Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Uncork your recipe

Over the past few months I have been adding wine to my recipes...ALOT! Lately I have been cooking lots of tasty dishes from Julia Child's Mastering the art of French cooking and Barbara Lynch's Stir not ever realizing how much wine actually goes into these fantastic dishes. I found while reading the recipes it was hard to decide what kind of wine to use. When a recipe calls for dry white wine which should I choose? As I was researching i found some great tips from The article pairs flavors with the wine to help make your decision easier. Before I continue I need to stress one point...ONLY COOK WITH WHAT YOU WOULD DRINK! Ive watched people dump the "white cooking wine" from the 4Th shelf in a grocery food aisle into the pot and thought to myself hmmm that looks tasty. Please stay away from the grocery aisle wine that looks like it was made by a ketchup vendor. I will often share a bottle of wine with my creation, toasting what will hopefully be an awesome dish and if its not I rest my laurels on the fantastic glasses of wine I have sipped throughout the process. For example 2 nights ago I made Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child and used a great 90 point Chianti. I found and with 3/4 of that bottle devoted to my masterpiece I was able to enjoy a couple glass while I cooked (he recipe and the art of creativity in cooking always becomes clearer to me after a glass or two). Cooking should be fun not stressful and as I have said in past blogs choosing the right wine whether you are drinking it or cooking with it or both should be just as much fun!

Here are guidelines from to help you make the best pick:

If a recipe calls for dry white wine, the best all-around choice is a quality American Sauvignon Blanc.
This wine will be very dry and offer a fresh light herbal tilt that will enhance nearly any dish.

If the dish has bold or spicy flavors, go for a more aromatic white wine.
Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Viognier all have dynamic fruity flavors and exotic floral aromas that counterbalance heavily spiced dishes.

If a recipe calls for dry red wine, consider the heartiness of the dish.
A long-simmered leg of lamb or beef roast calls for a correspondingly hearty wine, such as a Petite Syrah or a Zinfandel. A lighter dish might call for a less powerful red―think Pinot Noir or Chianti.

Get to know Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Marsala.
These are among the best wines good cooks can have on hand. They pack the most intense flavors and―because they're fortified with a little more alcohol than table wine―have the longest life on the pantry shelf.

• Port has a rich sweetness and depth that's especially good in meat-based casseroles.

• Sherry's complex roasted nutty flavors can enhance just about any soup, stew, or sautèed dish. Two styles of Sherry that work best are Amontillado or Oloroso.

• Madeira can be mesmerizingly lush with toffee-caramel notes. Use the medium-rich style known as Bual, a touch of which will transform ordinary sautèed mushrooms. And Marsala's light caramel-like fruitiness is an integral part of Mediterranean sautès, many of which bear the wine's name in their titles.

Lastly, a few of my favorite recipes that call for cooking with a great wine:

Drink & cook well!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What would Santa drink?

A special holiday post for those of you who are looking for treats to put out for Santa. While I'm sure Santa still enjoys snacking on the traditional milk and cookies, I'm sure he would love it if you "kicked it up a notch!" I'm not taking the cookies away, by all means keep the cookies out! There is nothing better than warm cookies or some type of chocolate dessert after a hard nights work. I'm talking about pairing that chocolate splendor with something a bit more grown up, after all most of my research indicates he was born somewhere in the 4th century, that makes him at least 1000...Right???

Before I make these recommendations and you have visions of Santa crashing his sleigh and Reindeer into a chalet in France or hacienda in Mexico after a night of drinking, remember we are in the 21st and that would suggest that Santa's sleigh much like our commercial planes is outfitted with state of the art auto pilot and lets also not forget who's at the helm leading his sleigh...Rudolph! So go on, make Santa a little more jolly this season, after this years economy, he probably needs it!

Santa's first stop from the North pole is Hungary where of course the kids may put out a one of the countries delicious chocolate mousse cakes( Santa to snack on. Layered with sponge cake and semisweet chocolate you may find yourself pouring him a glass of Royal Tokaji wine. This dessert wine has amazing scents of honey, orange and other ripe fruit. Great balance of acidty which makes it easy on the way down and can be good for several years if santa chooses to save the drink for later. Can be paired with all types of desserts from tasty chocolate mousse cake to a fruit tart. Makes sure not to put it out to early since it should be served around 50 degrees like most dessert wines.

Next Santa zips over to Italy where the variety of incredible desserts and wine is endless, no doubt one of his favorite spots! In this particular home they have chosen to put out a variety of cheese for Santa. Wonderful hard cheeses from the towns finest cheese shoppe and next to it a golden, copper colored drink of Vin Santo. The Vin Santo has beautiful aromas of tropical fruit and with its smooth velvety finish it fits perfect with the cheese.

