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Grape Discrimination: “I don’t like that type because…”

It happens without fail that, at least once a month, I run into it at a tasting event.  Heck, I’ve even done it myself in the past.  But in the past month alone (TWICE just yesterday), I’ve come across the “I don’t like (insert Cab Sauv, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc here) because it’s too (insert ONE descriptor here…”too fruity, too thin, too buttery”, etc).  And typically I just hide gritted teeth behind a thin smile and say, “Really?  How unfortunate.  Have you tried every single wine made with that same grape?”, knowing that the cynicism has just passed unnoticed by them, much like the complexity of the wine they were currently tasting has passed unnoticed by their tastebuds as they guzzle whatever free pour has been placed in front of them.  Sometimes, I get the “Yes I have tried them all” to which my eyes widen and jaw drops incredulously, given that there are THOUSANDS produced…just in that ONE varietal type alone…across the globe.  The standard answer I get is “No, but I know what I like and don’t like.”  Do you?  Do you really?

At that point, I typically smile a little wider…perhaps a little too condescendingly…but not from a snob perspective…more from an “oh child, I’ve been exACTly where you are right now…and I’m about to give you the same wake up call I received years ago”.  I then say, “here, try this”, not telling them what they are drinking.  Blind tasting is the great equalizer and the destroyer of preconceived notions.  The majority of the time, they will sip the unknown wine, sing its praises, only to be left stunned when I reveal that the wine they are currently professing their undying love for is the same varietal they were just moments earlier telling me how much they hated.

Friends, as hard as this might be to swallow (pardon the pun), the majority of you are “wine bigots”.  You’ve been told that each varietal tastes a specific way.  You’ve been given one or two examples of that varietal that fit the profile, and you turned it into your doctrine.  The problem is, wine grapes are much like people.  Even identical twins aren’t exactly the same.  Neither are wine grapes.  A Chardonnay grown in Burgundy will NOT taste the same way as it does in Washington…or Oregon…or Australia.  Even within the same area, you’ll find big differences.  Let’s stick with Chardonnay for a moment:  A Napa Chard isn’t going to taste like a Chard from Santa Lucia Highlands in the Central Coast.  Even within Napa, an unoaked Chardonnay from Toad Hollow is going to be comPLETEly different from one of Rombauer’s oaked beauties.  Both Chardonnay…both with their own wonderful merits and loyal followers…both comPLETEly on the opposite side of the spectrum from one another!  See where I’m going here?

What makes wine such a magical thing is that,… depending on where it’s grown, the type of clone used, the climate, the particular weather conditions of that growing season, the ripeness when picked, the oak used (or not used), the aging regimen, whether certain processes like malolactic fermentation have occurred, the vision of the winemaker, etc, etc,…it can taste completely different.  Even if it is the same brand/producer, the taste can change from vintage to vintage!  That’s like walking into your closet and having one pair of shoes that matches EVERY SINGLE OUTFIT YOU HAVE AND EVER WILL PURCHASE!!!  Isn’t that fantastic???

My own experience came with Sauvignon Blanc (Wine industry people, don’t judge…don’t hate me..I already know…).  Try as I might, for years I could not stomach the grape…mostly because I was overloaded with those big grapefruity styles from New Zealand.  Although I can tell when it is varietally correct, when it has perfect typicity, the nose alone made me want to hurl, let alone the actual TASTE.  California Sauvignon Blancs weren’t much better for me with lemongrass and citrus assaulting me at every turn.  Still, I sojourned on, knowing that somewhere, from some producer, I would find one.  Because that’s the thing…there are a bazillion to choose from if you’re willing to keep an open mind.  Fortunately, I did.  Not only did I discover I liked the femininity and minerality of the Loire Valley’s Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, but just recently, I determined that I am IN LOVE with the Sauvignon Blanc Musque clone in…CALIFORNIA SAUV BLANCS (well some of them anyway)!  Success!!!  It is one of my favorites.  I would have TOTALLY missed out if I hadn’t kept an open mind and had not just kept trying different producers and areas.

