Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How Much Alcohol Cooks Off?

In my last post, a recipe for mulled wine, I mentioned that simmering the wine on the stove for 5 minutes would leave most of the alcohol in tact.  I've been reading up on this issue lately, and thought I'd share what I found.

The USDA did a study on this and released the following findings.  (I'm using the chart as reproduced in this informative article.)

Preparation MethodPercent of Alcohol Retained
alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat85%
alcohol flamed75%
no heat, stored overnight70%
baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture45%
baked/simmered, alcohol stirred into mixture:
  • 15 minutes
40%
  • 30 minutes
35%
  • 1 hour
25%
  • 1.5 hours
20%
  • 2 hours
10%
  • 2.5 hours
5%

The alcohol cooks off much more slowly that I had previously thought.  This is very good to know if you're cooking something that will be eaten by kids or by someone who is avoiding alcohol for any reason.

Alton Brown mentions this at the end of an episode of Good Eats on the subject of cooking with wine and beer - "Fermentation Nation" from season 13.  The episode has a great introduction to wine and beer and guidelines for how to cook with each.  And if you've never seen the yeast sock-puppets belching out carbon dioxide, you are missing out!  I believe it is available to watch on HuluPlus, AmazonPrime, or YouTube for a small fee.

P.S.  The Good East episode "The Proof is in the Pudding," also from season 13, is about cooking with spirits and is not to be missed!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mulled Wine Recipe

I love mulled wine on a cold day.  I drank some a few weeks ago at Dickens on the Strand in Galveston, decided to serve it at a holiday party I was hosting, and went in search of a good recipe.  Some of the recipes I found had a multitude of steps and seemed awfully tedious.  Others were more cider than wine, or loaded with a ton of sugar.  Here is my version – not too sweet, highly spiced, and easy.

For the red wine, you want something inexpensive, fruity, and not too heavy on the tannin.  I used a Cotes du Rhone, but nearly anything would work – Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, lighter Syrahs.  I’d avoid using the heaviest, most tannic reds – like Cabernet Sauvignon or the heaviest Syrahs – but most of those are more expensive that what you’d pay anyway for a mulling wine.

Mulled Wine (makes ~6 cups)
1 bottle red wine
3 cups of apple juice (100% juice - no added sugar)
8 teaspoons of honey
2 large (or 4 small) cinnamon sticks
1 whole nutmeg
12 whole cloves
12 whole allspice
1/4 cup brandy
juice from 1 small or 1/2 of a large orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1.  Add the wine, apple juice, honey, and spices to a sauce pan and gently simmer it on the stove for 5 minutes.  (Don't worry, not that much alcohol will actually cook off in that short a time! Of course, with all the apple juice, this is not a high-alcohol drink anyway.)
2.  At this point, either turn the heat down as low as it will go, or transfer the mixture to a crock pot set to warm.  The crock pot works very well for keeping everything warm over of the course of a party.
3.  Then stir in the brandy, vanilla, and orange juice.

Taste and feel free to make adjustments.  I like it just like this, but if it’s too strong, or too highly spiced for you, just add more juice or cider until it tastes the way you want.  If you want it stronger, add more wine, brandy, or spices.

You can serve this right away, but it tastes even better after being kept warm for a few hours.  Serve it with the spices, or strain them out as you fill individual cups.  Leftovers will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, but remove the spices first so they don't continue to flavor the wine and become overpowering.

I've been wondering whether this recipe would also work with white wine.  Have you (or would you) make mulled white wine?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Interesting Links

For your internet browsing pleasure...

theboysclub.net has an attractive poster to help us navigate the wide world of glassware:


Have you ever wondered about the effect of Prohibition on Americans' drinking habits?  Priceonomics has the answer for you.


And if you're REALLY interested in Prohibition, Ken Burns made a 5-hour documentary about it, which is available to stream on Netflix.  This is in my queue!


And finally, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan talks to Fox News about the top wine trends of 2013 and upcoming developments in wine and social media.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Top Holiday Wines at Whole Foods

Last night I got to taste some of Whole Foods’ Top 10 Holiday Wines along with a delicious cheese plate.  Thanks to Jeanette and Arwen at the Montrose store, for a very educational evening!  (Note:  If you’re really into cheese, go to Whole Foods and talk to Arwen.  She knows her stuff!)  You can read Whole Foods’ description of the 10 wines, along with recommended cheeses and recipes, here.  Whole Foods has a good summary of the wines, so I’ll just add my impressions of the 4 I tasted.

Roger d’Anoia Cava
Cava is a sparkling white wine from Spain, which is made using the same method as Champagne, but with different grapes.  This Cava is dry, but fruity.  I would put it somewhere between a California sparkling wine and Champagne – it’s fruitier and less toasty/bready than Champagne, but not as fruity as a California sparkler.  This may have been my favorite of the evening, and it paired beautifully with the Parrano cheese (as recommended at the link above).  Parrano tastes similar to parmigiano reggiano because it’s made with the same cultures.  This Cava also paired nicely with strawberries, and I think would be good with anything that pairs well with Champagne.  (I have it on good authority that popcorn and Champagne are a good match, so Cava probably is too.)  At $10 per bottle, this is a crazy good deal.

Skouras Anassa
This Greek white wine is made primarily from the Greek grape Moschofilero, though I believe it has some Viognier blended in.  It had a fuller body than I was expecting, with lots of fruit up front and a clean dry finish.  I liked this one better paired with the cheese than I did on its own (not necessarily a criticism – different wines are better at different things).  We paired the Anassa with a Seaside Cheddar (which is not the same as the pairing listed on the site), which was a good match.  The Seaside Cheddar is amazing – so rich and buttery, yet quite sharp – and only sold at Whole Foods.  This wine is also reasonably priced at $12.

Santa Julia Innovacion
This dry red is a Bonarda-Cabernet blend from Argentina, and comes in a 1 liter bottle (instead of the usual 750 ml) for only $10.  It has dark fruit flavors and medium-to-high acid and tannin.  It has many of the flavors of a Cabernet, but is leaner and lighter due to the Bonarda.  It had a touch of bitterness at the finish, but I’d still recommend it at $10, especially with food.  It held its own against the green olives, so you know it can stand up to any strong flavors you might be serving.

