Monthly Archives: January 2011

Louis Bouillot Grand Reserve Sparkling Wine – St. Georges, France & My First Ever Cheese Souffle!

Champagne, Sparkling Wine, and Prosecco – Oh My!

While planning my menu for my birthday celebration last week I decided to make a cheese souffle and with that came some new knowledge (at least to me anyway) that I would like to share with you all.

You see, all of the resources that I looked up in order to see what I should serve along side of my cheese souffle said the same thing – serve with a nice green salad, crusty bread, and a nice champagne or sparkling wine.

With that knowledge I headed off to my local Total Wine and More store to procure that nice bottle of bubbly for my celebration. I told the nice man there what I was making and how it suggested either a nice bottle of champagne or a sparkling champagne to accompany it. He suggested a nice sparkling wine from France.

As he retrieved the bottle for me I had to ask the silly question that was floating around in my head – What’s the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine? I found the answer was simple and along the lines of what I expected.

In France their laws are very strict when it comes to wine making. No one can call their sparkling wine Champagne UNLESS it actually comes from Champagne, France.Β  If you’re even so much as a millimeter outside of Champagne, France you’ve created a sparkling wine! If you want to make a Champagne well then you better move your vines!

As Americans we are pretty much used to calling everything with bubbles Champagne because our laws couldn’t really care less where it’s made and we are just trained to call bubbly Champagne. However, if it doesn’t come from Champagne, France it technically isn’t Champagne….but it is really the same thing.

Italy has a similar law when it comes to their bubbly called Prosecco although technically to our American minds we’d probably call it Champagne too.

While researching this whole thing I found that apparently Prosecco is one of the most consumed bubbly in Italy. They even have aΒ  lower end version that they sell to the masses that’s in pop top soda-like cans that is consumed regularly although the quality isn’t going to be like you find in the traditional bubbly-type bottles.

So that’s our little lesson for this week. I hope my learnings have sparked an interest in you to try some bubbly really soon be it Champagne, Sparkling Wine, or Prosecco. I’ve decided that we waste so many opportunities to enjoy a great bubbly because our society says it has to be a special occasion. I think we should all find reasons to celebrate and enjoy the finer things in life. That’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it?

I’ll share my review of the Sparkling Wine that was recommended to me by that nice man at the Total Wine store on Sunday. It just might be a great place for you to start too. πŸ™‚

Stone Cellars by Beringer – Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 – Napa, California

Last night I sampled this Napa Cabernet Sauvignon by Stone Cellars (Beringer). I found the color and clarity to be dark burgundy and clear.

When I inhaled its bouquet I could have sworn I smelled brown sugar. Is that possible? (I’ve really got to get to that wine course next week πŸ™‚ ). I also detected dark berries and almost what seemed like damp leaves. Not too appetizing probably but that’s what I was smelling.

The taste was very spicy as well as gave me the impression of overripe grapes. I sat there for awhile trying to come up with a better description of what I was tasting but it just came back to a vision I was having of overripe fruit/grapes. I don’t know if this is actually the case with this wine but it’s what I was tasting and visualizing every time I took a sip.

This Cabernet had a long smooth finish though.

My overall feeling for this Cabernet Sauvignon was that it could have been a really ‘Wow’ wine had it not been for the overripe fruit that I was tasting. Now I’ve heard that sometimes this is a desirable thing in wines and that it pushes the limits of the grapes and proves for a more mature tasting wine and maybe that’s the case with this wine. I really don’t know what the intention was for this wine when they made it. I just know that I must prefer a more youthful wine. I generally like fruits and veggies when they are in their prime not when they are starting their demise. I feel like this wine was starting it’s demise before it was even made. Again, that’s just my opinion folks and it’s really more of a theory at this point.

I do know that I’ve recently read in magazines such as Wine Spectator that 2008 was a very trying year for most Napa wines. The growing season was less than ideal and many of the crops and therefore the wines were affected by that. I think that it may be possible that that’s the case with this wine. It is a 2008 vintage and it would really make sense that that is what happened here.

