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
  • 30 minutes
  • 1 hour
  • 1.5 hours
  • 2 hours
  • 2.5 hours

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?