Bordeaux The Beautiful!

Bordeaux. This single word conjures up thoughts of some of the most prestigious wine known. Both the business side and the romantic side of wine meet seamlessly in Bordeaux where the largest amount of fine wine in the world is produced.

The Bordeaux wine region is located in southwest France and surrounds the bordeauxmappicmonkeycity of Bordeaux. Near the city, two rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne, meet to form the Gironde, which flows into the Atlantic. These rivers divide the Bordeaux region into three areas: the Left Bank, the Right Bank and Entre-Deux-Mers in the middle.

The main red grapes for the region are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. To be a “Bordeaux” the wine must have at least two of these grapes blended together. Generally, a blend from the Right Bank will lead with Merlot while the Left Bank showcases Cabernet Sauvignon. Entre-Deux-Mers produces mostly everyday drinking wines featuring Merlot.

Today, Bordeaux style blends are made worldwide. Among the best regions to produce this style is Napa Valley, California. Napa Valley is also home to “Meritage” (pronounced like heritage), which is similar to a Left Bank Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon being the prominent grape. If you have a hefty wine allowance and want a superior Bordeaux style from Napa Valley, splurge on Opus One, a collaborative effort between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

If Opus One isn’t in your budget not to worry. It is fairly easy to find Bordeaux style wine. Most will use the typical Bordeaux grapes and generally Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot will be the predominant varietals. And now you have an excuse to go wine shopping!

 

The Five S’s of Wine Tasting

crabcracker5ssofwinetasting

Wine is a drink of passion, meticulously crafted, aged (sometimes for years), for one purpose…for you to enjoy. Don’t waste your experience, take a minute to fully taste your wine:

SEE ~

Look at the wine. Color can reveal condition and body. White wine turns darker and browner with age. Red wine turns lighter and browner with age. Browning is caused by oxidation and could indicate bad wine. For body, look down into the glass. A fuller bodied wine is darker colored than a lighter bodied wine.

SWIRL ~

Before swirling, quickly sniff for an aroma preview. Next swirl the wine a couple times and take a deep sniff or two. Swirling vaporizes alcohol and concentrates aromas.

SMELL ~

Smell the wine for aromas, off-odors, etc. The best part of smelling is that scent can trigger powerful memories. Smelling grass in Sauvignon Blanc, for example, may take you back to the summers you spent rolling down the hill in grandpa’s backyard.

SIP~

Sip then “chew” the wine to coat your mouth and warm the wine. You can even let in a little air. Look for sweetness/fruit, saltiness, sourness/acidity, bitterness/tannin and alcohol. Sweetness/fruit is sensed mainly on the tip of the tongue. Sourness/acidity is perceived mostly on the sides and tip of the tongue. Bitterness/tannin is sensed on the back of the tongue and also on the gums, roof of the mouth and interior of the cheek.  Alcohol warms the throat and chest. What’s your overall impression? Does any component over power the others or are they in harmony? If harmonious, the wine is balanced.

SUMMARIZE~

Write down or brain file key traits. Over time, you may be able to distinguish the grape and possibly the country, region, etc. By taking time to focus, you will enjoy and appreciate your wine more.

Is Red Wine Healthy?

I have read plenty about the health benefits of red wine. In fact, I planned on declaring the praises in this post however, in doing research, it seems most of the testing has been done on mice and pigs. I don’t know about you, but animal research does not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.  The positive findings are vast though so you be the judge.

In a nutshell, researchers say red wine is good for your heart – more accurately, the nutrients found in the red grape skins used to make red wine. Red wine has antioxidants, known as polyphenols, which can prevent heart disease. Specifically, the polyphenol known as resveratrol has a laundry list of potential benefits including, but not limited to, protecting the heart’s blood vessels, increasing high-density lipoprotein (or HDL, the good cholesterol), decreasing low-density lipoprotein (or LDL, the bad cholesterol), preventing blood clots, reducing the risk of dementia and preventing certain cancer cells from dividing. Resveratrol can also be found in other foods like blueberries, peanut butter, and dark chocolate.

Additional studies (on mice) found that red wine burns fat and can aid in storing less of it by delaying the growth of fat cells and slowing the growth of new ones. Sounds enticing but unfortunately, I don’t think that is a free pass to skip the gym.