Overall I found this wine to be okay. It was drinkable but I wasn’t thrilled by it. I’ve heard that Napa is known for it’s Cabernet Sauvignon so I won’t let this turn me off at all. Like I said it was drinkable but it just didn’t ‘wow’ me. I’ll try other Napa Cabs and see how they rate (I’ll make sure it’s not a 2008 though).

Buzz factor: 5, it gives a bit of a buzz but not much.

Overall likability: 7, I give it this high of a score because I really can see the potential of this wine. It’s smooth and I want to really like it but something is just off to me.

Price: $9.99

How to Pair Wine and Chocolate

For those of you who know me personally you know that I have several really strong loves in my life: Matt, Wine (obviously), The Beatles/Paul McCartney, and chocolate. Any time that I can mix any and of all those together, in my book, it’s heaven!

Now I have always liked to eat chocolate with wine. To me it’s natural to do that but I am constantly intrigued when friends look at me in horror as I am doing it. I usually get that bewildered look and they’ll say something like ‘Chocolate and wine? Really?’ My blissful reply to them is usually something that sounds somewhat like ‘Oh my God, yes!’

I say ‘sounds somewhat like’ because my mouth is usually stuffed with chocolate and wine and I am doing the yummy moan. You know that moan. It’s the one that comes out of your mouth involuntarily when you’re eating something that’s sooooo good that you can’t reply fully with words. Yes, that’s the one.

Now when it comes to matching wines and chocolates I’ve never really given it much thought really. I mean if I am drinking a really nice wine and there’s really nice chocolate nearby what’s there to think about? But apparently there is a skill to it that if mastered can make your wine/chocolate pairing even better than nature intended. Sounds awesome, right? So here I will attempt to share with you what I’ve learned about this skill.

Now the first thing to know is, in my opinion, there is no right or wrong when it comes to doing this. The simple fact is that if you like the combination then it’s right and if you don’t, it’s not right…for YOU. Someone else might think it’s absolutely wonderful. So there is no judgment here.

As a general rule though you should match lighter-flavored chocolates with lighter-bodied wines and more intense-flavored chocolates with more full-bodied wines. By the way, ‘lighter-flavored chocolates’ is not referring to whether it’s milk, white, or dark chocolate. It is referring to the intensity of flavors in the chocolate. For example, most people think of dark chocolate as intense but many dark chocolates are light compared with a milk chocolate with intense caramel or nut fillings.

When pairing wines and chocolates there are no rights and wrongs as I’ve said before. You can pair chocolates and wines that share the same flavors like spicy, cherry, minty, etcetera or you can look for wines and chocolates that contrast each other. Whatever floats your boat really. πŸ™‚

Here’s a list of what wines match up well with the different chocolates (remember this is not a definitive list and let your taste be your guide):

Bittersweet Chocolate (Dark chocolate with 70% to 100% cacao): These chocolates match up really well with a Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvigon, Cognac, Grenache, Malbec, Marsala, Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel, or a Tawny Port.

I find it really interesting to find that my favorite chocolate is Bittersweet Dark Chocolate with at least 70% cacao and my favorite wine at the moment is Merlot. Perfect matches and I didn’t even know anything about pairing the two before doing my research for this post. That’s why it’s important more than anything else to go with what you like and what works for you. You will innately know what matches up for you even if you don’t know how to justify it or describe it to someone else.

Semisweet Chocolate (Dark chocolate with 50% to 69% cacao): These chocolates match up with all the same wines as the Bittersweet chocolates above and the aftertaste will be balanced and not too sweet either.

Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolate has a higher percentage of sugar and a smaller percentage of chocolate liquor than the dark chocolates so the pairings are going to be a bit different.

Good pairings for milk chocolate are Muscat/Moscato, Tawny Port, as well as something called Mas Amiel Rouge & Vintage Blanc (I don’t know what those are so don’t ask πŸ™‚ ). The best match for milk chocolate is said to be the Tawny Port but again try different wines and see what you like.

White Chocolate: White chocolate is my least favorite chocolate unless it’s from Switzerland because they know how to make it in my opinion. White chocolate is not really chocolate. It has no chocolate liquor. It is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk and in my opinion is just way too sweet to enjoy usually.

