Saturday, December 20, 2008

Blizzard Blatherings

As the snow accumulates outside our door, my thoughts travel south to the site of our March vacation.

Not many people think of Texas as the hotbed of wine production. But, just west of Austin, is the Hill Country. The second-largest Viticultural Area in the United States, with over 34 wineries in production since the mid to late '90's.

Some of the more notable ones include:

Fall Creek Vineyards' 2004 Meritus, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, was the winner of the Double Gold Medal from the Tasters Guild International.

Flat Creek Estate produces a Super Texan. This medium-bodied Sangiovese was a San Francisco International Wine competition Double Gold winner.

Spicewood Vineyards specializes in locally grown wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Becker Vineyards is known for it's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a typically big red aged in American oak barrels from 20 months to two years.

Texas Hills Vineyard makes what they call their Kick Butt Cab. A fruit-forward wine with lots of depth, made with grapes from 22-year-old vines and winner of a silver medal at 2006 Lone Star International Wine Competition.

Warm weather, great live music, award wining wine and fantastic BBQ sound like great ingredients for a memorable vacation.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Purple Passion

Once called the Purple People Eaters, The Minnesota Vikings recently faced the potential loss of Kevin and Pat Williams to suspension for illegal substances.

Although my hubby doesn't bleed purple, he wants to be passionate and excited about one of this state's professional sports teams.

With summer over, there are no longer any Twins baseball games to listen to as he fishes for muskies. And the Timberwolves loss to the Nets on Friday night was so frustrating, he wonders how much longer the Wolves have to "live".

Lately, I have been consuming more wine than being consumed by my passion for wine writing.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do."- Mark Twain

Think about your potential passion as you ask yourself the following questions. Check the statements below that are true for you.

1. ____ I lose track of time when I'm engaged in this activity.
2. ____ I perform beyond my normal capabilities when I'm engaged in this activity.
3. ____ My energy level is higher when I'm engaged in this activity.
4. ____ I get excited when I think of this activity.
5. ____ I dream about this activity.
6. ____ My enthusiasm for this activity is consistent over time.
7. ____ I feel more confident or empowered when I'm engaged in this activity.
8. ____ Others notice me based on my involvement or performance in this activity.
9. ____ Others rally around me or want to be involved with me in this activity.
10. ___ I feel energized after engaging in this activity.

Scoring: Give yourself one point for each statement you marked true. Then read on to learn where you stand.0-2 This activity is not a passion.3-5 This activity is an interest.6-8 This activity is a potential passion and should be re-evaluated after further investigation.9-10 This activity is definitely a passion. You should take further action to determine how to incorporate it into your life on a regular basis.

Re-fuel your passions!

Friday, December 5, 2008


"We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway....

Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting

And tomorrow we might not be together
I'm no prophet, I don't know natures way....."

Carly Simon's lyrics express my feelings regarding the historic events that will unfold in the new year. First being the inauguration of Barak Obama and secondly, the release of the 2007 Vayniac Cabernet. Both events are surrounded by expectations and anticipation.

Using fruit sourced from four vineyards in Oakville, Mount Veeder, Coombsville and Oak Knoll, the wine has been a collaborative effort. Myself and fellow vayniacs have participated in online updates during the harvest, fermentation and even a real time blending session. A few lucky members of the VaynerNation have even traveled to San Francisco for some or all of the process.

It seems appropriate that the coming together of people from all over the U.S. and even other countries has touched both our last election and this production of fine wine. May both age well over time.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy Hostess

Tonight, it is our turn to host our wine club. We chose a blend whose grapes grow both in the Côte du Rhône and along the west coast of the U.S. The primary varietal is Grenache. [gruh-NAHSH]

One of the world's most widely cultivated red grapes, it does well in hot, dry and windy regions. It ripens with very high sugar levels and can produce wines with 15 to 16 percent alcohol. Grenache wines are sweet, fruity, and very low in tannins. They're usually lacking in color, except in growing areas where yields are low. The vine originated in Spain where it's called Garnacha and Garnacha Tinta (or Garnacho Tinto) and is the most widely cultivated red-wine grape in that country.

In southern France not far from the Spanish border, Grenache is cultivated in the areas around Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and the Southern Rhône. It's also extensively grown in Algeria, Australia, Corsica, Israel, Morocco, Sardinia (where it's called Cannonau), and California's central valley.

In Spain Grenache is blended with tempranillo, and in most of France it's blended with as many as twelve other varietals including clairette, mourvèdre, muscadine and syrah.

Grenache Blanc (or Garnacha Blanca) is the white variety of this grape. Although not as popular as the red, it's still widely planted in both Spain and France. The white wines produced are high alcohol and low acidity.

For more information on Rhône style wines, use the search blog box at the top of this page.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Xarel·lo is a white grape grown in Catalonia, Spain. Along with two other varietals, Macabeu and Parellada, a sparkling wine known as cava is produced. Made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise, cava has varying sugar levels: brut (extra dry), seco (dry), semiseco (medium) and dulce (sweet).

We tried a 2006 Castell Roig Xarel-lo from Wine Library recently. It was medium bodied with apricot aromas and grapefruit flavor. The very high acidity made it more pleasurable with food.

Skip the xarel-lo and stick to cava.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Of Grapes And Growth

Polyphenols, a family of antioxidative compounds found in grapes and red wine, may help stop the growth of cancerous tumors, according to a recent study by the University of Guelph in Ontario. The study focused mice with breast tumors who ingested Merlot grapes. The results showed almost no sign of growth.

Hormones can cause the buildup of cancer causing elements whereas certain enzymes are designed to eliminate their toxic effect. A diet high in polyphenols may help these enzymes function more efficiently.

Miles, the Pinot Noir drinking snob from the movie Sideways stated "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any #%*@* Merlot" Maybe he should reconsider!

Friday, November 7, 2008

First Females

Dr. Louann Brizendine is a neuropsychiatrist and author of The Female Brain. She states that for the first eight weeks in utero, every fetal brain is female.

In male fetuses, testes then form and a huge testosterone surge hits. This kills off cells in the communication center of the brain and grows more cells in the sex and aggression centers.

In females, estrogen spurs brain growth and enhances circuits for observation, communication, gut feelings and caring. Studies show that girls speak two to three times more words per day than boys and they also talk faster. Connecting through talking activates the pleasure centers in a girl's brain, Dr. Brizendine says.

Estrogen-ruled girls arrive in the world better at reading faces, hearing emotional vocal tones and striving to preserve harmonious relationships. We walk a fine line between making sure we are engaged in our relationships without being too pushy.

Teaching a fitness class that is largely female, it has been interesting to observe these differing behaviors. Reading excerpts from this book has helped how I present ideas or approach concerns.

Males may have dominated politics, the workforce and other influential aspects of our society, but the climate is changing. For the first two months of life, girls rule! Someday, our historic milestones will be reached. The results of this election prove there are no longer any limitations for hope.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hope Floats

The 2008 presidential campaign wasn't just a political movement, it was also emotional. President-elect Obama's victory is truly a step forward for our entire nation, proving that when one group advances in this country, we all advance.

The biggest challenge the coming Obama Administration will face is to strike a balance between America's clear hunger for change while not upsetting America's fundamental desire for stability.
In the 2004 election, Democrats won the female vote by only three points. In 2008, President-elect Obama won the female vote by 13 points. Our time will come... hope floats!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Frightfully Good Beer

At our recent wine club outing, in honor of Oktoberfest, we chose to sample ales. Two of the standouts from that evening were:

Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat -Brewed in Chicago, this hazy unfiltered beer had a spicy aroma followed by crisp, fruity ale flavor. The smooth, creamy body results from blending barley malt with fortified wheat.

Red Hook ESB- Styled after the "Extra Special Bitters" found in English pubs, this beer delivered what their label professed, "Liquid Goodness". Flagship ale of the Portsmouth, N.H. brewery, it's unforgettable copper color had unique yet balanced flavor.

Scare up some on your next visit to the corner pub or liquor store.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Too Much Of A Good Thing

How do you address your concern about a loved one's drinking pattern?

That's hard news if you're concerned about a friend or family member's drinking. But there's good news, too. By skillfully approaching this person, you can make a lifesaving difference.

The following is an excerpt from the Hazelden website.

Using the following guidelines to help gain the influence needed to start a loved one on recovery:

Time your message carefully. Talk to loved ones shortly after they've experienced a problem related to drinking. These problems could range from a family argument to divorce, loss of a job, or arrest for driving while intoxicated.

Avoid talking to people while they're intoxicated. Wait until the following day when the person is clear-headed and when the problem related to his or her drinking is still fresh in mind. At that time you have a better chance of getting your message across.

