HOW TO make the Perfect Michelada

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Michelada's are Mexico's answer to red beer that can be made in a variety of ways, but the main ingredients are beer and tomato juice.  The following is a recipe I like to use during football season because it goes with the tailgating types of foods.  A good Michelada has an equal balance of sweet, sour, bitter and salt (like most things in life) so when you make this, try to find the equal balance between ingredients.

INGREDIENTS 1 bottle Mexican beer such as Pacifico 1 lemon 1 TSP Michelada salt 1/4 cup Clamato dash of Tapatio

The lemon is really what brings everything together.  Cut the ends off a lemon, then cut the lemon in half.  Juice one half of the lemon into a pint glass making sure to remove seeds.  Add in TSP of Michelada salt, Clamato and a dash of Tapatio.  Your mixture should fill the bottom 1/3 of the pint glass.  Use a spoon and mix it together, then pour in Pacifico almost to the top making sure to leave room for lemon halves.  Sit back and enjoy!

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!

5 Tips to participating in #Chardonnay day May 26th

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Thursday May 26th, 2011 will be the second annual global celebration of Chardonnay known as #Chardonnay day.  The hope is for this idea (along with #Cabernet day) can grow into annual holidays.  Anyone who loves wine is welcome to participate in #Chardonnay day, all you need is some wine in your glass.  Register here - #Chardonnay page

 

Here's some tips on how to be part of the global celebration:

  1. Organize a get together at your home, winery, restaurant or wine shop.  Add it to the Meetup.com/Chardonnay list so others know where to go.

  2. On May 26th, share any photos, videos, blog posts or any other stuff making sure to include #Chardonnay in your posting.  You can post on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wordpress, Plancast, Foursquare, Gowalla or any other social media site.

  3. See what other people are saying by searching "#Chardonnay" on Google, search.twitter.com, Tweetdeck, kurrently or Twitterfall.

  4. Get wines like Chardonnay, White Burgundy, Blanc de Blancs (or other sparkling made with Chardonnay) and get friends together to geek out.

  5. Have fun.  It's like a giant dining room table where everyone can pull up a chair and join the conversation.

That's all there is to it.  You'll be seeing wine lovers and wineries talking to each other.  This community will come together for one day only, so make the most of it!  It's your chance to connect with fellow wine lovers.  See you online or in person May 26th.  Cheers!

HOW the Wine Industry can Recover in 2011: Use Less Oak

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Oak wine barrels at the Robert Mondavi vineyar...
Image via Wikipedia

Positive signs of recovery for the wine industry in 2010.  We can all breathe a sigh of relief that consumers are drinking again.  Well, they never stopped drinking, just now they're drinking the good stuff.  Consumers are now buying $25-$50 bottles of wine whereas last year and the year before they were buying bottles under $15.

I got to thinking about what it costs to produce a bottle of wine.  Things that factor into the price have a lot to do with the work done in the vineyard.  Each time vineyard workers go through the rows and touch the vines, it costs money.  In good vintages, a winery will get good fruit with less touching of vines, hence, less cost basis.  In a bad year, a winery might have to do a significant amount more work just to get fruit to a good place by harvest.  From vintage to vintage, these are unfixed costs that can't be controlled.  If a winery is buying fruit from another vineyards, there might also be a fluctuation of what the fruit costs per ton.  In 2010, many vineyard in Northern California lost 20-30% of their crops because it was a cool summer.  Grapes weren't getting ripe, so vineyard managers cut leaves off the vines that normally act as shade from the sun.  Mother nature, it seems, has a sick sense of humor.  Shortly after leaves were cut off, there was a heat spike over 100 degrees for a few days.  That turned 20-20% of grapes into raisins.  Without the normal leaf shade, the grapes didn't stand a chance.

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One (somewhat) fixed cost in wine is the cost of oak barrels.  A brand-spanking new French oak barrel costs somewhere around $800-1200.  A barrel can be used a few times before it becomes "neutral," or doesn't impart oaky flavor.  American oak is an option, but French oak is the preferred choice.  Wineries order pallets of oak barrels each year.  Do the math with me.  If a winery buys 500 new oak barrels at an average of $1000 per, that's $500,000 in barrels.

Here's where my brilliant idea for financial recovery comes into play:  Use less oak.  Simple, huh?  In 2010 I tasted more overly oaked wines than I cared to.  Why on God's green earth are winemakers oaking the shit out of their wines?  This is a debate that's been around for years, but I'm really baffled.  Cut the amount of oak down 25% on your next barrel order.  Actually make wine that expresses the vineyard and don't cover up flaws with an orgy of French oak.  Not only could wineries save a few hundred grand, but they might actually make a better wine.  Why has nobody done this?

