Admiral Ackbar's Guide to Holiday Wine+Food

When I'm not leading the Rebellion you can find me at home making bite sized Admiral Ackbar's snack bars. They make a great finger food to serve as guests are coming out of hyperdrive and docking at your ship. I like to serve them with Rylothian Yurp so you won't get too filled up but will enjoy spice on spice action.

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HOW TO Taste Wine Like a Sommelier

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Here's your chance to step with pep into any social setting and drop some wine knowledge like an old school beat.  No one likes the snooty know-it-all wine snob in the room, but you can still impress the pants of people by knowing how to taste wine like a sommelier.  As a side note, the real wine experts like Master Sommeliers are usually not the snooty know-it-all types in the room.  Actual wine experts know wine is about people—people who make the wine, and people who drink the wine.

The goal is to enhance your enjoyment of wine for the rest of your life and be able to know if a wine is good or not.  How do you know that?  One way is to know how accurately the wine shows typicity.  In other words, does it taste like the grape should and does it taste like it should considering where it was grown.  You might know that as terroir.

An accurate representation of the grape variety from the place its grown is a good wine.  A shitty wine is one that sort of resembles the grape, but the winemaker had to do so much stuff to it that it has no sense of place, or that it taste like a generic grape that could've been grown anywhere.  A Chardonnay from Burgundy, France comes across differently than a Chardonnay from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

The real pimp way to earn respect is to know it, but don't show it.  Here's some some ideas on how to go through a wine and identify important "markers":

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Roll the wine in the glass

Don't swirl the shit out of it.  Gently roll it in the glass.  You want to release the aromas in the wine, not break the sound barrier with how fast the wine is being swirled.  You can accomplish the same thing by rolling it and not pulling 3 G's like you're in a blender.  Look at how the wine drips down the side of the glass.  That gives you an idea of how high in alcohol the wine might be.

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Look at the color

Color tells you some key things about the wine.  Color tips you off to the age of the wine, which is handy to know.  Young white wines have a slight greenish tint to them.  Older white wines start to get a brownish tint to them.  Red wines, as they age will fade in color around the rim of the glass.  You can tell an older wine because the rim is sort of orange colored.  Younger wines will have more opaque pink eraser color closer to the edge.  Try to narrow down to a window of 1-3 years old, 4-7 years old or older.

If you're not sure where to start, just stare at the wine and wonder if there's going to be an NFL season or not then move onto the next step.

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Smell the wine

Here's where you start to piece things together.  A sommelier, and cool people who read this blog post start to paint a picture that help to identify the wine.  First, are there any faults in the wine like being corked (smells like Grandpa's basement), Brett or volatile acidity for example.  Is the wine "clean"?

Next, roll it in the glass then shove your nose in there.  First impression time—do you smell red fruits or black fruits in red wine?  For white wine, do you smell tree fruit or stone fruit?   This is what separates real wine experts from everyone.  Sommeliers can name specific fruit in the wine.  It's not just green apple, it's granny smith green apple.  It's not just cherry, it's dried bing cherry.

You want to look for 3 things: fruits, earthiness and wood.  Try to name the fruits you smell and be specific.  For earthiness, do you smell moss?  wet soil?  manure?  Even chalkiness can be a smell that is "earthy".  And for wood, do you smell vanilla?  How about baking spices?  If not, maybe it's an unoaked wine.

Being able to identify the fruit is one of the most important steps to blindly identifying the wine.  Most wines have distinct fruit associated with the grape.  For example, Grüner Veltliner has distinct notes of white pepper.  Sauvignon Blanc has telltale grapefruit on the nose.  Chalkiness is an important one that we'll get to next.

Here's a handy chart that shows what aromas go with with which wine grape.

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Taste the Wine

Don't do what what you did in college and shotgun the wine.  I mean, you can and I won't judge you but you'll miss out on the beautiful expression of the grape.  If you're drinking a wine cooler, stop reading this blog and go to funnyordie.com.  Your bong is calling your name.

When you taste the wine, go through the same thing as smelling.  Identify fruit, earth and wood.  Try to name specific fruits you taste.  For red wines really hone in on whether it's red fruit or black fruit.  For earthiness, there's something cool known as chalkiness.  It literally is like a chalk texture.  That's important, because it helps you know the wine grapes were grown in chalky soils like limestone.  Limestone is only in certain places in the world.  Your brain can narrow down the wine to one of those areas such as France's Loire valley.

