The God of Wine

When I was in high school I was obsessed with Third Eye Blind. My guy friends were more obsessed, and it was the kind of thing that stuck. The summer after high school my friends Rich and Andrew and I drove down to Virginia Beach from New Hampshire with Rich’s family. We listened to Third Eye Blind the entire way, I’m pretty sure.

Anyway, when I wrote the title of this post I remembered that one of their songs was called “God of Wine”. The song has nothing to do with this post. In fact, the lyrics are kind of depressing:

rich_layna_andrew

Rich, Andrew and me circa 2003

[The God of Wine comes crashing through the headlights of a car that

Took you farther than you thought you’d ever want to go.
We can’t get back again.
You can’t get back again.
She takes a drink and then she waits,
The alcohol it permeates.
And soon the cells give way, and cancels out the day.]

Sometimes I get off track. There was absolutely no reason for me to bring any of that up… except that my uncle (my uncle’s husband, actually, but he’s still my uncle, right? That always confuses me.) is back in Washington from their California abode and graced us with his presence for dinner last night. Unfortunately he has been gone since I started this blog because he is a wine god. Like, seriously, he knows about wine. He even had me tell him my menu before he came over so he could pair correctly. And also, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad glass of wine with him. In my head there is, “Wine Elena can afford” and “Wine served by Steve, at fancy restaurants and in France”.  Stupid poor-graduate-school-student thing. Although I would guess our alcohol spending is way outside what is appropriate for our income bracket. We have our priorities straight, people.

For dinner last night I made a lemon chicken marsala with balsamic roasted winter squash wild rice and a mixed green salad with pear vinaigrette. The rice dish was amazing. I made it up from a mesh of like six different recipes, but basically just roasted a winter squash in balsamic, made some wild rice, sautéed garlic, onion and sausage without the casing and then mushed it all together. There were probably some spices in there too. Anyway, it was delicious.

Steve brought a lovely Rosé to start. Rosés hold a special place in my heart because they remind me of lunchtime in summer in Corsica. Very. Specifically.

The Rosé was dark, Steve said as dark as a recent Pinot Noir he’d tried was light. In fact, now that I’m looking at the bottle, it is actually called a dark rosé. The bottle was a 2011 Capture Dark Rosé. It had that nice freshness of a dry rosé. In my opinion, any meal can start with a bottle like this. We had some crackers and chevre out, which I thought was a nice combination.

Next we had our main course and a 2010 Mendel Argentinian Malbec. I had led Steve to believe that we were having a red sauce with the chicken,  but I can’t keep a menu the same for more than 30 seconds so it wasn’t what I ended up making. But anyway, the Malbec was deliciousssss. It is a fairly young Malbec, and yet, it was full and dark and fruity. Apparently this vintage is a good one, or so says the tasting notes that Steve included with the bottle. Told you he was a wine god.

tasting notes

tasting notes

For our third wine of the night, paired with Ukrainian chocolate, we had a 2010 Domaine des Terres de Chatenay Vire-Clessé. I had no idea what that was. According to Wikipedia… “Viré-Clessé is an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) for white wine in the Mâconnais subregion Burgundy in central France, located in the communes of Clessé, Laizé, Montbellet and Viré. Viré-Clessé has Chardonnay as the only allowed grape variety.” And, for those of you not up on French agriculture (how plebeian are you?), “The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) (French pronunciation: ​[a.pɛ.la.sjɔ̃ dɔ.ʁi.ʒin kɔ̃.tʁo.le]), which translates as “controlled designation of origin”, is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the government bureau Institut national des appellations d’origine, now called Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO).”

Anyway, it was also delicious. It is a chardonnay grape, my favorite, rich and crisp at the same time.

wines

Anyway, these weren’t official tastings or anything, but all wines I certainly recommend.

I also recommending going out and getting yourself a wine god  uncle.

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Port

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. I hosted (as in “at my apartment”… not as in “I cooked”) dinner here with friends. It was the second Thanksgiving  I’ve ever been without ANY family around (the first was in Greece when my Greek/American friend Joanna and I ate massive amounts of pasta after we couldn’t find any Thanksgiving staples. It was awesome.) but friends-who-are-like-family really do make holidays wonderful.

