Friday, June 26, 2015

How to pick a winning wine

So, it's that time again.  You've been invited to a friend's or family member's house for dinner and it has fallen on you to bring the wine. The stress builds because you have no clue where to start. There are so many options out there and sure you can spend a ton of money at a top of the line wine shop, but who has money for that?  There is a better and cheaper way to find that perfect wine. Picking a good wine is easier than you may think.  There are three steps I use every time that never fail me, and I am going to share this process with you.

1.  Do your homework!
No, this doesn't mean spending hours reading wine magazines and blogs.  This is the step that most often people forget to do, and truthfully is the most simple step.  Doing your homework is as simple as asking what you will be eating.  When you get that phone call inviting you to a dinner party, ask the host what they are serving.  Once you know what kind of food you're going to be eating pairing a wine is that much easier.

2.  Decide white or red.
There are some foods that will determine this for you.  For example, if you are eating steak you're going to want to buy a red, or if you are having a delicate white fish you're going to want white wine.  There are a lot of dishes, however, that could go either way--pasta, seafood, pork, or chicken, just to name a few.

The quickest way to decide whether to go with white or red is to be selfish.  What do you like?  If you prefer white wines, go with a white; if you prefer reds, buy a red.  You can overthink how to pair wine with food all day long, but in the end going with your own preference will guarantee that at least one person will enjoy the wine you bring.  Picking a wine you like will also allow you to show your excitement.  If you bring a wine that you don't enjoy, chances are your friends and family will not enjoy it either.  Excitement is contagious, so pick something that you know you'll love.

For you indecisive wine lovers here is a quick guide on wine pairing:
  • Red meat - requires a meaty red (Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Petite Syrah)
  • Rich red food (BBQ, Tomato based sauces) - require rich reds (Red blends, Malbec, Italian reds)
  • Rich white foods (cream sauces, seafood) - require rich, full-bodied whites (Chardonnay)
  • Sweet or Spicy foods - require sweet or spicy wines (Riesling, Viogner, Syrah)
  • Herbal, Citrusy and Salty foods - require complex, and delicate wines (Pinot Noir, Rosé, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc)
Now, this is not a comprehensive list, and there is a lot of crossover within this guide, but it is a good place to start.  I didn't even begin to explore when to buy bubbly or what kinds of bubbly to buy because sparkling wines are in a world all their own (I will offer some advice on these later).  **When in doubt, think about the color of the food, and pair it with a wine of that color.

3. Ask questions and listen/look for buzz words.
Now that you know what kind of wine you're looking for, ask someone in the wine department of your local grocery store or liquor store for a recommendation of a chardonnay or cabernet or whatever wine you've decided to buy.  Listen for words that you think would taste good with the food you're about to eat.  If you are having a cream based food, while you are looking for a chardonnay listen for words like vanilla and cream.  If you are buying a chardonnay to go with teriyaki or Caribbean style foods, listen for words like tropical or pineapple.    

As I said, picking a wine is easier than you think.  It's about asking questions and using common sense.  Most people already have enough knowledge to select a great wine, the problem is that wine connoisseurs have intimidated the common wine buy with complicated language and geeky technical facts that most people don't need to select a decent wine.  If you use the knowledge you do have about food as well as wine, along with asking the right questions you're soon going to be picking out wines like a pro.  Good luck, and as always I'm here for any questions!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday Wines (under $10)

Please forgive me, I know I've missed a couple weeks, but I'm back.  Today, I have a red wine review. After reviewing a couple whites I thought it might be time to open a red wine that I've been holding on to for a while.  Knowing I was having BBQ for dinner, I opened the 2012 Cascada Peak Malbec. Malbec is the quintessential wine of South America, and before beginning my review I feel that you need a fair warning... I adore malbecs from Mendoza, Argentina. Commonly these malbecs are bold, smoky, and smooth. They have rich blackberry notes amongst well-integrated tanins. For this reason, my favorite malbec is Gascon, its consistency of flavor and moderate price point made me a believer in South American wines, after just the first sip.