The real big thing to look for when tasting is whether the wine is fruit driven or acid driven.  Generally speaking, fruit forward wines are "new world" and acid driven wines come from the "old world".  Fruit driven wines are just that, wine driven by sweet fruit.  Acidity is something you hear about, but what is it?  Your palate detects acidity on the roof of your mouth in the back.  If that part of your mouth is all tingly, the wine has high acidity.  During blind tastings, wine tasters want to know if the wine is old world or new world so they can narrow down on where it comes from.  Old world wines come from France, Germany, Italy and other places in Europe.  New world wines come from Australia, USA, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, etc..

Neither is better, just different strokes for different folks.  It also helps when trying to decide if the wine has typicity and tastes like where it came from.

Last thing on taste is the tannins and finish.  Tannins dry your mouth out like when you drink tea or eat paint chips, which is what I did as a kid.  Finish is that lingering taste in your mouth after you've swallowed the wine or spit it out.  Can you still taste it 30 seconds after it's gone?  That's the finish.  How are the tannins, complexity and finish of the wine?

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Conclusion

If you were being tested, you would be asked to combine all that stuff (color, age, nose, fruit, earth, wood, finish, etc..) and name the grape varietal and where it came from.  All the data would help narrow down what it is.  But for you, you can just have a look at the wine and appreciate all that went into making it.  Over time you might come to appreciate new things in wine like chalky textures in Sancerre Sauvignon Blancs or make more educated buying decisions.  Or if you go to someone's house and they open some sick bottle from their cellar you'll appreciate the gesture.

Who knows, if you're like me knowing stuff about wine might inspire you to be a better cook and understand how to pair flavors together.

There's no wrong way to enjoy wine.  Ultimately, it's about enjoying it with or without other people.  What you like is all that really matters.  There's close to 12,000 wineries in the world and many are making decent juice.  Lately, I'm all about finding the best bottle under $15.  Hope this helps.  Please let me know about your wine discoveries on the path of life.

Cheers!

Fruit Stuffed Pork Loin Roast w/ Bergstrom Pinot Noir

. . Here's a wine+food pairing from Bergstrom's wine club.  In my recent shipment they included this recipe, and being the pork lover that I am, I thought it would be good to share with all my readers.

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Fruit Stuffed Pork Loin Roast

INGREDIENTS 4 lbs boneless pork loin roast prepared for stuffing 1 cup pitted, chopped prunes 1 cup dried, chopped apricots 1 clove garlic 8 TBSP butter 1 TBSP dried thyme 1 cup Madeira 1 TBSP molasses Salt and Pepper to taste . 1. Preheat oven to 350° degrees 2. Mix prunes and apricots, roll up in cavity of pork loin and secure with twine 3. Cut garlic clove into thin sliver, make slits in roast with tip of knife and push garlic into slits 4. Rub the roast with the softened butter then sprinkle with salt & pepper and thyme 5. Set the roast in a shallow pan, mix the Madeira and molasses, then pour over roast 6. Set the roast on the middle rack of the oven and bake 1-1/2 hours or approximately 20 min per pound. Baste frequently. Roast will be medium when the temperature is 160° degrees 7. When roast is done, remove from oven and cover with an aluminum foil tent for 15 min 8. Slice thin and spoon pan juices over slices. Garnish with watercress if desired.

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GARLIC SCALLOPED POTATOES

INGREDIENTS

3 lbs yellow potatoes peeled and sliced thin 2 cloves of garlic 6 TBSP butter 3 cups heavy cream Salt and Pepper to taste . 1. Cut garlic and rub over the survace of a shallow casserole dish 2. Layer potatoes with dots of butter & cream. You can also add caramelized sweet onions to layering if desired 3. Bake slowly at 325° degrees for approximately 1-1/2 hours. It's important to cook slowly so the cream doesn't curdle but gets absorbed by potatoes 4. When done, increase heat to 400° degrees for last 10 minutes to brown tops 5. Let potatoes set for about 10 minutes before serving