We tasted this along with a wonderful cheese called Jasper Hill Cloth-Bound Cheddar.  This cheese won 1st place at the American Cheese Society, and I can see why!  It’s less sharp and less rich than the Seaside Cheddar, but more earthy, and with a bit of smoke.  (It turns out that the slight smokiness is not from actually being smoked – it’s from the type of mold!)  It reminded me of a cross between white cheddar and smoked Gouda.  Fantastic.

Mat Kearney Verse and Chorus Napa Valley Red
This rich, fruit-forward red had lots of black currant and plum flavors, with some earthiness – think nuts or coffee.  It was moderate in both acid and tannin, and would be a crowd-pleaser I think.  At $25 it was the most expensive of the wines we tasted, but it was also pretty darn yummy.  We tasted it with Emmi Le Gruyere (as recommended on the website), a nutty Swiss cheese which paired nicely.

(I've been thinking lately that saltier cheeses (like cheddar and parmesan) work better with white wines, while creamier, less sharp and salty cheeses (like brie, blue cheese, or swiss) work better with red wines.  I'll try to notice this more in the future and report back...)


All these wines would be fine choices at a holiday party or dinner, but the cheeses were the star of the night for me, and a good reminder that the right wine and the right cheese can really bring out the best in each other!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Party Wines on a Budget

On his popular blog, Spec's fine wine buyer Bear Dalton has recently posted a collection of budget wine recommendations.  He covers reds, whites, and bubbles.  All of his picks would be great for serving at holiday parties and are $12 or less.  And of course, they're all available at the downtown Spec's.  I haven't checked whether they're available at the Bay Area location (which is my preferred store in Clear Lake), but you can use the Spec's website to find out.

Check out his advice here:
"Uh Oh, It's Party Time (Budget Edition)"

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Texas Wineries: Fairhaven Vineyards

Fairhaven Vineyards is part of the Piney Woods Trail in north-east Texas.  The vineyard and tasting room are not far off I-20, near Tyler, which is an easy drive from Dallas.  Fairhaven grows its own grapes and uses a combination of traditional, yeast fermentation and carbonic maceration.  (Carbonic maceration is a whole-berry fermentation method that yields sweet aromas and fresh flavors.)

When I visited Fairhaven's tasting room a couple of years ago, I liked many of the wines, but my favorite was the Chambourcin, which is a French grape.  The 2010 Chambourcin has tart red and black fruit aromas/flavors, heavy on the cherry, a little blueberry, lots of spice, vanilla, and a hint of smoke at the end.  The acid level is on the upper end of moderate, with moderate tannin, body, and alcohol (13.5%).  I was impressed with the combination of flavors - fresh and bright balanced against dark and rich.  It's a good deal at $15.

I appreciate that the tasting room offers a meat and cheese plate.  I find that when I'm tasting on a wine trail, driving between wineries and maybe visiting several in a day, the oyster crackers just don't cut it!

Fairhaven will ship its wines to the Houston area, but unfortunately none of our local retailers carry it.  I definitely recommend visiting if you are in the area.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tasting and Comparing 3 Chiantis

A friend in the industry recently sent me 3 Chiantis to taste (this was the original inspiration for the Chianti Cheat Sheet).  So I had a few friends over, and we tasted the wines side by side with some snacks - whole grain bread, herbs in olive oil for dipping, feta, turkey pepperoni, and giant green marinated olives.  Here's what we tasted and what we learned...

#1:  First we tasted a basic Chianti DOCG, 2011, made by Cecchi.  It had aromas of tart red fruits, like cherry and cranberry, and some herbal qualities.  Typical of Chianti, it had high acid, medium-plus tannin, medium body, and medium alcohol (13%).  

This was the underdog of the night.  No one disliked it, but it was the least favorite until we realized how well it went with the food.  Chianti is usually food-friendly, but this wine's strong flavors, acid, and tannin could even hold their own against the marinated olives.  This is a wine that will not get lost when served with strongly flavored dishes.  It's available at the Bay Area Spec's for only $9, which is a good value.

#2:  The second wine tasted was the Banfi Chianti Superiore from 2011.  Remember from the cheat sheet that "superiore" means that this wine, by law, has a higher minimum alcohol requirement than basic Chianti.  (This doesn't always mean that it has a higher final alcohol content - in this case the alcohol level for the Banfi was the same as for wine #1, the Cecchi - 13% abv.)

Compared to the Cecchi Chianti (#1), the Banfi Chianti had more black fruit aromas, richer fruit character, more vanilla aromas (which means more oak aging), slightly less tannin, and was generally smoother and more approachable.  

The richer fruit flavors and easy-drinking quality of this wine made it the initial favorite of the night.  If you're drinking a glass of wine without a meal, this is an excellent choice.  It would be good with food too, but couldn't stand up to the strongest flavors that the Cecchi could.  I'd confidently serve the Banfi with most Italian dishes, but if I were having puttanesca sauce, I'd grab the Cecchi.  The Downtown Spec's sells the Banfi Chianti for only $10, which is a steal, because this stuff is delicious.  

#3  The third wine was Villa Cerna's Chianti Classico Riserva from 2010.  Remember from the cheat sheet that "classico" indicates this wine is from the oldest and most traditional part of the Chianti region, which often indicates better quality.  "Riserva" indicates a longer aging requirement.

As expected from a "classico," this wine was the most concentrated and full-bodied of the three.  It had darker, richer, earthier flavors, more evidence of oak aging (where the "riserva" comes in), and the strongest tannins.  This makes sense because this wine was built to age longer than the other two - you could drink it 10 years from now with no problem.  If you drink it now, consider aerating or decanting.  The alcohol level, at 14%, was slightly higher than the other two.  

Everyone liked this one too, and for some it was the best of the three.  Unfortunately, I'm not aware of place in Houston that sells it, but the internet tells me the average price is $22 - quite reasonable.

I made my friends guess the prices after tasting the three Chiantis.  Everyone correctly predicted that #1 was the least expensive and that #2 and #3 each stepped up in price.  However, for each wine they guessed they would have had to pay about 5 to 10 dollars more than what the bottle really cost, which is basically the definition of a successful wine purchase, right?



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Vote for Pewsey Vale

Jeremy Parzen, often known as Do Bianchi, writes the Wine Time column for the Houston Press food blog "Eating...Our Words."  Today he posted "Toasting the Turkey: Seven Top Wines for a Perfect Thanksgiving 2013."  