Focus on consequences. It's usually best to talk to people about how their drinking is actually hurting them. Explain how their drinking behavior is self-defeating. Focus on the discomfort, the psychological distress, the emotional pain your loved one feels. You can say things like, "It really hurts me to see you go through all of this."

Avoid lecturing. Some people assume that a direct, hard-edged confrontation is the only way they can convince a loved one to get help. But this strategy often backfires. Sermonizing or scolding people for their behavior may invite further resistance and denial. Instead, take a compassionate approach and show care and respect for the individual. Use nonjudgmental language and don't blame or criticize. Don't label the person as alcoholic or demand that they seek treatment. State your concerns and encourage your loved one to be assessed by an addiction professional.

Maintain rapport. When approaching a loved one about a drinking problem, the most important thing you can do is to maintain rapport. If you make a comment that this person interprets as shaming or blaming, you weaken that rapport.

Expect the worst. Your loved one might get angry, deny the drinking problem, and tell you to mind your own business. Don't take it personally; these are common reactions. Denial is one of the unfortunate symptoms of alcoholism. After loved ones cool down and experience more negative consequences from drinking, they might take your message to heart. You may have planted the seed for recovery.

Offer assistance in getting help. If your friend is ready for help, be prepared to refer that person to a source of help. Escort them to the source of help and take part in the process as needed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Montepulciano Squared

Both as region and a grape variety, Montepulciano (mohn-teh-pool-CHAH-noh) should find a place on your "Bucket List". This beautiful hilly region is located east of the historic town of Siena, where Tuscany meets Umbria. It traces its cultural and vinous heritage to the Etruscans, who settled the area before the Romans.

The grape variety makes a brilliant deep ruby wine with an intense nose of strawberry and ripe plum fruit, combined with hints of leather. Often blended with Sangiovese to produce Rosso Conero or Rosso Piceno, these medium bodied wines pair with a wide variety of foods, notably baked lasagna.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fusion Food

Fusion cooking is the art of mixing ingredients and preparation styles from different countries and cultures into a unique dish. Someone recently referred to this style as "clean out your fridge" cooking. Raising a large family, my frugal yet creative mother invented fusion out of necessity.

Recently, while preparing dinner, I discovered that specific ingredients for my intended dish were missing. Undaunted, I fused two Mediterranean dishes into something original that rated highly with my spouse. The result was a combination of an Italian baked sausage pasta, a Greek moussaka and a lasagna.

Before you gag or holler "YUCK!", Mediterranean cuisines are very similar. Onions, garlic, and tomatoes, cooked in olive oil, begin many dishes. Eggplant, squash, peppers, mushrooms, cucumber, artichokes, legumes and various greens are considered staples. The use of fresh herbs like rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, dill, fennel, and oregano is common.

So, next time you are faced with this situation, be inventive. Think outside your recipe to another compatible country.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Think Before You Drink!

Have you ever wondered why your spouse/male friend seemed less affected by his second cocktail than you did by your first? It's not all in your head, it's in his stomach.

Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) is an enzyme discovered in the mid-1960s. In humans, it is present in the lining of the stomach where it breaks down alcohols which could become toxic.

ADH activity varies between men and women, and between populations from around the world. For example, women are unable to process alcohol at the same rate as men due to lower quantities of ADH. In women of Native American and Asian decent the rate is even lower than those from European countries.

Before driving home from holiday parties this year, remember that women have proportionally less (body) water than men, so the concentration of alcohol in their blood stream is higher. The legal limit is .08 in MN and small hand held monitors are available to purchase.

Eat, drink and be merry at your gatherings but use both your head and your stomach!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rotisserie Chicken To The Rescue

Some days, cooking can be challenging, even for those of us who consider it enjoyable. You might be too tired from your day or the cupboards and fridge look bare. Just thinking about a trip to the store could fray your last nerve. My solution is to keep the meat from a rotisserie chicken handy in my freezer.

There may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but here are ten ways to use a rotisserie chicken.

Salads - Add rotisserie chicken to mixed salad greens, chopped tomatoes, shredded carrots, sliced red onions. Toss with your favorite low fat or fat free dressing.

Sandwiches and Wraps -Make a chicken-salad filling with crunchy celery and apple. Use plain low fat yogurt with a hint of curry powder or cumin for the dressing. Stuff into a whole wheat pita or spoon into the center of a whole wheat tortilla wrap and roll up.

Soups - Add 2 cups of chopped rotisserie chicken, a selection of chopped vegetables and 1 cup of uncooked rice or noodles to 3 cans fat-free chicken broth.

Pizza toppings - Top a Boboli crust with 1/2 cup of pesto or barbecue sauce, 1 cup of chopped rotisserie chicken and 1 cup reduced fat cheese. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.

Quesadillas - Combine shredded rotisserie chicken and diced green chilies with a little cumin. Spoon on one half of a low fat flour tortilla; sprinkle with reduced fat cheese; fold tortilla in half and cook in a nonstick skillet (coated with cooking spray) for 5 minutes, turning once.

Burritos, Enchiladas, Fajitas, and Tacos - Add shredded rotisserie chicken to salsa, beans, low fat sour cream and reduced fat cheese; or combine with sauteed onions and sweet peppers; with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes; or mix with mild green chilies, seasonings, scallions and a can of enchilada sauce. Use low fat flour or corn wraps with these fillings.

Pasta dishes - Add to your favorite pasta dish. Use shredded rotisserie chicken instead of ground beef or turkey in your favorite lasagna recipe. Be sure to use reduced fat cheeses.

Pot pies - Add chopped rotisserie chicken, sliced mushrooms and frozen mixed vegetables to low fat, reduced sodium condensed chicken or mushroom soup. Top with a reduced-fat biscuit topping or phyllo pastry sheets.

Casseroles - Combine 2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken with 2 cups cooked rice, a can fat-free broth or chopped tomatoes, and a selection of chopped vegetables in a 2-quart casserole. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

Skillet Meals - Add 1 1/2 cups of chopped rotisserie chicken to sauteed onion, mushrooms, broccoli and rice cooked in fat-free broth. Sprinkle some Parmesan before serving.

Tonight, I used my rotisserie chicken in a classic Greek soup with lemon, chicken, carrots, celery, onion and rice. Served with an un-oaked Chardonnay, it filled both our soul and our stomachs.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Second Glances

Sometimes, my hubby amazes me. He can accurately identify a Sangiovese based wine by it's color and body alone.

We recently opened a bottle of Chianti that we had enjoyed on another occasion, to serve with our Greek/Italian fusion meal. (Think of a baked sausage pasta that married a moussaka.) The 2005 San Lorenzo Chianti produced by Fattorie Melini, uses lower altitude fruits. Aged in a combination of oak casks, barriques, and steel, it is a modern wine with distinctive Tuscan roots. Bouquet of raspberries and blackberries with hints of violets and irises, it is light bodied with fine tannins. This wine works well with veal, roasts, pork, pizza, pasta in meat sauce, BBQ and antipasto.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Full Court Press

Now that the "Boys of Summer", aka The Minnesota Twins, have packed their bags for another season, it is time to head for the woods with The Minnesota Timberwolves. Terminology changes with each sport and today it is all about the press.

A full-court press is a basketball term that refers to a defensive style in which the defense applies man-to-man or zone defense to pressure the offensive team the entire length of the court before and after the inbound pass. A full-court press takes a great deal of effort, but can be an effective tactic. Often when teams are behind late in a game, they will apply full-court pressure as a means of attempting to produce turnovers as well as tire opponents.

When it comes to wine terminology, press can be used two ways:

n. A device used to squeeze juice from grapes. Of the many types of presses in use today, the basket press, designed to squeeze out as much juice as possible, is one of the earliest. It uses a plate to push down on the grapes in the basket, forcing out juice through small slots. Numerous versions of this press have evolved over time and many are still used today. A bladder press uses an inflatable bladder that forces the grapes against a perforated outer shell through which the juice drains into a container. The most recent generation is the tank press, which uses an airtight tank lined with a membrane that lightly presses the grapes. The tank press is currently thought to be one of the best because the gentle pressure and lack of air exposure produces high-quality juice. press.

v. To extract juice from grapes using one of several various presses. Pressing usually follows crushing and precedes fermentation of white wines, but it follows the fermenting of red wines.

Celebrate the change in seasons and the changes in the sports you watch by enjoying last year's grape harvest, waiting in a bottle for you.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nip At Night

If you have a nip of alcohol at bedtime, it may actually help you to fall asleep, provided you don't do it too often as the sleep-inducing effect can wear off.