Which brings me to my point.  Wine types are not like every McDonald’s mass-produced item.  They aren’t like those potato chips you might have in your hands RIGHT NOW.  They aren’t consistently the same regardless of which bottle you pick up.  Just like my next door neighbor and I aren’t the same.  Don’t make assumptions that all wines of the same type are going to be exactly the same based on your experience with ONE bottle.  Take a chance on that same grape once again. Strike up a conversation with a new bottle from a different area or producer. Get to know it before you proclaim what it is and isn’t based on a bias you have from some OTHER bottle/area/producer.  DON’T…I repeat…DON’T be a wine bigot…

 

 

 

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A ‘Riviera’ Vacation in Your Kitchen: 2010 Abadal Cabernet Franc/Tempranillo and Mediterranean Beef Stew

Hit with two winter storms, 3 feet of snow, children home from school due to ‘snow days’, and a cold wind whipping outside my window, my thoughts turned back to my trip last May to Madrid and the ‘French Riviera.’ Oh how I longed to be basking in the warmth, the beauty, and the rich, delicious flavors of the people, the wine, and the food. This winter has made me desire both comfort…and a vacation. Fortunately, I got a taste of both in my own kitchen.

Nothing says comfort like a hearty beef stew, and nothing warms you from head to toe like a glass of incredible red wine. I chose to combine the two, and add a touch of ‘vacation’ into the pot by making a Mediterranean Beef Stew and pairing it with a Spanish 2010 Abadal Cabernet Franc/Tempranillo blend from Pla de Bages. The combination delivered with earthy goodness and the rich flair of flavor that only the Mediterranean can deliver in both its food and its wine. Simple yet seductive. Like so many ‘winos’ and ‘foodies’, I snapped the photo and posted it to my Corked Cowgirl page on Facebook (see the post here: Mediterranean Beef Stew and 2010 Abadal Cabernet Franc/Tempranillo ).

Today I was asked to provide the recipe for the stew. Your request is my pleasure. Don’t let the long ingredient list scare you. It’s mostly spices, and it’s super easy to make.

The recipe is as follows:

5 TBSP olive oil
2 1/2 lbs of stew meat cut into 1″ pieces
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used Truffle salt. If you’re looking to try it, you can find it at William Sonoma, Dean and Deluca, or even on Amazon)
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 package of mushrooms, sliced (I used organic baby portobello mushrooms)
2 zucchinis or yellow squash, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
2 1/2 cups water
1 2/3 cups dry red wine (I used the 2010 Abadal Cab Franc/Tempranillo…before sipping the rest!)
7/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh coarse ground black pepper
2 TBSP Bay Seasoning (you could throw in 3 Bay leaves as well, just don’t forget to take them out before you serve the stew!)
1 can Garbanzo Beans (Chick Peas)
6 oz spinach (fresh or frozen)
3 1/3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (optional)

Brown the meat in three tablespoons of the olive oil in a dutch oven or 4-quart stock pot. Once it browns, turn the heat to low. Make a paste with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, the cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, and salt. Dump it on the meat and toss it around to distribute the spice paste evenly. Pour yourself a glass of wine and start sipping.

Add the chopped onion, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, and minced garlic to the meat. Pour the tomatoes, water, beef broth and (most importantly), the wine over the meat and vegetables. Stir it up and bring the stew to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for an hour or two, or until the meat and veggies are tender. By now you should be ready for another glass (or two) of wine.

While you’re waiting for it to cook, mash the garbanzo beans with a fork and begin your second glass of wine. When the stew is done (which could be whenever you run out of patience, or wine) stir in the mashed beans and spinach. Cover and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until the spinach is wilted(if it’s fresh) or warmed through (if it’s frozen). Sprinkle the vinegar (if you are using it) into the pot, stir up, and serve with brown rice if you want the extra carb rush. Salt and pepper to taste if necessary. You may also open another bottle of wine, if necessary.

If you decide to simply sip the wine for dinner and wish to forego the stew, you’ll find the 2010 Abadal Cabernet Franc/Tempranillo for between $15-20. It is an AMAZING wine with rich fruit flavors like blackberry and plum mixed with beautiful herbal notes and even a hint of toffee. Stock up on this one to drink throughout the rest of the winter!

Cheers!

~CC

 

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Bubbles 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Popping the Cork

The new year is on our doorstep. Time for cheap party favors, resolutions we’re pretty sure we won’t keep, and the sound of a million corks popping to pour those delightful little bubbles. But how do you know which bottle of bubbly is the right pick for you? All bottles of Champagne are not the same…in fact, some aren’t Champagne at all! But that doesn’t mean they aren’t perfect. With all of the choices available, it’s tough to know which bottle is pop-worthy for you. Hopefully this Bubbles 101 primer will help you sort through the selections to help you make the best choice for your personal taste.

