Que Syrah Syrah

Syrah, “…the kind of guy who wears cowboy boots with a tuxedo. Rustic, manly, yet elegant….” A well put description from Karen McNeil in her book, The Wine Bible.

Syrah originated in France, specifically the Rhone region. In Northern Rhone (where the only red grape allowed is Syrah), it shows itself as an elegant and savory wine. In Southern Rhone, it is used in blends, especially with Grenache and Mourvèdre, often referred to as the popular blend “GSM” (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre).  Washington Syrah tends to lean more toward the style of Northern Rhone while Australia and California Syrah is often velvety with more jam and spice characteristics. In case you’re wondering, Shiraz from Australia and South Africa is in fact, Syrah, it was just renamed when it landed in those countries. Syrah is grown in many other countries such as Argentina, Spain and Chile to name a few.

Syrah is inky dark and comes with a good hit of tannin (that bitter/astringent feeling on the front of your gums and on your tongue) especially when bottled on it’s own. Any way you slice it, Syrah is showy and full bodied with fruit forward flavors of blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, and plum rounding out with leather, tar, tobacco, smoke, smoked meat, spice and chocolate (to name a few).

It is important to note that California Petite Sirah, which has similar characteristics, is not the same as Syrah. There are a few theories but, in my opinion, the most legitimate explanation is that Petite Sirah is actually Durif, a cross of Syrah and Peloursin (both grapes from the Rhone region in France).

By the way, if you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day gift, I would like to point out that Syrah (and Australian Shiraz in particular) has the ability to pair quite well with dark chocolate.

Behind The Bubbly!

Many of you opened some bubbly over the holidays but have you ever wondered how it’s made? The process is laborious, especially for Champagne or sparkling wines made in the traditional method.

When grape juice is fermented and becomes wine, carbon dioxide is created and allowed to disperse. If fermentation takes place in a sealed container (i.e. a bottle) and the gas is not allowed to escape, pressure builds up and the wine absorbs the carbon dioxide where it stays dissolved until released resulting in bubbles in your glass. The pressure in sparkling wine is typically 70 – 90 psi or about the tire pressure of a double decker bus! This pressure demands a thick glass bottle and a cork that becomes mushroom shaped (due to pressure) with a wire cage on it.

Champagne starts with base wine: a still wine utilizing white wine grapes that have high acid and low alcohol. The winemaker adds yeast and sugar to this base wine to initiate a second fermentation in the bottle. The bottle is immediately capped and the wine is aged on its lees (dead yeast cells and solids). Some of the lees dissolve and are absorbed into the wine. After aging, the sediment is removed. The wine is quickly topped off with base wine and sugar and resealed for sale. Many new world and European producers use this traditional method but are not allowed to label as Champagne since the wine is not from the Champagne region in France. Spanish Cava is produced using the traditional method. Italian Prosecco is produced using a method called Charmat or Tank method.

Once opened, a bottle of champagne has approximately 56 million bubbles. Finer wine will have smaller bubbles due to longer aging and cooler aging cellar temperatures.

Something to ponder the next time you pop a cork and share some bubbly with friends.

Christmas Dinner Wine

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You may feel like you have just cleaned up Thanksgiving dishes but before you know it, Christmas dinner will be on the table! If you are assigned to bring wine, keep reading!

The only real requirement for pairing wine, in my opinion, is to drink what you like. Of course, when you’re in charge of choosing for many people with a vast array of food, it can be difficult to figure out the wine to satisfy everyone. The best way to ensure happiness is to choose wine that pleases many palettes. A decent solution is wine that hits in the middle – medium acid, medium tannins, medium body.

If you would like some guidance, consider these styles options ranging from light to heavy depending on your menu:

Rosé – a light bodied, off-dry to dry wine that can vary depending on grape variety and production. Rosé pairs well with the plentiful lineup of holiday accompaniments, but probably a bit delicate for beef or lamb.

Gamay – you may have heard this grape variety cropping up at Thanksgiving tables under the name “Beaujolais Nouveau.” It is fruit filled with huckleberry, raspberry, violet and maybe even banana. If you want quality, look for Gamay from a designated Beaujolais Cru: Brouilly, Chénas, Cóte De Brouilly, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-Á-Vent or Régnié.

Pinot Noir – cool climate Pinot Noir is the way to go. It will be leaner and pair well with many foods. Oregon has exceptional Pinot Noirs but pass on the “jammy” ones. Look for medium bodied, low to medium tannin, medium acid Pinot Noirs where you’ll find flavors such as cranberry, clove and mushroom.

Barbera – I’m a big fan. It pairs well with a myriad of foods, is enjoyable on it’s own and pleasing to many. You’ll find flavors like sour cherry, licorice, blackberry, and dried herbs. Italy is it’s greatest producer. Look for Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti or Barbera del Monferrato.

Cabernet Sauvignon – This is a classic wine for good reason.  It is full bodied, elegant and can pair nicely with beef and lamb.  Flavors of black cherry, black currant, blackberry, tobacco, and black pepper will make this wine the perfect accompaniment for the heartier fare.

Now go out there and enjoy your holiday…and please, drink responsibly!

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

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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

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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

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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

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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!