Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bold Commentaries Thanksgiving, 2010

Jane Butel and I were all set to crank out another Bold Food with Bold Wines show when disaster struck. We had been on the air for one minute when our audio was looped back into the show. We were hearing what we were saying overlaid with what we said a minute before. I was much more confusing than I usually am.

The aborted program is now scheduled at 5:30pm November 30. Since we’ve already had the Thanksgiving dinner for which Jane was to discuss recipes, I’ll cover that event here.

Jane Butel provided the menu and the recipes that we and our friends would prepare. My wife, Barbara and I had the turkey, cranberry sauce and relish, and the stuffing. We began Wednesday evening, but would have been better served starting a day earlier.

As our friends arrived, each one had the same caveat statement we did; “Gee, I hope this tastes OK, I followed the recipe.” We knew not following the recipe would earn us Jane Butel’s disapproving stare. As it happened, everything turned out great.

The appetizers arrived with Martha Burke’s herbed Chicken Liver and Pork Pate en gelee and Carolyn Flynn’s Gravlax with Sweet Honey Mustard and Pumpernickel rounds. The gravlax, a prepared salmon and dill dish went perfectly with the Gruet NV Sauvage Blanc de Blanc, a bone dry but lemon meringue pie rich sparkling wine. That was followed by a Gruet NV Blanc de Blanc extra dry sparkler that also paired extremely well. Its margarita lime flavors provided a different enhancement to the salmon and pate.

My task was the Slow Roasted Turkey with herbs and Sherry Baste, which I started late Wednesday night. After the initial high heat start, the bird is roasted at 200 degrees all night and into Thanksgiving morning. I used an Amontillado sherry which has a wonderful nut-like flavor and good body to drench our 24 pounder.

Barbara made the Blue Corn Bread first and used it as the base for two stuffings; one with Italian sausage and another with fiery green chile. Simultaneously she made the Cinnamon Scented Cranberry Sauce with Orange and the Cranberry Relish.

Jane brought the Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and the Parsnip-Potatoes Smashed with Roasted Garlic and Chipotle and made the Red Chile Gravy from the turkey drippings. Martha also brought the Tequila Teased Sweet Potatoes, and haven’t we all been teased by tequila at some point?

I chose two wines to go with the dinner, a 2002 Frattoria Scopone Brunello de Montalcino and a Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Harvest Select Riesling. Brunello is one of Italy’s great wines using a special clone of the Sangiovese grape and grown in selected portions of the town of Montalcino. It is aged and not released until five years of the vintage date.

Riesling is an excellent food pairing grape and is lightly or never oaked, providing a mouthful of ripe fruit flavors. This wine is slightly sweet or off-dry, but works wonders with food. It sidled up to the pate like country cousins and held its own against the rich flavors of the turkey. The Brunello has an appealing nose of red cherry, Italian herbs and flowers and luscious red cherry and mocha on the palate. It went faster than the Riesling; no surprise there.

The dessert of Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie with Whipped Cream would have worked with Cognac or Armagnac. No way can a wine safely handle that combo of squash, cheesecake and cream unless it has a palate-busting alcoholic haze surrounding it. Cognac will do that. I did find that the Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry married with the pie better than I’d expected. The sherry was less sweet than a port and a better pairing.

Other white wine choices that work with turkey or chicken fryers include Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontés. The Murphy-Goode Fume is a dependable Sauvignon Blanc that has the right smoky minerality to go with bird. Trapiche 2008 Torrontés at $6.50-7 is a steal. This Argentina grape is amazingly good even in inexpensive versions. I hope your Thanksgiving was just as joyous. Salud!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bold Commentaries: Cancun, Mexico, November 2010

This time I’m way south of the border, down Mexico way, Aye, aye, aye aye . . . as the song goes. We’re staying at the Grand Mayan in Riviera Maya, which is midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, a lovely town that my wife and I visit several times each trip to this area. The town boasts several good restaurants, including one in a complex of caves that must be seen to be believed, with alcoves hosting small bars, and stalagmites illuminated with a myriad of colored lights.

My wine recommendations here are from Chile and Argentina, which are well represented in the local supermarkets. The prices are very good and offer good value, whereas the U.S. wines come at a premium. What better time to learn more about the wines of Chile and Argentina?

Jane Butel once again is focused on eating healthy over the holidays, which is a challenge for most of us. All the recipes she shared during this program are from her Quick and Easy Cookbook, which I highly recommend. Wine does add to your calorie-count, but is non-fat unless you serve it with a dollop of cream. When I count calories – OK, if I did count calories, I wouldn’t add in the wine, because it might limit my intake, and I don’t want that!

Jane’s first recipe is Chicken Tortilla Chowder, a good nourishing soup that is also easy on the calories and very tasty the way Jane prepares it. This hearty, filling soup is only 326 calories for a ½ recipe and is low in cholesterol and sodium.

As it happens, Tortilla soup is a staple in Mexico. An Argentinean Torronteś would be a good choice. Argentina’s most popular white wine is gaining a following in the U.S. It is medium-bodied with good fruit and a range of flavors from citrus to melon with good complexity. The nose is often flowery and redolent with tropical flavors and good acidity. It also pairs with a very broad range of foods making it quite versatile.

Other options would be Chilean Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Unlike California, many Chilean Chards embrace the concept of food-friendly, and pack good fruit, good acidity, and don’t bludgeon the grape with too much oak. I just tried, a 2010 Concha y Toro Sauvignon Blanc Reservado from the Valle Central, or Central Valley. One would hardly consider this wine too old, huh? To paraphrase Paul Masson: “We will sell no wine before its time. OK, it’s ready.”

Concha y Toro was established in 1883, if I corrected deciphered the script on the bottle, and has a good reputation for value and quality. This wine has good tropical fruit, Granny Smith apple, crisp acidity on top of a very inviting nose. At under $7 I rate this one a best buy, and will be back for more.

Next up, Jane went with a Chicken and rice dish featuring a Jalapeno Lime Crème Dressing and Romaine lettuce leaves and chiles, cumin and garlic spices. Chicken and rice always seem to go well together, and with green chile and lime the whites should still prevail.

Many Chilean wine regions focus on the best grapes for that region, which is why the Casablanca region is famous for their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The local Wal-Mart was not too helpful there, but I should have known that. Later I picked up a Torronteś at the local Mega store, which trumps Wal-Mart for food and wine.

Next Jane discussed Guaymas Shrimp, which in Mexico are called camarones. I’ve had them many ways here, but chile and garlic should always be included in my estimation. I could go either way as far as wine, but how about Rosé for a change of pace? You’ll want to insure it is a dry Rosé rather than a sweet blush wine. Both Chile and Argentina offer a variety of dry versions using different grapes. As in Europe, they know the value of dry rose and serve them as aperitif or just for easy drinking throughout the evening. They go with many types of food, or standalone, making them very versatile.

Pork, as Jane often mentions is a good nutritional and economical choice. It also is a chameleon in that it adapts to the cooking method, sauces and spices with which it is prepared. Her Chile Sage Pork Chops are a case in point, and she serves it with Black-eyed Pea Salsa and Chipotle Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Her last dish is Flank Steak Soft Tacos, which is flank steak marinated in red wine vinegar with fresh garlic and caribe chile. This dish packs more calories but works as a casual meal or as a tapas entrée.