One of the wines he recommends is the Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling I wrote about last week.  It's really tasty and a great price - I hope you try some!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ideas for Thanksgiving

Here are some thoughts to help you select a wine (or wines) for Thanksgiving.

Whites:
I've never seen a recommendation to serve Vouvray, but I think it would be excellent with Thanksgiving dinner.  Vouvrays come from the Loire Valley in France and are made from the Chenin Blanc grape.  They vary in sweetness, but all combine strong fruit character with earthy/mineral qualities and plenty of acid, which makes them a good match for a variety of foods.  I can recommend 2 that are available at our local Bay Area Spec's:  Sauvion, which is on the drier side ($11), and Chateau Moncontour, which is a "demi-sec" or medium-sweet ($14).

Reds and Rosés:
Pinot Noirs are the classic recommendation for reds, but last year I wrote about some good options from the southern Rhone Valley in France, here.  I mention rosés in that post as well, but I'll add that any rosé from Provence is a good choice.

Bubbles:
The Two-Minute Guide to Bubbles should help you get a fast idea of what you're looking for.  If you decide on Champagne, you may want to read Champagne 101, which includes a guide to the French terms that indicate levels of sweetness.

What am I serving this year?  Much as I hate to admit it, for the first year ever, I may compromise among the various family preferences and end up serving . . . Belgian ale.  I take comfort in the fact that it is the wine of beers.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The IRF Sweetness Scale & Cheap Dry Riesling

Riesling can be a problematic wine, because it can range from fully dry to fully sweet, and it's not always obvious from the label where on the spectrum a particular wine will fall.  Almost a year ago I wrote about a simple way to use the German labeling system and the alcohol content to make a good guess at the sweetness level (more on that here).  And shortly afterward I posted about a sweetness scale that the International Riesling Foundation is encouraging Riesling producers to use on their labels, so that we know for sure what we're buying (more on that here).  The sweetness scale is great for people like me who are more interested in dry Rieslings, which are in the minority.

I've seen the sweetness scale on a few bottles so far.  One is the Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling from Australia's Eden Valley.  It says "dry" on the front, but also includes the sweetness scale on the back.  It has a medium body, high acid, and the lemony apricot flavors you'd expect from this grape.  It also has that nice minerality that many of us want from our Riesling.  At $12 it's a good value.  I found it at Costco.

  

It's a common belief among consumers that all Rieslings are sweet, and Riesling producers are aware of that, so those that make a dry Riesling are often the first to label their bottles that way.  Chateau Ste. Michelle puts "Dry Riesling" on its front label, although I don't believe it uses the IRF sweetness scale on the back.  Incidentally, that wine is also a great value if you're looking for an inexpensive dry Riesling, at less than $8 at Spec's.


I'm looking forward to seeing the scale used more often.  I think it's a great thing - a big help to consumers that I'm sure will ultimately increase sales for the producers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wine Infographic: Chianti Cheat Sheet

This is an older version of the Chianti Cheat Sheet.  The new and improved version is here.

============================

I've been reading up on Chianti this week, and for me, part of studying anything is always making a 1-page cheat sheet of all the most important information.  It helps me learn and remember things better, and also makes a good reference for the future.  Here's the Chianti Cheat Sheet:
(clicking on it should give you a larger view)


See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Great Video on Wine "Legs" or "Tears"

This YouTube video does a great job of explaining the phenomenon of wine "legs" or "tears" - the drops of wine that run down the side of the glass after you swirl.  Hint:  surface tension can get a bit complicated!


While this video explains the effect, remember that the quality of the "legs" has very little to do with wine quality.  More pronounced legs usually just indicate higher levels of alcohol or sugar, which may be good or bad, depending on the wine!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mead 101 and the Dancing Bee Winery

Mead:  more than just what you drink at the Renaissance Festival!

You’ve probably heard of mead (honey wine) before, or maybe tried it at the Ren Fest, but did you know there are different kinds?  I didn’t until I visited the Walker Honey Farm and Dancing Bee Winery, roughly 80 miles north-east of Austin.  The honey farm produces the honey, and Dancing Bee produces a selection of meads and wines.  (It is officially called a “meadery,” and if you say this word out loud everyone will think you’re saying “meatery” and imagine a butcher shop.)

Mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage, dating to around 7000 BC, made with honey, water, and yeast.  In the same way that the type of grape impacts the flavor of wine, the variety of honey impacts the flavor of mead.  Bees produce different flavors of honey based on the types of flowers where they gather pollen.  So mead made from clover honey will taste different from wildflower honey, or buckwheat honey, etc.  If you’ve tried mead before, you probably remember it being very sweet.  Just like wine, mead can range from sweet to dry, though it is usually at least a little sweet. 

If the honey is fermented along with any other fruits, herbs, or spices, it becomes a different type of mead.
Here’s a summary of the types:




I made some tasting notes on the meads we sampled at Dancing Bee.  We didn’t taste any wines, other than the one mixed with mead.  We were totally mead-focused!



I took home a bottle of the Texas Two Step and The Beerded One.  Both were completely unlike anything I had ever tasted – in a good way!  Spec’s carries a few of the Dancing Bee meads, which range from $14 to $18 dollars.  If you’re hosting (or attending) a holiday party in the next few months, mead is a festive thing to serve.  It’s something a little out of the ordinary, and it will satisfy the sweet wine drinkers.  Better yet, pour the bottle of mead into a sauce pan on the stove, throw in a package of mulling spices, and let it warm for a while.  It will taste delicious, and your house will smell like Christmas.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Visiting Los Pinos in the Piney Woods

Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards is part of the Texas Piney Woods Wine Trail, which covers a large area east of Dallas, roughly centered around Tyler.  Los Pinos is out in the middle of nowhere (as are many of the Piney Woods wineries), but is worth searching out.  The wines are good, the food is good, and the view is great.




I wish I had taken a picture of the main building.  I’m going to borrow one from their website, and hopefully they won’t mind.


There is a restaurant with a large patio, where you can order food and any wines you’d like to taste.  The food was great (we had a pizza), and the flights were brought to the table with a tasting sheet for making notes.  I have grown to appreciate a good tasting sheet – one with a complete list of the wines, a description of each, and sufficient space to write notes.  


