Friday, March 23, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Cooking and Sipping with Blackstone Chardonnay

There are many things you have to choose sides on in this life: dogs or cats, Coke or Pepsi, Yankees or Mets (I grew up a Yankee fan, as proclaimed by my father the day I was born) and cooking or baking.

According to me, there is a big difference between cooking and baking. When you bake, you use ingredients like flour and sugar and baking soda. You work with a mixer, a rolling pin, a cookie scoop and a pastry cutter. You must be exact in your measurements or your cake will end up collapsing, or your pie crust will be cement. And you will get sick from eating the batter because for heaven's sake, who can resist it? But, when you cook, you are usually making a main dish. You chop and mince and slice. You grab things like herbs, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and WINE. You can adjust the taste to your own likes. If you aren't exact, the recipe will still be edible. And you are not (usually/hopefully) in any way tempted to eat the dish while it's in a raw state.

I love to cook. I love to chop. And dice and saute and braise. I adore new recipes (I am speaking solely for myself here and not the members of my family, who were less than impressed with my pork chops Romano the other evening) and I love to try new cooking techniques. In fact, I recently flambéed my first coq a vin successfully and without the loss of my eyebrows. And yes, I have both volumes of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking by Julia Child. 

Now, going on the theory that a happy cook produces yummy meals, I have also discovered that I am very happy when I'm cooking and sipping from a glass of wine. (Please note though that too much sipping while you cook may result in burned food or burned fingers...so be responsible when you drink and cook). I do believe there is a sort of Pavlovian conditioning going here: open cabinet, get out pot/pan, reach for bottle (makes it hard when you're cooking eggs for breakfast, but that's what strong tea is for).

My choices of wine are pretty much influenced by the dish I'm making. If I'll be serving the wine with it, it seems only fair to test it before hand while I'm cooking the actual dinner. Or maybe the wine itself is called for in the dish. (Another note: if you are cooking from the Julia Child books, beware that there are HUGE amounts of wine called for in many of her recipes. So you'll need TWO bottles of the wine in order to cook and sip. Seriously - the coq au vin recipe calls for three cups of wine and 1/4 cup of cognac alone. So you see that a second bottle is required for chef sipping.)

In my surfing travels one day I came across a recipe for Martha Stewart's Chicken Thighs Braised in White Wine. I love chicken - and have become especially fond of the dark meat lately. It stays a bit more moist when you cook it and has that dark meat flavor to it. So of course, I had to try it. The recipe calls for 1 cup of white wine, so left about 2/3 of the bottle unused and who am I to waste wine?

As it just so happened, I had found Blackstone Chardonnay, (Winemaker's Select, 2010, 13.5%, 99% Chardonnay, 1% Muscat Canelli, California) featured at the market that week. Sounded like a plan to me! The aroma of the wine was mango and pear. The flavors were tart, juicy, pineapple and melon. The finish was oakey with sour apple and stayed around quite a while. A very clean, crisp wine that was well received in my mouth and in the chicken dish! And when a wine works as hard in the kitchen as it does in your wine glass, well, it's a winner. (This is a Chardonnay that you could bring to a big gathering and please lots of people.)

Happy sipping, happy cooking!

Cheers!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Spring Fever and Ohio's Chalet Debonne Grand Dolina

It's happening. Again. I can feel it. Here it comes...spring fever. And I have it a bit worse, because I am a gardener..so I have spring garden fever, which is a bit harder to cure than the regular strain because if you try to cure the fever, it snows.

It's been in the 70's here for days now. And sunny. All at the same time. And when you live in Northeast Ohio and it's March, those are near miraculous occurrences. Today it could very well hit 80 degrees. JOY. Yesterday, the Winey Daughter and I dragged out some patio chairs from under their winter covers and sat outside. That actually made my fever a bit worse. Sitting outside with my gardens in full view just made my fingers itch to get out there and weed and dig and plant.

There are a few reasons why I should not act on these feverish impulses. First, walking on or near my lawn or garden beds produces a very loud squishing sound. It also compacts the now unfreezing soil and makes it kind of hard to un-compact when you want to actually plant something. It also leads to the issue of trying to dig. But I have so little experience with freeing myself from quicksand that I know I should not try this. And planting? Yes, I can HEAR my window baskets and flower pots crying out for something alive and colorful to fill them. But again, it's March, it's northeast Ohio and the freeze date extends for a good 2 more months. And if you are a Cleveland Indians fan, take note that opening day is April 5th, so there is an excellent chance of below freezing and/or snowy weather that day. Trust me. I've been there.