Keep in mind, moderation is important. What is moderation? Well that depends on a person’s size, age, sex, etc. Women absorb alcohol more rapidly than men.  A moderate amount for women is roughly 5 ounces and for men, 8 ounces.

With all these studies, you may think red wine sounds like a pretty awesome health partner; it is your decision. As for me, I am going to assume some validity and keep on sipping because, in my book, life without wine is quite simply not very fun.

 

Sources: www.mayoclinic.org, www.medicalnewstoday.com, www.medicaldaily.com

Wine And Chocolate

crabcrackerwineandchocolate

Before moving from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago, I spent a year as an “Oompa Loompa” at Manoa Chocolate Factory, a bean-to bar chocolate company located on the beautiful island of Oahu .  I was part time chocolate assistant/part time sommelier for Manoa’s wine and chocolate pairing events.

As you can deduce, the homework for the pairing events was pleasant.   The beginning phase of planning, I purchased the wines and did first round tastings. Preliminary tastings were important because just as wines change by vintages, chocolate changes by batches. Final tastings with the boss and a few co-workers ensured perfect pairings and consistently successful events.  There were two approaches with the pairings, either find a pairing where the wine flows seamlessly with the chocolate or contrasts to make for an unexpected yet pleasant sensory exercise. The tasting experience involved sipping the wine paying attention to the aromas and flavors in the glass, then tasting the chocolate paying attention to the aromas and flavors of the chocolate. A final sip of the wine paying attention to how the wine flows or contrasts with the chocolate finished up the tasting.

As we’re coming into the holiday season (marketed ridiculously early), a wine and chocolate pairing party is a great excuse to come together and celebrate.  As I mentioned, it is hard to make blanket statements on pairings but here are a few ideas to get you started:

70% Sea Salt chocolate – pair with a crisp white wine such as Chablis, Verdejo or Falanghina

60% Lavender chocolate – pair with a fruity red wine with notes of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries such as Beaujolais, a young Pinot Noir or even a youthful Rioja

60% Spicy Pepper chocolate – pair with a sparkling wine such as Prosecco or Cava or a crisp white wine such as Albarino or Grüner Veltliner

60% Coffee and/or Cacao Nib chocolate – pair with a powerful red wine such as Syrah, Shiraz, Petite Sirah or a Port

Purchase Manoa Chocolate bars here.

Pairing Wine And Food

pairingwineandfood

A friend requested I write about pairing wine and food. I was somewhat hesitant because I felt the post would either become a dissertation or be so short it would barely clear a paragraph.

There are many avenues to take for pairing, from mandatory adherence to a strict set of rules to “Vinotyping” and taste bud count affecting how a person tastes (i.e. Why You Like The Wines You Like by Tim Hanni, MW).  I lean more towards the the later.  In my opinion, there is only one thing you need to know: drink what you like, like what you drink.  Choose a wine you enjoy and desire to drink with whatever it is you’re eating.  Conceding to pairing the alleged “appropriate” wine with food will not make the pairing better if it’s not speaking to you in the first place. It will however, make for an unpleasant dining experience.

Taste is personal but I believe there are parameters we generally share. Most people establish some level of tolerance for acidity and most people like sweet food. There are even a small percentage of people who cultivate a liking to bitterness. Accordingly, consider the following basic guidelines; use them as a starting off point then follow your own personal palate preferences:

BASIC WINE AND FOOD PAIRING GUIDELINES:

Intensity: match intensity of wine and food (i.e. light wine-light food, heavy food-heavy wine)

Spicy food: pair spicy food with high acid, off dry, medium-sweet wine – try brut Rosé, Albarino, Riesling, or fight fire with fire and pair with a high alcohol spicy wine like Syrah or Zinfandel

Fatty food: pair fatty food with a high acid wine like an Vinho Verde, unoaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, or a tannic red like Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon or Tempranillo

Salty food: pair salty food with a high acid wine or wine with a bit of sweetness – try something sparkling like Champagne, a crisp Falanghina or a tawny port (think pretzels dipped in caramel)

Sweet food: pair sweet food with wine that has a high level of sweetness or fruitiness – try a late harvest wine, Ice wine, Moscato d’Asti, which has a slight effervescence, or for something fruity try a newer vintage Shiraz or Petite Sirah, these will probably be best for those dark chocolate pairings.