Darting to another part of the world Santa heads for Canada where no doubt Ice Wine awaits. Ice wine grapes are picked from the vine once the frost hits. Made with Vidal grapes on the Niagra escarpment Ice wine can be paired with the fruits, tarts and even is perfect with Chinese food. Maybe when Santa gets to this destination he will enjoy his wine with a bowl of sesame chicken and a few crab rangoons. After all a man can't live on dessert alone!

Our last stop is anywhere, anywhere warm chocolate chip cookies maybe sitting and waiting for Santa. I can't resist but to pair this up with my favorite dessert wine Rosa Regale Brachetto. Yup we have already talked about Italy, but you can buy this in a number of places around the world and yes I have already written about brachetto but I cant help thinking about choco ship cookies with brachetto. With its floral notes and sweet effervescent finish the wine goes perfectly with chocolate and Santa will not be disappointed once he gets hit with flavors of raspberry, strawberries and roses. A perfect finish to his long journey and hard work.

Take a sip or have a glass of one of these 4 wines below and taste the delight of the holidays with Santa, you'll enjoy them just as much as he does!

Royal Tokaji Wine Red label 29.00 92 pts
Villa Puccini Vin santo 21.00 89 pts
Jackson-triggs vidal ice wine 20.00 85 pts
Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto 25.00 95 pts

You can buy these or any other amazing dessert wines at my favorite wine shoppe in Brookline, Ma

Happy Holidays,

- a

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where's -a?

When was my last post? May? Ok Ive been a little busy doing the job that actually pays the bills, but I have restocked and I'm ready to taste again starting January. 257 bottles are just sitting here waiting to be tasted and blogged about and they can't wait to be opened! For those of you who have missed me...well i cant blame you. I got an email from my good friend Joey reprimanding me for my absence in the world of blogging so I'll be back with more to taste and lots to blog about.

Till then have a happy and safe holiday!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's B-B-Q Time!!

Don't listen to the skeptics, beer is not the only acceptable drink with BBQ! While I can appreciate and really enjoy an Ice cold bottle of Dos Equis with my pork ribs slathered in BBQ sauce, I also love gettin' down with BBQ beef ribs and a nice bottle of zin, and for those of you who have read my blog before, you know how I feel about Zin. As my very good friend Lara begins to prepare for her annual BBQ extravaganza, she has asked if I would make some suggestions for pairing and well just plain old great tasting wine when hangin in the backyard with your friends in the summer. So here goes!

When choosing wines to accompany your BBQ, you can easily find happy partners to your BBQ with inexpensive and mid priced wines. Save that bottle of 1995 Chateaux de La Dee Daa for a sedate occasion that features more subtle food to allow your wine to shine forth without distractions. Remember, we are talking about pairing wine with smoked pit style BBQ and not grilled meat cooked over an open flame. Grill friendly wines can be a little different than what works well with BBQ.

The first rule to remember about wine and food pairing is important and must never, ever be broken. Commit it to memory and you will always succeed at wine and food pairing. The rule is: There are no rules! If you like to heat up 25 year old burgundy and dunk marshmallows in it, then go for it. The following are just my suggestions and the philosophy behind it. So hopefully, some of you will find worthwhile advice to enhance your enjoyment of BBQ. I always like to think about an old friend's advice when it comes to food and dining: it is the people at the table and not the food on the table that matter most. I would add that if you don’t find this to be true then amend your guest list accordingly.

In general, I find that wines served with the big flavors of BBQ must be assertive. Finding a wine that will get along well with cloyingly sweet BBQ sauce that has a lot of molasses and liquid smoke in it is the most challenging. Many of the most common brands of bottled sauces fit this description. You will be better off making your own sauce or trying a specialty brand.

This is a good time to mention that if the BBQ you are eating is prepared properly, it should not “need” sauce, Sauce should be an enhancement – not the main feature. I’ll lift a quote from a great BBQ home page where they describe the qualities of good BBQ. “The best barbecue has a caramelized mahogany crust of crunchy goodness with incredible smoky~spicy flavors of its own. It doesn’t need to be drowned in sauce to imitate the taste of real barbecue. In fact, in some parts of the country, sauce is provided only for tourists. The locals eat it “naked”, or with just a dab of sauce for contrasting flavor.” The double think in the expression that the “secret's in the sauce”, is one way of saying that the meat is dependent on the BBQ Sauce for flavor because it doesn’t have enough flavor of its own because it wasn’t done right in the first place. Rant over. I hereby promise to only talk about wine for the rest of this page. Man I love BBQ drama!