But if you like white chocolate good wine matches would be Champagne, Gerwurtztraminer, Mas Amiel Vintage Blanc, Muscat/Moscato, and a nice Riesling.

Chocolate with Coffee in it pairs well with Sherry.

Chocolate with fruit in it like chocolate covered cherries or dipped or glazed fruit goes really well with a nice Cabernet Sauvigon, a Mediera, a Merlot, or a Ruby Port.

Also any chocolate that has liqueur in it will pair really nice with its corresponding liqueur. Kind of the like attracts like concept though in my opinion that might be too much of the same thing but I’ll have to try it and let you know. Oh the things I do for you all. πŸ™‚

So that’s the basics of it all. I hope it’s opened your eyes to the wonderful marriage of chocolate and wine and has given you the inspiration to get out there and find out what your favorite pairings are. When you do find some please feel free to comment below and let us know what great pairings you’ve found. You might just discover a combination that no one has thought of and I for one would love to try it too.

Also here’s a great short video, called appropriately enough “How to Pair Wine and Chocolate’ from About.com, to walk you through the whole wine and chocolate pairing journey.

Until next time enjoy yourself and experiment!

Trapiche Malbec 2009 – Mendoza, Argentina

Description from back of label:

‘A rich, red-colored wine with violet hues, redolent of plums and cherries.. Round in the mouth with a touch of truffle and vanilla. The ideal wine for empanadas, grilled meat, pasta, spicy cuisine and cheese.’

As of late I’ve been hearing a lot about Malbec wines and when my friend, Camille, challenged me to try one I went out and picked the first one I saw and I’ll confess they were ‘buy one, get one free’ variety at my local grocery store. My logic was that being I know nothing about Malbec this was as good a way as any to pick one.

Being they were the ‘buy one, get one’ variety I picked the same wine but different vintages (2009 & 2010). The one I am reviewing today is a Trapiche Malbec 2009 and it comes from the Argentine region of Mendoza.

When I first opened the wine I noticed how strong the bouquet was. It was almost offensive. The first sip was overly strong and harsh but after literally aerating it with my handy new Rabbit Shower Aerator four times it calmed down a bit…but not much.

The color was a deep, rich, dark, almost inky purplish black. After a bit of contemplating on the bouquet of this wine I decided that there was a strong scent of plums as well as an earthy smell. The taste was very peppery, oaky, and plummy (if that’s indeed a word πŸ™‚ )

My overall feeling for this wine is that it’s too harsh for my liking. I generally prefer a wine that’s a bit smoother than this. BUT…to be fair to Malbecs all over the world I have to say that I have virtually no experience with this type of grape variety so I will be trying other Malbecs in the coming months and comparing them to see what’s usual for this type of wine and what’s not.

Also, I will be taking a wine course next month that hopefully will help me to get so much better at describing these wines for all of you. I feel that my descriptions of the wines are vague sometimes but then that’s what learning is all about, isn’t it?Β  πŸ™‚

No Wine Shall Ever Be Wasted!

Okay, today we’re going to talk about a little fiction. Let’s pretend that you’re sitting down with friends and enjoying a bottle of wine. Now let’s pretend that at the end of the night you find you still have an unfinished bottle of wine left (I know…I know. I told you this was fiction but stick with me anyway πŸ™‚ ).

So at the end of the night you find that there’s an unfinished bottle of wine. Now I ask you: what do you do? Now I know many of you are saying ‘THAT just wouldn’t happen”. I’ll confess it doesn’t happen in my house often either when I am sharing with friends BUT there are times when I just want a glass of wine in the evening and I DO have left overs. Why? Because in my house my other half very rarely drinks wine. He says it tastes and smells like vinegar to him. I just think we haven’t found the RIGHT wine for him yet…but I digress.

Initially when a bottle of wine is opened oxygen actually helps the wine to ‘breathe’ and express its true self better but too much of that oxygen for too long will start the rapid process of deteriorating the wine. This is where left over wines need your help. There are basically four ways to slow that deterioration process.