Studies show that a moderate dose of alcohol consumed as much as three hours before bedtime can increase wakefulness during the second half of sleep, even though the alcohol has already gone from your body by that time.

If you do want to savor a little wine with your dinner, here's how to make sure alcohol won't hamper your shut-eye that night:

Follow the three-hour rule. Finish drinking at least three hours before bedtime.
Take it easy. Don't overdo your imbibing. Stick with one or two drinks per day.
Retire early. Try not to stay up too much past your usual bedtime as this will increase alcohol's sleep-depriving effects.
Hydrate. Follow the one-for-one rule: Drink one glass of water for every glass of alcohol to help prevent dehydration. And down a few extra glasses of water the next morning, too.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fight The Flu

A new scientific study offers good news for both athletes and wine fans. Researchers at the University of South Carolina say a chemical found abundantly in red wine, apples and onions helps protect against influenza, especially after a rigorous respiratory workout when the body is more susceptible to infection.

The chemical, quercetin, is a known anti-inflammatory found in the skins of fruit and vegetables. The study notes that the anti-viral properties of quercetin remain unknown, but it speculates that the compound may block the ability of the virus to replicate itself.

The South Carolina study is not the only recent research to highlight quercetin. In the March 2008 issue of Atherosclerosis, a study conducted by the Institute of Food Research in England found that the compound reduces inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease.

Try this recipe and serve with your favorite glass of red wine.


3 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/8 tsp. dried mint
Pinch ground cloves
2 lb. red onions quartered lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise (about 4 c.)
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 Granny Smith apple
In small bowl combine 2/3 cup warm water, vinegar, honey, raisins, mint, and cloves and let mix stand while cooking onions. In large skillet cook onions in the oil and the butter, covered over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.

Remove lid and continue to cook stirring for 30 minutes or until very soft. Stir in raisin mixture and the apple, peeled and cut into fine dice. Cook over moderate heat until liquid is almost evaporated and apple is very tender and season with salt and pepper.

The chutney may be made 3 days in advance, cooled, kept covered and chilled.

Blend until smooth and use as a glaze for roast ham or chicken, or stir in a little mustard and use as a dipping sauce for shish kebabs. You could also chop it and swirl into softened cream cheese to serve with crackers or apple slices. Or stir into mayonnaise when you want a delicious spread for ham or turkey sandwiches.

A Votre Sante! ( To Your Health!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Buy This Wine

Bought it, drank it, loved it and now, I can't find it! If you get the chance, buy this wine.

Friday we enjoyed the 2003 Lo Brujo Roble Calatayud from Bodega Virgen de la Sierra. This 579 member cooperative winery is located in the village of Villaroya de la Sierra. Mellow in your mouth, medium-bodied and memorable, need I say more?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Big City Bites

Hurricane Ike impacted our Chicago weekend. Most of our time was spent inside a building or car.

Friday afternoon we were able to walk to a nearby boutique liquor store, Lush Wine and Spirits on Halstad St. Their focus is on lesser-known, interesting wines. I loved their chandeliers made out of wine glasses. We tried a Daniel Olivier Sauvignon Blanc- Semillion Blend which was uninspiring and a Lo Brujo Roble Calatayud that was a winner. Wish I would have bought a case!

That evening, we ordered in Chicago's famous stuffed pizza. The sausage and green olive from Giordano oozed with a thick layer of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. One slice was more than enough to satisfy my appetite. The Engelking's upstairs windows offered us a glimpse of the city's shrouded skyline.

Saturday was Dim Sum day in Chinatown. Crowding the streets and sidewalks, old and young residents shopped, smoked or talked on their cell phones, while negotiating traffic. Vendors delivered fresh produce and one open truck had freshly skinned goats hanging inside. Our choice of restaurants was based solely on the number of locals waiting to eat. My favorite was the crispy fried taro. Poi never tasted so good!

Our architectural tour was via Patrick's Honda Fit and my favorite was the Carbide and Carbon building. According to popular legend, the architects chose its dark green and gold colors based on a gold-foiled champagne bottle. The Great Chicago Fire is said to have started around 9 o'clock on Sunday evening, October 8, 1871, somewhere in or very near the O'Leary barn. One of the few buildings to survive was the Chicago Water Tower. Constructed in 1869 using big limestone blocks, its small towers in a 'gothic style', resembles a tiny European 13th century castle.

Rockstar Dog is a one-room, cash only storefront on Ashland, where we ordered the Zeppelin hot dog topped with shocking neon green relish, cheese, onions, hot peppers, tomatoes and celery salt. Every order comes with fries and a soda and if the mood strikes, you can take turns at the stripper pole up front while you wait.

After walking in the rain to the Spice House in Old Town, we needed to warm up both inside and out. The Matchbox was filled with kitschy memorabilia and candlelight that added even more character to this unbelievably tight corner bar. A dozen stools consume all but a few inches along the length of the narrow, window-lined room. The bartender's music choice was classic Johnny Cash, which amplified the melancholy afternoon vibe.

Ike's wet fist still gripped the city on Sunday so we headed home.

Thanks again for your hospitality, Jessica and Patrick!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Windy City

My kind of town, Chicago is.... or will be, this weekend. Can't wait to fill you in on all the sights, eats and drinks.

See you next week!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Minnesota Grown

Today, our local farm report included one on the favorable grape harvest. With the annual Carlos Creek Grape Stomp this weekend, I thought it might be fun to look at a few varieties grown in Minnesota.

Introduced in 1995, Frontenac is the first in a series of new wine grape varieties developed by the University of Minnesota for Upper Midwest conditions. It is a very cold hardy vine and has borne a full crop after temperatures as low as -30 F and is also a very disease resistant. When grown in colder area the berries must be left on the vine long enough to mature fully. It produces only a moderate number of tendrils, which facilitates vine management.

Marechal Foch is a short season French-American hybrid small-cluster grape with hard-cold tolerance to -20 deg. F. It has good resistance to the usual diseases and normally ripens in early September. Grows well in sandy soils, but may need grafting for use in heavier soil types. Noted for producing somewhat light, yet deeply colored and strongly varietal wines described as having a “Burgundian” character. Usually needs the help of carbonic maceration or hot-pressing to enhance quality.

Frontenac Gris is a white wine grape. Found growing at the University of Minnesota as a sport of Frontenac. Culturally, it is identical to Frontenac, having high vigor and yields. Hardy to at least -38 F. Disease resistance is good, with moderate susceptibility to powdery mildew and black rot, and very low susceptibility to downy mildew. Small grey berries are born on medium sized, loose clusters. Suitable for high quality table and dessert wines, possibly ice wine as well. Ripens mid season with aromas that include peach, apricot, citrus, and pineapple.

Seyval (Seyval blanc) is one of the most widely planted hybrid grapes east of the Rocky Mountains. When grapes are harvested at optimal maturity, wines have attractive aromas of grass, hay, and melon. The body tends to be thin, and either malolactic fermentation or barrel fermentation followed by oak aging will enhance quality. The vine tends to overbear and must be cluster and shoot thinned to ensure proper ripening and maintain vine size. Grafting is also recommended on all but the most fertile sites. Fruit clusters are very susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot.

The report concluded that our home-grown wines are becoming more palatable. From the few that I have tasted, we have a way to go. But, with more growers planting vines, it may be just a matter of time before you open a Minnesota wine with dinner.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bottoms Up

Taking a sip of red wine with a bite of red meat is a carnivore's dream come true. And now a team of Israeli scientists say the stomach likes the pairing as much as the mouth. In a report published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, they found that red wine helps the stomach remove potentially harmful substances found in red meats, which are released during digestion, before the chemicals can do the body harm.

And, the researchers say, this same process is also likely to happen with the digestion of other foods that contain the damaging compounds, called lipid hydroperoxides (LOOH) and malonaldehydes (MDA), such as fried, processed foods and products manufactured for long-term storage.

Here's a toast to more good red wine news!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Not So Petite

At just over 5'3", some would consider me petite. But, I have always said that although small of stature, I can sometimes be feisty.

At our housewarming party last week, one of the wines we opened was the 2005 Petite Sirah. First produced in 1978 by the Bogle family, it is considered Bogle's heritage varietal. Extremely aromatic with luscious boysenberry, touches of black pepper and herbs. Trademark inky and jammy tones fill your mouth with ripe fruit and berries. The voluptuous finish lingers with toasty oak and lush ripe fruit. The firm tannins make this a wine that can bottle age for years to come. Try this unique wine with rich meat dishes of lamb, pork or game and hearty sauces.