They bring out the flights in a nifty, test-tube-like contraption.  (Picture from their website.)


Los Pinos grows Cynthiana (also called Norton), Blanc du Bois, and Black Spanish (also called Lenoir) grapes.  They also use grapes that are purchased from other parts of Texas, and other states.

Here are the tasting notes I made when we visited:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wine Infographic: United States Cheat Sheet

Update:  I've revised and updated this cheat sheet. Check out the new and improved U.S. Wine Cheat Sheet.

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I'm working on making cheat sheets for all the major wine regions in the world.  (See the full collection here.)  Here's one covering the United States, without California.  California produces 90% of the wine that comes from the U.S., so it will get its own page.

This overview includes information on climate, grapes, wine laws, and major American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).  AVAs are the American version of AOCs in France or DOCs in Italy, except with far fewer regulations.  I included some technical details that might not be of interest to the casual consumer, but are necessary for any serious wine students to know - such as labeling requirements and latitude.

I chose 4 states to focus on - New York, Washington, Oregon, and Texas.  The first 3 were the top producers of wine in the U.S. in 2012 (after California).  And I included Texas because I live here and I'm interested!

I hope you'll find this cheat sheet useful and educational, and that it will inspire you to try a wine from a place you've never had before!  My personal favorites from these regions are Pinot Gris from Oregon, Cabernet Sauvignon and dry Riesling from Washington, and Cabernet Franc and dry Riesling from New York.


To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Is wine gluten free?

Many people have begun avoiding gluten in recent years, some because of Celiac disease, others for other health and dietary reasons.  If you are avoiding gluten, should you worry about wine?  Generally, the answer is no, but here are some points to keep in mind:

1)  The basic ingredients of wine do not contain gluten.

2)  If you drink sweet, artificially-flavored wine products, anything might be in those flavorings, including gluten.  Also, yuck!  Let me encourage you to try a good-quality Riesling or Moscato d'Asti!

3)  A tiny amount of gluten can make its way into a wine if it is used as a fining or clarifying agent (this is not very common), or if a wheat paste is used to seal the wine barrels (wax is more commonly used today).  In these cases, testing has revealed that the resulting amount of gluten in the wine is less than 10 parts per million.  (The FDA's standard for products labelled "gluten free" is that they contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.)  If you are concerned about the barrel issue, you could avoid wines that have spent time in barrels, and stick to wines that will usually not be oaked, such as Pinot Grigio/Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and unoaked Chardonnays.

If you are gluten intolerant and want to drink wine, you should generally be okay, unless you are extremely sensitive to it.  To learn more, check out this informative article from Wine Spectator or this interesting perspective from WineMaker.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Wine and Cheese Pairing

I've had a crazy-busy couple of months, so I'm taking the week off!  Instead of reading a post here this week, click over to theKitchn, where Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW, has some thoughts on which wines you ought to be drinking with that cheese...

Why You Should (Almost) Always Pair Cheese with White Wine, Not Red

Monday, October 7, 2013

Would you drink wine with a moldy cork?

I bet your answer is no, and mine was too until recently.  A few weeks ago I pulled this great bottle of Rioja out of my wine fridge and was disappointed to see mold growing out of the holes in the foil.  I had bought the bottle a couple of years ago and had stored it properly that whole time.  My first thought was to throw it out or return it to the store and ask to exchange it, but I decided to do a little research first.  




It turns out that mold on the outside of the cork is not a problem, and may even be a good thing.  The presence of mold between the cork and the foil suggests there was a good deal of humidity present when the foil was put on the bottle at the winery.  Humidity is good because dry air can contribute to a cork drying out.  Dry corks shrink, then leak, letting wine out and/or too much oxygen in.  My bottle was a Rioja Reserva, and in Spain the term “reserva” has a specific meaning:  this wine was aged at the winery for at least 3 years.  Mold on the cork just means that it was aged in humid conditions, then over time a little mold grew where some moisture was trapped between the cork and the foil.  


If you come across a moldy cork, just wipe off the mold with a damp towel and open the bottle as you normally would.  Examine the end of the cork next to the wine – mold on THAT end is cause for concern.  If the mold was all on the top, drink away!  I wiped the top of the opened bottle again before pouring, just to be sure the mold was gone.  My Rioja Riserva tasted just as good as I remembered.  I’m so glad I didn’t throw it out!




P.S.  The moldy cork issue is different from the wine being “corked.”  Stay tuned for more on corked wine at a future date…

Friday, September 27, 2013

Make Your Own Aroma Standards – The Reds

I recently organized a wine tasting at my house using the homemade red wine aroma standards suggested in this Wine Spectator article.  Aroma standards are things that smell like the smells we smell in wine.  For example, you improve your ability to recognize cherry aromas in wine by smelling the wine, then smelling cherries mixed with wine, then referring back to the original wine.  By practicing this way, you heighten an aroma and make it easier to recognize and remember.

The link above has instructions for creating lots of different aroma standards, so I won’t repeat that information here.  Instead, I want to pass on what I learned when I incorporated this exercise into a fun home tasting with friends, and give you all the information you need to do the same.

Setting up the Aroma Standards

Select the wine.  I used Bogle Merlot ($8 per bottle at Spec’s) to create my red aroma standards.  I wanted something inexpensive, but from a reputable producer, and not so cheap that I ran the risk of finding funky aromas in the wine. 



Add your own aromas.  Don’t think you have to stick to Wine Spectator’s recipes.  I added 2 aromas to my lineup:  mushrooms (using 1 fresh mushroom) and cloves (using ~1/4 teaspoon).  Next time I’d like to try cranberry and blackberry.  If you think of an aroma you’d like to have, try it and see if it works.  The bottle’s already open, it wasn’t expensive, and you have nothing to lose.



Make them ahead of time so you can adjust them.  Some of the aromas will get stronger, the longer they sit in the wine.  Put the ingredients into the wine at least an hour in advance.  That way, if some of the aromas have become so strong that they overpower the wine, you can remove some (or all) of that ingredient from the wine, or add more wine.  For instance, the tobacco aroma was extremely strong after sitting in the wine for 30 minutes, so I strained it all out before the tasting began.  You can also add more of an ingredient if the smell is not strong enough.  I did this with the mushrooms.  We all have different thresholds for detecting aromas, and you’ll get the best result if you adjust the strength of the smell for your level of scent perception.