So I had to content myself with making lists (a favorite pastime of mine). Right now, my garden to-do list has 9 items on it. I can do one of them alone. Five require the assistance of the Winey Husband. The rest require the assistance of a landscaper with a rototiller and a moss removal plan. The other list has a bunch of ideas for the now empty pots and boxes that will one day be overflowing with beautiful plantings (lime green potato vines seem to be playing a big role in my color scheme this year).
Chalet Debonne Vineyards

I found another way to ease the fever a bit, by indulging in some "fruit of the garden (vine)" from northeast Ohio. It came in the form of a bottle of Chalet Debonne's Grand Dolina (12%, NV, Madison, Ohio). Yes, my state, beautiful Ohio. Remember, we've got Lake Erie, and that gives the Grand River Valley region a leg up on grape growing. Chalet Debonne is one of the grandaddies of Ohio wineries. It started out waaay back in 1916 as a fruit farm! (It turned into a vineyard in the late 1960's.)

The Grand Dolina is a bright red blend of French hybrid grapes. It's barrel aged for a year. The aroma is of pepper and wet spring earth (that could be my fever talking, though) and raspberry. The aromas show up again in the flavors of the wine, with raspberry being the overtone and adding in a bit of currant (tang). Not too sweet, not too oakey. The finish is medium long, warm and crisp with a teeny bit of pepper on the end of it.

This was an excellent cure for my Ohio spring garden fever. I would suggest it medicinally for anyone suffering a similar ailment these warm first days of spring. I would also suggest it for anyone who wants a yummy semi-dry red!

Cheers!
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Friday, March 16, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: In A Fog At Trader Joe's - 2010 Villa Cerrina Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio

Sadly for me, the nearest Trader Joe's is a good 25 minute highway ride away. So when I make the trek, I make it count. One of my favorite things about TJ's is the people that work there. They are friendly and outgoing and they love their food and wine.

Thus, I should not have been surprised at the experience I had there the other day . I had finished the food aisles and, as I always do, had saved the wine aisles for last. Best for last, you know? It was the end of a long day and I was a little weary. So I entered the aisle and just.....stopped. One minute I was trying to decide on a wine to go with the dinner I was making and the next minute I was on a mental vacation to nowhere. I was standing there staring at a bunch of bottles and I obviously had a very blank look on my face, because the man who was in charge of the wine samples took one look at me and walked right over.

"Trying to decide?" "I think so...I want to try something new....white, crisp." That was all he needed. he turned me right to a bottle of a Villa Cerrina Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio (12%, Veneto, Northeastern Italy, $5.99 in Ohio). "Do you like blends? If so, you have to try this one. Very popular." And then he sealed the deal by saying, "In fact, I'd call it a store favorite because everyone who works here just loves it." Thank you very much!! Into the basket it went (along with some Two Buck Chuck because I just cannot resist that wine....never ever. I've come to accept this fact, so leave me alone).

This wine is 40% Pinot Grigio and 60% Chardonnay. It has a bouquet of lemons and apples. The flavors are refreshing lemon-lime citrus and green apples. I'd call it a subtle wine, with some minerals in the finish. The tartness of the Pinot Grigio played off the Chardonnay nicely. Not sweet - it tasted of summer citrus.

I can see why this wine is so popular. It's got a bargain price and the folks at Trader Joe's recommend it! It's a great party wine too because you really can't go wrong serving it to a large crowd. It's a  good white wine that gives you the best of both worlds: Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. I'd definitely get a few bottle to have on hand. And in mouth!


Cheers!


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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: The Winey Daughter Is Going to Spain and a 2009 Sangre de Toro Red

Ten days from now, our high school sophomore will be embarking on a fabulous spring break trip with her Spanish class. Yup, she's heading to Spain. The same trip her older brother took 4 years ago. So it's kind of a rite of passage trip around our house - heading to Europe without parents to learn about a language you have been studying for the past 4 years and claim to hate every time a grammar test comes around.

But something is a little bit different this time. Somehow, when our son got ready to fly off 4 years ago, he didn't need nearly as much "preparation". And by preparation, I mean new clothes. And shoes. We have already spent 2 full days shopping for the right things to wear. There have apparently been discussions with her trip roomie that center on the topic "We have to look awesome in Spain." Let's see, for the boy we bought a guide book, a passport holder and an electric converter. And while our daughter is fine with using her brother's guide book, that "old people" passport holder is not passing muster. And Mom, if the electric converter can't handle a heavy duty curling iron, forget it.