Don't underestimate the power of the petite. Remember, good things come in small packages!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Housewarming Toast

Friday, our wine group moved one of our members into her first house. Just like in the movie "It's A Wonderful Life" the significance of having a pizza and wine afterwards was very appropriate.

Mary Bailey (Donna Reed) brings three things to Bailey Park, where four-room frame houses have been constructed for immigrant families. Mary and George offer a brief speech at a doorstep, symbolically holding up a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a box of salt:

Bread - that this house may never know hunger.
(Pizza crust)

Salt - that life may always have flavor. (Salty toppings)

Wine - that joy and prosperity may reign forever.

To Sherry, with our hope that you make many wonderful memories in your new home!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Brain Food

Wine Spectator recently published an article which ties wine and healthy living. Research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that polyphenols derived from grape seeds during red winemaking (a family of compounds such as tannins, lignins and flavonoids) may be useful in fighting and preventing the degenerative disease, Alzheimers, which attacks the brain. In studying the cognitive functionality of the animals following treatment, the researchers found that the polyphenolic extract from grape seeds helped prevent the formation of a beta-amyloid, which can cause a blockage in the brain, or plaques that have been implicated in memory loss and Alzheimer's.

Now, where did I put my glass?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What A Treat!

New research is proving once again that there are even more health benefits in choosing dark chocolate. According to a recent study conducted by the Yale-Griffin Research Center, and partially funded by Hershey's, the flavonoid antioxidants found in dark chocolate helped lower the blood pressure and improve the vascular function of 45 individuals, two hours after consuming the cocoa treat. Dark chocolate has also been linked to preventing cardiovascular diseases and improving cognitive function in other recent studies. Plus, cocoa is not high in cholesterol or recognized as a source of trans fat. Still not convinced to go dark? Dark chocolate is also a great pairing with red wine!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Growing Older

Here are some highlights about cellaring and aging from a recent Robin Garr newsletter.

• Most wines don't age. This point is simple but often overlooked. Probably 99 percent of all the wines made in the world, including virtually all inexpensive wines, are never better than when they are first bottled. Only a tiny fraction are made to age, and an even smaller number require aging. Look to the most "noble" red grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon and the Bordeaux blends, Syrah and Shiraz, top Italian red grapes and, of course, the finer Pinot Noirs, for your cellar candidates. Age worthy white wines are even more rare, although Riesling and Chenin Blanc and a few exceptional Chardonnays will gain from aging. Sweet and fortified wines, particularly Port and late-harvest whites like Sauternes, will also age into a golden maturity.
• Aging wines need care.. Even the most cellar worthy wines won't thrive if you keep them under poor conditions. The kitchen cabinet or other warm place is worst. A wine rack at room temperature (or a wine-shop rack in the open store environment) is slightly better, assuming horizontal storage position and air-conditioning. But for long-term cellaring, as we're discussing here, keeping find young wines for 10, 20 years or more, you must have a temperature-controlled cellar that holds the wines horizontally at a constant temperature close to 55F (13C), the approximate temperature of natural caves.
• What happens when wine ages? Again assuming an age worthy wine kept under excellent conditions, the primary reaction that takes place over time involves changes (technically, polymerization, primarily) in the organic compounds called tannins that occur naturally in the red grape skins and seeds as well as the oak barrels in which the wine may be fermented and stored. As time goes by, the wine's color may change a bit, taking on more brownish or golden colors or, among reds, sometimes becoming lighter. The youthful fruit aromas and flavors (sometimes called "primary") and the aroma characteristics associated with wine making - yeast and oak, for example - (called "secondary") will begin to fade somewhat, ideally remaining present but taking a back seat to the intriguing, complex earthy flavors ("tertiary"), which may evoke a wide range of attractive aromas and flavors from toast or leather to woodsy or spicy scents. At the same time, the changes in tannins reduce or remove the rough astringency associated with young tannins, replacing this with a more smooth and mellow texture. And all this assumes that the young wine offered a good balance of fruit, acidity and tannins in the first place. A youthful wine that's out of whack and imbalanced isn't likely to achieve greater grace and elegance with age.

Age your noble wines gracefully!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Drink Responsibly

Responsible wine drinking is not without benefits. Small amounts of alcohol lower the risk of the more common causes of death among women, such as heart disease, stroke, hip fracture and dementia.

Resveratrol in red wine, suppresses the metabolism of estrogen, thereby protecting cells from becoming cancerous. It is believed that this could stop the progression that leads to breast cancer.

It does one other thing, it turns on a system in your body that prevents your cells from aging. Of course, moderation is the key when drinking to your health. Most people should drink about one glass of red wine a day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Two Fisted

Alexandria is home to the Resorter's Golf Tournament every August. This usually coincides with a visit from Glenn's Texas based cousin. Last Saturday's gathering had us contributing two different wines from Spain.

This first was a 2005 Number One Berberana Tempranillo. This dry, flavorful red had a deep berry flavor with hints of chocolate. Originating from Rioja, located in north central Spain, much of this wine's character depends on long ageing in American oak.

The second was a 2005 Tres Ojos, 100 percent Garnacha, which comes from 50-year-old vines from the Calatayud region, in northeast Spain. The soil and the long growing season, with hot days and cool nights, produce high sugar content and intense flavors in the grapes that carry over to rich, dry wines. It was lively in the mouth with zesty raspberry with a touch of spice on the finish.

Good food and wine stirred up with some good company is always a recipe for memories!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pass The Polenta

Polenta, was once a peasant dish and is made with ground yellow or white cornmeal. It is often cooked in a huge copper pot, known in Italian as a paiolo. The most famous northern Italian polenta dishes are cooked with various cheeses and topped with mushrooms, various meats, pasta sauce or vegetables. Cooled and hardened, polenta can be sliced, sauteed, or grilled. You can also create a layered polenta torta, similar to lasagna.

The difference between grits, a staple in the Southern U.S., and polenta, is that grits are usually made from more coarsely ground kernels. In Mexico, maize and hominy are commonly used and in Brazil they use a variety known as angu.

Growing up, we would sometimes have a fried, hardened cornmeal mush topped with syrup for breakfast. It was good, really!

Tonight, we opened a 2005 Thomas Halby Sauvignon Blanc to serve with our fish in Italian stewed tomatoes, onion and garlic and polenta with a cremini mushroom ragout. Sourced from Napa Valley, there was a distinct difference from grapes of this varietal grown in New Zealand. The aromas were of ripe fruit instead of grassy or grapefruit-like with more of a medium body.

In 1983, Tomas Halby started Halby Marketing, Inc., just off the square in the town of Sonoma. One of the investors was the infamous Jess Jackson and the company's first client was a small, then unknown Lake County winery called Kendall-Jackson. After forty years in the wine business, Tom has put his own name on the label. He has personally selected premium California and international wines that he is proud to call his own. From the elegant packaging, to the rich tasting wines inside, the quality is evident throughout. No matter which wine you choose, Thomas Halby Winery always represents great values.

Play around with polenta!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It Was A Long Cool Bottle

The Eroica label is the joint venture of two great winemakers, Bob Bertheau of Chateau Ste. Michelle Estates and Ernst Loosen of Dr. Loosen Estates. Named for Beethoven's Third Symphony, it is an excellent example of mixing both Old World and New World technique and philosophy...a lively, bold, sumptuous wine.

Vineyards in Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley along with 24% of Riesling grapes from the Horse Heaven Vineyard in the Columbia Valley contributed to the final blend.

Eroica delivers a unique combination of tangerine aromas characteristic of Washington state Riesling, melded with the mineral and slate notes and lively, crisp acidity associated with German Riesling. The 2004 vintage continues toward the Germanic style with added complexity and refinement.”--Bob Bertheau, Winemaker

Upon opening this bottle, we realized that it still had potential for aging, due to the wine's structure. Structure is the interplay of fruit, acid, alcohol and tannins. When they are nicely matched and balanced a wine is called ‘well integrated’.

As the Hollies sang:

"She was a long cool woman in a black dress" (actually it was a long green bottle)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lousy Louse

Just some silly alliteration or a "super bug"?

Phylloxera ("Fil-LOX-eh-rah") is a root-gobbling aphid that was accidentally exported to France in a shipment of American grapevines in 1862 and spread so quickly that it all but wiped out Europe's vineyards within a generation. It kills he vines by eating their roots so growers began grafting European grapevines (Vitis vinifera) to American root stocks, and the industry was saved.

Thanks to its protected location in a narrow strip between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the aphid has never reached the main growing regions in Chile. Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are grown on original, ungrafted roots, producing wines with intense flavors and authentic varietal character.