Both these dishes call for a number of red wines choices. The flank steak can take a heavier-bodied wine than the pork, but a good spicy Merlot would work with either. The lower tannin hit and more approachable flavors of this grape make it very popular, in spite of the rude hit the grape took after the movie Sideways. Remember folks, Paul Giamatti is a beer drinker; don’t let him dictate your wine palate. Besides one of the most costly and highly-regarded red wines in the world is Chateau Petrus, and its 100% Merlot.

Merlot can go from a very soft, almost innocuous wine to a red powerhouse with tons of flavor, silky tannins, spicy red berry flavors, and a complex finish. This is also a popular grape in Chile/Argentina, as is Carmenere, which at one time was mistaken for the Merlot grape, and it also has wonderful spice.

If you prefer a Cab, the Chilean versions are closer to their European cousins than North American varieties. I grabbed a Santa Rita 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva from the Maipo Valley, which is a great wine region for this grape. Clocking in at the typical 13.5 % of a French Cab, it will go nicely with that flank steak and even better with prime rib. Salud!

Bold Commentaries: Memories of San Francisco in September 2010

This show was one I did remotely from San Francisco. That spurred Jane Butel to come up with some menu ideas inspired by the city and its romance. As it happens, her ideas dovetailed with what I experienced in San Francisco that week. Like minds, perhaps?

My wife and I were celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary, which was part of our reason for coming here. Little did we know it would be in the middle of a heat wave. We experienced record temperatures in a city known more for its fog and chilly all-seasons weather. Our suite is in an older Victorian on Nob Hill that doesn’t have A/C. I was almost tempted to put our mattress out of the fire escape, except I’m sure the cable cars that pass by on Powell below us would have gotten a regrettable eyeful.

Since we were in one of the fine culinary capitals of our country, Jane wanted to feature some of the famous recipes of San Francisco. She discussed a special Cioppino recipe that had its origins in Italy, but was honed and adapted to San Francisco seafood—Dungeness crab or King Crab legs, clams, lobster, mussels and shrimp in a hearty red wine sauce flavored with tomato, garlic, onion, lemon and lots of Mediterranean herbs. She adapted it for her Hotter Than Hell cookbook which I highly recommend.

Cioppino is certainly a popular SF treat. I almost selected it for our anniversary dinner. Obviously a number of Italian reds come to mind. The seafood takes on much of the flavors of the sauce so a red is best here. Sangiovese, Barbera and Dolcetto all work well. Even a well-aged Nebbiolo will sing with the fishes. Much better than swimming with them, I suppose.

New Mexico wineries excel at Dolcetto, and one of my favorites is the Vivac 2008 Dolcetto which display black fruit and tobacco on the nose, and blueberries and chocolate on the palate with good acidity. Dolcetto is generally light- to medium-bodied with bright fruit-forward flavors that harmonize with Cioppino. It originates in Piedmont, Italy, which is also famous for its Barbera and Nebbiolo wines.

To accompany this dish, Jane suggested a simple green salad with a creamy dressing, lots of crispy crusted Italian bread and a simple fruit dessert. If you can’t get crusty Italian bread in SF, you’re not looking very hard. For the dessert and an alternative for the entrée, I’d also recommend another Vivac favorite; the 2008 Barbera. This popular Piedmont grape is known for its mellow tannins and black cherry flavors to which the Vivac adds hints of orange and cranberry on the nose and a citrusy finish.

Next on Jane’s list was another Italian and personal favorite; Shrimp Scampi, an easy to prepare dish of juicy shrimp with lots of olive oil and garlic. I suggested the Graffigna Centenario 2009 Pinot Grigio Reserve which I’m enjoying as I write this. It provides inspiration, without too much inebriation. At $8.99, the same price as their reserve Malbec, these are Argentinean wines to seek out. Mind you I got mine at La Beau Nob Hill Market, albeit, one that has good wine prices. This is my go-to place for food and wine in the city. They never disappoint.

Next Jane went with a German favorite; Sauerbraten in a red wine with a mireproix –then sautéed in bacon fat and finished with a long simmer in consommé with mushrooms. The last time I had Sauerbraten I was nearly stabbed with a fork over the last piece. I always found it interesting that this is one meat dish that also works with German Gewürztraminer, but I’d go with a lighter red that had a touch of sweetness. A very dry red, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon is not at home here, but the Vivac Dolcetto or Barbera would do well.

Next Jane talked about San Francisco sourdough and seafood, two food groups that have gone together for me since my first experience when I was in the Navy and my Dad came to town on business and we dined at Fisherman’s Grotto #9. Jane mentioned that the water has a great deal to do with the flavor of the sourdough.

I think it’s the sea air and the fact it is San Francisco. The Pinot Grigio I mentioned above went great with the local seafood. However, when the seafood is Sushi, and I have a passion for SF Sushi, I usually go with cold sake. Sake is rather unique in that it is brewed and fermented. The Koji and yeast starter are part of what makes it special. Sake is very labor-intensive, which is one of the reasons premium sake is so expensive. However, for the traditionalist, Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc will probably work better.

Finally Jane recalled romantic desserts in San Francisco, such as flambe’s of cherries and other fruits, and wondered if they were still around. As it happens, our anniversary dinner at Sinbad in the Embarcadero district is a somewhat retro restaurant that time warped us back to the sixties. And what did we have for dessert; Cherries Jubilee. The remains of our Pinot Noir handled it as well as any wine can handle ice cream, and with black cherry on the palate, it married with the black cherries flambé? Seriously, did Jane and I Vulcan mind-meld here?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bold Food with Bold Wines: Main Dish Salads

For the August 10 show, Jane wanted to cover Main Dish Salads, which is yet another challenge for the Southwestern Wine Guy. Salads can be a complex food and wine pairing choice. Many salad dressings have enough vinegar in their ingredients to clash with most wines. A vinaigrette dressing is a prime example. So the first rule is: do not drown your salad!

If making your own salad dressing, substitute balsamic for part of the vinegar component. Choose rice wine vinegar for a mellower flavor. Alternately, substitute fruit juices such as lemon or lime. When you do use wine vinegar, mix it with that bottle of red wine chilling in your fridge. At the bare minimum, let the dressing settle for a few hours before using. Jane disagrees with some of this so make sure to check out the show for her take on things.

The type of oil can also help or hinder. Fruity olive oils or oils derived from nuts will pair better. Spanish olive oil is one of Jane’s favorites, and I agree, it’s loaded with flavor.

Jane wants the salad to be bold and bright. Well that fits us to a “t” and in so doing she offers up various taco salads. Bold and bright also applies to the salad greens. Spicy greens dress up a salad and give it a nice zing. That also works with many wines, including dry Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, which pair with their citrusy notes. The wine should always have good acidity, of course so look for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Alsace Riesling.

Here are some salad additions and types of wine that will pair well with them. Mushrooms add an earthy, woodsy note that works with many wines including earthy, leathery French reds from Bordeaux and Loire Valley. Grilled Portobello mushrooms are meat in flavor and texture, so reds that work with steak can pair here also.

Adding meat, be it chicken, beef, or fish will be a focal point for wines that typically go with those meats. Wines with herbal notes will work better with similar herbs added to the salad.

Croutons or crispy tacos will also add buttery components that are at home with an OB (oaky-buttery) Chardonnay. In fact, throw out the salad and just suck on the croutons. Alternately, try a Viognier or French-style Chardonnay and leave the salad alone.

Fruits can also help, fresh or dried. Anything from mandarin orange slices for citrus-based wines such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, to dried cranberries for a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, can wake up the salad and the wine. Nuts, such as walnuts also add a nice earthy hit to a salad.

