Friday, November 30, 2007

Fear Of Heights

Argentina has an attitude about altitude.

Talk to winemakers anywhere and they'll tell you about their terroir, about soils that are sandy/loamy/chalky/stony, about microclimates that seduce sea fog in at night to cool the grapes, about how they were smart enough to buy the east/west/north/south side of the hill that's a few feet higher than the other guy's and gets the best sun exposure and the best air-drainage so the frost always slides down the slope and devastates their neighbor's vineyard.

But, these guys have the Andes!

The Andes offer three things that define Argentina's terroir: a weather break that moderates temperatures and humidity, abundant water from winter snow melts allowing winemakers to irrigate vineyards as much or little as needed, and altitude.

What does this do for the grapes? With every climb of 100 meters in altitude, the average temperature decreases by 1 degree Celsius. That means grapes with higher acidity and softer tannins. But the intensity of the sunlight also increases, allowing the grapes to achieve maximum ripeness while the cooler temperatures keep the sugars in check.

Intense sun does not equal heat. The combination of low temperatures and high-intensity sun yields red wines of high extraction, soft if not disappearing tannins, and impressive structure and balance. Carefully made, they do not have the excessive alcohol that mars so many modern, "international" wines. White wines can feature bracing acidity and verve without the need, in the case of Chardonnay, for much if any malolactic fermentation.

We conquered our fear of heights by opening a 2005 Viognier-Chardonnay 50-50 blend called High Altitude Agrelo from the Bodegas Escortheuela Gascon. James Molesworth of Wine Spectator gave it 86 points and said it has a mix of peach, melon and pippin apple flavors, with a crisp lime edge taking over on the finish. It retailed at $14.99 but we purchased it for 50% off at the fall dot sale. With a pot of homemade chicken, vegetable and broken spaghetti soup, it wasn't half bad!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Finagle Your Fowl

Somedays, my menu and my wine cellar are at odds. I want to serve wine with my meal but don't feel that I have the perfect pairing. Take the ultimate white meat choice, chicken. There are ways to tweak it's proverbial beak.

For spicy wines: Garnish with smoked sea salt after carving. Or, rub the chicken skin with a combination of equal parts chile powder and cumin before roasting.

For tannic wines: Drizzle the roast chicken with high quality olive oil. Or, add 1/3 cup white wine to the pan while roasting the chicken,deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup chicken broth after the roasting is done, reduce slightly, and whisk in 1 tablespoon butter or 2 tablespoons heavy cream to finish the sauce. Serve alongside the chicken.

For wines with a high percentage of alcohol: Peel and cut 2 or 3 large onions into quarters, and roast them in the pan with the chicken. After roasting, transfer to a food processor or blender, and puree with olive oil, a splash of high quality balsamic vinegar and salt to taste. Serve as a condiment alongside the chicken.

For acidic wines: Serve a wedge of lemon alongside the chicken. Or, drizzle the chicken with high quality balsamic vinegar before serving. Or, serve with a pickled vegetable chutney or relish.

Never fear wine, chicken woman is here!

Fine-Tuning Tips

Which goes better with a fine Napa Valley Cabernet: Mozart or Metallica?

If food, glassware, ambient temperature, perfume and the people sitting next to you all influence the taste of wine, why wouldn't music? This seems obvious, and is the reason professional tastings are done in silence.

Clark Smith, 56, an MIT dropout who drifted to California to become R.H. Phillips' founding winemaker, spent months with various tasting panels sampling 150 different wines with 250 different songs to find harmonies and discordances. He has worked up a set of some convincing examples.

His theory involves "sweet spots." When reducing the alcohol level of a wine from the "natural" level produced by fermentation, it's possible to create a finished wine with any percentage of alcohol you choose: 14.2, 12.7, whatever. But Smith says (and demonstrates convincingly) that only a few specific alcohol percentages, "sweet spots", actually taste good. He compares the sweet spots to musical chords. A particular percentage of alcohol tastes harmonious, while just 0.1 percent more or less alcohol tastes dissonant.

I recently read a book by Dominic Smith called “The Beautiful Miscellaneous” about a young man who is left with synesthesia after a car accident. Synesthesia is a condition in which people experience one type of sensation with a different sense. Famous synesthetes include composers like Duke Ellington and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who experienced musical notes as colors. But Smith feels that something else is going on. He wasn't experiencing music as flavor; he believed the music was changing the flavor of the wines.

He has only a few guidelines so far for music and wine pairing. "Never play polkas with anything," he says, unless you really like White Zinfandel. "Red wines need either minor key or they need music that has negative emotion. They don't like happy music. With expensive reds, don't play music that makes you giggle. Pinots like sexy music. Cabernets like angry music."

Give these tips some consideration next time you download a song into your iPod or open a favorite bottle.

Friday, November 23, 2007

And The Winner Is.....