Want something "original"? Try a Chilean wine this weekend.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It Comes From A Land Down Under

No, not Australia, (ala Men at Work) but rather a wine from Chile.

Tonight, we enjoyed our second bottle of the 2006 Kono Baru Unwooded Chardonnay. It will not knock your socks off, but the nice tropical fruit and mineral quality make it a perfect pick for your summer party. The wine retails for $10 to $12 and paired well with grilled chicken with a pasta and pesto side dish.

It comes to from the Valle Central Region where the combination of the proximity of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean create a micro-climate that is "ripe" for fine wine growing.

Look for the upside down label and leave the "vegemite" on the shelf.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday Sipper

Yesterday, we opened a bottle of the 2005 Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier Blend. The aromas were of violets and sweet berry fruits. The palate was fresh with black currant and licorice with a silky texture and fine tannin finish.

A recent article in the Wine Spectator newsletter reports that a glass a day could also have additional health benefits. Resveratrol, the chemical compound found in red wine, can limit obesity by preventing the development of fat cells. It shows potential as a fat-fighting supplement, by both preventing weight gain and stopping some of the health problems caused by obesity. It reduces the cells' production of certain proteins linked to the development of obesity-related disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and clogged arteries. Furthermore, the resveratrol stimulated the production of a metabolism-regulating protein, called adiponectin, which decreases the risk of heart attack.

Enough reasons to enjoy a glass today.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dinner Out

It has been many moons since we treated ourselves to a dinner out. Thanks to good friends, a favor and a gift certificate, we thoroughly enjoyed this Monday evening.

We chose a Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend from Oakville, CA to pair with our two entrees of Shrimp Pad Thai and Lemon- grass marinated Pork Tenderloin with a Red Chili Sauce. The thrill was discovering that I can replicate these dishes at home.

Thanks Andrea and Todd for your generous gift!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Expecting The Unexpected

Ever since my childhood, I have had a love/hate relationship with July 4th firework displays. The roman candles made me "ooh" but the cherry bombs that follow dampened the overall enjoyment.

This year, we chose to make a simple meal with unexpected ingredients and serve it with a white wine from a producer who is known as the "King of Beaujolais".

We paired shrimp with scallions, garlic, roasted red peppers and topped it with feta cheese. For a side dish, we made couscous with tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions and lemon juice. The wine was a NV Cuvee Blanc from Duboeuf. The label told us to expect a dry wine with hints of white flowers, hazelnuts and honey. There was more grapefruit (from the Sauvignon Blanc) in this blend than honey.

In the 1950's Georges Duboeuf began selling wine from his home in the Maconnais, just north of Beaujolais. Beaujolais occupies an area 30 miles long and 8 miles wide in the southernmost part of Burgundy with Macon to the north and the Rhone to the south. Lyon, the third largest city in France after Paris and Marseilles, is a half hour south. Beaujolais is very hilly and its latitude is similar to that of Portland, Oregon. One third of the area (55,000 acres) is covered by vineyards with the granite soil in the northern vineyards that give aromas of ripe fruit and faded roses. The clay soil in the south impart aromas that remind many of red fruits. 98% of the vineyards are planted in Gamay with 2% in Chardonnay, which is used in the small production of Beaujolais Blanc.

Today Duboeuf sells Macon-Villages, Saint-Veran and his first wine- Pouilly Fuisse. From the Cotes du Rhone (northern Rhone just south of Lyon to the southern Rhone near Avignon) come the Cotes du Rhone red and white, Cote Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Gigondas, Saint Joseph, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Ventoux, Cotes du Luberon and Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.

His grape varieties including Merlot, Syrah, Viognier, Gamay and Sauvignon Blanc that come from the Vin de Pays D'Oc in south-central France, on the Mediterranean, the largest wine region in the world. His Loire wines come from Vin De Pay Du Jardin De La France and finally there are the Georges Duboeuf Cuvee red and white table wines.

Georges has organized his wines into several categories, including the flower Label which is blended from co-ops and growers including Beaujolais, the Crus, Macon and the classic varieties. The Prestige Label is from the oldest vineyards, with the best plant exposure and limited yields whose wines include: Julienas, Brouilly, Morgan, Fleurie, Moulin-A-Vent, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pouilly Fuisse.

Whether sipping a chilled glass before dinner or with some Mediterranean cuisine, try something unexpected, like the Cuvee Blanc.

Monday, June 30, 2008

While The Cat's Away

Arriving home from my weekend away, I noticed an empty bottle of Eschelon Pinot Noir in the recycling. The grapes were grown in the Burgundy region of France but the juice was bottled in California. It is fast becoming our "everyday red".

Robin Garr recently re-posted the following Burgundy primer on his 30SecWineAdvisor.

WHERE: Most broadly defined, Burgundy runs north and south along the Saone river in France between the cities of Lyons and Dijon (plus Chablis, which is a good distance northwest of all the rest). The southern portion of Burgundy incorporates the Chalonnaise, Maconnais and Beaujolais regions; but when most wine enthusiasts speak of Burgundy, they are talking about the relatively small section around Beaune, just south of Dijon, where the hillside stretch called Cote d'Or incorporates the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune, where some of Earth's most favored vineyards grow.

WHAT: Called Bourgogne ("Boor-gon-yuh") in French, Burgundy wines are almost invariably made from only two grape varieties: Pinot Noir for the reds, and Chardonnay for the whites. There are a few exceptions, like the Gamay grape in Beaujolais and the white Aligote and Pinot Blanc. We'll talk about them another day.

WHEN: In terms of the length and texture of its vinous history, Burgundy is one for the books. Legend asserts that the ancient Romans found vineyards here when they conquered Gaul in 50 B.C., and vine growing has carried on without a break for more than 2,000 years since: by monks in the Dark Ages through Charlemagne's time, by dukes and barons thereafter, and by small farmers and entrepreneurs after the Revolution, when Napoleon's empire broke up the old holdings of the church and the nobility, a policy further complicated by inheritance to create a jigsaw-puzzle map of tiny properties that befuddles wine enthusiasts to this day.

WHY: What makes Burgundy so desirable? There is little debate that both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay reach their quality pinnacle in these relatively small places; and Pinot in particular, while one of the most challenging grapes to get right, is one of the most rewarding when it all works out. Two millennia of wine-making tradition and as much experience in selecting the best possible vineyard sites further contribute to the quality factor; and sheer rarity based on limited yields from tiny vineyards drives the supply-and-demand ratio for the most sought-after wines out of all proportion. Most of us will have little opportunity to taste the greatest Burgundies. But with a little effort and care, we can certainly enjoy some good ones.

Hope this quick reference helps to "de-mystify" Burgundy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Family Reunion Salad

This weekend is filled with family, as was last weekend. First is a wedding reception for my nephew Rolf and his bride Wendy and Sunday is the day of our Family Reunion. We need to bring a dish to share and my choice follows:

Szechuan Chicken Salad


2 pounds boneless chicken breasts (3 large breast halves or 4 medium halves)

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced crosswise

12 ounces Napa cabbage, thinly sliced

4 scallions, white part and 1 inch of the green, thinly sliced crosswise

2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 large jalapeño, or 2 small, minced

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, minced

1. Bring 2 quarts salted water to a boil. Add the chicken breasts. Cover, and return the water to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the chicken stand 20 minutes. Strain the chicken, and cool completely. Cut it into 1/2-inch cubes (or shred if using parts on the bone). Or buy a rotisserie chicken and remove the meat.

2. Meanwhile, combine the celery, cabbage, scallions and cilantro in a large mixing bowl. Toss and reserve until ready to use.

3. Whisk the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, pepper and sesame oil in a small bowl. Add the jalapeño and ginger. Season with salt. Let stand 10 minutes.

4. Add the chicken to the reserved vegetables. Toss to combine, and let stand 5 minutes. Drizzle the soy dressing over the salad, and toss. Let the salad stand another 5 minutes. Toss, and serve.

Pair with a chilled white such as Domaine de Pouy 2006 Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gasgogne.

It has a clear, light straw color. The aromas and flavor are lemon-lime and green-apple with a subtle "grassy" character. Mouth-watering acidity joins a taste of lime in a medium-long finish.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Longest Day of the Year

On the Summer Solstice, which occurs on June 21, the Sun is at its highest path through the sky and the day is the longest. Because the day is so long the Sun does not rise exactly in the east, but rises to the north of east and sets to the north of west allowing it to be in the sky for a longer period of time.

This June 21st, was also my longest day and started with making eggs. More on that later, but speaking of eggs...