Grilled chicken in a salad, particularly with added spices expand the wine pairing palate to embrace red and white wines. The reds should not be overly tannic or heavily-bodied. Many Italian wines work well with chicken as it is a prime ingredient in many dishes.

Jim’s Wine Recommendations: Italian Reds from Piedmont

Barolo/ Barbaresco: These towns in Italy’s most northwestern province are home to the Nebbiolo grape, which makes very age-worthy wines. Sadly, these are often pricey. Dolcetto and Barbera grapes are also used in many Piedmont wines.

Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo delle Langhe 2008 ($20-25): Medium bodied, with nice spice notes of white pepper, anise and violet. Perfect with sausages, ham and salami, pizzas and pasta with simple sauces, spicy food. A good entry into the world of Nebbiolo without breaking the bank.

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti 2007 ($16): This one uses the Barbera grape – not to be confused with Barbaresco, which does not. In this case the name of the grape precedes that of the town of Asti. Barbera is one of the premium red wine grapes for food-pairing.

Jane then reviewed another chicken salad; this one Chicken Rice Salad with Jalapeno Lime Crème Dressing. I knew I should have eaten before the show, yum!

Jim’s Wine Recommendations: White Wines

Let us all now sing the praises of this food-friendly grape. It seldom is paired with other grapes, or aged in oak, certainly not new oak. It has great acidity to handle many types of food; Asian Fusion should adopt this grape as its own. The lack of manipulation means the terroir of the grape will shine through. German, Alsace, Washington or New Mexico states all produce excellent versions.

Sauvignon Blanc: Another food-friendly grape that rises to the task when not bludgeoned with oak. The grassy, citrusy, herbal notes work with many types of salads. New Zealand varieties use no oak and have razor sharp acidity. Sancerre has mineral qualities that work with many salad ingredients. Pouilly Fume has just a kiss of French oak to go with its smoky quality and will harmonize with grilled veggies.

Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet 2005 ($48): The central part of the Côte de Beaune comprises an area predestined to produce great white wines, and Puligny-Montrachet is certainly one of its most glorious examples. A Montrachet can age up to 12-15 years. I know, a bit pricey, but once you’ve tried a good Montrachet there’s no turning back.

For Jane’s Terrific Scallop Salad, I suggested Muscadet, a wonderful seafood wine and Pouilly Fume, both from the Loire Valley. Finally, try New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Oregon Pinot Gris a fuller, richer wine than the Italian Pinot Grigio versions.

Jane’s Grilled Vegetable Salad with Warm Herb Oil Dressing would be at home with French Chablis. Also, Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc, which is labeled “The Fume” to emphasize its crisp, smoky quality, which is a very dependable, reasonably-priced wine.

For Jane’s Summer Vegetable and Quinoa Salad, the nuttiness of the quinoa can work with Viognier or an earthy Pinot Noir, such as a Russian River Pinot. Enjoy cooking Jane’s delicious recipes and try some of my wine recommendations for a meal greater than the sum of its parts. Salut!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Bold Commentaries: Beefing it UP!

This is the second in my Bold Commentaries series of the show that ran July 27. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there, but in Urgent Care for a serious infection. Yuch! None the less, I had already done all the research and can guess what Jane Butel was going to cover.

Jane talked about meals to beat the summer heat. Even though we in New Mexico had a reprieve caused by monsoon-driven rain this is very good advice. She suggested doing an overnight roast on Thursday night for a whole weekend’s worth of meals—providing of course that everyone likes beef. Then she asked – I’m guessing here, of course -if there are any exceptions to red wine and beef.

There are always exceptions for those that love white, sparkling or rose wines. But in each case it is hard to justify from a food pairing standpoint. Those that have health issues with red wine can try Old World-styled Rose. The lack of tannins may work, and the flavor, if not the mouthfeel will match better than white or sparkling wines.

Red Wine Allergies
However, those that have health issues with red wine, tannins or sulfites in particular, might give organic wines a try. Many I’ve sampled are excellent. Mendocino County has a large number of organic wineries, more than the rest of the state combined. Those suffering from headaches – and not from over-consumption – may find they have an allergy to the many herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides of mass-produced wines.

Asthmatics will react to the sulfides present in most red wine. A low sulfite or neutral sulfite wine may be just the trick. The two classes of organic wines are labeled “made with organic grapes” which do add sulfites and “organic wine” meaning none is added.

Red Wine Suggestions
For the rest of us, what better excuse to open up the Burgundy, Bordeaux or Rhone wines we’ve been saving for the right moment. Napa Cabs, Central Coast Syrah and Zinfandel, Russian River Pinot Noir, all relish a good hunk of beef to pair with. “Beef and Cab, it’s what’s for dinner” Didn’t beefy actor Robert Mitchum say that? Or maybe it was his son, James.

This is where all those high tannin, big red wines can come to play. In a restaurant, when someone asks for “your driest red”, they must also mean, with your juiciest steak, because otherwise your mouth will stay puckered long after the kiss of a Cab. In fact you may even talk funny for a while. One rule of thumb, if you do select a very dry red, make sure your roast stays nice and juicy, or has lots of gravy to leaven the tannins curling your tongue.

Preparing the Roast
Download the MP3 file of the July 27 show to hear Jane explain how to roast an 8 to 10 pound brisket—with rub—overnight at a low temperature. She goes on to explain that Friday night dinner could be Roast Brisket with barbecue sauce if desired and stewed pinto beans, rice and pickled cole slaw. My response would have been as follows.

First off, let’s give that BBQ sauce the once over. Use a red wine base, if possible, and stay away from the commercial ones that often add too much sugar to hide an uninspired sauce. You can do much better in the kitchen, even if it’s your first attempt. I like a mix of chipotle and other chili seasoning myself and avoid the onion almost all BBQ sauces contain. That happens to be my allergy, and the reason I do so much cooking, because most prepared food and sauces contain onion.

This Week’s Wine Region: Lodi Zinfandel
If you favor Zinfandel, there are many inexpensive ones coming from Lodi, California. This AVA was made official in 1986 and contains seven defined sub-regions. Located between Stockton and Sacramento and bordering on Amador and Calaveras counties, Lodi is blessed with many rivers that spring from the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta.

Lodi supplies 44% of the state’s Zinfandel, and many of the oldest vines. Can you say, “Old Vine Zin”? This is where you’ll find many. The Old Ghost vineyard has 90-year old vines producing just ½ ton per acre, which is why many in the state are ripped out or replanted to get yields up much higher. The head-pruned Zinfandel vines sink their roots deep into the sandy soil, providing rich, but soft wines that go perfectly with any beef. Zinfandel is California's grape, and in Lodi Zinfandel is the king.

Nestled between the Sierra Foothills and the San Francisco Bay Delta, Lodi offers the ideal climate for producing ripe full-flavored Zins. The Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta’s distinctive bay delta breezes cool the region in the afternoon and evenings creating the characteristic Lodi Zinfandel - ripe forward fruit with soft polished tannins. Two examples from the Michael David Winery are listed below.

7 Deadly Zins 2007 Zinfandel Michael David Winery, Lodi ($17.99): Plumy and pepper nose yields blueberry, raspberry, black pepper and spices on the palate. It will cozy up to that Texas brisket like symbiotic twins. A blend of grapes from each of the sub-regions this is one of my favorite under $25 Zinfandels.

2007 Earthquake Zinfandel Michael David Winery, Lodi ($28): Which earthquake? The 1906 San Francisco quake, which ripped through northern California the year these Zinfandel vines were planted. “Over the top and shattering to the veins” is how they describe this limited release reserve wine. Sounds scary, but I’d give it a try. Also check out Earthquake 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Syrah, all $28.