First of all, true Champagne is only from the Champagne region of France. Now that doesn’t mean that other places don’t make the same type of bubbling wine…it’s just they can’t call it Champagne unless it’s from that French region. Whether from Champagne, California, Spain…wherever…if it’s made using the ‘Methode Champenoise’ process, you’ll find it to be the traditional sparkling wine we’ve all come to know and love to celebrate the new year. Look for that process and you’re one step closer to picking the perfect bottle.

Another process to look for is the Charmat method. All that means is that the fermentation to turn it into bubbly was done in a stainless steel tank instead of in the bottle you will pour it from. For most people, it won’t really make any sort of a difference. You’ll find this done with a lot of Italian sparklers.

Next lesson in bubbly is how to pick one that meets your sweetness preference. Much like still wines, it can run the gamut. Here are the words to look for to help you pick the right level of sweetness for your tastes.

Ultra Brut/Extra Brut/Brut Zero/Brut Nature/Brut Sauvage: No added sugar

Brut: Nearly dry, contains no more than 1.5% sugar.

Extra Dry/Extra Sec: Slightly sweeter, can contain up to 2% sugar.

Dry/Sec: Can contain up to 4% sugar

Demi-Sec: Just sweet enough, can contain up to 8% sugar.

Doux: Sweet, can contain up to 10% sugar

Okay, so now you know what to look for in sweetness. Now it’s time to figure out exactly what sort of grape is in that bottle you’re picking up.

If you’re getting a true French Champagne (only from the Champagne region), you’re going to find only three types of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. If it’s made from Chardonnay, it will be called ‘Blanc de Blancs’. If it’s made from one of the other two, it’s ‘Blanc de Noir’. All it means is that one is a ‘white grape’ (the skin of the grape) and the others are ‘dark grapes’. It doesn’t effect the color of the wine.

Rose (or pink) Champagnes/Sparkling Wines are simply made by adding a small amount of still red wine which gives it a little bit of sweetness.

Look for other French sparklers under the name ‘Cremant’ or ‘Mousseux’. These bubblies can be made using other types of grapes such as Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Gris. Cremants are thought to be ‘creamier’ rather than ‘fizzy’ and are made in the traditional way. Mousseux uses the tank method. My favorites are the Cremant d’Alsace. Amazing wines!

U.S. Sparkling wines are made using the same grapes (typically) used in the Champagne region. In fact, they’re often made by the same Champagne houses you find in France. They just have set up shop in the U.S. Mainly California.

Want something a little more exotic? Why not try a Sparkling Shiraz from Australia? Most are somewhat sweet, but some of the producers will turn it into a dry, full-bodied, tannic wine.

Spanish Cava uses the Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello, and sometimes Chardonnay grapes. They are made from dry to sweet so everyone has something to love.

German Sekt is made from Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Noir.

Italy also gives us a few sparkling beauties. Asti is a sweet sparkling wine made from the Muscat grape. It’s typically low in alcohol at around 8%. Great sipper. You’ll find it called Spumante. A lighter fizzed, lower alcohol version is also produced (called Frizzante). Moscato d’Asti is even sweeter than the Spumante and sits at around 5% alcohol, so you can get your toast on without it knocking you for a loop after a glass.

Franciacorta is typically made in the Blanc de Blancs style if you want more of a traditional pour from Italy.

One of my personal favorites is Prosecco, named after the grape from which it’s made. It’s made in both the Spumante and Frizzante styles and are typically dry in nature. They’re the primary ingredient in the Bellini…a brunch cocktail favorite!

One other absolute favorite of mine from Italy is Brachetto d’Acqui…a sweeter frizzante in a BEAUTIFUL ruby color. Inexpensive, festive, pairs well with foods and desserts or works well on it’s own. I sip it regularly year round.

Okay, have I confused you enough? Have you got all of your notes and are feeling well prepared to grab a bottle, pop the cork, and toast a new year? However will you choose?

My best piece of advice on that one: trust your gut, explore and try something new, and share with friends. That’s the best choice every time.

Celebrate well, my friends, sip responsibly, and here’s to another wonderful year to come.

Cheers!

~CC

bubbles

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: Global Zinfandel Day with 2009 OZV

Today is November 19th…unless it’s a birthday, an anniversary, or you’ve suddenly discovered you are the long lost love child of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey and you’re inheriting EVERYTHING, you might not find the date terribly memorable nor exciting. For me, it was a day of typical gray hair causing activities focused around work, errands, pets, kids, and preparing for the entire family to convene on my household for the holiday. Stressful, exhausting…not normally a cause for celebration…

…until I realized it was Global Zinfandel Day.