On the day of the Vernal (spring) Equinox, can you stand a raw egg on its end.

How it works:

Let's look at it from an astronomical angle: what is special about the Spring (also called the Vernal) Equinox that makes it different from any other time of the year?

The Earth's spin axis is tilted with respect to its orbital plane. This is what causes the seasons. When the Earth's axis points towards the Sun, it is summer for that hemisphere. When the Earth's axis points away, you get winter. The north end of the Earth's axis never points directly at the Sun, but on the summer solstice it points as close as it can, and on the winter solstice as far as it can.

Midway between these two times, in spring and autumn, the spin axis of the Earth points 90 degrees away from the Sun. Note that this happens twice a year, in spring and autumn. If you can stand an egg on its end on the Spring Equinox, surely you can on the Autumnal Equinox as well! Yet this always seems to get overlooked.

So on the first day of spring, the Earth's axis happens to be pointing perpendicularly to the direction of the Sun. Although it might seem like a special event, all it really means is that day and night have about the same length: 12 hours each, more or less.

Now, back to my longest day. It started at 7 a.m. with pancakes, eggs and bacon. What followed was lots of dishes, lunch preparation, gallons of gatorade and tons of cookies for the wood splitters, (hubby Glenn, brother Gary and nephew Seth) more dishes and dinner preparation.

The wood is stacked and drying for this fall and next, there were no accidents and everyone was sore but satisfied with the outcome. That in itself deserves a toast, to spring and family:

"Whenever the occasion arose he/she arose to the occasion"


Thursday, June 12, 2008

You Are Only Young Once

A big question for wine lovers all over the world, is whether a bottle is ready to drink, or ‘prête à boire’. Since wine changes with age, some excellent wines may be barely palatable if drunk too young. On the other hand, wait too long and you may find your wine lackluster, a pale shadow of what it could have been had you drunk it when it was at its peak.

It really depends on four main factors:

The grape variety used to make the wine. Some varieties will, as a rule, cellar longer than others. Sauvignon blancs are generally designed to be enjoyed young, for example, while a a top qualityPinot Noir may need many years to reach maturity.

The quality of the fruit. To make a top quality wine with the ability to develop in the bottle, requires top quality fruit, and top quality winemaking. That bargain bin wine from the supermarket is undoubtedly intended to be drunk now!

What the winemaker intended when they made the wine. Some wines are deliberately made to be drunk young, and some are designed to improve with a certain amount of bottle aging.

Your own personal tastes. Some people prefer to drink wines at an earlier stage in their development, while others enjoy the more mature flavors of a well-aged wine. As a rule, younger wines will tend to be fresher and crisper, with more obvious fruit character. Aged wines will be softer, more complex and have more 'bottle developed' secondary characters. A young pinot noir, for example will exhibit more cherry and strawberry fruit characters, while an older one will have more 'forest floor' flavors - mushrooms and savory characters.

Remember that wines need to be cellared with respect. Out of the sunlight and at a constant, cool temperature are the keys to letting your wine mature gracefully.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Opening Day Jitters

Sports stars sometimes experience opening day jitters. Things were kind of "nervy" for us on Saturday, the MN Muskie Opener. What? It's not on your calendar as a national holiday? In this household, it ranks a slight second to the Pheasant Opener in October.

Although we did not get on the water until after lunch, due to other commitments, we were successful in catching a 42" fat female muskie. There was lots of activity in the boat, battling the fish and scrambling for a tape measure, glove, camera and most importantly, a net. There was no champagne on board so a cold beer was used to celebrate.

Luck, and the force, were with us but later that same day, luck took a break. While fishing with only the dog, the plug came out of the boat. Glenn was so focused on getting another fish, he failed to notice the boat filling with water. There was over 12" on the lower deck by the time he tried to start the motor. They barely made it to shore but the binoculars and radio suffered.

Timing is everything. Mark Knopfler wrote:

One day you got the glory
One day you got none
One day you're a diamond
And then you're a stone
Everything can change
In the blink of an eye
So let the good times roll
Before we say goodbye, because

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're a fool in love
Sometimes you're the Louisville slugger baby
Sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're going lose it all

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Life's A Trip

Although there are no longer any small children in our immediate families, summer has traditionally been linked to the family road trip. It can be a time for bonding, a time for learning about each other's interests and points of view or a time to pull out every last hair on your head.

Here are some new ideas for games and activities for a trip that is long on smiles and short on frustration:

Contest Craze: Hold an official family spelling bee or trivia contest, using index cards to write down words or questions. Winners can earn trinkets, stickers, activity or coloring books, trading cards, food treats, or extra minutes of hotel pool time.

Journal Jotting: Buy cheap, but sturdy, journals and have kids write down and describe what they see along the way. Have them collect something small (a stone, a seashell, a flower, etc.) to glue into their journal, describing each stop and each location or landmark they pass. Bring along a stack of old magazines, and have kids cut out and paste pictures into their journals to illustrate some of what they've seen (i.e., cows, fire trucks, palm trees, deer, cars, etc.). Buy a disposable camera for each child, so that they can capture their own memories and place their very own pictures in their personal road-trip journals.

Window Gallery: Use washable window markers to make colorful creations that even passersby can enjoy, or to play endless, paper-free games like tic-tac-toe and hangman. Keep a cotton cloth or dust rag on hand so kids can keep the window fun flowing throughout the trip - just make sure the driver's view isn't blocked!

Word Play: Have kids write down various words they see as you drive along (from billboards, bumper stickers, roadside attractions and stores, license plates, signs, the sides of semi-trucks, etc.). Ask them to write a story, poem, or song grouping all of the words they see together. Have them read, perform, or sing their creation for everyone when they're done.

And when you arrive at your destination, remember that getting there was half the fun. Celebrate by opening a bottle of sparkling cider for the kids and make a fruity white wine and sparkling cider sangria for the adults.

1 bottle dry white wine, such as Vinho Verde or Pinot Grigio
1 cup fresh orange juice
Juice of 2 limes
10 strawberries, thickly sliced (optional)
Orange and lime slices
1 1/2 cups sparkling sweet cider

In a large glass pitcher, combine the first 5 ingredients and set aside to macerate for 15 minutes. Just before serving, add the sparking cider and ice. Stir well and serve at once.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Give Us An Inch

Once again, our little neck of the woods is in a drought. We were fortunate to miss the hail, high winds and even tornadoes that hit other parts of MN.

B.J. Thomas wrote about raindrops that kept falling on his head.

But there's one thing I know

The blues they send to greet me won't defeat me

It won't be long 'til happiness steps up to greet me

Listening to and smelling the rain through a window screen in the summer is one of my favorite things.

Oscar Hammerstein II penned and Julie Andrews sang of some other favorites:

Raindrops on roses,

And whiskers on kittens,

Bright copper kettles,

And warm woolen mittens,

Brown paper packages,

Tied up with strings,

These are a few of my favorite things

When the hot or dry weather makes you thirsty, try another favorite of ours, a vodka still works cocktail.

1 teaspoon Angostura bitters

2 shots chilled vodka

6 to 8 ounces ginger ale

Place bitters in a tall glass and combine with vodka using a cocktail spoon. Add ice to glass then fill with ginger ale and stir again. Serve with a straw.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grawed Down To The Bone

Awake the Lakes “Where Summer Begins and the Fun Never Ends” is a Memorial Day Weekend festival in Alexandria, MN, that includes activities for the entire family. Friday kicked off the weekend with the popular Rib Fest and Beer Garden and music.

To celebrate the start of summer, we fired up the grill to make some award winning Baby Back Ribs.

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste
3 pounds baby back pork ribs
1 cup barbeque sauce

Preheat grill for high heat.
In a small jar, combine cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. Close the lid, and shake to mix.
Trim the membrane sheath from the back of each rack. Run a small, sharp knife between the membrane and each rib, and snip off the membrane as much as possible. Sprinkle as much of the rub onto both sides of the ribs as desired. To prevent the ribs from becoming too dark and spicy, do not thoroughly rub the spices into the ribs. Store the unused portion of the spice mix for future use.
Place aluminum foil on lower rack to capture drippings and prevent flare-ups. Lightly oil grate, and lay ribs on top rack of grill. Reduce heat to low, close lid, and leave undisturbed for 1 hour. Do not lift lid at all.
Brush ribs with barbecue sauce, and grill an additional 5 minutes. Serve ribs as whole rack, or cut between each rib bone and pile individually on a platter.