Now, being the red blooded woman that I am, I am totally fine with shopping for new clothes for a trip. But the level of scrutiny and....um....well..I'm just gonna put it out there: pickiness has just about done me in. One more weekend day in a mall and I may do something crazy - like give her a credit card and sit her in front of the computer.

But she IS excited - and we are excited for her. Our son came home loving seafood paella and tapas. He also came home with a sword. We are hoping she likes the food and skips the sword shopping. And unfortunately for me, once again, the teachers have forbidden the kids to buy wine for their Winey Moms while they are on this trip. Dang.
Bacchus The Bull

With thoughts of Spain in the back of my mind, imagine how I laughed (out loud, and yes, I quickly looked around to see who saw me) when I saw a bottle of Sangre de Toro (2009, 13.5%, Catalunya, Spain) on the shelf. How could I miss it - it has a little Spanish bull attached to its neck. And the bull is kind of sporting a 'tude - he's laying on his back, hooves behind head, one leg crossed over the other, just chillin'.  Just couldn't resist him. And as wines (and bulls) go, at $8.99, it/he was a bargain. (No, I've never priced bulls before but work with me on this one, okay?)

This is a red blend - Garnacha (aka Grenache - THE most cultivated grape in the Mediterranean world) and Carinena (a traditional Mediterranean grape). It is a bright dark red - clear red when you swirl it in the light. The aroma was of ripe, dark fruits - cherry especially, oak and a teeny bit of paprika (think Spanish restaurant). The taste was of dark, overripe cherry and plum, warm spices and dirt (a little dirt never hurt anyone in a red wine). The finish was warm and spicy with tannins at the end.

A great Spanish wine to go with any kind of Greek/Spanish/Mediterranean dish. Lamb is one of my faves and I think this would be wonderful with it. Paella, with its spicy warm saffron, is another good choice. Or if you are in a hurry, break out the chips and salsa. You'll be fine.

So cheers to my daughter as she heads off on the trip of a lifetime. I begrudge her none of the clothes or shoes (especially those adorable Sperry Topsiders, which I also fit into). I hope she makes a ton of memories and friends and continues to develop her love of travel and her sense of wonder at the world around her, at home and abroad.

And about that bull. He is so stinking cute. I have named him Bacchus, after the Roman god of wine, who was also known as the "son of the bull". It's not very original - it tells you this on the label. But I've never actually gotten a little animal with a wine purchase. So he's staying in Ohio with me.

Cheers!



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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: A Tale of Two Chardonnays

"It was the best of wines..it was".....I really don't want to start off with that line, but with the title of this post,  I'm sure many of you thought it was coming, and I hate to disappoint my winey friends. Apologies to Charles Dickens. Here's what I really want to start with....

Absolutes in life are dangerous. You know what I mean, don't you? Because once you make an "absolute" statement, it is sure to come back and haunt you. For instance, I am sure I announced that my 80's ripped sweatshirts (a la Flashdance and Footloose) would NEVER see the light of day again. And then along came my children, who grabbed them out of the attic for "80's Decade Day" at their high school. How humbling. Not to mention...REALLY upsetting. (The word "oldies" was used.)

So when someone tells me that they never drink Chardonnay because it's too dry, or that they only drink Chardonnay because they can't stand sweet white wine, I have to chuckle. That's because recently I tasted two very different Chardonnays and each one of them will give the previous statements a run for their money.

Let's start with the Handcraft Chardonnay (2010, 13.5%, California, 86% Chardonnay, 7% Viognier, 5% Chenin Blanc, 2% Malvasia Bianca - a white Italian grape). Handcraft wines are the child of Cheryl Indelicato, who hails from one of California's most famous wine families. So they have a nice winey pedigree coming out of the bottle.



The Chardonnay gives off a refreshing bouquet of lemon, lime and lemongrass. The taste is bright with lemon and lime and something a teeny bit sweet (honey?). It's lightly oakey and smooth in the mouth with a nice long tangy finish. What a great Chardonnay! The perfect pairing of stainless steel and oak barrel aging. Just enough oak to give it some dancing legs, but not enough to overpower it and make it - here it comes: too dry!! Could be a new fave around here.


 
Now let's switch to another Chardonnay I recently tasted. Vina San Esteban Chardonnay (2010, 13.5%, Chile). This wine was a shiny gold color (really pretty in my wine glasses with the gold leaves on them). It had a bouquet of mango and lemon - heavier on the sweeter mango. The first taste you get is pink grapefruit, but it moves on to be a bit sweeter - think more tropical, like mango and pineapple. There was a little citrus rind tangyness in the finish, but for the most part, you'd call this a - one more time, here it comes: sweet(er) wine. It was very good, but I did keep checking the bottle to make sure I hadn't bought a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer instead.