My ultimate advice is to acknowledge and embrace your individual tasting preferences. If you want Chardonnay with your steak and your friend prefers Cabernet Sauvignon…congratulations, you have both nailed your pairing!

~Drink what you like, like what you drink!~

What Is On My Cork?!

Have you ever opened a bottle of wine and discovered tiny pieces of sparkly grit on the top of the cork or in the bottle? Either way, I hope you did not toss the wine thinking it was bad. It was anything but…maybe even better quality because of it.

That grit is Tartrate. Many in the wine industry affectionately refer to this as “wine crystals” or “wine diamonds.” Tartrate is natural and completely harmless. It occurs when potassium and tartaric acid bind together and solidify when wine reaches near freezing temperatures. A little bonus trivia, the scientific name for tartrate is potassium bitartrate known in culinary circles as cream of tartar.

Many wines are cold stabilized to prevent wine crystals from forming. Cold stabilization is the process of chilling wine for several days to let the tartrates form then filter out before bottling. By performing this process in the winery, you, the consumer, will not have to worry about the crystals forming when you chill that bottle of white wine in the refrigerator a day or two before your dinner party. The downside of cold stabilization is, if performed at too low a temperature, the aromas and flavors of the wine will be less outstanding. Thankfully, many producers are careful to maintain the aromatics of the grapes.

The next time you open a bottle and see sparkly grit on the cork, be pleased knowing the wine maker chose a delicate approach to the production process and appreciate the beauty of the “wine diamonds” then simply wipe them away before serving your guests. If the crystals are in the bottle, decant the wine stopping at the point of the sediment to avoid any particles falling into the decanter then enjoy your wine as usual.

Farewell Summer Whites

winesnoqualmiechardonnay

How can it be that summer is over! Kids are well into school, the days are shorter…and white wines are once again forgotten until next spring.

I have little prejudice when it comes to wine but I tend to drink white wine mostly during the warm months when the sun is shining and a chilled, crisp white is the perfect patio sipper.

So goodbye Chardonnay – I realize you’re the world’s most popular white grape variety but you can be fairly neutral. I mean you’re sometimes used as a blending grape! Time to move on from your apple, lemon, pineapple, starfruit and mango aromas even though you can be deliciously full bodied with buttery nuances and toasty notes when aged in oak barrels.

So long Sauvignon Blanc – Let’s face it, some people have never really cared for your aromas of grass and green pepper. I will remember you more for your grapefruit, melon and gooseberry. Oh, and the fact that you pair so well with so many foods.

Farewell Riesling – I’m guessing not as many people drink you even though I think you ROCK…and pair perfectly with spicy food. Your aromas of lime, apple, peach, apricot, honeycomb and jasmine will be missed.

Arrivederci Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris – I know, I know, your name means gray and it seems appropriate for you to be around for the impending gray skies but the weather will be too cold to enjoy your delicate, light bodied character. We’ve had enough of your aromas of apple, lemon, nectarine and saline (for the Pinot Grigio hanging out around the coasts of Italy). And you’re just too confusing being the same grape variety from different origins.

WAIT! There is no way I can go on hiatus until spring to enjoy these beauties again. In fact, I’m grabbing a Riesling at my favorite Thai restaurant tonight!

Well Hello Kiona Lemberger!

kionalemberger

It was a great day when the subdivision welcome committee came to our home a few weeks after we moved to the Pacific Northwest for three reasons: (1) the “committee” was a lovely couple who quickly became our friends; (2) they showed up with Camano Island Coffee (seriously good coffee); and (3) they told us about Kiona Vineyards Lemberger (seriously good wine).

Kiona Vineyards and Winery was established in 1975 in the Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) of Washington and has over 200 acres of vineyards. Kiona (pronounced Kigh-Oh-Na, meaning brown hills) produces approximately 30,000 cases of wine annually utilizing “environmental stewardship” in both the vineyards and cellar.