Practically any sparkler from California, Spain or Italy will be great with BBQ. Those tiny bubbles will scrub your palate and make each bite of Que taste like your first.
At the lower end of the price scale, you can pick up a bottle of Proseco at Trader Joe’s for around 5 bucks. Its light, floral, fruity and great at a Summer afternoon BBQ. Cold Duck and Asti Spumante are of the same price range. Blush sparkling wines are especially good with BBQ. Moving up in price, Cava from Freixenet is good for around $9.00 and Segura Vida (also from the Ferrer family) is an excellent value for about $14.00 and is a personal favorite. Now you are moving into the price range of California sparkling wine as well. Whatever your budget is, there are a lot to choose from.

White Wine
Reds are my favorite with BBQ but some white wines will work as well, especially with Pulled Pork and Chicken. Look for lean fruity whites with bight steely flavors to cut through the rich and sometimes fatty flavors of BBQ. Fuggetabout most California Chard. Its usually too oakey and buttery. You are better off with a French Chablis style wine. The crisp, bright, flinty flavors will cut through the rich, tongue coating qualities of BBQ. Many of the more inexpensive whites at your local wine shop will fit the bill perfectly. Try:
Sauvignon Blanc
Chenin Blanc
Pinot Grigio
Pinot Gris

Red Wine
Reds should be big, well balanced, smooth and not over the top in alcohol. I like red wines that have great fruit and balanced acidity. Luscious, ripe berry flavors and complex spice make an interesting counterpoint to BBQ. I find that wines over 14.5% are often “hot” and they open your taste buds up wide and then the heat from the spice becomes very prominent and overwhelms other flavors. Here are some recommendations from the tasting we did recently to gather information for this web page.

Syrah/ Shiraz – Same grape with a different name down under. A nice shiraz with silky, smoky tannins, red berry and ripe fruit flavors will work well with BBQ. Lately, from Sonoma County I’ve tried Benziger $23.00 and Roseblum as well as several Australian wines from Rosemount and Koonunmga Hill for $13.00. Owne Rowe Syrah for about 20.00 per bottle is my favorite but adds a bit of cost.

Zins - The young spicy ones with lots of black pepper and raspberry work especially well with BBQ. Zin is also one of my favorite wines. It's hard to find one you won’t like. I recently had a bottle of Alexander Valley’s Sin Zin. It's fairly priced at 14.00 and is a good one. Other favorites come from Ridgr, Turley, Biale and Neyer. The Old Vine Zin from St. Francis Vineyards is also a winner. Anything from the Dry Creek area should also be terrific!

Cote Du Rhone is another good choice in the medium price range. Its smooth, well behaved tannins and smoky finish are just right with pulled pork and pork ribs.
Rioja is a great choice for BBQ. This Spanish red wine is spicy and fruity. Its bold, fresh flavors can really stand up to the assertive flavors of BBQ. Beef brisket, beef ribs and all grilled beef will work extremely well with this wine.
Riojas are intended to be drunk at a coolish temperature. 58 to 65 degrees is a good range. Try chilling it on ice or in the refrigerator. Use a food thermometer to get it right the first time and give you a reference point for the future. By chilling the wine you will disarm rough tannins and volatile alcohol.

So many wines and so little time. Here is a list of other varietals to experiment with.
Petite Syrah
Barbera and Chianti are also best when slightly chilled.

Whatever you choose to drink with your BBQ, just have fun and enjoy the folks gathered around your table.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

How long is too long?

Should I drink it or put it on my salad? Well, that depends on whether you are drinking that bottle you opened 3 weeks ago or yesterday! Of course only those of us with the finest of palates can tell the difference, right? Whatever, my friend Lara asked me this question the other day, or was it 3 weeks ago? In either case this information won't expire and will keep you from making that face you make when you drink milk after its gone bad.

Opening bottles, especially good bottles of wine can be frustrating if you don't enjoy an entire bottle in one sitting. The notion that a bottle of wine will go bad after a day is ridiculous. You do not need to finish a bottle of wine in one sitting when it has been opened. So how long is too long?

There are lots of variables regarding the wine type, method of production, age of bottle and on and on. There are all those considerations and exceptions but for 95% of the wine that most people drink, the answer is pretty simple:

3 days

You can keep wines up to 3 days after the bottle has been opened. Once a bottle of wine is opened, the oxygen in the air starts to open up the aroma of the wine and softens the flavors, mush like a fruit on its last stem. As this process (oxidation) continues over many hours and days, the wine is ultimately made untasty (a very scientific word). The trick is to use the wine before it becomes unpalatable.