Scallop, Orange and Endive Salad

INGREDIENTS 16 scallops ½ cup extra virgin olive oil 2 TBSP red wine vinegar 1 TSP coriander seeds, toasted and cracked 3 TBSP orange juice concentrate Salt and pepper 3 oranges, peeled and segmented 2 endives, cut lengthwise, ¼ inch slices 1 red onion, thinly sliced ½ cup chopped walnuts (toast for 10 min. @ 400 covered with butter and honey) ¼ cup dried cherries or cranberries

Blend ¼ cup olive oil, orange juice, red wine vinegar, coriander, salt and pepper. Set aside. Combine oranges, endives and red onion in salad bowl. Toss with half of olive oil mixture. Season scallops with salt and pepper. In large pan heat 1 TBSP olive oil over medium heat. Lightly brown scallops (3-4 min/side). Remove from pan, keep warm. Only cook up to 8 scallops at once. Add walnuts to salad. Portion onto 4 plates, scallops on top. Sprinkle with cherries or cranberries.

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This recipe is good, REALLY good. When you chomp into a bite, the subtle orange flavors light up your taste buds like a pinball machine. But it's not just because orange flavors have a tanginess to them, it's because the supporting cast of other nuances compliment different taste regions on your palate. So it's not just about hitting one taste region on your tongue, it's about hitting 'em all at once. I love this salad. When it's complete, it looks like a creation you'd find in a high falutin' restaurant in a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco or New York. It not only tastes good, it looks good--kind of like the type of dish that would be on the front cover of a cook book. But this out when you have someone over you want to impress. And if you really like your guests, pair this salad with a white wine that has more tropical mojo like the Gewurztraminer-like Traminette from Pheasant Ridge in upstate New York. This wine is made from organically grown grapes, and is a hybrid grape which resembles a heartier Gewurztraminer. It's perfect for more interesting chef salads like this one. Bon App!

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Rick's Pick: 2007 Domaine Carneros Avant Garde Pinot Noir

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Finding a good QPR (quality price ratio) Pinot Noir can be a bit tricky.  Pinot is such a temperamental grape—when it's off, it's not very good but when it's good it's magic in a bottle.  Perhaps more than any grape, Pinot Noir expresses it's place or terroir more than just about any grape.  And it does so pretty dramatically.

Because of how temperamental it is, Pinot Noir is all over the place in terms of quality (read: how much you like drinking it).  The grape requires more work in the vineyard and in the winery, which ultimately affects price.  You don't see many $10 Pinots for a reason.  It's not like Chardonnay, Cabernet or Merlot where you can produce the wine more cheaply.  With that said, when you find a Pinot Noir for about twenty bucks that blows your socks off, it's something special.

When I tried the 2007 Domaine Carneros Avant-Garde Pinot for the first time at the winery I said, "@#%! how much is this????"  I had to do a double take to look at the price tag.  This wine is a Rick's Pick for a few reasons:

1. 2007 is a stellar vintage in California, especially in the Napa area.  Most wineries has great fruit to work with, which is 75% of what determines quality.

2. Domaine Carneros produces exceptional sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  They don't work with many grapes, but luckily Pinot Noir is one of them.

3. Carneros is known for having a great climate for growing grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Carneros is located at the south end of Napa Valley.  Most wine drinkers may not realize how close Carneros is to the bay.  It butts up against the San Pablo bay, which in turn brings cold air off the water over the grapes.  Pinot Noir loves cold air.

4. Domaine Carneros is a fabulous winery, and one of the few wine clubs we belong to.  They are owned by the Tattinger Champagne house in France, so their approach to wine making is exceptional.  I've yet to find a wine of their that wasn't made with precision and quality.

5. The X-Factor I talked about in my 7 Things About Wine post mentions an element you can't quite describe.  A Pinot Noir of this caliber normally goes for $50 easy.  Considering the fact the Avant Garde goes for less than $25 we buy it in bunches.

Get your hands on a bottle and get some in your glass.  Swirl it around and let the fresh aromatics of strawberry, dark raspberries and black cherries take over your senses.  There's a delicate choreography of spicy vibrancy that unfolds across your palate like two dancers on Dancing with the Stars.  It's surprisingly complex and well balanced with just the right amount of funky earthiness and a kiss of oak, letting the fruit show through.  Well done!