As with barbecue cooking, barbecue sauces have regional characteristics. Kansas City-style sauce is the most common nationwide. It has a tomato or ketchup base and pronounced sweet, sour and smoky elements. Barbecue sauce from nearby St. Louis usually has a tomato foundation but without the smoke (which normally comes from bottled liquid smoke). North Carolina's barbecue sauce, traditionally put on that state's beloved pulled pork shoulder at the table, is vinegar-based; the sauce is clear in eastern North Carolina and tomato-red in the western half.

A young, bold, fruity and spicy red wine, such as a Rhone Syrah or an Aussie Shiraz, will stand up to those smoky, spicy, and typically sweet flavored barbecue sauces.

So, if the weather is good this week, I’m sure you will get the smell of a barbecue fire wafting through your window. Join in the rib tickling fun!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Faking It

Some days, it may seem easier to have your body show up for what life has in store and let your mind check out. But "faking it" results in a devaluation of the “real you”.

It is the same with making sparkling wine versus champagne. Except for French Champagne and Spanish Cava, most sparkling wines are made using the charmat or tank method.

This method is a much quicker, cheaper way to put bubbles into wine, although the final product lacks the added qualities that are derived from the traditional process. In the tank method, yeast and sugar are added to bulk base wines which are held in a pressurized tank. This triggers a second fermentation that is halted by cooling the tank. Once the secondary fermentation is finished, the wine is filtered, and a dosage [doh-SAHJ] (A mixture of sugar and often brandy) is added immediately prior to final bottling. The percentage of sugar in the syrup determines the degree of sweetness in the final wine.

Experience life, both good and bad each day, don't fake it!

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all that we will know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you and I sigh.

William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Promenade Home

The Promenade was a wine and food event held May 3rd, in St. Cloud, MN. The evening was filled with a selection of wines, hors d’oeuvres, gourmet desserts and live musical entertainment with proceeds benefiting area charities.

Some notable wines from the tasting included:

Cave de Rasteau “Ortas Prestige” which is a blend of Grenache with Syrah and Mourvèdre. It was rich, ripe and very robust. Match it to equally flavorful beef or lamb dishes.

Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon had ample black-cherry and black-currant fruit, with hints of chocolate and pipe tobacco. Serve with standing rib roast or lamb.

J & F Lurton Araucano Pinot Noir was rated 86 points by Wine Enthusiast. Its flavors of red fruits, and its silky suppleness made it the favorite of the evening. Enjoy this wine with food that can match its full body and rich flavors like mustard roasted veal, sautéed chicken and mushroom or pasta dishes.

Erath Pinot Gris had a delicate bouquet of fresh almonds, peaches and white flowers. It had an ample, round and well defined body. (Think Rubenesque!) Match with shell-fish, oysters, white meat and soft cheeses.

Bonny Doon Riesling Vin de Glaciere Icewine had hints of pear, pineapple and nectarine. They use a process called cryoextraction which involves freezing the grapes after harvesting, then extraction. This completely goes against the rules but it’s cheap, and it tastes great.

So, swing your partner and DoSaDo into your nearby liquor store.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Nature Called

Ever since the snow melted, just two weeks ago, it is hard to come inside for long. Migrating birds are back, their calls and songs filling the air. Spring peepers and bullfrogs have come out of hibernation to serenade us. Wildflowers push up through the dry leaf litter toward the sun's light and warmth. Each day is so alive that unless it is dreary or windy, like today, nature calls me to come out and play.

Just a few drops of rain this weekend will speed the evolution of bud to leaf or bloom. It reminds me of the contained energy behind a champagne cork ... hold on ... Mother Nature is ready to explode!

There is a quote from a book I read, long ago, that expresses it well.

"Sometimes I experience God like this Beautiful Nothing. It is seems like the whole point of life is to just rest in it. And then other times, it is just the opposite. God feels like a presence that engorges everything. I come outside, and it seems the divine is running rampant. Nature, the whole of creation, is some dance God is doing, and we are meant to step into it, that's all."

Go outside and dance!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ho Ho Ho and A Bottle of .....

Cachaça is a Brazilian liquor made from distilled unrefined sugar cane juice. The harvested sugarcane is washed and then pressed through large metal rollers to extract the juice. Then it is filtered to extract any cane fragments or other foreign matter. A leavening agent, such as fubá (corn meal), rice bran, rice flakes or other type of cereal, is added prior to fermentation. Cachaça is always distilled in such a way that the scent of sugar cane and inimitable flavor typical of rum are retained. The juice ferments in a wood or copper container for three weeks, and is then boiled down three times to concentrate.

Brazil has 4,000 brands of cachaça and the country produces 1 billion liters of the beverage per year. It is one of the most consumed drinks in Brazil, second only to beer.

Many Brazilians claim that the caipirinha was originally a folk remedy to help alleviate the symptoms of colds and the flu and to soothe sore throats.


2 tsp granulated sugar
1 lime(8 Wedges)
2 1/2 oz Cachaça

Mixing instructions:
Muddle the sugar into the lime wedges in an old-fashioned glass. Fill the glass with ice cubes. Pour the cachaça into the glass. Stir well.

Some foods to eat with caipirinhas include: fried yucca, fish/potato balls, and black beans.

Cachaça can be purchased at most Minneapolis liquor stores.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Green Fairy

Who? Is this just another Marvel comic book character?

No, it's Absinthe. This highly alcoholic, anise-flavored spirit is distilled from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of Artemisia absinthium. The resulting liquid is typically green in color, hence the name “the Green Fairy.” Absinthe is uncommon among spirits in that it is bottled at a high proof but is diluted with water when it is consumed.

Absinthe’s popularity grew through the 1840s, when it was given to French troops as a malaria treatment. When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them, and it became popular at bars and bistros. During the late 19th- and early 20th-century, it was associated with bohemian culture and notable imbibers included Vincent van Gogh and Oscar Wilde. Absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive due to the chemical thujone, present in small quantities. Secondary effects of absinthe were caused by some herbal compounds in the drink acting as stimulants, while others acted as sedatives. By 1915 absinthe had been banned in most European nations and the United States.

A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s, when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. No current evidence has shown it to be any more dangerous than ordinary liquor.

Traditionally, absinthe is poured over a sugar cube that rests in the bowl of a slotted spoon. Ice-cold water is dripped over the sugar until the drink is diluted to a ratio between 3:1 and 5:1. During this process, the components that are not soluble in water, mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise, come out of solution, resulting in a cloudy drink. The addition of water is important, causing the herbs to “blossom” and bringing out many of the flavors originally overpowered by the anise.

Most shades of green speak to my soul. But, the "Green Fairy" whispers to my wild side.

Celebrate Nature's Abundance On Earth Day and Everyday

Green is the most important part of my nature, as much a part of me as my skin. When I feel hollow inside, I go outside, inhale the fresh earth smells and feel a part of something holy.

The following are Tim Rice's lyrics expressing awe and gratitude for nature's abundance.

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done

There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle of Life

The circle is a sacred symbol of life…individual parts within the circle connect with every other; and what happens to one, or what one part does, affects all within the circle.

This Earth Day, do your part to protect the circle of life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Delightful Diversity

Last Friday, I took part (via the internet) in a blending session for the Vayniac Cabernet Sauvignon. It was exciting to be part of making some "history" in a bottle. Our comments were discussed/taken into account through the live participants. It made me think about all the types of blending taking place in society as well as in wine.

The United States is a perfect example of blending. As someone who loves traveling to experience other cultures, having diversity in our own country delights me. I feel there can no longer be beliefs which divide or cast out any nationalities or creeds.

Then there are blended families. More than half of all Americans live in some sort of non-traditional family due to remarriage. One key for success is not rushing to try to create a harmonious family feeling. Be patient and be creative. Give each child their own personal private space. Hold regular family meetings to discuss issues. Talk to your partner about the best way to handle disciplining each other's kids. Ideally, you'll parent as a team and be firmly in the same camp when it comes to establishing ground rules, setting limits and defining what's appropriate.

Here are are some simple rules when blending wines:

Always have a goal in mind. For instance, will this be a two-bottle experiment that will be done for fun, or are you seeking to create gallons of a new blend that will later be bottled?

Blend wines of similar type. Never blend a bad wine with good wine in an attempt to make "acceptable" wine.

Begin by blending small quantities of wine until you achieve the desired effect. No need to make a lot of something you may not enjoy!

If you intend on keeping your blends for a while, use wines that were made in the same year.

Keep good notes on your blending attempts so you can duplicate the blend in the future.

Today, experience the joy of your favorite form of blending.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Dull Dolcetto

Dolcetto is a black grape variety widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The name means "little sweet one," though it is nearly always a dry wine. Dolcetto wines can be tannic with moderate levels of acidity. They are known for black cherry and licorice flavors with a bitter finish reminiscent of almonds. They are typically meant to be consumed one to two years after release.