You can (and usually should) refrigerate re corked bottles. You can buy stoppers and gadgets to create a slight vacuum in the bottle, I recommend the rabbit which was a gift from my good friend Robyn or something real simple like the vacuvin which runs about 12 bucks. I take it on the road with me when I travel, works great! You can even get systems that put a layer of inert gas in the bottle. All these items and efforts are aimed at slowing the oxidation that will eventually cause an untasty wine.

What makes the whole thing tricky is that the wine will not go immediately from good to bad. The wine will, at a point, begin to progressively develop tastes that are unpleasant. Just like milk that is going bad, each person has a different point at which they identify the beverage as having gone bad.

If you want to play it safe (and who doesn't with either milk or wine), then just use the 3 day rule. Re cork and refrigerate the bottle for up to three days. With red wines, pull the bottle from the refrigerator at least 1/2 hour before you want to use it so it will warm to a desirable serving temperature in the mid 60's F. With white wines or roses, just pull and pour when you need them.

Keeping opened wines beyond 3 days is like playing golf in a lightning storm. You may get through but you are tempting the fates. If you keep a table wine for more than 3 days, you will be serving a wine that has lost most of the characteristics that are prized. The aroma will start to change and much of the fresh fruit smells and tastes will subside.

Dessert wines like Sauternes, most everyday Ports and most Sherries can last much longer but those are special cases. Just play it safe with the 3 day rule. It is a good practice to write the date the bottle was opened on the label if there is a chance of confusion


Thursday, March 5, 2009

What's this taste like?

Ok, ok so as my friend Dan reminded me, its been a while. Between my wife breaking her ankle and work I haven't had much time to taste and write so one of them had to go for a while...the writing of course! Now before we get into some tasting and writing about it let me tell you about this new little fun thing we are doing at work. Much like myself there are a few people at work that love to taste and drink wine. They like most of us (yes even you who don't admit it) have no idea what the big connoisseurs of the world mean by oaky, nutty, flowery, blah and more blah. They just want to taste great wines and talk about why they taste so good. Every Friday we rotate between 4-5 of us bringing in a bottle we have discovered sharing it and then talking about it. I highly recommend this, if your job allows it of course. I don't want to get anyone drunk and of course fired.

I was asked recently what the best way to taste wine is. well that's a great question because as you are tasting a glass of wine you want to try and get everything out of that taste that you can. I have been at many many tastings and a few countries for tastings and what I can tell you as that there are many different styles people use to enjoy the tatses of their wines. From our friend Bertrand in France who sticks 92% of his nose in the wine glass in order to "experience its floral bouquet" to the owner of my favorite wine shop in Chestnut Hill, Winestone (shameless plug) who sniffs from a distance to get that hint of fruit and flower. However the fundementals remain the same. Here are your full proof tasting techniques. Do this everytime you taste a new glass of wine:

1. Don't overfill your glass. There is a reason why you are often served wine in large glasses when they only fill it by about a third.

2. Tilt the glass against a white or light surface to take a look at the color.

3. Swirl the wine around to release the flavor. 'Professionals' swirl the glass in their hand, but this can be difficult for beginners. Instead, put the glass on the table and move it (the glass, not the table) in a circular motion. The table gives you more control, making you less likely to spill the wine.

4. Smell the wine. You often hear people tasting wine making unpleasant snorting noises when sniffing their wine. This is because the smell receptors are at the top of your nose - to get a real smell of the wine, it is important to sniff hard.

5. Drink! Take a little wine into your mouth and appreciate the taste of the wine. There are two methods of getting the most out of the taste of your wine.

* Many wine drinkers swish the wine around their mouth, like mouthwash. But for others, this gives too much of a taste of alcohol and not enough taste of the actual wine.

* The other way is to suck air into your mouth. As the air passes over the wine, you get a stronger sense of the flavor. Be careful, its easy for the wine to go down the wrong way!

6. Notice the aftertaste of the wine. Some linger for a long time, others don't. Give yourself a minute before you comment. Think about the taste. Does it taste like anything you have ever had?

7. Repeat! Keep drinking until you get. Then have someone drive you home. DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE!! PSA

Now we will be practicing this every Friday afternoon at work and you are welcome to join! Hey I would be more than willing to come to your house and practice with you as long as you supply the wine of course. But above all remember, enjoy the process of learning and tasting and of course whats more fun than enjoying the wine!


2006 Landmark Syrah: A great year for syrah in california! 95 points and if you have never had a syrah before now is the time! Dark berry in color with intense flavor, full bodied and lots of complex flavors. You can find this for about 30.00, drink it now or buy a few and hang on for the next 5 years.