  1. Put the cork back in the bottle and put the bottle in the refrigerator. This is probably the most common way to slow down the process of oxidation on a wine. By doing this you are stopping the bottle from being exposed to more oxygen and the cooling temperature in the refrigerator also slows down the process of the wine spoiling. This is also the cheapest way to preserve wine though not the most effective way.
  2. Transfer what’s left of the wine into a smaller bottle. By putting the remaining wine in a smaller bottle you are in essence reducing the amount of oxygen that the wine stays in contact with. How? Well, if there’s less room in the bottle for oxygen there’s less oxygen touching the wine. Simple. πŸ™‚
  3. Pump out the air from the bottle with a ‘wine pump’. This is slightly more effective and has a minimum amount of cost (about $10). TheseΒ  ‘wine pumps’ are available at any wine store, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, etcetera. This isn’t a foolproof way though because no ‘wine pump’ can ever get all the air out of a bottle. It will preserve the wine for a few days but it will work even better if you still put the wine in the refrigerator too.
  4. Pumping the bottle with gas. You can find these gas cartridges or bottles at most wine stores or online. These gases are inert (meaning they won’t hurt you or anything else for that matter) and are usually a combination of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide. This is the most effective way to preserve wines and can even preserve them for WEEKS if done correctly. Though me being who I am I would probably still put the bottle in the fridge just to be extra sure.

Now there are other things you can do with left over wine too. If you cook then you can use the left overs in recipes for things like risotto or gravies and other yummies.

Another thing you can do is freeze the wine in an ice cube tray for use at a future time in a recipe. This will keep it even longer then just refrigerating.

Also, as my friend Camille from Camille Cooks mentioned in a previous post here, you can make mulled or spiced wine. This is something that is popular around the holidays/winter in countries like the Czech Republic (I’ve had some in Prague. It was pretty good πŸ™‚ ) It’s hot and spicy and so different from that glass of Pinot Noir you had last night.

So there you have it, some tips and tricks for preserving every last drop of wine. My philosophy is that not a drop should ever go to waste. Even a bad wine can usually serve it’s purpose in a recipe for something.

Also, if you live in a colder climate than I do (Florida) and the room where you have the half bottle of wine is 65 degrees or cooler and it’s a red wine then you don’t have to put the bottle in the refrigerator. I figured I would just add that last little tip in there. I forget sometimes that others live in climates that are a little cooler than mine. πŸ™‚

Anyway, I’ll end here for now. Come back again on Sunday for my next wine review and if you like chocolate you might want to make sure you don’t miss next Wednesday’s post. Just saying! πŸ˜‰

Frey Natural Red Organic Wine – California

In my quest to check out organic wines and find something that my other half can drink I found this nice bottle of biodynamic red table wine.

The color was bright, clear red/garnet and it swear I smelled cherries.

I found the flavor to be well balanced, mellow and light bodied with a slight taste of cherries, chocolate and could that be licorice? I don’t even like licorice but I swear I tasted it a bit and I didn’t mind. πŸ™‚ This wine also had a slightly dry and long lasting finish.

Overall I found it to be a really nice, pleasant wine that would go with just about any meal particularly a vegetarian one.

We had this wine on New Year’s Eve with a few wonderful recipes that I found. We started off the evening with a Hot Spinach Red Pepper Dip from Allrecipes.com. The main course was a nice polenta dish called Polenta and Vegetable Bake from Eatingwell.com and later we followed it up with a desert that allowed me use some of the pumpkin flesh that I got by sacrificing my Thanksgiving pumpkin. It was a tasty Pumpkin Parfait from Cooks.com though if I were to make it again I would make it a little sweeter (not much but a little bit).

Buzz factor: I would give it a 4. It didn’t have that much of a kick but it was nice and mellow.

Likability factor: I gave it an 8. It’s a nice wine that didn’t give my other half a headache and it tasted really nice. We will probably get this wine from time to time.

Price: $9.59

So that’s it for today. Stay tuned for Wednesday’s post on something I am sure will be really informative and change your life so don’t miss it…okay, I don’t know if it will REALLY change your life but it might, who knows? See you then.

