Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wine and Dine

It's about the food...

Start with the right foundation, and you can build anything.  Use these pantry and fresh "cheat sheet lists" as shopping lists, and you'll be amazed what can come out of your own kitchen.
  1. Cheat Sheet 1:  The Basic Pantry (pdf)
  2. Cheat Sheet 2:  Basic Fresh Ingredients (pdf)
  3. A Few Favorite Recipes

And the wine...

To us, wine is meant to be enjoyed with food.  A glass of good chianti, with tart cherry and earth flavors, raises our family dinner to the level of a small celebration around the table, even if it's the middle of the week.
Some wine and food matches are terrific, others indifferent, a few downright unpleasant.  This page gives a practical tour of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to wine and food.  You’ll also find a selection of simple yet elegant recipes appropriate for different wines.   It’s all about the art, science, and fun of pairing wine with food.
    • Food and Wine Pairing
    • Wine-Friendly Recipes
    • Host a Tasting!
    • Reliable Restaurant Wines
These recipes have mostly been adapted from my books. Additional recipes and information are regularly included in the Wine Minute.

Define a "Rich" Red Wine

A rich red with intense flavors earth, black cherry and cracked pepper, and maybe a hint of licorice or blueberry.  A full-bodied, sinewy red with dark fruits; blackcurrants, blackberries, superripe cherry, plum, chocolate and mint flavors.

“Rich” is subjective.  To me these wines have intense fruit flavors, often with generous helpings of earth and spice.  While these flavors might be found in lighter wines, they are found in much greater concentration here.   And concentration is a key word here.  Ripeness of the grape and intensity of flavor are directly related, so grapes grown in warm climates with lots of sun (think Australia) are more likely to produce rich reds than, say, grapes grown in Canada.  Tannin (one of the acids found in wine that leads to that great "puckery" reaction) is more likely in richer wines, and alcohol levels are also often higher here.

Two varietals produce wines that are almost always called rich:  Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Average tasting notes for Cabernet are loaded with fruity adjectives like black berry, black cherries, raspberries, and plums.  Interesting Cabernet adds chocolate, coffee, mint, and even bell pepper, all bound together with a firm seam of tannin.  My Zinfandel notes are filled with words like black cherry, coffee liqueur, licorice, and herbs. But if you like rich reds, don’t stop here…

Many reds from Southern France fill the bill.  Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, and others offer charcoal, pepper, earth, black cherry and herb flavors. "Rhone Style" blends with Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault fall into this category.  But don’t stop here…

Shiraz (Syrah) brings flavors of blackberries, black currants, an intense purple color, and hints of black pepper, creosote and spice.  But don’t stop here either…

Malbec, the French grape adopted with enthusiasm in Argentina, is often a gorgeous combination of quality and affordability, and offers what many people consider to be the epitome of rich flavors, Chocolate, Coffee, cherry, and earth.

Petite Sirah
is one of my favorite varietals. Most wine stores only have a few in stock, but pick one up and see what you think (This is not to be mistaken for Syrah, which is a different grape).  At its best, Petite Sirah has opulent, jammy cherry and plum fruit flavors, along with cloves and other spices.   But keep going… 

Nebbiolo is the backbone of the famous Barolo wine of Northern Italy, a wine famous for its dark color and rich flavors of berries, spice and violets; and it's ability to improve for years in the cellar.  Sadly these wines tend to be expensive, and rarely fall into the Tasting Times price limits.  Nebbiolo is also grown outside of Italy.   But keep going…  Cabernet Franc from warm climates bring flavors of violets, raspberries, and blackcurrants.  But wait, there’s more…

Rich flavor characteristics can also be found in warm climate Pinot Noir from California. Some of these Pinots will be a better value than the Cab grown in the next vineyard.  And Merlot from warm climates (think California, Australia, and Chile) is rich by any definition.

Define a "Medium Bodied" Red Wine

"A medium-bodied red with notes of sweet cherry and dried fruits, maybe some earth, and more pronounced spice than in lighter reds"

We're still firmly in fruit territory here, but these wines will have a bit more concentration, heft, and alcohol than lighter reds.  Tannin (one of the acids found in wine that leads to that great "puckery" reaction) is more likely in richer wines than lighter ones.

Imagine a fruit bowl of red cherries, cranberries, and strawberries, maybe with a dusting of cinnamon on top.
These are the classic adjectives for Pinot Noir, but don’t stop there…

Sangiovese, the varietal in Chianti and other Italian wines, typically offers bright fruit flavors and a scent of flowers.  Keep going...