YES! Zinfandel is perhaps my FAVORITE varietal of all time (shhh…don’t tell the other children…I hate to play favorites with the ‘kids’). I’m not talking about the pretty little pink version of WHITE Zinfandel (although if you like it, knock yourselves out…I’m not going to discriminate…after all, it’s still Zin), but I’m talking about the luscious, red, jammy, ‘lover in a glass’ Zinfandels.

How to describe Zinfandel? Hmmm…let’s compare varietals to a rock band. Cabernet Sauvignon is your big and bold lead singer. Merlot would be the sensual lead guitar player. Malbec would be the rock solid base player. Pinot Noir, the moody, sensitive keyboardist. And the drummer? The sexy, wild, showman that is personality plus, complicated in its rhythms, but able to hold everything together? THAT my friends is ZINFANDEL.

There are as many different styles of Zinfandel as there are drummers, but all have the wonderful red berry fruit that makes it perfect for barbecues during the summer, the perfect wine to sip by the fire pit in the fall, and a surprisingly good wine to serve with cranberries and smoked turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner.

The wine I’m drinking this evening is the perfect example of why you should celebrate Zinfandel. I’ve selected the 2009 OZV Zinfandel out of Lodi, California. Lodi has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in all of California, and this wine boasts fruit from 50-100 year vines, making the flavors that much more concentrated and intense. Raspberry, red licorice, and milk chocolate on the nose (yeah…it’s like rich candy heaven). Raspberry, blackberry, milk chocolate, and a slight hint of pepper on the finish as you sip…and sip…and sip. The tannins are light, the mouth feel doesn’t feel like a wool sweater on your tongue…it is VERY approachable. If you are looking for a red wine to help you make the transition from whites, this would be a perfect wine to try.

This wine would be excellent with smoked meats of all type, tomato based pastas (heck yeah, cousin LeAnn…this would work with your ‘Christmas Spaghetti’), even grilled tuna!

Zinfandel is the perfect choice for every occasion, and OZV from Oak Ridge Wineries is the perfect choice, especially when you can find it on average around $13.

So grab yourself a bottle…or a case…and celebrate November 19th like a rock star!

Cheers!

~CC

 

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Baseball, Wild Boar, and The Perfect Wine: A Candid Interview with Michael Keenan of Robert Keenan Winery

This past week I had the good fortune of taking part in a wine dinner at Annie Gunn’s in St. Louis featuring the phenomenal wines of Robert Keenan Winery. I’m not even going to mince words here, I can describe the evening in two words: PURE BLISS!

Executive Chef Lou Rook and Wine Director Glen Bardgett should pat themselves on the back through the New Year with the bevy of gustatory delights displayed.

First up out of the chute was the Maine lobster local apple roll paired up with the 2010 Spring Mountain District, Napa Chardonnay~ lemon and stone fruits on the nose with flavors of green apple, kiwi, with great balance and acidity. This wine would be just as much at home with Grandma’s chicken dinner as it was with the lobster roll.

Duck confit risotto with Ozark Forest mushroom chutney was masterfully paired with 2009 Keenan Cabernet Franc (my personal favorite). This may very well be the most amazing Cab Franc I have ever tasted. Currant, raspberries, and what I like to refer to as ‘earthy/woodsy’ qualities delight both the nose and the tongue. For a less formal pairing, serve it up with a Portobello mushroom burger.

The braised hog cheek and dried autumn fruit along with the noodle dumplings with pan roasted ‘Cab’ tenderloin was matched up with both the 2008 and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons. Nothing but finesse with these wines with great acidity, perfect tannins, and bursting with flavors of dark fruit, chocolate, espresso, and graphite. Don’t even consider pairing any other wine with steaks….this one is the king!

The pairing that I thought was the gustatory highlight of the evening was the Wild Boar Sausage with the Gruyere and Local Plum Chutney paired with the 2008 Keenan Merlot. Simply put, it was seduction for the tastebuds. I don’t know how else to explain it.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to. I let the President of Robert Keenan Winery, Michael Keenan, sum it up in his own words. In a very candid conversation, he shared why the Merlot is his favorite, why it may very well be the perfect wine, and his thoughts on wine with sports, some interesting pairings, and what proved to be an accurate premonition regarding the National League series between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Enjoy the interview, but most importantly, make sure to enjoy Keenan Wines.