Lemberger (not to be confused with Limburger, the stinky cheese) is an obscure varietal hailing from Austria where it is known as “blaufränkisch.” Kiona Vineyards led the way in determining this varietal to be well suited to Washington’s climate and produced the first Lemberger wine in the United States in 1980. The Lemberger grape produces a delightful, medium bodied wine exhibiting red fruit, especially red cherry, with a good balance of earthiness and spice. Kiona refers to their Lemberger as “Pinot Noir on steroids” which is a great description because it has more guts than Pinot Noir, can be enjoyed by itself and has the ability of a Barbera or a blend to pair with a ton of different foods.

Kiona Vineyards has received numerous accolades for its wine and in particular, Lemberger. Wine Enthusiast gave Kiona’s 2012 Lemberger 90 points stating it’s flavor is “built upon chocolate and cherries with dusty tannins.” I have yet to try a Kiona wine I don’t like. In fact, I’ve been known to buy their wine by the case and their Lemberger is a staple in my home.  I’m not a spokesperson for them, I  just want you to drink good wine!  Look for Kiona in your local wine shop or order online, you will not be disappointed.

What A Lovely Figure!

 

whatalovelyfigure

Have you ever wondered about the shapes of wine bottles? Are they shaped differently for a reason or is it just random artistry? As is often the case in wine, tradition is the major player for the different bottle shapes. I touched on this subject a few years ago in my blog with a graphic but let’s look at it with a bit more detail.  There are four main types:

Bordeaux bottles have high shoulders with straight sides for wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The high shoulders were created to help trap sediment due to prominent tannins in most of these wines.  These bottles are made of thick glass with a high punt (the punt is the indentation on the bottom of the bottle).

Burgundy bottles are tall and wide with sloping shoulders for wines like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chablis and Pinot Gris. Much like Bordeaux bottles, these are made of thick glass. Purportedly, Burgundy bottles were the first to be created and the sloping shoulders made for easy stacking as well as achievability for glass blowers.

Champagne bottles are wide with low shoulders for wines like Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco. These bottles were created out of necessity due to the pressure inside the bottles (roughly 70-90 psi). They are made of thick glass, have a high punt and low shoulders to contain the immense pressure inside the bottles. By the way, the thick corks and cages securing them are no mistake either.

German/Alsatian bottles are narrow and tall with gentle sloping shoulders for wines like Riesling and Gewürztraminer.   The slender shape and lighter weight of these bottles were made for convenient stowing on ships during their voyage along trade routes in the early years.

This may just be extra wine knowledge fodder in your head but it may make it easier to spot the type of wine you’re looking for in the wine shop.  As I mentioned a few years ago when I first wrote about the subject, that could mean scoring that last bottle of prize vintage Bordeaux.

Barbera – Joining The Popular Crowd

I’ve been noticing an appealing trend on wine shelves lately – more and more Barbera. This lovely wine is easy to drink and easy to pair with food. Because it is so “quaffable,” Barbera is also a safe bet when selecting wine to take to a dinner party.

My admiration for Barbera began in 2007 when I moved to Italy for 3 years and became a big fan of the wine and food of Bella Italia. More recently, I visited friends who are grape growers in California and rekindled my fondness of Barbera as I tasted various styles throughout Amador and El Dorado Counties.

Barbera’s origins come from the Piedmont region in Italy and is the most widely planted grape of that region. Barbera, a high acid, low tannin grape was generally reduced to use as a “filler.” It wasn’t until the 1980’s, when Barbera was treated to barrel aging, that its virtues emerged, and it became a stand-alone wine. By barrel aging, tannins increase and the wine becomes fuller bodied. Barbera varies greatly but usually showcases red fruit (cherry, currant, raspberry) and can have nuances of chocolate, licorice, fig, dried herbs and tar.

The three Italian DOC’s (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) of Barbera are Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba and Barbera del Monferrato. The Barbera from Asti and Alba are probably the best known versions. Barbera is also widely grown in California, specifically booming in the Sierra Foothills region.

Keep a watchful eye on Barbera; it may soon be the “it girl” in the popular crowd.

Barbera to Try ~

Cooper Vineyards Barbera, Amador, County $29

Sobon Estate Barbera, Amador County, $15

Renato Ratti Barbera d’Asti, $18

Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba, $20

Scarpetta Barbera del Monferrato, $22

Vietti Barbera d’Alba Tre Vigne, $26