Saturday Night Dinner
Jane has good ideas for that Saturday night dinner—a hot weather special with cold sliced brisket with salsa, warm flour tortillas or crusty bread and corn on the cob.

The type of salsa will influence the wine, but lots of spicy red wines work including Rioja, Tempranillo, and Sicilian Nero d’Avola, and a good Lodi Zinfandel as they work the spice and black pepper into many of their wines. For the faint of heart, an oaky, buttery California Chardonnay will rock with the corn on the cob and crusty bread slathered in butter. There are many New Mexico wines that fill in admirable here as well.

Milagro 2007 Chardonnay ($20): This is an easy recommendation as the Hobsons have been crafting great wines for many years. This wine won a gold medal at the SF Chronicle wine competition, the largest in the US. Check here for my article in It is not an oaky, buttery Chard, however, but more like a French Chabis, and that’s loads better.

Luna Rossa 2007 Montepulciano: This wine crafted by Paolo D’Andrea is just now making it to stores in New Mexico. We gave this one a gold medal at the NM State Fair wine competition. It also won gold at Jerry Mead’s New World International Wine Competition. It sounds like word of great NM wines is getting out.

Sunday Brunch
Talk about leverage, we now go to brunch on Sunday for the last of that roast begun on Thursday night. Jane provides ideas for that brunch with guacamole, beef tacos and Green Chile Cheese Rice Casserole with sherbet and sorbet floats for dessert. Jane asks about sparkling wines and mixed wine drinks, such as Sangria and Mimosa.

Sparkling wines go with Sunday Brunch so often, particularly with Mimosa sparklers I always thought it was required by law in California. A question for y’all: How much does Orange juice cost compared to sparkling wines? If you say your orange juice is more expensive I hope it also overpowers the wine, which must be truly mediocre. Otherwise, make you own and offer guests their choice; straight or Mimosa. How hard is this, after all?

The same is true of Sangria. Choose your own cheap wine and fruit it up rather than paying extra for pre-mixed. Besides, most of us have one or two cheap wines we secretly love so why not hide it in a fun Sangria. Ole!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Bold Commentaries: Introduction

These commentaries are drawn from the live shows Jane Butel and I put on at every Tuesday afternoon at 5:30pm mountain time. I created these dialogs to share some of the great ideas Jane and I bring to the table. The table, in this case, is laden with foods of the Southwest and wines that can handle the heat.

Here I’ll include wine recommendations and ideas and food pairing choices, particularly for Southwestern cuisine, Jane’s specialty. I’ll summarize some of her choices, but the best way to prepare her menu choices is to get one of her cookbooks. Listeners can hear the show each week following the link above, or select one of the earlier archived MP3 downloads, which is another way to capture my specific wine recommendations.

We put out a lot of information and don’t want you to miss that little gem that will jazz up your dinner, or put a sparkle into your wine pairings. Not only that, you may find just the right combination of wine and foods to put more sparkle in your . . . you know.

July 20, 2010 Show – Tacos and More . . .
Jane Butel does more than discuss recipes; she also has a passion for the history and culture of Southwestern and Mexican cuisines. She mentioned that the Mexican taco began as child’s food to keep the hungry children from getting in their mother’s way while preparing a meal. She would merely take a freshly made tortilla (which she made to start every meal) and place whatever she had on hand into the shell. Then she’d say taco, taco, which loosely translates to “take it and go!” I interjected, wouldn’t it be easier to just roll up the tortilla and cram it into their mouth to keep them quiet. From her look, it was obvious I wouldn’t have made a very good parent.

In her notes, Jane had asked me to talk about Baja Mexico wines that would be compatible with most any taco. That’s why we script the show so there aren’t any surprises, which is good because I have not tried Mexican wines, yet. Here is what I learned.

The one region that has become the leader in reviving the reputation of Mexican wines comes from northern Baja California, centering around the city of Ensenada. The major winegrowing sub-regions – the Guadalupe, Calafia, San Vincente, and Santo Tomás Valleys – all lie close to the Pacific’s cooling ocean breezes and mists. Hot days and cool nights is a classic winegrowing combination throughout the world, as the wines from California’s coast prove. All the Baja valleys feature a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite.

Château Camou seems to be the class act of these wines. Personally, I’d go with New Mexico wines, accessible to taste and buy in state, and many go with tacos. When I’ve been in Mexico, I’ve generally chosen Spanish, Chilean and Argentinean wines for value. I’ve had killer Malbec wines that were under $15. I usually buy Mexican when it’s tequila or beer (cerveza), although Mexican brandies are also excellent. It looks like I’ll have to investigate these wines when I’m in Cancun this fall. The work of a wine writer never ends.

Jane pointed out the difference between Mexican and American tacos. Mexican tacos are made with a soft corn tortilla shell and filled with shredded roasted meat topped with condiments—often cabbage, cheese, tomato and onion with fresh salsa and cream on the side.

Conversely, the American taco is made with a crispy, fried corn tortilla shell. And, as an aside, corn tortillas when fried, gain a minimum of 25 calories of retained fat. So the Mexican taco shell is healthier and tastier too. The health aspects of food are another reason to follow Jane’s recommendations.

So what wines go with meat-filled tacos? Let’s look at wine basics, first.

Tacos benefit from light to medium-bodied wines. Those crispy shells would turn to mush with a Central Coast Zinfandel, for example. Spanish Rioja, which goes with a similar cuisine, always works, and many are bargain-priced, such as the 2006 Campo Viejo Rioja Crianza. At $11 this Old World red of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Fr: Grenache) and Mazuelo won’t hurt the pocketbook either. Earth, leather and smoky flavors will complement many types of meat. Also check out Portuguese, Chilean and Argentina wines for value-laden choices.

Jane next discussed tacos made with guacamole, seared vegetables such as eggplant, squash, bell peppers, onions and various greens from spinach to arugula, and wanted to know if this called for white wine. While lighter reds will still work with grilled vegetables, a cool white wine might go better with the higher temperatures many of us are experiencing this summer.

White wines that are crisp with citrus and mineral notes work quite well. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc always has that crisp acidity for food paring, but New Mexico Pinot Grigio, and dry Riesling wines are also excellent, and many have won gold and silver medals. The Ponderosa Valley Winery 2009 Dry Riesling at $16 is a case in point. Argentinean Torrontés wines are another good choice. This is Argentina’s most popular white wine and companion to their Malbec red wines.

And I don’t want to forget a suggestion from last week’s caller; Muscadet. Calling into our show is one of the benefits of listening live. Yes, you can interact with us, in fact, we love it!

Muscadet should not to be confused with Muscatel or Muscat. This Loire Valley wine is very popular and goes great with the local seafood. The grape used is called Melon de Bourgogne, and the majority of Muscadet is labeled as Muscadet Sevre & Maine for the two rivers in this region. Located near the mouth of the Loire River and close to the city of Nantes, the grapes are often fermented sur lie, meaning on the lees to pick up additional flavors.

For example, the 2007 Luneau-Papin "L d'Or" Muscadet Sévre & Maine Sur Lie $19.99 includes that technique in the wine’s name. It received a 92 rating, suggesting these wines can often rise above the vin ordinaire role some folks cast them into. If you’re glued to the TV watching the Tour de France as I am, why not a French white?

