the percentage required to call a wine by its varietal name, blends are often left in the lurch, label-wise. An American label without a varietal name could signal one of two things: a generic or jug wine or one of the upscale European-style blends. Knowing the difference can help you get what you pay for.

So, now that you're an expert and multi-lingual label decoder, what does it all mean in a nutshell? When the decoding is done, the ultimate proof of a wine is in the bottle and on your palate - a pleasure that may even be beyond words.