Thanksgiving 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

There were seven of us here last night and we all brought food or drinks or dessert or a mix of both. Mia and Scott brought two bottles (I think?) and one of them as a Port. At the time, 24 hours ago, I don’t think I’d ever had a Port wine before. In fact, I didn’t even know what it was. This new found love-of-wine-in-a-slightly-more-intellectual-sense has made my curiosity pique at anything unknown and wine related.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Vinho do Porto is from Portugal, although some other countries do make “Port”. Port is, according to my bible, “A fortified wine that is produced by adding distilled brandy, or aguardente, to fermenting wine.” Port needs a lot of “maceration” to get all the flavors out. There are several types of Port that are all slightly different, a type of drink in its own right, it seems.

Port

Vinho do Porto

Anyway, tonight I’m trying the leftover Port from last night. It is: Fonseca Porto Bin No. 27. Keep in mind I have nothing to compare this to… but here I go:

Look:
Dark. It has a hint of purple, but really looks black. At least in this light. It is very thick and coats the edges of the glass when I swirl it.

Smell:
It smells warm and hard-liquory. I’m not sure I’d even classify this as wine if I just smelled it.

Taste:
Oh my God. I had no idea. It tastes like caramel and smoke. And not at ALL like wine. It is completely a mix of wine and liquor. This is blowing my mind.

Conclusion:
Can I say wow again. I’m not sure I really like it, but maybe it is the kind of drink you can get used to. Or that you need to sip after a day on the slopes in front of a fire. Thoughts?

1. DeSimone, Jeff and Jenssen, Jeff. “Postcard from Porto.” The Ultimate Wine Companion. Kevin Zraly. 2010: Sterling. Pg. 267.

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What Wine to Drink with Potato Leek Soup

Once I read an article in a magazine that said, basically, traditional wine pairings are crap. I probably wasn’t even old enough to drink when I read that, but it has always stuck with me as an excuse to not learn about wine pairings. Well, folks, today all that changed. Our friends Eric and Simona kindly invited poor starving me (the husband is still away visiting him family in Ukraine and apparently my reaction to him being gone is to stop cooking and subsequently stop eating. I’m basically living off oranges at this point) over for a potato leek soup dinner party.  I brought wine.

Rodney Strong

Rodney Strong

I did a lot of searching about wine pairings and what to drink with what foods and decided on a Sauvignon Blanc, something nice and light, for potato leek soup. I just so happened to have a 2011 Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge, so I brought that since it fit the bill. And I love me some Rodney Strong, as I’ve mentioned before.

Eric with the soup

Eric with the soup

Oddly enough, since I seem to spend quite a bit of time thinking about wine, this was the first time I’d really thought much about pairings. The fruity, crisp and very light wine went well with the muted flavors of the soup and, in fact, actually seemed to bring out flavors. I found myself tasting the soup as if it was wine. Deliberate wine tasting forces you to slow down and savor and think about what you’re putting in your mouth. It’s a lesson that should be applied to eating in general. Savor, people, savor.

Eric said, “The soup brought out a world of florals & fruits in contrast.” and I think that’s a fair assessment. My lessons: A light soup goes well with a light wine and it’s important to consider acidity in both the food and wine when choosing a compliment for a dish.

Wine and Soup

Want some quick pairing help? This website is kind of fun to play around with.

Cheers! And thanks to Eric and Simona for feeding me!

 

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Skype Tasting: Sweet, Sweet Riesling

First of all, don’t put your wine in the freezer. I don’t care how careful you claim you are going to be about getting it out before it freezes, it almost always ends in disaster. It was an almost this time, but seriously don’t risk it just to avoid that moment when you’re like “F*&% … MY WINE IS STILL IN THE FREEZER” and you’re like two miles away walking the dog imagining a frozen, broken bottle awaiting your return.

Anyway… Tonight, I did my second Skype tasting with my bff from back home, Shannon. She’s in New Hampshire so we had to choose a bottle that would be here and there. We chose a Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling basically at the same moment because we’re cool like that.