Merlot from cooler climates (parts of Washington, and Chile) bring delicious flavors of plums, cherry, and vanilla in a lighter body than warm climate wines based on the same grape. Cabernet Franc often has a similar flavor profile, too.

"Rich" grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and even Zinfandel can, because of climate, winemaking style, and ripeness of the grapes themselves, produce wines that are medium-bodied.

Define a "Light" Red Wine

Caveat attack!  These categories are broad generalizations (note the caveats and provisos).  But if we can’t generalize then we’ll never get anywhere.

"A fruit bowl red wine with subtle flavors of bright red fruits:  red currants, cherries and cranberries, and if I'm lucky a hint of cinnamon..."

Red wines that are often relatively light and refreshing include reds made in cool climates, such as Beaujolais, made from the Gamay grape in the North of France, with fresh, tart fruits.  You might find Gamay-based wines elsewhere, and they are likely to offer similar characteristics.  But don't stop there...

Valpolicella in the North of Italy (made from Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes – say those three times fast) - is often a bright, tart, fruity wine.  But keep going...

Even wines associated with heft, like Merlot and Pinot Noir, can also be found in a light, juicy style.

Define a "Rich" White Wine

"A rich, fruity white with flavors of toast, oak, butter, coconut, cream and a whiff of citrus."

These varietals also feature in the page covering "Light" whites.  That's because -as much as we want wine to be simple - there are many variables that make one wine richer than the next.  The grapes here were generally grown in warm climates, which allow for ripe, high sugar fruit and correspondingly more intense flavors. 

Chardonnay from California the quintessential rich white wine, especially Chardonnay from warm vineyards in California and Australia that have spent time in oak barrels (or have been otherwise exposed to oak).  This is where we get flavors of butter, toast, citrus, and cream.  Mmm.  But don't stop with Chardonnay...

My tasting notes for Chenin Blanc are full of descriptions of tropical fruits, pineapple, gardenia, apricot, nutmeg and honey.  I even said kumquat, but that might have been a stretch.  One of our reviews included "Gulpably Delicious."  Have to go find that one again.  Yum.  But don't stop here...

Semillon can be found with a rich, buttery chardonnay-like texture and mouthfeel.  Viognier, a varietal originally from the Rhone Valley but now produced across the United States, also serves up  mineral, melon and tropical fruit flavors.  But keep going...
Sauvignon Blanc, yes, is the stereotypical light white.  But from the warm vineyards of California, Chile, and Australia it's  loaded with a scent of tropical flowers, and flavors of cream and citrus.   SB is a true chameleon.

Define a "Light" White Wine

"A clean, refreshing white wine with a hint of citrus, from lemon and grapefruit to key lime pie.  A seam of mineral, grass and green apple would be nice.  A wine that would go perfectly with appetizers and lighter fare, especially seafood."

For many people, the first stop on the Clean & Refreshing Express is Sauvignon Blanc, one of the most famous white wine varietals.  Try Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and from Northern France (Loire and Pouilly-Fumé) if you like crisp, refreshing flavors of green apple and grass.  Many California Sauvignons are called “Fume Blanc”, but it’s the same grape.  But don't stop with here...

Many people think of Chardonnay as a rich, buttery white, but those adjectives describe warm-climate, California versions of the grape, often with a lot of oak.  For another take on Clean & Refreshing, check out Chardonnay from Northern France – Chablis, Burgundy and Pouilly-Fuissé, or from New Zealand.  But don't stop here either...

Pinot Grigio (AKA Pinot Gris) often offers characteristically refreshing, tart flavors of grapefruit and green apple.  Pinot Grigio is often a better deal than the better-known Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Other white wine grapes that occasionally hitch a ride on the Clean & Refreshing Express include Riesling  (clean, lemon and mineral flavors), and dry Semillon.

Caveats, provisos & blatant excuses:  Wine styles differ hugely.  Sauvignon Blanc can be made in styles that range from dry to off-dry, to unctuously sweet as a dessert wine.  The typical wines made from these grapes, in our experience, ride the Clean & Refreshing express, but there are cousins that... don't.

So while we're thinking about exceptions, here's another general category that's often clean and refreshing with mineral, citrus and bright fruit.  I'm talking, of course, about Rosé .  Forget sweetish White Zinfandel.  I'm talking about dry rose, a little-known pure pleasure that's produced everywhere, but is unfairly neglected.  One of my favorites is Rosé made from Grenache in the Rhone, with clean mineral and cherry flavors and a whiff of herbs that transport the unprepared to a café table in Aix-en-Provence.  Not bad for $10-15.

These are great wines for light foods and a hot summer day. 

Or any food on a cold, miserable March day that you wish was a hot summer day.