Our wine experiement proved very enlightening. The Rhone Villages Grenache was very silky and it's fruit and aromas were more subtle. The Cabernet Franc had a pronounced earthy aroma and a tart, almost cranberry fruit flavor. Both went well with certain Thanksgiving dishes but the clear overall winner for me was the 2004 Cabernet Franc. It was the total sensory package.

The producer was Crystal Valley Cellars in Yountville, CA. I plan to buy more as this is a wine whose character may undergo interesting changes as it ages.

What wine did you serve with your feast and what were your impressions?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Gobble, Gobble

Today, we gather to celebrate my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving.

I am grateful for all my blessings. A warm comfortable home, a bountiful table of food, early morning pre-hunting breakfasts with good natured ribbing between relatives, healthy breaths of crisp air, colorful birds at my feeders, and fluffy flakes of snow.

Traditions abound, such as turkey with all the fixings, parades and football, after holiday sales and post-feast naps. Today, I am also experimenting to see which wine pairs the best with some twists I am making to familiar fall flavors.

The turkey is stuffed with citrus and seasoned with herbes de provence, yams with a toasted spice rub, green beans with pine nuts and lemon zest, cranberry sauce with fresh orange juice and a sage sausage and apple stuffing. The wines I chose were a Cabernet Franc and a Rhone style Grenache. Both have supple tannins which make them more food friendly and both have a spicy bright fruit flavor.

Most wine critics suggest serving a zinfandel with turkey, but many zins on the market are big, jammy fruit bombs with a strong alcoholic bite.

Stay tuned for the results of our sensory experiment.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé

Beaujolais Nouveau, made from the Gamay grape, is officially released on the third Thursday of November with hundreds of thousands of bottles going into the market around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, Concorde jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination.

Beaujolais Nouveau is as about as close to white wine as a red wine can get. Due to the way it is made -the must is pressed early after only three days- the phenolic compounds, in particular the astringent tannins, normally found in red wines, isn't there, leaving an easy to drink, fruity wine. This, coupled with the fact that it tastes best when chilled, makes for a festive wine to be gulped rather than sipped, enjoyed in high spirits rather than critiqued. As a side note, it makes a great transitional wine for anyone wanting to move from white to red wines.

Let the celebration begin!

Today Is Your Birthday

Happy Birthday, Kathy! I found some perfect pairings of wine and chocolate birthday cake after watching WLTV yesterday. Wish I could bring you both today!

The first was Coutier Brut Rose, a French sparkler with a creamy strawberry flavor. Another was a Clos Du Bois Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 that has a dark cherry and cocoa aroma with a hint of vanilla. The third wine mentioned was a banyuls.

It is a fortified aperitif or dessert wine made from old vines cultivated in terraces on the slopes of the Pyrenees in the Roussillon wine region of Southern France.

Most of these wines are red, although some white wines are produced. Permitted grape varieties are Grenache Noir (at least 50%, 75% for the Grand Cru), Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Carignan, and also (but rarely used) Macabeu, Muscat and Malvoisie.

The production process, known in France as mutage, is similar to that used to make Port. Alcohol is added to the must to halt fermentation while sugar levels are still high, preserving the natural sugar of the grape. The wines are then matured in oak barrels, or outside in glass bottles exposed to the sun, allowing the wine to maderise. The maturation period is a minimum of ten months for Banyuls AOC, and thirty months for Banyuls Grand Cru AOC. The resulting wine bears a similarity to port but tends to be lower in alcohol (~16% vs. ~20%).

How ever you celebrate, I hope today is special!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Literary License

The November issue of Lake Country Journal arrived today, with my first published wine article inside.

According to the contract, the magazine bought the rights to my words, which include editing. It was both an exciting and disappointing moment to read the article.

My unique "voice" changed to fit their requirements, became more generic, less colorful, IMHO.

I now understand why retaining your creative rights mean so much to people in the arts.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Wine Journals

Like diaries, wine journals help you record your impressions, sharpen your observations and enhance your memories. So if you've never considered keeping a wine journal, here are some excellent reasons to get started:

For beginners—
• Helps organize your impressions of different varietals
• Keeps track of your favorites and not-so-favorites
• Adds fun to wine-tasting parties
• Captures your memories of great wines and great friends
• Provides a handy reference for future purchases
For experts—
• Improves your wine-tasting technique
• Sharpens your ability to evaluate wines
• Maintains a record of favorite wine & food pairings
• Records subtle differences of wines purchased by the case to determine how each bottle's aging improves its taste

Your journal can be as simple as a spiral notebook or as artful as a bound journal. Evaluate each wine according to look, swirl, smell and taste. Make your notes as you taste. Remember there are no right or wrong answers. They are your personal impressions and perceptions. Carefully remove the wine label and paste it to your journal page.