Now, each of these wines would be a surprise to anyone who has one set notion of how a Chardonnay tastes. Too dry? I would never call the Handcraft dry - it was way too lively and zesty to be that. Chardonnay is never sweet? Nope. The Vina San Esteban, at least to my winey little taste buds, bordered on a sweet wine (even felt that way - a strong medium body to it), one that needs to be VERY cold when you drink it.

My next wine goal is to get some "I ONLY drink white wine" folks to come over to the red side. I'm sure if I keep sipping, I will be able to banish their notions of what red wine tastes like... just like I did here with the Chardonnay, right??

Cheers!



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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Classing Up Turkey Burgers With a Little Black Dress (Merlot)

Both of my children went through their food obsession stages. At one point we thought our daughter would actually just turn into a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup. Or a bottle of apple juice. Our now 6 foot 3 inch son didn't obsess over one food - for him, it was an entire restaurant: "Bob Effanz" (or, to those older than 2, Bob Evans). I thought they'd outgrow it. Nope. All they did was grow up. The now 16 year old daughter is obsessed with turkey burgers. With or without cheese, kaiser roll or multi grain bun. The new food of choice. So the other night I gave in to her once again and cooked up a batch for dinner.

I am not against turkey burgers. They're very tasty. But it just so happened that on the night I defrosted said burgers, I was in the mood for something a little more upscale. Alas, the lobsters with drawn butter were not to be had, so I decided to upscale my drink and opened a Little Black Dress Merlot (2009, 13.5%, California). It is not unusual for my family to see me sip as I cook. It is one of my great pleasures and I am convinced it makes me a better cook, no matter what faces they make at me and/or the food. So there.

Little did I realize that I was slipping into a little black VELVET dress! (For turkey burgers? Oh well.) This wine was a very pretty dark red color and it gave off a bouquet of blackberry and blueberry with some cherry overtones. It tasted of all those lovely berries and a tinge of oak. But what really got my attention away from the burgers was the way it felt in my mouth. Medium bodied, soft and supple with such a smooth finish. Seriously, I wrote down the word "velvet" in my winey little tasting book. What a treat as I flipped burgers and roasted potatoes. It made the whole dinner a little bit more elegant (as long as we shut our eyes and didn't see me still in my workout gear, daughter in basketball shorts and doggie doing her pathetic begging routine beside the table. Hubby was still in work clothes so he kind of raised the bar I guess).

I loved this wine! And to do it justice, the next night I sizzled up some high class steaks to finish the bottle off with. I should note that the wine tasted just as good, if not a little bit better, the next day - a bit more mellow, maybe? I love when that happens.

So slip into a little black velvet dress - it won't matter if it's the "wrong" season for velvet...my wine drinking is seasonless!!

Cheers!



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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: The Naughty Wine Name Series: La Bastarda Pinot Grigio

Now matter how furious you are with someone, if you curse them out in another language, it always sounds so much more sophisticated. Plus, if the intended recipient of your words doesn't speak the language, you just might fool them entirely and impress them instead.

Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to happen with La Bastarda Pinot Grigio (Italy, 2010, 12.5%). It's kind of obvious what you're saying if you yell "La bastarda!" at someone. But hey, at least you'll sound worldly and well educated, right? It's made by Il Bastardo Winery, in Tuscany, so it comes from a long line of bastardos. I couldn't resist that one.

La Bastarda is a very pale golden yellow color. It has an extremely light bouquet - almost hard to find. When you do, you'll find some melon and some citrus rind. The taste is of sour apples and tangy minerals and again that a hint of citrus rind that gives it the tang. It tingles in your moth and is extremely crisp and lively.

This is a dry Pinot Grigio - there's no getting around it. Despite the lack of bouquet, it did have a nice feel to it. It wasn't watery, it had some legs on it. I think it would be a wonderful wine to drink with some ripe strawberries. And while I liked it, I didn't LOVE it. But I didn't feel like calling it a bastarda either, so if you are a dry white wine lover (don't look for your buttery oaks in this one gang), you should give it a try. Plus, the label is so stinking funny that it would make a great gift for any number of occasions. As a gag gift you could bring to your brother in law's birthday party. As a sympathy gift, it would work well with a recently divorced gal pal. Or you could send it to your ex boyfriend and if he's really thick, he'll think you're sending him a nice bottle of wine!

Cheers!

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