Take for example the 2007 Quilceda Creek Red wine from Washington state.  For years I've been a lover of QC wines, and have ordered from their mailing list.  After drinking (or trying to drink) this wine, I decided to drop off the list.  At 15.2% alcohol, the lower tier QC resembled Vodka and Robitussin rather than a world class wine.  There was so much oak on this wine, my wife and I literally could not finish it.  We ended up making a sauce instead.

In Napa and Sonoma I've experienced something similar.  Dozens of overly oaked wines that really have no reason to be so oaky.  Robert Parker isn't helping any by giving these behemoth's inflated scores, and essentially rewarding them for oak.

So there it is, use less oak.  That reduces the carbon footprint for shipping.  It saves more trees.  Wineries save on costs and wine drinkers get a better wine.  What do you think?

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Retail Beef Cuts Explained (INFOGRAPHIC)

Know your beef cuts!

It's always a good idea to know your beef cuts so you know what to expect. Tenderness and cooking times vary from cut to cut, which is good to know when you're buying steaks. It's also important to know what a fair price per pound is and how market trends affect price. For example, this year filet mignon is one of the most affordable cuts available at Safeway. It's not grass fed or as high of a quality as your local butcher, but it's good to know. This graphic from the Beef council is a helpful visual way to understand cuts.

retail beef cuts

 

Check out my treasure trove of steak recipes to make use of your favorite beef cut:

HOW coffee is made

According to research done by the National Coffee Association, approximately 112 million Americans were "every day coffee drinkers" in 2006.  Each year another 3-5% of the population joins in as an every day drinker racking up $18 Billion a year spent on coffee by Americans.  The average coffee drinker has 3 cups a day, which means about 336 million cups of coffee are consumed every day in America.  That number grows exponentially when you look at worldwide consumption.  Coffee is the second most popular drink after water at a staggering 1.4 billion cups of coffee consumed every day around the world.  Over 100 million people depend on coffee as a source of income.

I recently had a chance to visit one of the world's best coffee producing regions.  Kona, on the big island of Hawai'i is 22 square miles of ideal coffee-growing "terroir".  That's a wine term meaning the combination of weather, soil, climate, slope and all other elements that give a place its "placeness".  It's what makes a place unique.  Terroirs are like snow flakes, no two are the same.  Kona coffee fetches upwards of $20-30 a pound compared to the $6-$10 a pound you pay at the grocery store.  Kona coffee is known for rich, bold flavors without high levels of acid or bitterness.

Greenwell Coffee Farms is the oldest family-owned coffee producer in Kona.  Henry Nicholas Greenwell arrived in Kona from England in 1850.  He lived with his wife and 10 children where we built a successful coffee export business.  Over time, Greenwell became well known in Europe and America for having reliable quality Kona coffee.

Today, Greenwell Farms is run by fourth generation family members who still farm 35 acres of prime coffee growing land at about 1,500 feet elevation.  During my visit I learned there are a number of similarities between growing coffee and wine grapes.  For example, wine grapes and coffee trees both do well in volcanic soil, both do well in altitudes of 600-1,200 feet in elevation, both need some sun exposure (but not too much), both get pruned down to the stump after harvest and both go through flowering before they produce fruit.  Coffee trees are technically fruit trees, and the coffee fruit it called cherries.

Watching the harvesting and processing of the coffee beans was a unique experience.  The end result was a coffee every bit as good as advertised.  Greenwell's 100% Kona coffee's were rich yet smooth without any of the bitter acid reflux.  Kona coffee is famous for being low in acid.  Because Kona coffee is so popular, yet expensive, you might find coffee's that say 10% Kona on the package.  They do this to keep the price down, yet get the name on the label.

Sadly, many of the growers barely make any money even though they're selling their coffee at $20 a pound.  The reason it's so expensive is all the labor that goes into producing some of the world's best coffee.  From picking, to drying, to sorting and roasting—every step of the way requires doing it by hand.  Machines aren't used for anything during the process.  Because of that, the Kona coffee can't be made by automating any step of the process.  Greenwell employs 50 people in the production facility, which is a significant number considering they farm 35 acres.

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HOW TO engage a global audience

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Social gatherings used to be limited only to people in a single physical location like a bar or conference.  Now social gatherings extend past the walls of one location to the online social sites where conversation around a single subject can be scaled up. “Tweetups” blur the lines between in-person and online participation. For businesses big and small, these global niche events — such as Mashable’s Social Media Day or St. Supéry's #Cabernet Day, can be a great way to target and connect with people around a single subject.