I feel you need to know how passionate I am about Argentine malbecs because it is important to understand my expectations of the wine prior to popping the cork. The richness of  blackberry, aroma of smoke, and look of ink is what I was expecting when I opened my bottle of Cascada Peak. Instead, I found a thin cranberry colored, chalky smelling, cherry tasting wine.   If you, like myself, prefer full-bodied, dry red wines, this is not the wine for you, however, for those who prefer the malbecs grown in their founding origin of France, this may be a great little gem for under $10.  Cahors, France known for its cooler climate produces wines that are cherry forward and provide a much brighter acidity than their Mendoza grandchildren.  This thin and bright malbec definitely did not deliver what I wanted from a Mendoza wine. I needed that jammy, bold red to hold up against the bbq chicken I intended to drink it along side.  Had I wanted a straight-forward easy-drinking red I would definitely have opened the right bottle, and could turn to this bottle every time.

The Cascada Peak did remind me of other malbecs that I have tried for under the $10 price point.  Unfortunately, none have delivered the inky and smoky complexity of the $12 Gascon and certainly none have touched the beauty of the Norton Reserve at $15.  So, my search for a full-bodied and complex malbec under $10 continues.  I have, however, added another enjoyable wine to the family.  Had Cascada Peak called their Malbec a red blend, or even if they used the ever vanishing term "table wine" to describe their wine, I believe I would have found it much more enjoyable simply because my expectations would have waned from what they were.  My verdict is that this wine is perfectly lovely for drinking on the deck on a cool summer's eve or for a pre-dinner wine served along with simple appetizers.

Tasting Notes:
Color-  Cranberry red
Nose-  Chalk, soil, cherry, and pine.
Taste-  Cherry, cranberry, hints of oak and clove

This easy-drinking fruit forward malbec makes it a great pairing for soft cheeses and fruity appetizers.  It averages between $7 and $9.  I recommend it for someone who prefers thinner reds that don't need to be paired with food.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday Wines (under $10)

Summer is a great time for reviewing Chardonnay.  I used to think I hated Chardonnay.  Then I read "Drink This: Wine Made Simple." by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl.  She made a great case for this grape helping me realize in her words, "You just haven't met the right one." Now, I love Chardonnay for all of its beauty and adaptability.  I came to appreciate Chardonnay because it can be made in a variety of ways. But, I came to love love Chardonnay when I started to discover California Chardonnays and all their intricacies.

Unlike French Chardonnays, which tend to be more mineral and tart apple forward, many of the North American Chardonnays have been traditionally oaky and buttery, which happens to be my preference.  For decades when you bought a good Chardonnay from Sonoma or Columbia Valley (the Burgundy regions of North America) you knew what you were getting--butter, oak, and a full body.  However, as Australian and Chilean wines gained popularity these traditional North American treats went to the wayside, and the fruity and bright Chardonnays became the new vogue.

However, wine and food trends like all fashion fads change with the tide.  What is popular soon becomes passe, and what was previously in-style becomes retro-chic.  And, so it is with Chardonnay.  Many of the more expensive California and Washington wineries, especially ones that specialized in Chardonnay, are once again returning to their creamy and buttery goodness that first brought them fame.  There are a few wineries who made a name for themselves by keeping the tradition strong regardless of the trends in wine fashion.

Snoqualmie Vineyards is one of these wineries.  They came on to the US winemaking scene in 1983, and this Chardonnay keeps their tradition alive. "The style of this Chardonnay showcases pure varietal expression of Washington State fruit" (Joy Anderson, winemaker).  By blending 5% Viogner, Anderson brings forward some tropical flavor without losing the integrity of the Chardonnay and its classic cream and oak characteristics.

Tasting Notes:
Color- Pale yellow
Nose- lemon, pineapple, clove, vanilla, lime and cedar.
Taste- pineapple, cream, butter, vanilla, with a spicy and sweet oak finish.

This wine pairs perfectly with seafood and grilled fish.  At $8-$10 a bottle this is the best bargain wine to impress friends at a summer barbecue or take with you on a warm picnic in the park.

Food Trucks Will Save the Day

Who doesn't love a good food truck rally?

Help eradicate AIDS and support your local food trucks at the same time.  Look for your city's (RED) food truck rally, wear your red and spend your green.

If you want to know where to find your favorite food truck any time, check out Roaming Hunger.