Label them.  I used wine bottle tags to label the stems of the glasses with what aroma they contained, then folded the paper over so we couldn’t see the label.  That way we could quiz ourselves by guessing the standard first without looking.  A post-it note would probably work too.


Incorporating Aroma Standards into a Home Tasting

There are 2 ways to go about this:  the simple way and the ambitious way.  First the simple way:  Use 1 wine to create the aroma standards AND to taste.  This keeps the focus on detecting and identifying the aromas.  It is easier to compare the aroma of the plain wine with the aroma of the standards you’ve created when the wine is the same.

The more ambitious approach is to select several red wines you want to taste, then create aroma standards (using one of those wines or another fairly neutral wine) for the aromas you expect to find in the wines you’ve selected.  This highlights how aromas differ from one wine to another, and gives you more wines to taste!

Here are some guidelines for aromas commonly found in red wines.  This can help you decide which aroma standards you will definitely want to make, based on what wine(s) you’ll be drinking.

If you’re tasting/drinking…      Make sure you create an aroma for…
    Pinot Noir / Burgundy                      Strawberry, mushroom
    Merlot / right bank Bordeaux            Cherry, coffee, vanilla
    Cabernet / left bank Bordeaux          Blackberry, green pepper, tobacco
    Tempranillo / Rioja                           Cloves
    Sangiovese / Chianti                        Cranberry

Setting the Table

Last but not least, here are some ideas for setting up your tasting table.  If you’re using the simple method of just one wine for the aroma standards and for tasting, it would be easy to do this with a large group, and you would not need to set a place for each person.  You just need a central area to place your aroma standards so people can walk up and sniff.  If you’re using the multiple wine approach (like I did), I suggest placing your aroma standards in the middle of the table and giving everyone a place to sit with their own tasting glasses.


  
  
After the tasting, I don’t think these aroma standards can be kept for later use.  Just like the wine they’re made from, they will only last a couple of days. 

I’ll soon be hosting a tasting just like this but for white wines, so I’ll tell you all about my experiences with making my own white wine aroma standards then.

I hope you give these a try.  They make a tasting so much more fun, and they’re wonderful for training your wine senses.



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Texas Wineries: Miranda Lambert's Red 55

Last year the husband and I spent a few days visiting the wineries of the Texas Piney Woods Wine Trail, which covers the area roughly between Dallas and Tyler.  One of them is the Miranda Lambert/Red 55 Winery in Lindale, Texas.  (I had to be informed that Miranda Lambert is a country singer who grew up in the area, since I’m not familiar with any recent country music.)  

This location is only a tasting room, not a functioning winery.  Most of the grapes are grown in west Texas, and Red 55 has a partnership with Crump Valley Vineyards, which makes most of the wine.  The winery is a family project, with Miranda’s brother designing the labels and her family choosing the names of the wines. The store front in Lindale is a combination tasting room and souvenir shop for all things Miranda-related.  

We tasted all 7 of the Red 55 wines at the winery, and honestly I wasn’t impressed.  I bought 1 bottle of my favorite (Kerosene) to take home and taste again later.  Here are my notes on all 7 wines, in descending order of yumminess:

Kerosene
This full-bodied dry white – made from Blanc du Bois, Chardonnay, and Muscat Canelli* grapes – is the best smelling of the lot.  It has flavors and aromas of tart citrus, apple, apricot, and herbs, along with some floral and earthy notes.  High acidity. 

Red 55
Made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, this smells and tastes of black currant, herbs, and smoke.  It has moderate acid and tannin, but needs to be decanted or aerated.  (12% abv)

County Road 233
Made from Merlot grapes, this has the usual Merlot markers of red and black fruits and spice, with some herbal undertones.  Moderate acid and tannin.  (13.1% abv)

Belle
This is a sweet red cabernet with aromas of black currant, red berries, and an earthy quality.  Moderate acid and tannin.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
This sweet Muscat Canelli* has a good sugar/acid balance going for it, but a funky aroma that I wasn’t crazy about.  

White Liar
This crisp, dry, unoaked Chardonnay smelled good, but had a very simple flavor and wasn’t as fruity as I had expected.  

Electric Pink Blush
This semi-sweet rosé (think White Zinfandel) is made from a blend of several grapes, but I found it to have a funky aroma and very little flavor.

*Muscat Canelli is the same grape as Moscato, though Texas wineries often use the Muscat Canelli name instead.

All of these wines are sold at the downtown Houston Spec’s.  Unfortunately, I can’t suggest that you buy any of them, except possibly the Kerosene.  They’re priced between $15 and $18, and while they’re not terrible, you can get much better wines for that price.  I would only recommend you try them if you are a) really into Miranda Lambert, or b) so interested in Texas wines that you want to try all of them, even the not-so-good ones.  Obviously, I fall into category b.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan's Video Series on Wine Quality

Recently I posted the first 2 short videos in a series on wine quality that Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, MW, is producing with greatwinenews.com.  Here are the first 2 again, followed by the next 2.  I'll continue adding to the collection as the series progresses.

As I mentioned before, I'm excited about these because I think they will answer a lot of questions about how to judge wine, and whether wine can be judged objectively, or only subjectively.  (Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is also the author of The One-Minute Wine Master, which I recently reviewed.)

1) Introduction to Wine Quality with the acronym FBLICCAT!  (Finesse, Balance, Length, Integration, Complexity, Concentration, Age-ability, Typicity)



2) Finesse:



3) Balance, Part 1:  Here she instructs us on how to train our palates to recognize acid and alcohol levels using a component tasting.  To do the exercise, you will need a glass of Pinot Grigio, a lemon, and a little vodka.  Acid and alcohol are some of the measurable characteristics that help us evaluate a wine objectively.  (Note that the video is actually only ~3:30 long.  The rest of the length is a black screen with the acronym FBLICCAT shown at the end.  Just an oversight, I assume.)



4) Balance, Part 2:  Here she discusses the more subjective side of balance.



Friday, September 6, 2013

Ancient Ale on Tap in Houston!