Wine journals make excellent gifts—accompanied by a bottle of wine. The next step is yours, so begin the trip now to a grape destination

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Try To Remember

One of my father’s favorite plays was “The Fantasticks”. I remember as a young girl, going to a FM Community Playhouse production at Island Park, in Fargo, ND. The musical tells the story of a boy, a girl, and their fathers who plot to get them together by keeping them apart.

Dad also bought an LP soundtrack that he often played and one of the songs from that production was called, Try to Remember.

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh
so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember and if you remember
then follow

Try to remember when life was so tender
When no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
When dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
When love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember and if you remember
then follow

Deep in December it's nice to remember
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart will hollow.
Deep in December
it's nice to remember
The fire of September that made you mellow.
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow

1. to continue at once with the next musical section or composition (often used as a musical direction).
2. to perform in the manner of the preceding section (used as a musical direction).
3. to make a transition from one thing to another smoothly and without interruption: The conversation segued from travel anecdotes to food.

How do you remember important moments in you life? Do you journal? Take photos? Save menus, matchbooks and theatre play bills? Collect wine bottle labels from memorable gatherings? Consider saving the label from your next event, adding a few notes about the menu, list the guests and include any special highlights.

So what is the best way to remove a label?

Buy a roll of the clear, 3" wide, packing tape and do the following.

1. Cut the tape into two strips that are about 4" wider than the label.
2. Fill the bottle with very hot water (trying not to get the label wet) and be sure the bottle is wiped dry afterwards.
3. Put a strip of paper about 1/2" wide across each end so that the ends won't stick to the bottle
4. Working from left to right (or vice versa) attach the tape to the bottle so that it just extends (about 1/4") above the top of the label and then bring the tape across the label, using some type of straight edge to smooth it out as you go.
Once you have the first strip in place, if it doesn't fully cover the label, attach a 2nd strip right under the first.
5. Use the back of a spoon rub hard all over the label
6. Starting at one edge, now slowly start to peal off the tape.
7. Once the label is removed, you can trim the edges with a scissors and now you have a preserved label that you can mount.

Preserve some memories today.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

For Your Holiday Entertaining, Consider Cava

Everyone needs a little extra money over the holidays. This year, substitute your French or California bubbly with an inexpensive alternative, Cava! Fresh and lively in style, it is inexpensive enough to be an everyday drink, selling for $10 or less.

Made using the traditional French "Method Champenoise", Cava must be in contact with the lees for a minimum period of 9 months before disgorgement.

The traditional grape varieties used have been Spanish, however other varieties such as Chardonnay are being used in increasing quantities. The grape varieties permitted are as follows: Parellada, Macabeo (Viura), Xarel-lo, Chardonnay and smaller amounts of Monastrell and Pinot Noir.

About those grapes: Macabeo ("Mah-cah-BAY-oh"), it's said, contributes floral scents to the wine, while Xarel-lo ("Sah-rel-yo") adds an earthy complexity; Parellada ("Pah-deh-YAHI-dah"), provided it's not over-cropped, builds a framework with a tangy green-apple acidity.

Some of the main producers are Codorniu, Freixenet and Segura Viudas.

Cavas are classified according to their sweetness.

Extra Brut: less than 6 grams of sugar per litre.
Brut: 6-15 g/l
Extra Seco: 12-20 g/l
Seco: 17-35 g/l
Semi Seco: 33-35 g/l
Dulce: over 50 g/l

Enjoy your holidays!

Monday, November 5, 2007


If you're looking for a benchmark wine to help you pin down that scratchy, mouth-drying black-tea astringency that wine tasters call "tannic," you'd be hard-pressed to find a more vivid example than the uncommon French grape that may actually take its name from the effect: Tannat.

Tannins, simply put, are complex organic compounds (known as "phenolics" in chemistry-speak) that occur naturally in grapeskins, seeds and stems and that impart a distinctly astringent (mouth-puckering) flavor in wine. A smaller amount of tannin may also be contributed by oak, particularly in wines aged in small, new oak barrels.
Because red wines are fermented with the grape skins while white wines usually are not, reds tend to be much more tannic than whites; and certain varieties are particularly tannic, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Nebbiolo, for example, and the less-familiar Tannat.

Tannins are considered desirable because their anti-oxidant properties help preserve wine in aging. Over time in the cellar with ageworthy wines, tannins undergo a gradual chemical change called polymerization; astringency fades and the wine's flavors take on a more mellow complexity.

The same is true even of Tannat, but its natural tannins remain so prominently puckery that the wine gives us a serious remembrance of times past. Virtually all varietal Tannat on the market comes from two places: The Southwestern French region called Madiran (which usually adds Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to a Tannat-dominant blend); and Uruguay, a smallish South American country tucked between Brazil and Argentina, where 19th century Basque immigrants apparently introduced the grape and made it as much a trademark wine of the region as Malbec became in Argentina.

Looking for a completely different wine experience? Try Tannat.