Jane then introduced the idea of dessert tacos. Listen to her description of the popular Hot Fudge Taco that originated from her NYC restaurant; it will set your mouth to watering. What wine, she asked with a challenging note, will go with that?

As it happens, I had two suggestions I’d recently sampled. The Jessup Cellars 2005 Cabernet Port (375ml) isn’t as heavy as the ubiquitous Zinfandel Ports, but heavier than Portuguese Ports. The current release is the 2006 at $49; bottled sin they call it.

The Field Stone Staten Family Reserve Port from Alexander Valley uses Petite Sirah grapes from 100 year old vines. The current release is the 2007, and at $50 for a full 750ml, this is also a good buy. It is rare to see a winery produce a port every year, but Field Stone has been doing it since 1992. It’s an amazing wine. This port sings with deep, dark berry flavors, utilizing late harvest picking for additional intensity. It will even stand up to a Hot Fudge Taco. Salut!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Third Annual Corrales Quilt & Wine Fair

The Corrales Quilt & Wine Fair is held in the beautiful village of Corrales, just north of Albuquerque on the west side of the Rio Grande River. The fair begins Saturday, August 7 and ends Sunday, August 8. The fair opens each day at noon and closes at 6pm. Admission is $15 per person and $25 per couple and $5 for children aged 13 to 20. Children under 13 are admitted free.

Alameda Drive off I-25 takes one across the river and then a right turn on Corrales Road brings motorists into the heart of town. Other participants can take Coors Road to the junction with Corrales Road. Once there the clatter of Albuquerque recedes into the background, and the pace slows to a point that wine and art can be contemplated without undue haste.

Several of New Mexico’s leading wineries will be on hand for wine tasting and information about their latest releases. Three different bands will be playing throughout the day, and food booths will offer tasty bites to accompany the wines. Several artists will display their wares, and there will be quilts, quilts, and more quilts. And you thought we were kidding about the quilt part.

I’ll be there in the Wine Discovery Tent for informal wine talks and also to answer your most pressing questions about wine. My Wines of Enchantment wine book will also be on sale. All proceeds will go toward purchasing more wine.

The represented wineries include:

Acequia Winery, Corrales Winery and Milagro Vineyards from Corrales
Casa Rondéna, Matheson Wine Co. and Tierra Encantada Vineyards and Winery from the Albuquerque area
Ponderosa Valley Vineyards and Winery near Jemez Springs
Black Mesa and Wines of San Juan from Northern New Mexico
Luna Rosa and St. Clair from Deming
Guadalupe Vineyards from San Fidel

Just think how much gas you’ll save coming to Corrales instead. Salut!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bold Foods with Bold Wines: The Blog Talk Radio Show

Anyone out there that enjoys listening to tips on wine and food pairing with Southwestern cuisine should check out Bold Foods with Bold Wines, a blog talk radio program that I co-host with Jane Butel, the queen of Southwestern cuisine. The half hour show covers great southwestern dishes that are fun to prepare, and I provide wine pairing ideas and wine fundamentals.

I often mention inexpensive wines in the $10-$20 range that work for most wine lover’s budgets. Not only that, but listeners can call in with their wine or food questions. If we don’t have the answer, we’ll get it. Try to stump the experts, it can be great fun.

Link to Blog Talk Radio, and then enter Bold Foods with Bold Wines into the search field window in the upper right. When at the Bold Foods with Bold Wines location, you will notice three columns; Shows, On Demand, On Air/Upcoming.

Shows provide basic info about Bold Foods with Bold Wines, On Demand permits you to play back or download any of our past shows, and On Air/Upcoming lists the next scheduled shows. Our show starts at 5:30 pm Mountain time. The call-in number is 347-855-8325. Clicking on the next scheduled show will also include the call-in number. During the show you can dial a “1” at any time to request to talk to Jane or myself.

Those a bit shy about talking on the show can email me at with your wine questions. Since I’ve been a teacher for 35 years, I love getting questions. You can also leave comments or requests here at any of my blogs.

Jane and I have a good time doing the shows, so why not call-in and join the fun!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

“Twas a Judgment upon Him”

In Scrooge’s tour with the ghost of Christmas future, he heard those words uttered by his precocious housekeeper and felt the wound deeply. Being judged is often not fun, particularly if you have Scroogian proclivities. The next judgment, long before Christmas, is the judging for the New Mexico State Fair Wine competition, set for Saturday, June 19th at the Sandia Courtyard Conference Center in Albuquerque. It is the winemakers that will be on trial as their submitted wines, 195 at last count, will be judged along with other New Mexico winemakers.

I’ll be on hand along with many other volunteers from the New Mexico Vine & Wine Society to blind taste the various categories of wine. This year there are many new and evolving wineries represented, which may be the reason for so many entries. We judges will just have to suck it up.

Actually, that’s the wrong phrase, spit it out is what we need to do to keep our palates sharp and our butts firmly affixed to the chair. Who knew this was such hard work? Yeah, I didn’t think you’d buy that.

In the back room, flights of wine are prepared in glasses and brought out to the judges. Each flight represents a grape varietal except for blends and specialty wines. Only the type of grape is given to the judges, and each wine is rated against the others in a flight. The top wines are then judged for best of show and best of class if any meet the more stringent requirements of those awards.

The judging is done on several factors, the visual appeal, the aroma and bouquet, the palate elements, and how well the three acts of tasting; attack, mid-palate and finish are carried out. We judge if the grape type was varietally correct and how well it shows against other wines of that type.

If you are a winemaker or grape grower or just a wine enthusiast like me, consider joining us and become a wine judge. Members have to purchase their own gavel, of course. Given all the gold, silver and bronze medals awarded nationally and internationally to New Mexico wines, I’m looking forward to sampling the state’s best. Salud!

Anderson Valley Mendocino: Navarro Vineyards

The first wine I tasted when I drove through Anderson Valley was not at the tasting rooms that dotted Highway 128, but at the Hill House Inn in the coastal town of Mendocino at journey’s end. We arrived late in the day from Oakland airport and after fighting commute and wine country traffic, dinner and a soft bed made more sense.

The Hill House Inn perched on a hill overlooking the town and the ocean was loaded with memorabilia including pictures of the many movie stars that stayed here, many during the filming of Murder She Wrote, which used many Mendocino locales for exterior and interior shots. A Celtic band played as I ordered the lamb and a glass of Navarro Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir.

Since Navarro was already on my must see winery list, this Pinot just cemented it; a great effort for an under $20 Pinot. Nonetheless, that did not prepare me for the range and quality of wines at the tasting room at the mid-point of Anderson Valley. Bill Mitchell, who could have starred in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, was informative and entertaining and gave me good insight into what Navarro is all about. Out of his goody bag came many unique and well-crafted wines.

Sustainable farming practices came to Navarro before it became an industry buzz word. True to the cooler climate requirements of Anderson Valley, many of the grapes from this area are Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir, although some other red varieties are used. Zinfandel and other late-ripening varieties are generally grown further inland between Cloverdale and Ukiah and further south.

The 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir is an exceptional dry rosé, such as one would get in Anjou and other French wine regions. This rosé has bright red fruit of cherries and strawberries with an undercurrent of cream and peach, which gives this wine enough heft to stand up to lamb and wild game. The three months aging sur lie (aging on spent yeast cells and sediment from the fermentation) added complexity and richness. At $16.50, this wine will sell out fast.