A few months ago I wrote about ancient beers and wines, including a collaboration between Dr. Patrick McGovern (a molecular archaeologist, "the Indiana Jones of wine") and Dogfish Head brewery.  What I didn't realize was that Dr. McGovern and Dogfish Head have collaborated several times over the years.  The full list of their creations is here.

Most recently they have crafted Birra Etrusca Bronze, which is now on tap at Nobi Public House in Clear Lake, as well as The Hay Merchant on Westheimer.  Birra Etrusca recreates an ale found in a 2800-year-old Etruscan tomb in Italy.  Here's the full description from Dogfish Head:
The backbone of Birra Etrusca comes from two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat. Specialty ingredients include hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. A handful of whole-flower hops are added, but the bulk of the bitterness comes from gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.
I tasted Birra Etrusca at Nobi last night.  It is amber in color, has a fruity aroma with hints of honey, and a rich, full-bodied mouth-feel (not surprising with 8.5% alcohol).  There is a bit of sourness at the finish, probably from the pomegranate.  It's a lovely, complex ale and will be more pleasing to modern palates than Midas Touch, which I previously reviewed.

Try some!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Few More Points About Decanting

I've written about decanting and aeration before (see "Should You Let the Wine Breathe?" and "Oxidation, Friend or Foe?") and recently came across another good article on the subject by Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal.  He summarizes the main reasons for decanting and points out the areas where professional opinions differ.

Here are his insights that I found the most helpful:
  • You may want to decant your whites as well.  It will open them up and allow them to warm slightly if they're coming straight out of the fridge.  (Remember that fridge temperatures are a bit too cold for most whites!)
  • As for how long the wine should sit in the decanter before you drink it....  Young wine can sit for several hours or even days, but if you go ahead and pour it into your glass, you get to experience how it's changing over time.  Old wines should be decanted and then served right away, because they can be damaged by too much exposure to oxygen.
  • If the inside of your decanter is encrusted with the wine from the night before (definitely a problem in my house), "fill the decanter with a handful of uncooked brown rice, pour in hot water and swirl around."  I'm looking forward to trying this one.
My overall approach to decanting/aerating is to err on the side of caution.  You can always let a wine sit in the decanter longer, or aerate it again, but once you've done it, you can't go back.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Wine Infographic: Chardonnay Cheat Sheet

Here is the fourth in the series of grape profiles - Chardonnay.  (See them all here.)  It covers the typical Chardonnay characteristics and the main growing regions.  Use this to learn more about a grape you love or to explore a new one!  (Click on the graphic for a larger view.)


To see the full collection of wine cheat sheets, click here.

To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

Friday, August 23, 2013

Oxidation, Friend or Foe?

The process of oxidation contributes to some of the world’s great wines, yet most of the time it is considered a fault.  Here’s a primer on what it is, how to recognize it, and when you might want some!

As the name suggests, oxidation happens when wine is exposed to oxygen.  Oxidation can happen slowly or quickly, depending on how much oxygen is in contact with the wine.  Oxidation causes wine to turn a brownish color and creates nutty, sometimes caramelized aromas.

If you open a relatively young wine (less than 5 years old), and it looks like this picture, it is oxidized.  See how brown it is?  When I opened this 2-year-old wine, I noticed that the cork was protruding slightly from the bottle.  This is generally not a good sign, but you never know until you open the bottle.  Sure enough, the wine was oxidized due to a bad cork seal, which allowed far too much oxygen to circulate into the bottle.  If this happens to you, I have good news and bad news.  First the bad news:  this wine is officially “faulted” and will not taste the way it should.  The good news:  if you like the way it tastes, you can still drink it.  It won’t hurt you or make you sick.  (I drank some from my oxidized bottle, just to notice the changes in flavor.  It wasn’t terrible.)

Many wines are partially oxidized on purpose.  This happens in a slow, gradual, controlled way when wines are aged in oak at a winery.  It also happens very slowly as wines are aged in the bottle, since the cork allows a small amount of air into the bottle.  (More about aging wine here.)  If the picture above had been a 10+ year old wine, there would have been no problem.  Part of the allure of older wines is that they take on different characteristics through slow, gradual, oxidation.  If you use a wine aerator, you’re increasing the wine’s exposure to oxygen just before drinking it, to mimic a bit of that aging effect.  (More on aeration here.)  But wines that have oxidized at a young age due to improper bottling or storage are not better for it.  Storing bottles on their sides helps to keep the cork moist, maintain a good seal, and prevent unwanted oxidation.  

A few wines are heavily oxidized on purpose.  The most famous of these are Oloroso Sherry, Tawny Port, and Madeira.  These are sweet, fortified wines that are aged in oak until they take on a brownish hue and nutty, caramel-like aromas.  They are delicious, and you should try one!

Have you ever opened a young wine that had turned brown from oxidation?  Did you taste it anyway?  Did you like it?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Local Tour: St. Arnold Brewery

I finally made it to the new St. Arnold brewery.  I had visited the old one (on 290, where Karbach is now) several years ago under somewhat disastrous circumstances.  My husband and I decided we would take a group of friends on the Saturday brewery tour for his birthday.  However, the St. Arnold website neglected to warn us that the brewery was not air conditioned.  Did I mention my husband’s birthday is in July?  It was so hot and crowded that most of us didn’t even use all our beer tasting tokens – we just left.  Not the best visit.

But now St. Arnold has a great new facility just north of downtown.  It’s large enough to accommodate big groups, with lots of seating, a large tasting bar, huge windows overlooking the tanks, and best of all – air conditioning!! 

Tours are offered 6 days a week.  They cost $8 and include a souvenir glass and 4 beer tasting tokens.  Each token gets you an 8-ounce sample of any of St. Arnold’s standard brews (the year-round selections plus the current seasonal offering).  Special, limited edition beers may require an additional token or only be available for purchase. 

For instance, we tasted the newly released Icon Gold (Bière de Saison) for 2 tokens.  Icon Gold has a beautiful amber color and a rich, smooth, complex taste, and a serious alcohol content – around 9%.  If you’re a fan of Belgian ales (like I am!), this is for you.  Delicious.  We also paid $8 to try the brand new Bishop’s Barrel 2 (with Brettanomyces yeast).  If you like sours, you will like this.  It has a strong cherry flavor and the tartness of a sour (from the Brett).