I have been to Chateau Ste Michelle’s Woodinville winery and it is a lovely, although a bit touristy, place with beautiful gardens and an enormous tasting room. When my husband and I were here in Seattle looking for an apartment my uncle Steve took us on a whirlwind Woodinville winery tour that began there. It was a seriously lovely day and one I would like to repeat when the sun shines again in the Pacific Northwest.

Alex on our Woodinville winery tour

Alex on our Woodinville winery tour

Where was I, again? Tasting.

Apparently Chateau Ste. Michelle is known for their Riesling. Also, apparently Riesling is not spelled Reisling, or so says spell check.

They say on their website,

“Chateau Ste. Michelle is perhaps best known as the leading North American Riesling producer. We have championed Riesling for more than 40 years, and were among the first to plant Riesling in Washington state. Ste. Michelle catapulted into the national spotlight when the 1972 Johannisberg Riesling won the now-famous Riesling blind tasting sponsored by the Los Angeles Times in 1974.”

CSM Riesling

Riesling

Rieslings and I have a weird relationship. I want to like them, and for the first cool glass I do, but all in all they’re a little on the sweet side for me. I’ve had this bottle before, though, and it’s quite good, even when so cold it is almost frozen. (Which got us wondering… what is the ideal temperature for wine? According to the first website I pulled up, white wine should be served between 49 degrees and 56 degrees F.)

I tried a new tasting method this time which mostly ended with us laughing with our mouths full. But it might work if you don’t have a strong gag reflex… Basically, you hold the wine in your mouth for 60 seconds and look for different tastes as you go.

The editor of The Bible (Kevin Zraly… he’s getting to Mario Cuomo status in my hero book) does a 60 second wine expert tasting. Basically you look for different things at different intervals. I think this works better if you aren’t trying to time, signal that time is up and taste all with a mouthful of wine in 60 seconds. Very basically, in the first 15 you look for sweetness, then acidity, then you begin to form you opinion of the wine and finally you determine the complexity and look at the tannin and fruit balance. (1)

Skype Tasting

Skype Tasting. You can see my giggling face in the corner. There was a lot of that.

Look:

Golden, light.

“Could be confused with Pinot Grigio.” -Shannon

Smell:

Fruity, light.

“Slight citrus.” -Shannon

Taste:

0-15 seconds:

Not too overwhelming sweet. Pineapple. Tropical.

“Peach. Honey” -Shannon

15-30 seconds

There was very little acidity at this point and we were both really looking for it. The acidity seemed to occur later on.

45-60 seconds

Post swallowing the wine:

“Does your tongue feel weird?” -Me

“It’s like tingling.” -Shannon

I don’t know if it was the keeping-it-in-your-mouth-for-60-seconds thing or the wine, but our mouths were very tingly after. It was almost like holding a pineapple on your tongue. Or at least that was what I said at the time. Now that seems odd.

“Slightly tart finish. Crisp.” -Shannon

For me it was a little too sweet for my tastes and easy to drink and refreshing,

Conclusion:

It’s a nice wine, especially for the price. Shannon gave it a 9, I gave it an 8. Great for dessert-type drink in my opinion. Also, Skype tastings are the best way to stay in touch. Mark my words, this is going to become a trend.

1. 1. Zraly, Kevin. “The Basics.” The Ultimate Wine Companion. Kevin Zraly. 2010: Sterling. Pg. 62-63.

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Three Things You Should Know About Wine (That Will Make You Sound Smart)

There is a lot to learn about wine and that can certainly be intimidating.  From the soil where the grapes are grown to the aging process, wine is a complex subject. Fortunately, there are some basic things that you can learn right now that will help you understand and discuss wine.

reading about wine

How wine is made:

Grapes are grown, harvested, sorted and the stems are removed. Then, the process of fermentation begins. This is different for red and white wines. Red wines are fermented with their skins on and whites without.