If your recollection of Chenin Blanc was the jug wines of California, the Navarro Vineyards 2009 Chenin Blanc will surprise you. Sourced from 50 year old vines, this dry Chenin Blanc will remind you of French Vouvray rather than typical California varieties. The Navarro Vineyards 2008 Muscat Blanc comes from soil ideally suited to this ancient grape. Planted near the Gewürztraminer vines, this wine has many wine judges going gaga. Another great under $20 wine.

The Navarro Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir (méthod à l’Ancienne) is also available unfiltered. I tried both and almost cried over both. Dark cherry, earthy with a long finish, this is one to buy by the case. Hovering around $30 a bottle this is one more great value from Navarro. The last 2007 Pinot Noir is the Deep End Blend, which would make anyone forget about Oregon versions.

Navarro Vineyards offers some great sampler packages of 6 to 12 bottles of many of their wines. I could talk about a number of their other wines, but shouldn’t you be checking out their website and ordering online? Salud!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Anderson Valley, Mendocino: Brutocao Cellars

Brutocao Cellars is located in the mid-point of the Anderson Valley AVA. A second location is located just outside Hopland, Mendocino. I wish I’d had time to visit that location as well, which includes a Bocce ball court, and The Crushed Grape restaurant next to the tasting room. On the other hand, I might never have wanted to leave. You can experience this second hand by going to the well-done website and taking a virtual tour, but trust me, the reality is much better.

The Brutocao family came from Venice Italy and chose the Lion of St. Mark as the symbol for their wine label. The original graces St. Mark’s cathedral in Venice. They married into the Bliss family and were soon in the grape growing and winemaking business. Grandfather Irv Bliss purchased the Mendocino County property in 1943, but the first Brutocao wine came out in 1980.

While the whites I tried were well made, my passions include big, earthy Italian-styled wines and I was not disappointed. They also make elegantly styled Pinot Noir wines, as these are the best red wine grapes to plant in the cooler Anderson Valley region. The vineyards are located there and in the Hopland region. The 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley was one of the few filtered wines, although fining was performed on other reds. The wine has an earthy, spicy nose with hints of the black cherry that show on the palate. Wispy smoke from a forest campfire was woven through the earthy mid-palate, carried on by the dark fruit. I really liked this wine.

The Zinfandel and Primitivo wines were also excellent. Since both grapes originated in Croatia, it’s always fascinating to taste the differences when both clones are treated to the same terroir. My favorite wine was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Hopland Ranches. The majority of the grapes came from the Hopland Contento vineyard with the remaining grapes from the Feliz vineyard. The dark fruit was nicely handled by the French and American oak with only 15% new oak used. I appreciate a subtler use of oak that allows the good fruit flavors to predominate.

I sometimes use the term “dark fruit” when the taste on the palate could be blackberry, dark cherry, or plum. However, I have no term for the way the wine opened up and caressed my tongue, and went down as sinuously as a velvet cloud. Just in case I was mistaken, I bought a bottle and tried it out, appropriately enough, at an Italian trattoria. I was mistaken, it was even better with food. At $22 a bottle, this wine is a great buy, but a case makes even more sense. Salud!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Anderson Valley Mendocino: A Unique Wine Region

Mendocino’s Anderson Valley has experienced growing interest in the last few years, but is still unknown to many wine lovers. This unique AVA begins part way up highway 128 off Interstate 101 in northern California. The first part of the journey snakes through the Yorkville Highlands, but at the town of Boonville becomes the Anderson Valley grape growing region. Glimpses of the Navarro River can be seen off to the left while heading northwest. The river provides a significant influence on the valley, and the coastal winds that follow its twisting path also affect the growing season.

The major grapes grown here reflect the terroir, with Pinot Noir being the most popular red wine grape. Many white wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer are well represented. Other red wine grapes such as Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are typically sourced from the Hopland area where the longer growing season permits these grapes to mature properly. Two major sparkling wine producers are also located here; Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars.

Continuing on the highway beyond the wineries a dense and dark Redwood forest staggers enough trees in the driver’s path to make the road an endless series of sharp turns. Emerging from the woods, green meadows border the river replaced by a stony bank at the mouth of the Navarro River. High coastal cliffs bracket the mouth like silent sentinels.

Going north on highway 1 brings one to the town of Mendocino, where time slips back to the 19th century. The style of many of the homes, restaurants, and hotels give Mendocino the feel of a New England coastal town. Dining in town offers good food paired with many Mendocino wines including those of Anderson Valley.

I focus on three wineries in Anderson Valley, each unique in its offerings, with very different winemaking philosophies, but each providing good value for the wine dollar. Handley Cellars is one of the oldest wineries in this region, as is Navarro Vineyards, and Brutocao Cellars. Each offered a very special treat to the palate and all are highly recommended. Each winery is posted in a separate article.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Steaming into Hong Kong

What does steaming into Hong Kong have to do with wine? For me it has everything to do with wine, because this was my first experience with it, and the beginning of my love affair with wine. We all remember our first time, don’t we? And we are all still thinking about wine, right? In my case it began with the shimmering lights of Hong Kong harbor in the winter of 1964. This was during my first sea cruise in the US Navy, and we were heading to Vietnam just as things began heating up there.

After being on station launching planes in the South China Sea, it was time to replenish the ship’s supplies and we headed to Hong Kong. To a sailor, pulling into port means liberty, which is such an appropriate word for R&R. This was the city I most wanted to see since my aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock had steamed out of San Francisco.

Once at anchor we received word of the areas we were not allowed go. Fortunately, that left most of Hong Kong open to us, and we were free to go ashore. I’d already gotten the skinny from a mate about the two must stops; the Parisian Grill and the Dragon boat bar atop the Mandarin Hotel, now the Mandarin Oriental. My rumbling stomach dictated the Parisian Grill would be the first stop.

So with two buddies we set out for a culinary experience par excellence. Inside the grill we found rich red wallpaper and drapes, white linen table cloths, uniformed waiters wearing white gloves - before Michael Jackson made them famous - and the muted sounds of an acoustically tuned room adding credence to its understated elegance. We were all looking at each other like, “How’d we get here?”

We scanned the room and didn’t pick out any other uniforms except a captain at a booth probably thinking, “What are they doing here?” All three of us worked hard at deciphering the menu, since the French was only explained in Mandarin or Cantonese. Sigh! The one that stood out for me was Steak Diane; at least it looked like something I could eat. I didn’t realize it was done flambé style. The waiter came by with a tray laden with all his utensils and incendiary devices and treated us to a pyrotechnical display. What a way to cook a steak, I thought.

I ordered wine because I’d always seen that done in movies and I was getting tired of Tiger beer. The bottle I selected through blind luck was Paul Bouchard Charmes Chambertin Burgundy. I remember the wine; I just can’t remember the year. The filet in its rich sauce and the wine created a harmonious marriage enhancing and accenting each other with every sip. I was thinking, if this was what wine tasted like I needed a lot more of it. But now I was out of Steak Diane so I motioned the waiter and told him to hit me again with that flambé steak thing. Did I say motion? I think wild gesticulation would be more appropriate.

In any case, I was sure I was making a favorable impression because all eyes were on me and that overworked flambé cart. At least they were all smiling. The second steak went down just as easily as the first. I enjoyed that so much I went back another evening and had the very same meal. No sense messing with success, I thought. This time we also gorged ourselves on a Baked Alaska about the size of a small turkey. How did we not gain weight then, huh?