We opened a 2005 Dolcetto D'Alba from Treiso, Italy to serve with our Chicken Ratatouille. For a wine that is known to be fruit driven, it was flat. It appeared that the bottle suffered from a wine fault called oxidation resulting in a loss of color and flavor.

Since this was our first exposure to this grape, I will not pass judgments on this varietal quite yet. Thankfully, due to a recent wine sale, we were spared the full $18 retail price tag.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Tower of Faulty Bottles

John Cleese and the rest of the Pythons were filming in the Southwest of England in May 1971. They were scheduled to spend two weeks at the Gleneagles in Torquay, but cut their stay to one night. All do to the "wonderfully rude" hotel manager, the late Donald Sinclair.

Cleese set off to write and star in twelve episodes of the BBC hit " Fawlty Towers" based from that experience. He cast himself the manager Basil Fawlty, who felt that the main nuisances in a hotel were the guests. Sybil Fawlty was Basil's equal and opposite, the competent co-owner who could handle any situation, even those caused by her bumbling spouse.

George Herbert said, "All are presumed good, till they are found in a fault."

Last month, at a gathering of our wine club, we opened a 2006 red blend called Buddy's Bistro from the Chateau O'Brien vineyard in Virginia. Although not "cooked" on a stove top, the wine was clearly damaged by exposure to excessive heat during shipment or storage. What exactly does a "cooked" wine taste like? Some cite "overripe fruit" "prune-y fruit" or even "stewed fruit" as a dead giveaway. Others look for the telltale nutty but stale Sherry-like scent that betrays oxidation.

So many bad things can happen to good wine! Here is a list of other common wine "faults" from a recent issue of the 30 sec Wine Advisor.

• Cork taint: A moldy, musty stench reminiscent of wet cardboard or a damp basement, often with an overtone of chlorine bleach, identifies wine afflicted by a faulty natural cork.

• Oxidized: The familiar walnut aroma of inexpensive Sherry signals a wine exposed to oxygen over time in the bottle or through a faulty cork or stopper.

• Wild yeast: Earthy, "barnyard" aromas ranging from sweaty leather horse saddles to barnyards piled high with manure - often accompanied by a twangy acidic finish - usually denote contamination by wild yeast strains with names like brettanomyces ("brett") and dekkera.

• Volatile acidity: The bacterium acetobacter, afflicting carelessly made wines, can yield a range of "high-toned" aromas ranging from a whiff of furniture polish to a salad-dressing jolt of vinegar.

• Sulfur: A range of sulfur compounds (not to be confused with sulfites used as a natural preservative) can cause a variety of aroma faults in wine from "burnt match" to offensively stinky smells of overcooked cabbage, sauerkraut or swamp gas.

So, Basil, next time you open a bottle of wine, remember, before you sip, stop and smell.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

When Life Hands You Lemons

The birth place of limoncello is in Southern Italy around the Bay of Naples , including Sorrento , Amalfi and the Isle of Capri. The liqueur was born early in the 1900’s on the island of Azzurra . There in the garden of a tiny boarding house, the proprietress, Maria Antonia Farace, tended a small garden of lemons. She started making a sweet lemon extract that was a hit in the house. Her nephew opened a bar soon after World War One, and featured the icy cold drink made from his aunt’s recipe and lemons!

Competing stories tell of a sweetened lemon liqueur being served by all of the best families in Sorrento around 1900. In Amalfi, the history of limoncello is even older – as old as lemon cultivation itself! The regions fishermen, it is said, always got a bracing shot of limoncello before braving the cold winds on the sea. Still other believes that we have the area’s monks to thank for the development this wonderful elixir. The one thing that is known is that Massimo Canale started a small production of handmade limoncello and trademarked the name in 1988.

Next time life hands you lemons or you are given a bottle of limoncello, try the following recipe.

1 pound of spaghetti
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/4 cups heavy cream (soy milk just doesn't cut it!)
1/4 cup limoncello or white wine
2 lemons, 1 peeled and 1 zested
1 cup (loosely packed) basil leaves, torn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Combine garlic, cream, limoncello and lemon peel over medium-high heat in a medium-size sauce pot. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove the garlic clove and lemon peel from the sauce and discard. To the pot with the reserved pasta, add the sauce, the basil and a couple handfuls of Parmigiano Reggiano. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and toss to combine. To serve, top each portion with additional Parmigiano-Reggiano and some lemon zest.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Two Pair Beats A Flush

No, I am not revising the rules of poker.

Alexander Pope is quoted as saying, " A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" What about a pair of bald eagles roosting within view of your house? It sure beats a flush in my book.

The pair of wines we sampled this weekend were more of a disappointment. The first was a 2006 Kim Crawford Pinot Noir from New Zealand. It was thinner than most supermodels and about as appealing with little to no complexity.

The other was a 2005 Ken Forrester Petit Chenin from South Africa. Although beautiful in color, it had little aroma or flavor.

The best pair of the weekend was the eagles, hands down!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oui, Oui, That's Fine By Me!

In a recent edition of Robin Garr's 30 second Wind Advisor newsletter, he discussed simplifying French wine. Authorities have proposed consolidating the current appellations into a somewhat simplified three-tier system.

• The third (bottom) tier will consist of "vins de table" (table wines). Beginning with the 2009 vintage, "vins de table" will be allowed to show grape variety and vintage on their labels. Grapes may be blended from any part of France. There will no longer be any constraints on production methods, for example on yields and irrigation, other than those of international wine industry norms (e.g. the banning of flavouring additives, certain chemical stabilisers, etc.) It is hoped that this will permit the appearance of French commercial wine brands to compete with those of the New World. The old regional "Vins de Pays" designation will disappear progressively after 2009.

• The second tier will consist of "vins de territoire" (territorial wines). Into this category will fall the more ambitious artisan-produced wines which are "vins de pays" at present; existing regional appellations such as "Bordeaux" and "Bourgogne," and regroupings of existing lesser AOCs. An example of the last is the regrouping into "Côtes de Bordeaux" of the appellations Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac and Francs. As many as 50 to 100 appellations are expected to disappear in the next few years. The creation of new appellations will not be allowed.

• The first (top) tier will consist of "vins de terroir" (terroir wines) which will reinforce the AOC system at the top level. The intention is to guarantee quality as well as origin. New style-tasting committees for accepting or refusing wines will replace local vignerons, considered too subject to complaisance with poor quality and jealousy of outstanding performers, with presumably more independent judges such as journalists, oenologists, wine merchants and the like. The AOCs will draw up new specifications to replace existing decrees; it is intended that these should be in place for the 2008 vintage.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Top O' The Mornin'

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales about 385 AD. He traveled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries, schools and churches which would aid him in his conversion of the Irish to Christianity. He often used the three-leafed shamrock to represent how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. His mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years. He died on March 17 in AD 461. That day has since been commemorated as St. Patrick's Day.

The leprechaun is derived from ancient mythology. They believed that the leprechaun used the rich green countryside to conceal himself. Thus the color green became associated with all things Irish, even down to the color of the beer.

When raising your glass today, make a traditional toast...

Here's to a long life and a merry one.

A quick death and an easy one.

A pretty girl and an honest one.

A cold beer - and another one!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Amarone...It's More Than Big

Pronounced ah-mah-ROH-neh, it means “big bitter” in Italian. Its full name is Amarone della Valpolicella. Its name comes from Vaio Amaron, the name of the vineyard originally owned by Serego Alighieri, a member of Dante Alighieri's family. Dante was an Italian Florentine poet. His greatest work: The Divine Comedy, is considered one of the last and greatest literary statements produced during the Middle Ages, and one of the first of the Renaissance.

This is a wine produced from exactly the same grapes as a standard Valpolicella. Corvina for richness and aroma, Molinara for smoothness and balance and Rondinella for color and tannin. But it is significantly different due to the unique wine making process called “Appasimento”. This technique involves selected bunches of grapes being dried for up to 3 to 4 months on straw mats or in boxes in specially adapted sheds, where the grapes lose approximately up to a third of their weight. The result is an intensity that would not be present with a traditional fermentation. Amarone is finished dry, but as the grapes pick up a raisiny quality and are high in alcohol, there is the impression of sweetness.

Amarone will age well and as the wine is quite full in body as well as intense in flavor, it is much more enjoyable when consumed 7-10 years after the vintage. Amarone pairs well with game, poultry (duck is a great match), lamb or aged steak.

Experience an Amarone. Go big or go home...Run with the big dogs...Big as life.