Corks or Screw Tops – The Great Debate

Now I’ll just say this now ‘I am a traditionalist when it comes to wine’. Over the last few years I’ve been hearing ridiculous rumors that soon all wines will have a screw top rather than a corks. To me that just sounds sacrilege! Why would anybody want to do that?

I equate wines with screw tops to drinking lighter fluid, homeless people, and people who just don’t know anything about wine. So why would anyone want to replace my wine corks with something with such a bad image? I decided to look into this ludicrous debate and see what everyone has to say about it.

It seems that the debate revolves around several factors. The main one being that a screw top supposedly protects the wine better and preserves it more to the liking of the winemaker. Apparently wines with corks can be ruined by a tainted cork that lets in too much oxygen. Some corks get tainted by something called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) and it can cause the wine to smell like a damp basement. It’s harmless to humans but can spoil a bottle of wine regardless of how expensive it is.

The other smaller debate among some people is that it is causing the deforestation of cork trees. I don’t really know if this is a huge issue compared to other environmental issues that need to be addressed but it is an issue none the less.

Now don’t get me wrong I am a pretty good environmentalist and I don’t want my wine to go bad but when it comes to my wine I still have a really hard time giving up my bottles with corks in them especially since I can probably only name two times in my wine drinking life that I’ve gotten a bottle of wine that had gone bad from a cork that was tainted. Both times I returned them to the store where I got them and they replaced the bottle without question.

You see, with some things in life I am a big non-conformist but with other basic things I am the most traditional person you’ll meet. Roses are my favorite flower. I like romantic dinners. I think that every woman should have a classic black dress in their closet just in case and when it comes to wine I want my corks please.

The corks to me represent how wine is supposed to be made. It’s primal to some extent but it’s really romantic in my opinion. There’s something about the thought of some Roman a long time ago opening his bottle of wine the same way I do (minus the modern cork screw…but I think you get the gist none the less). There’s also that beautiful popping sound the cork makes when you open that bottle and the slightly musky cork smell. It’s just the way it should be in my opinion.

I’ve been told that all wine will eventually turn to screw tops but I find that really hard to believe because I know I am not the only one out there that prefers good old corks. If, by chance, that should be true I’ll deal with it then but for right now I will be honest and forthright and tell you that I won’t be buying any wine with a screw top. I just can’t! It goes against all that I believe in (well maybe not ALL…I might be being a bit melodramatic…but I digress…).

So I ask you all, what is your position in the great wine cork versus screw top debate? Give me your comments and input on the whole thing.

Prost,

Veronica

Conte Priola Pinot Noir – 2009 Italy

From Total Wine and More:

‘Silky smooth, this Pinot Noir has well defined flavors of red berries and cherries. Medium-bodied with soft tannins, this food friendly wine is easy drinking and pairs well with tuna, swordfish and flavorful vegetarian entrees.’

Price: $7.99

First off, if anyone reading this can tell me what Delle Venezie means I would really appreciate it. I believe it’s the wine region in Northeast Italy where this wine is from but a Google search revealed nothing but other sites trying to sell me Italian wine. And now…back to our regular scheduled program….

I found this to be a very nice wine. It’s color was a nice deep burgundy one. It tasted very oaky and earthy with a strong flavor of berries. It was a very mellow wine that went down easy with a long-lasting, dry finish. I found the finish mellowed out after the wine was left to breathe a little bit but I don’t really know if that was an actual reality or if it was just the result of the alcohol’s influence on my taste buds. I’ll have to try it again to know for sure.

I drank this wine by itself for the pleasure of having a glass of wine so I can’t comment on whether or not the food pairings that Total Wine and More referenced are correct though I would imagine it would be a great wine to accompany a fish or vegetarian meal.

Buzz factor: 6, it’s a nice wine with a bit of a buzz but not overly so. Very pleasant.

Overall likability: I rate this wine at a 9. I really enjoyed it. It was mellow without being weak or watered down. I will definitely be keeping a few bottles of this wine in my wine rack.