2007 AP Vin Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands: Ok this ones a bit more pricey but man is it good. This is for my boy Joe who loves pinot noir! Im giving this one 96 points!! a beautiful taste of fruit explodes at first taste and then softens in the aftertaste. very dark and rich. Find this for about 45.00 again a little pricier, but worth the buy!

2007 Dry Creek Chenin Blanc: In the spirit of spring and warmer weather I am going to recommend this fresh tasting chenin blanc. Consistently very good each year. Pale yellow in color and opens with a pleasant tropical fruit and citrus. I'm giving this 87-88 points for being a great everyday wine and you can get it for about 8-10.00

2007 Pacific Rim Riesling: This is a great sweet wine. Some enjoy it for dinner and some for dessert either way you will be surprised and excited about this taste. Super ripe fruit taste. An 86 point dessert wine for about 11.00

There you have them. Now you know what to buy and how to taste them. Let me know what you think or tell me in person when you invite me over for a drink, hint, hint! Either way Happy tasting!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Taste of Love

Last week I was dining at a friend's house where we ate a fantastic Italian dinner prepared by his wife. Man I love me some Italian food! Meatballs, sausage, steak, and pepperoni sitting in this huge pot of sauce for hours and then poured over ziti! Anyway, throughout the conversation we began talking about Valentine's day and how the economy has changed some plans for this year. So inspired by one of the most romantic guys I know, Dan, my post for today will be about my favorite picks for Valentine's day. Just because you are choosing to have a a nice romantic evening at home doesn't mean you have to skimp on the wine.

Valentine's day bring to mind some of the most romantic places in the world, France, Italy, Spain and of course their influences on wine making around the world. France known for its Bordeaux and Burgundy, Italy for its Sangiovese and Barolo and Spain of course for its gorgeous Riojas! In the spirit of love and romance this month, we are going to get to know some of the most romantic wines from these countries. Every week Ill add a new post from a new country and region starting today with Bordeaux.

Bordeaux wines have captured the hearts of wine enthusiast around the world. Whether its a full bodied red or a soft refreshing white, you can call it an all occasion wine that can be paired with many different foods or on its own any evening. Now its import to note that French wines are named for their region. Bordeaux is located in the southwest of France near the Atlantic ocean. This region produces Reds, Dry white wines and sweet or dessert wines. Bordeaux is the number one producer of Merlot and Cabernet grapes, however it also produces Sauvignon Blanc. The wine varieties from these grapes include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Most Bordeaux wines are blends of different grapes. These blends of grapes help to balance the wine to create a wonderful taste.

Bordeaux offer an exceptional quality wine for small dollars. You can get great wines for 8-25 dollar a bottle. French labels can be confusing but an easy way to tell a high quality Bordeaux is to look for the initials AOC or AC which denotes the highest quality of french wine. Wines with these initials must adhere to very strict qualities and laws by the french government which oversees production.

Now that you have learned something about French wines, back to Valentine's day. Im going to call this Dan's Valentine's day compliments, since these wines are sure to compliment any night with your sweetheart:

Whats Valentines day without a bottle of bubbly? and I dont mean champagne, how about a fantastic Italian prosecco? Prosecco is better known for being the main ingredient in a Bellini and is now very popular as a cheaper alternative to champagne. Serve chilled and typically as an aperitif but if your like me, great at any time.

For the meal what about an incredible Pinot Noir? I have recently become a huge fan of Pinot Noir, Beautiful red coloring and big fruit flavors. Pinot Noir meaning Black Pine is named because the grape is very dark in color and forms a pine cone shape as it grows, it produces some of the best wines in the world. Making Oregon famous for its production, it is also now being showcased in other areas most notably in New York along the Niagara escarpment. The Warm Lake Estates quickly comes to mind.

Laslty for any of you haven't had the pleasure, a bottle of Brachetto d Aqui with those chocolates you got or your favorite dessert. Brachetto is a grape from the Italian region of Piedmont, which produces a slightly sweet sparkling wine with tasty hints of strawberries.

Bottle recommendations for the above:

-Riondo Prosecco: light, fresh and fruity this wine give you 90 points of love for 10.00

-2007 Owen Roe Sharecroppers Pinot Noir: Another beauty from owen roe. Full of red cherry and raspberry fruit flavors, very soft tannins. An 87 point wine for about 17.00

-2007 Rosa Regale Brachetto d Aqui: I cant say enough about a awesome this wine is, so all Im going to say is go out and get a bottle you wont regret it especially when Im giving it 94 points for only 14.00

Now just like Dan you are ready for a romantic evening at home with your loved one. This Valentine's Day, whether you are buying for a group or the one you love, stock up and make everyday special with these selections.

Happy Valentine's Day