When I got back stateside, I looked for the wine at one of those big San Francisco stuffy wine shops. When a saw the price tag I think my eyes bulged out far enough to impact the glass display. Yikes! So I decided to work at duplicating that magical moment in Hong Kong no matter how much research it would take, but for less money. Since then I’ve stayed on that quest, seeking out great wines at modest cost and the foods to go with them. Who’d have thought eating at a French restaurant in Hong Kong would set that all off? Salud!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Celebration of Arizona Wines

Page Springs Cellars was winemaker/owner Eric Glomski’s first foray into winemaking in Arizona, but not until he’d honed his skills in California, rising to co-winemaker at the prestigious David Bruce winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains where Pinot Noir is king. In Arizona, without the benefit of the climatic conditions that yield the best examples of Pinot, Eric has focused primarily on Rhone varietals. Along the way he picked up a young man with a similar passion for the Arizona grape who now makes the wines under his directorship.

That winemaker, Joe Bechard, began working at the winery after writing about it. He started his career as a journalist right out of college and quickly learned it would be more fun to work with grapes than a pen. Once on board he rose to winemaker, and if he did look back it was only to confirm that his choice was the right one. Joe made time available for me to interview him at the winery during a busy week that saw the launching of the movie Blood into Wine, featuring Eric and rock star Maynard Keenan.

The vineyards on Page Springs road southwest of Sedona off highway 89A are bounded by the undulating creek for which the road is named. The vines are trellis-trained and bordered by bales of hay to shield them from the colder winds off the creek. The shorter growing season yields lower brix but higher acidity resulting in lower alcohol of 13-14%, but with an acidic backbone that insures the wines will be food-friendly.

The Rhone grapes Eric and Joe work with include; Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Roussanne. The Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are represented but take a back seat to the Rhone. Neutral French oak barrels (5 years old or greater) is used principally, with some newer French oak, American, and Hungarian. A bit of the new oak is artfully blended into the wines until it achieves neutrality, after which it stays in service until the barrel reaches old age.

This results in fruit-forward wines that shamelessly reveal all the nuances of their varietal makeup; ripe berry, a cornucopia of spices, and earthy notes. Tannins are subdued and silky, making for very drinkable wines in their youth. The variable weather means each vintage will offer unique characteristics and challenges according to Bechard. The art of blending is evident in the many wines which combine 3 to 7 different grapes. Blending is a fact of life in Bordeaux, where each vintage requires a different mix to maintain quality, and this art is well represented at the winery. The wines are not fined or filtered, but the lighter tannins and aging in neutral oak still yield wines with jewel-like colors.

It takes many vineyards to accomplish the range of varietals offered at the winery/tasting room, most using Arizona fruit. The Arizona Stronghold Vineyards near Wilcox, Arizona in Cochise County have a longer growing season, but present a different set of challenges. Developed by vignerons (French for wine grower) Eric and Maynard , this area was the stronghold of Cochise when his band eluded U. S. and Mexican armies for many years. The varietals used in the Arizona Stronghold label, include Viognier, Chardonnay, Grenache and Syrah. Honor is given to the great Apache chief as his name and those of his sons and relatives grace many of the wine labels.

While strolling through the Page Springs vineyards, Joe Bechard pointed out the poles topping the trellis which support the nets used to keep birds away. This is a common technique employed in many vineyards, although it doesn’t restrain insects that come to nibble. Good fruit attracts more than wine lovers. Joe related how once after the nets were in place they found entire rows denuded of grapes. Puzzled as to the cause they kept a watch on the vines only to discover it was a pack of Javelina. Black bears even take down the vines, but are not so easy to chase off. And you thought your job was hard.

The Arizona Stronghold 2008 “Dayden” is identified as Arizona Pink Wine and is made with selected classic red varietals and fermented like a white wine. It is one of the best examples of a French-styled Rosé I’ve tasted. My wife Barbara has a passion for such wines and I was lucky enough to get one of the last bottles of this vintage. Her look of delight told me I’d done well. Don’t be put off by the “pink” label, this is no blush wine, it has structure, depth and vibrancy. The only blush might be the color it puts in your cheeks.

Later in the week we had a lobster dinner at a local Sedona restaurant and selected a bottle of the Arizona Stronghold 2008 Tazi, named after the eldest son of Cochise, who led a peace delegation to Washington. Tazi is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Malvasia Bianca, and I can only describe the pairing as “heavenly”. Typically I’d select a Burgundian Chardonnay to stand up to the lobster, but this was an even better choice.

The Page Springs label also yielded many wines of surprise and delight. The 2008 Page Springs ECIPS (spice spelled backwards) is all about spice. If you don't believe me, hold the label up to a mirror. Spice, right? A blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Pfeffer and Counoise, it evokes an entire spice rack of nose and palate accents. Cabernet Pfeffer is a hybrid created by Dr. Pfeffer that is aromatic and spice-laden, and is an inspired choice in this blend.

These are wines well worth seeking out. Also check out Eric and Maynard’s new movie documenting the evolution of their winemaking team in Arizona. Blood into Wine premiers at the Albuquerque Guild cinema, March 13. It rocks, which is only apropos for a rock star. Salut!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wine and Chocolate: Heavenly Pairings

Chocolates are gifts for all seasons, but most especially on Valentine’s Day, particularly those heart-shaped boxes. In fact there’d be a worldwide recession among chocolatiers if it wasn’t for Valentine’s Day. But now that box of chocolates that mimics life according to Forrest Gump, and been hanging around since last Sunday, needs a little help. That’s where the wine comes in.

Pairing wine and chocolate
Who was the first to pair wine and chocolate? If we consider the history of that beloved confection, we only have to go back to the 19th century. In 1828, Dutch chemist Conrad Van Houten was the first to press cocoa butter from chocolate liquor which led to the creation of cocoa powder. Twenty years later he combined cocoa butter and sugar to chocolate liquor, and chocolate as we know it had arrived.

It couldn’t have been too long after that date that some wine lover paired the two, but it’s only been in the last few decades that the wine industry has discovered the wonderful leverage of offering chocolate with their wines in tasting rooms. Here’s a word of warning; most full-bodied and many medium-bodied red wines will pair with chocolate like symbiotic twins, but that doesn’t help evaluate the wine, and may prop up some weak performers.

The astringency and sweetness of many chocolates will also impact the palate, making further sampling difficult. If it's the last tasting of the day, though, I'd go for it. Otherwise, save these pairings for home. After all, you have to get through that box somehow, so why not make a game out of it. Set up a pairing party and invite your friends to bring their favorite wine. You only have to provide the chocolate. There’s a good chance that even the “bad” pairings will be good.

The Chocolate Continuum
Just as most wines have their own unique flavor profile, so do chocolates. The percentage of cacao, the amount of milk, if any, and other additives shape the flavor and also influence the pairings. In New Mexico, with our passion for all things pepper-based, we get a potent hit from indulging in chile-infused truffles.

The texture of the candy is analogous to mouth feel in wine, except more sensual. The visual appeal is another factor in judging the pairing, as is the attack, mid-palate and finish of the candy. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. One advantage of chocolates: you don’t have to swirl to pick up the heady aroma of Belguim dark chocolate.

Here is where one challenge comes in; how do you deal with the other ingredients? Caramel, fruit fillings, coconut, nuts of every type all add their own spin to the mix. What wine goes best with caramel, for example? And does temperature play a role as it does with wine? Do you need to get that sticky stuff off your teeth before indulging in another pairing?

Does raspberry filling affect a wine that exudes blackberry notes? Will the coconut flavors imparted by the oak aging of wine pair well or badly with its counterpoint in the box? How many pairings can you indulge before your palate screams; enough!