These 2 beers were well worth the trip on their own.  If you’ve ever tried to track down one of these limited edition beers around town, you know they can be hard to come by.  My plan for the future:  just go taste it at the brewery!  The tour page tells you what special beers are currently available.

The taps open 30 minutes before the tour starts.  Get there early so you can start tasting.  You’re welcome to take your beer on the tour.  It only lasts about 20 minutes, but it’s informative and fun.  The second half requires closed-toed shoes.


P.S.  We approached the brewery from 59, exiting Lyons, and got stopped by a very long, very slow train on the way in and out.  I recommend you follow the directions from I-45 or I-10 instead!

Update:  I've now tasted Bishop's Barrel #4!  If you think bourbon + chocolate sounds like a good idea, you in a for a treat!  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Clear Lake Event: An afternoon of wine and belly dance!

A local belly dance troupe, Sparkling Shadows Belly Dance, is hosting a fundraiser this Saturday.  They are raising money to go to a dance workshop and performance in Los Angeles.

Enjoy food, wine, dancing, a silent auction, and door prizes!  Details on the flyer below...
Advance tickets can be purchased here.  




Wine and Beer and Ice Cream, Oh My

We all know to drink dessert wines with dessert, but Fred Tasker of the Miami Herald takes it a step further and recommends specific wines to drink with a variety of ice cream flavors in this article:


He suggests peach ice cream with a Sauternes-like blend from Napa, rum raisin with Pedro Ximinez sherry, double chocolate ice cream with port, and more.  These are great ideas for summer, when we all crave ice cream the most.

Another great summer dessert is a beer float.  Really!!  Take a scoop or two of ice cream, pour over it a well-matched beer, and it is delicious.  A few years ago we had a self-serve beer-float bar for my husband's birthday party.  We matched Shiner Bock with vanilla ice cream, Young's Double Chocolate Stout with chocolate (pretty obvious), Guinness with coffee ice cream, and for those who like a lighter beer, Blue Moon with lemon sorbet.  In Fred Tasker's article above, he recommends Reese’s Pieces peanut butter ice cream with Rogue Ales’ Chocolate Stout.

The key to this kind of matching is to think of what flavor comes through the most in the wine or beer, then pick that flavor of ice cream (or a complementary one).  Suggest your own pairing ideas in the comments!


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Summer Reds

Recently I recommended a great white wine for summer (Vinho Verde).  Here is some good advice about summer reds, courtesy of TheKitchn:  Tips for Choosing and Drinking Red Wine in the Summer

The most important thing is to keep it light (easy on the oak, tannin, alcohol, and body) and chill it!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

French Wine Law Changes

In the French appellation system, new regions are added or removed from time to time.  

Here is a list of recently added AOCs, courtesy of the French Wine Society.  If you've purchased my book, The Pocket Index of French Wine, you'll want to note these new additions!


  • Alsace: Two communal AOCs have been added to the eleven previously approved for a total of thirteen. These two communes are Alsace Bergheim and Alsace Coteaux du Haut Koenigsbourg, and use of the communal name is limited to still white wines.
  • Languedoc: Formerly a communal extension of AOC Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet has been elevated to an independent appellation. The denomination continues to apply to six communes including Pinet, but the authorized cultivation area has been reduced in size by 18% to 2,400 hectares. In addition, base yield has been lowered to 55 hl/ha.
  • Provence: A fourth sub-region within AOC Côtes de Provence, Pierrefeu, has been approved and applies to red and rosé wines. The zone encompasses multiple communes on schist slopes and a calcareous clay plain. The other three sub-regions are Sainte-Victoire, Fréjus and La Londe.
  • Rhône Valley: There is an additional “named village” in the Côtes du Rhône Villages, Gadagne, bringing the total of this tier to eighteen. CDRV Gadagne may be sourced from five communes including Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne. The approved area is a few kilometers due east of Avignon in the Vaucluse department on the left bank of the Rhône River. The vineyards are situated on a long plateau of galets roulés.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Local Event: Chilean wine tasting at the MFAH

James King of the Texas Wine School will be leading a Chilean wine tasting at the Museum of Fine Arts, to complement their current exhibition of Latin American art.

http://www.mfah.org/calendar/mendoza-maule-wines-chile/7839/

Vinho Verde: Your New Favorite Summer Wine

There’s a certain type of wine I love to drink in the summer.  I look for something that can be drunk cold, is crisp, light, refreshing, and is cheap enough to be served at summer barbeques.  If you’re spending any time outside in the heat, it’s also good if the wine’s lower in alcohol.

Vinho Verde (pronounced “Veenyo Vaird”) is one of the greatest summer wines that few people know about.  It comes from Portugal and is usually white, light, crisp, and very slightly sweet.  It’s slightly fizzy – what the Italians call frizzante and the French call petillant.  Its flavors are usually clean and simple, citrusy, with an occasional hint of tropical fruits or minerality.  Vinho Verdes are made from a variety of local Portuguese grapes, such as Arinto, Trajadura, and Loureiro.  I think of them as the barely-sweet, slightly fizzy lemonades of wine.  They have all the qualities I like in a summer wine, and because they are high in acid, they go well with many foods – fish, chicken, veggies, and all your favorite light, fresh summer foods!  Better yet, they're almost always under $10.

I’ve tasted several Vinho Verdes that are available in our area and made some tasting notes.  The first 2 are simple and fruity, while the second 2 have a few more earthy characteristics.  In general, the lower the alcohol, the more sweetness they’re likely to have.  They’re all tasty - give one a try!

Simple and Fruity

Producer:  Opala
Grapes:  not listed
Price:  $9
Where Purchased:  Whole Foods
Tasting Note:  crisp, refreshing, fairly simple, off-dry (slightly sweet), slight carbonation, flavors of apples and lemons.

Producer:  Esteio
Grapes:  not listed
Price:  $6 - $9
Where Purchased:  HEB
Tasting Note:  aromas of citrus and peach with a hint of melon, off-dry, slight carbonation, high acid.  9% abv.

A Bit More Earthy

Producer:  Anjos
Grapes:  40% Arinto, 30% Trajadura, 30% Loureiro
Price:  ~$9
Where Purchased:  Houston Wine Merchant
Tasting Note:  slightly fizzy, primarily dry with just a hint of sweetness, high acid, citrus flavors of lemon and grapefruit.  9.5% abv

Producer:  Casal Garcia
Grapes:  not listed
Price:  $7 - $10
Where Purchased:  Spec's, Kroger
Tasting Note:  aromas of citrus and minerality, a hint of sweetness, slightly carbonated, high acid.  10% abv.