During fermentation alcohol and carbon dioxide is produced when sugar and yeast are combined. The sugar in the grapes and yeast, either added or more traditionally found on the white bloom of the grape skin, combine until the sugar becomes alcohol and the yeast is killed off. This occurs around 15% alcohol. The carbon dioxide is then let off, except in sparkling wines. (1)

After fermentation the wine is processed and put in barrels (oak or steel) to age. Then the wine is finished, which may include filtration and bottled!

This is a great illustrated guide to how wine is made: http://www.wineanorak.com/howwineismade.htm

What tannin is: 

Tannin is a natural preservative that comes from the grapes or from the wood in oak barrels when the wine is being matured. Kevin Zraly, in “The Ultimate Wine Companion” describes tannins well. “A word used to describe the sensation of tannins is “astringent”. especially in young wines, tannin can be very astringent and make the wine taste bitter. Tannin is not a taste, however– it’s a tactile sensation.” (2)

If wine always gets better with age:

Not all wines are meant to be aged. In fact, most wines should be consumed within one year of purchase. As wines  change as they age, and some do get better, but usually they do not. You can look up on vintage guides, like this one on decanter.com, when the best time to drink a wine is.

Easy to remember, right? Now you’re three facts closer to being a wine expert! 

 

1. Zraly, Kevin. “The Basics.” The Ultimate Wine Companion. Kevin Zraly. 2010: Sterling. Pg. 53.

2. Zraly, Kevin. “The Basics.” The Ultimate Wine Companion. Kevin Zraly. 2010: Sterling. Pg. 55.

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Sometimes you just want a beer

Right now my husband is away and without him here to help I can’t quite justify opening the bottle of Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc I have in the fridge. I also need a little wine break after the tasting on Saturday. Instead, in the name of open-mindedness in wine tasting, I’m going to attempt to conduct a tasting of my favorite beer in the world, La Fin Du Monde (pun intended). It is a triple golden ale with 9% alcohol. Usually you see it in a huge bottle, but they sell four-packs of regular-sized bottles too. From my brief research, it looks like tasting a beer is similar to tasting a wine, just with very different results. I’m going to stick to my look, smell, taste formula.

Fin Du Monde

Look:
Very light golden. No legs (oh right, it’s beer… kind of weird to think that wine is thicker than beer, but that’s kind of true, right?). Very carbonated. It has a thin “head” when poured.

Smell:
Lemony, really not very beer-like.

Taste:
Slightly bitter, strong. Oddly heavy and light at the same time. It is complex, with a slightly spicy taste. It is refreshing but a little yeasty which is interesting.

dinnerBeer and pasta with scallops! Can’t go wrong.

Conclusion:
It’s amazing how different tasting beer is. It’s harder for me, but maybe because I am not in practice. A lot of tasting has to do with learning the vocabulary and the different tastes. If you say to someone, “tell me what you taste?” it’s a lot easier to identify if you give options.

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How to Throw a Wine Tasting Soirée

We don’t throw a lot of parties. Intimate gatherings, no problem, but parties… they’re a lot of work. I like the planning process until like a day before when I inevitably panic and decide A) no one is going to show up or B) it’s going to end like that party when I was 18 where I was arrested for “internal possession of alcohol” (seriously, that happened).

A few weeks ago I got the idea to have a wine tasting for my graduate school class. “What better cohort-bonding is there?” I thought. I threw out the idea and there seemed to be some interest which is how this whole wine-tasting party came to be. The premise was simple (and based on my birthday party last year). Everyone brings a bottle (or food), we cover the labels and we write down our humble opinions and ratings of each bottle.

The tasting was slated to begin at 4:30 pm and by 5:00 no one had shown up. It was kind of my worst nightmare. I threw a party and nobody came. But then everybody came and we had an amazing time. It was super laid back and I have a sneaky suspicion that that was a welcome relief to those in the room who may not have taken my suggestion (from a previous blog post) and read “The Ultimate Wine Companion edited by Kevin Zraly (buy it here) from cover to cover.

Cohort 12 Wine Tasting

Tasting

Tasting

Tasting

In total, we had 13 bottles, 9 red and 4 white.