Wines for Chocolate
You probably thought this would all be so easy. Actually it is far more complex than even I thought. If you don’t think so, check here and here for fascinating information and charts from The Nibble website. The site defines many terms used to describe chocolate, some also being analogous to wine. The origin of the cacao beans, how the beans are prepared, and the percentage of cacao used in each chocolate, factor in the taste. And that’s even before we add the fillings. So many variables suggest at least a perusal of The Nibble pairing chart, which is very extensive and illuminating.

The wine choices they recommend include most red wines, some white wines, liqueurs, ports, Sherries, and other fortified wines, late harvest and dessert wines, cognac/Armagnac, and whiskey. These are paired to everything from bittersweet (70% cacao) chocolates to white chocolate, and various filled chocolates and truffles.

The only thing I can add to the list is late harvest Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, which are definitely in the minority to late harvest Zinfandel, but softer and mellower. I’d suggest trying them with a wide variety of chocolates. Wine and cheese and wine and chocolate are naturals, but still require proper matching to bring out the best in both. And did I mention the health benefits of both wine and chocolate? What are you waiting for? Salut!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Making your Own Wine Aroma Kit

In a previous article, I mentioned one method of improving one’s wine nose by purchasing a wine aroma kit. That works for professionals, but the cost is probably a bit steep for the average wine drinker. The main benefit of an aroma kit is to sharpen the sense of smell to detect the myriad scents many wines possess, deriving more enjoyment, and solving the mystery of what is in the wine's nose. What we perceive through our sense of smell then pays off in the richness and depth of flavors we savor drinking the wine.

Wine Definitions
Bouquet as an industry term refers to the scents created during fermentation, such as the type of container and yeast employed, and the fermentation process itself, which has many variations. Bouquet also encompasses the type of oak and toasting level, and the time spent in barrel as well as bottle aging time. Most wine makers wait a few months before releasing freshly bottled wine due to bottle shock.

Contrary to what someone told me, you can't induce bottle shock by taking it as a prop to the next Rocky Horror Picture Show, although you may start a new trend. Some wines in Europe are not released until one or more years after bottling to permit enough time for the wine to settle and evolve. The type of cork, the bottling process, and other factors all make their contributions to what we call bouquet.

Aroma, on the other hand, refers to the varietal aromas that arise from the grape itself. The strawberry nose of a Sangiovese and the blueberry nose of an Argentine Malbec relate back to the type of grape, or grapes chosen to make the wine. You may have noted I specifically mentioned an Argentine Malbec. That relates to the affect of terroir on the grape varietal. Many Malbec wines from Argentina display blueberry in both the nose and palate. Palate refers to what we perceive once the wine is in our mouth.

Another way of explaining this would be to say the hint of cloves we picked up in a Chardonnay came from the wood, the pear and apple from the fruit, and the buttery notes from the secondary malolactic fermentation to which many California Chardonnay wines are subjected. We also would have learned something about how the wine was crafted, and all through the detection of our nose!

The Wine Aroma Wheel
One inexpensive aid to improving our “wine” nose is the wine aroma wheel developed by Dr. Ann Noble at U.C. Davis. It provides a wealth of wine information in one double-sided, plastic-coated card. It comes on a standard 8-1/2 x 11 sheet, not in the shape of a wheel in case you were considering using it as a Frisbee. The wine aroma wheel website contains a tutorial and a link to a PDF file of a 2-sided 3-fold brochure describing how to create your own tasting kit. For more information on the wheel and how to use it see here and here in my columns, where I’m known as the Albuquerque wine examiner. So many aliases, so little time to read all the stuff I do on wine, hmm?

The brochure discusses wine aromas and bouquet for red, white, and sparkling wines, as well as wine defects. For example, to create a set of white wine scents, begin with a base white wine. A mediocre inexpensive wine is best. Using sealable jars or spare glasses with covers to preserve the scents, add a few drops of brine from canned asparagus to generate that scent as found in some white and red wines. Do the same for the scent of cloves, adding a bit of clove to another container, but don’t leave it in too long. The vegetative scent of asparagus typically comes from the grape, and clove is a common trait of some types of oak, particularly American oak.

Along with all the interesting and clever methods listed in the brochure for trapping specific scents, it doesn’t hurt to periodically remind our sense of smell of what a fresh cut orange or pear smells like. Or dig into those jams in the fridge to recall what blackberries smell and taste like before spreading them on toast. With a little thought, you’ll come up with your own ideas on how to sharpen your senses of smell and taste. Soon you’ll be regaling your friends with your prowess at detecting the multitude of scents in a complex wine. Just don’t get too carried away as Paul Giamatti did in Sideways. You don’t need to make stuff up, there are plenty of pretenders already busy doing that. Salut!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to Evaluate Wine without Drinking Wine

I’m guessing your first question about this title would be what’s the point? However, when I began doing wine talks at Albuquerque area libraries back in December, I knew alcohol could not be served, so I had to find a way to talk about wine and provide some kind of workshop. That was when I decided to purchase a wine aroma kit.

The Nose Knows
The tastes we discern in wine are triggered by what our nose, via the olfactory epithelium, detects in the aroma of wine, and again from the nasal passages in the back of the mouth after we sip the wine. The degree of sweetness, acidity, and mouthfeel we get from sipping wine, while all contributing to our enjoyment, are like black and white photography. It is the coloration our nose adds to the experience that make wine exciting.

It is the development of our sense of smell, identifying and categorizing the myriad of aromas wine contains that make each wine unique. The comment, “What is that scent?” occurs most when aromas are detected by an uneducated nose without a name to associate with a specific scent. Picking up the earthy scent of leather in a French Bordeaux has far greater weight when we recognize it as such and communicate that impression to others. That is part of the language of wine, and one of its greatest pleasures.

We can improve or train our nose best by identifying unique scents in wines. Some of these scents are discernable to most people, such as cherry or blackberry found in many red wines, or citrus aromas in white wines. But what about the scent of tobacco, leather, truffles, cinnamon and cloves? These aren’t always as easy to pick up, particularly when the scents are weak or illusive. Over time and many bottles of wine, many of these subtler scents will be detected, identified, and incorporated into our personal lexicon of wine aromas.

Wine Aroma Kits
This is where a wine aroma kit comes into play. A typical kit contains from ten to forty defined scents, such as those mentioned above. As each scent is numbered and associated with an entry in the accompanying manual, a scent can be learned over time, and detected and isolated in a wine’s nose. It is also possible to recall wines you’ve had that exemplify a specific scent. After diligent practice one can become a wine aroma detective and amaze their friends.

My own kit contains 40 bottles, each with a single defined scent. When I use these in my library talks, I select four scents for the class to identify. More than that number can overload the senses. For example, I’ll start a jar of leather scent going around the room, and only ask for guesses after everyone tries it. Most inexperienced wine drinkers will not guess correctly. Once I have revealed the scent, there are some looks of confusion, some of enlightenment. When I ask one member of the audience to sniff it again, they nod their head enthusiastically. Now that they know what the scent is, the brain reviews its memory of leather scents and more effectively registers that it is truly leather.

I might add that many of my attendees are wearing leather. After all, this is New Mexico, and we love leather goods. Imagine if that is the case how much trickier it would be to detect the scent of truffles? I’m referring to the edible fungi detected and rooted by pigs, not the chocolate confection. That scent is so subtle I think many wine notes writers just throw it in, knowing most people can’t identify it. I’m still having trouble with that one and I have the aroma kit!

Next time I’ll discuss how to make your own aroma kit in case the typical $200 price tag is a bit too steep for you. Salut!