(Some of these were from the 2011 vintage, and some bottles didn’t name a vintage.)

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Building a Better Wine Tasting

Recently I was invited to the best educational wine tasting I’ve ever experienced, and I wanted to pass on some great lessons we can all use when planning wine tastings at home.

This seminar and tasting event was hosted by Banfi wines and their winemaker Rudy Buratti.  He explained Banfi’s research into the various clones of the Sangiovese grape which are blended into their Brunello di Montalcino wine.  Sangiovese has many different clones, and each one has different characteristics.  Mr. Buratti explained that in order to produce the best quality Brunello, Banfi has spent 30 years researching these clones to isolate which characteristics each clone would bring to the final blend, and how each clone would perform in each of their vineyards’ different soil types. (By the way, many Banfi wines are available at Spec’s, including their excellent Brunellos.  Try some!)

To illustrate the research and testing, we tasted 3 wines made from 3 different clones, grown in the same vineyard in the same year.  This way the only difference in taste was due to the particular clone.  Then we tasted a blend of all 3 clones from 3 different vineyards from the same year.  Finally, we tasted 3 vintages of the final Brunello blend, combining the characteristics of all the clones and all the vineyards.  (Another attendee wrote a nice summary of the experience here, including some tasting notes and a picture.)


Here’s a diagram to help this make sense:




When I attend a wine tasting, I want to learn something beyond whether or not I like that particular wine.  I also love organizing wine tastings at my house for friends.  The key to creating an educational wine tasting is comparison and contrast.  Notice how each round of the Banfi tasting kept 2 elements the same and isolated 1 factor impacting the wine.  That way when you taste, you know which differences in the wine are due to which factor – whether grapes, vineyard/soil, or vintage.

Most of us can’t organize a tasting like Banfi's because we don’t have access to those building blocks of wine that winemakers use to craft their final products.  However, we can use this same technique to organize better wine tastings ourselves.

To use this concept to create your own unique, educational tastings, focus on the main factors that make 1 wine different from another:  climate, soil, grape, vintage, and winemaker style.  (I’ve written about these factors before, here.)  Try to find several wines that have most of those factors in common, isolating just 1 or 2 differences, for example:
  • Wines from one producer in one region which are made from different grapes – This helps to isolate different grape characteristics.
  • Wines from one producer, made from the same grape, from different years – This is called a vertical tasting and allows you to see the influence of weather variations from year to year.
  • Wines from the same grapes in same region, but from different vineyards and producers, such as Pinot Noirs from Sonoma or Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand – This shows you soil variation and winemaker influence.
  • Wines from one grape produced in regions all around the world, such as Cabernet Sauvignon from California, Washington State, France, South Africa, Australia, and Argentina – This demonstrates the effect of regional climate and soil differences.

It’s amazing what you can learn from these types of tastings.  When I attended a French Wine Scholar prep class, we tasted several different Beaujolais Crus (the Crus are the top 10 winemaking areas in the French region of Beaujolais), and noticed significant differences between them, despite the fact that the area encompassing all Beaujolais Crus is only about 6,500 hectares, or roughly 16,000 acres, or 25 square miles.

If you taste this way, I guarantee you will learn something interesting.  Please let me know if you try this at home – I’d love to hear what you did and how it turned out!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"A Nation of Wineries"

This interactive infographic from the New York Times shows the growth of U.S. wineries from 1937 until now.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/07/07/business/a-nation-of-wineries.html?_r=0

Here's an excerpt from the section about Texas:
(click to see it larger)


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Texas Saké (a surprise addition to your 4th of July?)

Did you know Texas makes saké?  I didn’t until recently.  And it’s not just any sake:  it’s saké made from the same type of rice used in Japan, it’s organic, and it’s good.  I don’t typically like saké very much, so I’m not a connoisseur, but I do know that the fresh, crisp, grassy, earthy, and slightly sweet notes in this saké made it better than almost any I’ve had.  And I’m always excited to promote organic and Texas-made products.

I learned about the Texas Saké Company a couple of weeks ago when I attended the opening of an art exhibition at the Asia Society.  The evening had a Japanese theme, so the Texas Saké Company was there offering samples.  I learned that Texas is rare because it is one of only “a few areas outside of Japan that grow the right type of rice to make sake.”  Apparently this type of rice was brought to Texas in the early 1900s and grows here so well that from then until now, most of the rice grown in Texas has been Japanese rice.  The Texas Saké Company in Austin uses “centuries-old handcrafted techniques” to create its saké in small batches that are certified organic.  They are producing the “first and only saké made from Texas rice.”

It comes in 2 types.  “Whooping Crane” is a traditional saké.  (That's the one in the picture, which I borrowed from their web site, and hopefully they won't mind!)  “Rising Star” is a coarsely filtered sake, which is cloudy and has a creamier mouth-feel.  They are available at Central Market, Whole Foods, and Houston Wine Merchant.  Both types cost roughly $22 for a 375ml bottle, and $35 for 750ml.

If you like saké, or maybe even if you think you don’t, I encourage you to give these a try.  They would be a nice accompaniment if you're grilling chicken or fish on July 4.  Make sure you chill them!  And if you’re in the Austin area, stop by and visit – the tasting room is open every Saturday.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Retsina Update

Recently I wrote about ancient beers and wines, including retsina, the Greek white wine infused with pine resin.  Unfortunately, though retsina is fascinating, it isn't that pleasing to drink, and it's a shame to waste wine (no matter how cheap).  At the time I speculated that it might make a good cooking wine, and I'm here to report that I tested that theory.

I made a simple chicken stew in the crockpot with chicken breasts, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, kale, and white beans.  I flavored it with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and used a combination of chicken broth and retsina for the cooking liquid.  It turned out great.  Since the pine flavor in the wine is reminiscent of rosemary, the retsina just punched up that flavor.  I think you could use retsina in any dish where you would normally add white wine and rosemary.

Now you have no excuse not to try this wine that's been around for 2000 years.  Taste it, let it transport you back in time, then cook some chicken in it.