1. Altes Herencia 2011 Garnatxa Negra (Spain)

2. Acronym  2011 Red Wine Blend (Pinot Noir/Syrah)  (California, USA)

3. Charles Shaw 2011 Shiraz (California, USA)

4. Colpetrone 2007 Montefalco Sagrantino (Italy)

5. Bay Moon 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (California, USA)

6. Clos Du Bois 2010 North Coast Chardonnay (California, USA)

7. Dr. L Reisling (Germany) [Label was peeled off, not sure what year, best guess 2010]

8. Argento 2010 Malbec (Argentina)

9. House Wine Red 2010 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc) (Washington, USA)

10. Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates 2010 Merlot (California, USA)

11. Acronym  2011 Red Wine Blend (Pinot Noir/Syrah)  (California, USA)

12. Arcangelo 2010 Negroamaro Salento (Italy)

13. Waterbrook 2010 Chardonnay (Washington, USA)

Bottles

The Stats:

1. Altes Herencia 2011 Garnatxa Negra (Spain) 4.8

2. Acronym  2011 Red Wine Blend (Pinot Noir/Syrah)  (California, USA) 6.6

3. Charles Shaw 2011 Shiraz (California, USA) 4.9

4. Colpetrone 2007 Montefalco Sagrantino (Italy) 6.2

5. Bay Moon 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (California, USA) 4

6. Clos Du Bois 2010 North Coast Chardonnay (California, USA) 5.4

7. Dr. L Reisling (Germany) [Label was peeled off, not sure what year, best guess 2010] 5.7

8. Argento 2010 Malbec (Argentina) 6.1

9. House Wine Red 2010 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc) (Washington, USA) 6.7

10. Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates 2010 Merlot (California, USA) 6.1

11. Acronym  2011 Red Wine Blend (Pinot Noir/Syrah)  (California, USA) 7.4

12. Arcangelo 2010 Negroamaro Salento (Italy) no score

13. Waterbrook 2010 Chardonnay (Washington, USA) no score

Iku Tasting

The results are fascinating. The #2 and #11 wines were the same bottle (unbeknownst to those tasting) and both came out near the top, although #11 won by quite a bit. Not every person tasted every wine, so that could have something to do with it, but even people who scored both the #2 and the #11 were different. But, if you read the tasting notes carefully, people did detect similar tastes in both.

Coming  in second was #11, another blend. Fourth was number #4, which happened to be my personal favorite. A funny thing did happen when tasting. Someone else had number 4 and said he didn’t like it. Immediately I started to second guess my opinion. That’s the thing with wine tasting, it really is about subtleties and can be influenced by many factors.

The last two wines were not scored. This is completely my fault, as my sheet to fill out only went to 11. I meant for people to fill out 12 and 13 on the back, but I think at that point we were all more focused on having a good time.

Some fun tasting notes:

“Smells like Christmas. Initial note of cheap frosting…” -Chris (#11)

“Ruby colored, light smell -slightly smoky. Very fruity taste, sweet and a little dry.” -Lauren (#2)

“Smells slightly skunky. Crisp light. Not much flavor. Like a slightly bitter, watery grape juice. -Carrie (#3)

Tasting

Wine tasting

Conclusions:

This was so much fun. Having a party like this is a great way to try different wines, but also a good chance to discuss those wines.

The wine I chose was number 2, the Acronym Pinot Noir/Syrah. I chose it kind of accidentally. I was talking to my brother, who has become somewhat of a NY wine expert, and was hoping he could help me choose a really nice East-Coast wine. He asked me to take a picture of the NY wine section at the store I was at and then send it to him. Turns out, there was no one bottle of NY wine there. I had to ask the wine steward if he had any NY Pinot Noir. He said no. I said NY anything. He said. No. And then I told him I was doing a tasting and he said, “Do you want to get crazy?” I was like, “of course I do” and he suggested the bottle I bought. So imagine my surprise when I found out someone else brought the EXACT SAME BOTTLE. (As I mentioned before.) Crazy, right?

For future tastings, I would need to find a better way to keep white wines chilled. And by a better way, I mean any way at all.

All in all, though, this is a party everyone should throw at least once!

Wine Tasting

Tasting

tasting

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