~CC

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Making of A Spanish Superstar: 2011 Gaznata Joven-Blending Project Pt. 2

Most of us don’t think twice about what is TRULY in our glass when we uncork a bottle of wine, pour, and sip. We simply enjoy and assume that whatever grape varietal we happen to be drinking is supposed to taste the same. Not only do varietals have…well…a variety of flavors, you’ll see huge differences from the grapes even when they’re grown in the same area? Who knew?

Yesterday I gave you a little background about one of the most killer Spanish wines I have ever had the privilege of tasting…the 2011 Gaznata Joven. I was even more privileged to have been included in the making of this wonderful wine.

Today’s video shows the education I received from Magnum Wines International Import Manager, Ashley Olbrys, Wendy Vallaster of New Spain Wines, and Winemaking genius Daniel Ramos about the many differences in the Garnacha grape of El Baracco, and how those differences will piece together to create the ‘perfect’ wine.

Hopefully this will make you take a moment to give your glass of wine a little extra appreciation before ‘knocking it back’.

~CC

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Flavors of Fall: NFL Football, Friends Around a Fire, and the Wines of Preston-Layne/Magnum Wines Intl.

As I watched (in horror, might I add) the Green Bay Packers/Seattle Seahawks debacle, I turned my attention to the IMPORTANT things that define fall for me: fire pits, good friends, and great wines. Ironically at that time, my friend and ‘head honcho’ of Preston-Layne, & Partners, Van Potts, wrote a new blog offering some WONDERFUL fall recipes and challenging readers to decide which wine they would pair with those recipes. His offerings included a brined and hickory wood grilled whole chicken, along with a Hubbard squash soup. All ingredients were from local markets (I love supporting local). If you’re interested in the particulars, you can read the blog post here: http://magnumwinesintl.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/a-perfect-fall-nfl-sunday/?year=2012&monthnum=09&day=23&like=1&_wpnonce=8e4650ac90&wpl_rand=bc254075fd

Being up for a good challenge, I tried to decide which wines from their portfolio I would pair up with the chicken/soup combination…and it was a tough choice, but I think I came up with a few that are sure to become favorites.

On the imported wine side, I went straight to Alsace. Cave de Turckheim puts out some of the most incredible wines I have ever had the privilege of tasting. For this particular meal, I would choose their 2008 Grand Cru Riesling hands down! Crisp acidity, citrus fruits, and a minerality that would cut through the richness of the soup, but make the flavors of the chicken come alive.

Domestically, I would choose the Foris 2010 Pinot Gris, Rogue Valley, with tastes of apples and baking spices that would be AMAZING with the ingredients of the soup.

But why stop with whites? It’s fall for goodness sake- give me a rich beef stew or a hearty chili, or even a good old fashioned pot roast! What to pair with those choices? Well, for a heavy pot roast with all of the fixin’s, domestically I wouldn’t even think twice: Robert Keenan Winery’s 2008 Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District. Cab Franc is one of the three main wines of Bordeaux, and usually hangs in the shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon, but this Napa beauty is pure magic! Dark, rich, luscious plum and blackberry, cedar, spice, and dense tannins hold up easily to a roast with potatoes and gravy. For a hearty stew or chili, I’d be reaching for one of my absolute favorite reds: Anderson’s Conn Valley 2009 “Right Bank Red” (sitting in my cellar as I write). Deep, ‘smoky’, amazing flavors of cassis, and ‘woodsy’ notes…bay leaf? Yes. It envelopes you like a favorite sweater on a cool night.

Of course, nothing beats my Spanish darling from winemaker Daniel Ramos. Don Juan del Aguila’s 2011 Gaznata Joven. All I can say is the man is a genius, the area is Garnacha heaven, and this red IS fall. Blackberries, dark cherries, and warm spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. It is easy, laid-back, and perfect for pairing or just sipping by the fire. I am PARTICULARLY fond of this wine because I was fortunate enough to be present for the final blending. Import Manager Ashley Olbrys allowed me to join her during her trip to Madrid, and, although this wine is definitely her ‘child’, I feel like a proud, weird ‘aunt’. Forget the distant family members…love the wine!

And you WILL love these wines…all incredible values on wines of exceptional quality. Give them a try yourself, and then tell me what YOUR fall pair ups would be.

In the meantime, I need to pour another glass to drown out the memories of poor calls by the football referees.

Cheers!

~CC

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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