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!