On September 2nd, St. Supéry winery used meetup.com to engage people around the world in a celebration of wine called #Cabernet day.  Over a 24 hour period, over a thousand online wine drinkers and people at 75 real life meetups all posted messages across social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, Gowalla and YouTube.

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Mobilizing a global audience online and offline can be organized by one or two people using these strategies:

Find a common passion- Commonality leads to community.  Find your community using search tools Twitter Search, Yahoo Upcoming, Facebook or Plancast.

Have one central RSVP page- Keep it simple by driving everyone to one single page.  One page is easier to measure metrics from and it’s easier to organize one single event, even with multiple locations.  Jazz the page up a bit by adding a Twitter stream of tweets featuring the hash tag. Popular RSVP sites for social events are:

Eventbrite.com – Eventbrite is a solid option for posting and tracking RSVP’s.  Organizers can customize their page with graphics, Google Analytics, custom headers, links to the organizer and export tools for attendees to export to their calendar and announce it on their social sites.

MogoTix.com – Deliver tickets to attendees on their phones.  MogoTix will text you an image of your ticket with a scanable QR code.

Establish a unique short hash tag- Hash tags are the thread that hold the online conversations together.  They’re also what make a global conversation possible.  Every tweet, Facebook post, location check in or blog post in any country can be tracked real time using Twitter Search, Tweetdeck, or Booshaka for Facebook.  No matter where people are located, they can send or search posts using the hash tag.

Add the hash tag to the tagalus.com directory and open a search column in Tweetdeck to track the tag.

Engage participants- Online conversations work well when they’re extensions of in-person interactions.  Facilitate satellite events in different cities.  For #Cabernet, meetup.com/anywhere was used to schedule in-person gatherings in cities around the globe.  In the meetup descriptions, attendees were prompted on what the bigger social media message was and which hashtag to use.  For global events, it’s a good idea to make it a full day so “attendees” in different time zones can plan accordingly.  Another great tool is Plancast.  Plancast.com has a similar feel as Twitter, but instead of tweets you post plans.  People can subscribe to your plans, and they can opt in.

Add a Twitter stream everyone can see- Duing the event, make the conversation visual.  No matter how loud it is in a venue or a tweetup, you can still see what people are saying.  Twitter streams are often projected onto a large screen to show the real time conversation.  Twitterfall.com displays tweets with a keyword (you define) in a constant stream similar to a water fall.  You can set more than one search term—each one will be color-coded.

Share the Love- If you want to witness the power of social media, give all sponsors, hosts and contributors visibility equally.  You create a community-driven event where everyone has a vested interest in the overall success.  Show the logos of contributors on the main (Eventbrite) page, so they in turn have a reason to promote the event to their community.  The more they promote the event, the more they’ll collectively drive a larger audience to the main event page.

Have additional tools for engaging a global audience?  Leave them in the comments below.

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3 Ways to Participate in #Cabernet Day

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Thursday September 2nd is #Cabernet day on social media sites around the globe.  A popular question I keep getting is “how do I be a part of it?”  Here’s a few quick tidbits to give you the how and why of #Cabernet day:

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1. Use the #Cabernet Hash Tag in Your Posts:

Post tweets, videos, Facebook posts, blog posts and check-ins including the “#Cabernet” hash tag on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Foursquare, Gowalla and others.  This is one half of the conversation.  You want to send out messages about Cabernet.  For wineries, this can be content about your vineyard, winemaker, terroir, recipes, etc..  For wine drinkers, this can be what you’re tasting or who you’re tasting it with.

2. Search the #Cabernet Hash Tag:

If sending posts with “#Cabernet” is the first half of the online conversation, tracking the hash tag is the other half.  It’s all about talking and listening, but using social tools to do it.  On Twitter you can use Tweetdeck, Twitter Search, Google, Twitterfall, Radian6, JIVE, etc to see what people are saying.

3. Engage!

Like Brian Solis says, Engage!  You have hundreds, maybe thousands of people talking about Cabernet.  Find people you want to connect with and engage with them.  “Like” Facebook posts, RT tweets, share or reply to other people’s postings.

You have a captive audience all tuned in to the same thing.  It’s an opportunity to form new connections online.

Why would you want to do this?  A large, captive audience will be talking about the same thing at the same time.  Technology allows us to find and connect with people we want to keep connected with going forward.

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HOW TO: Pair Wine with Thanksgiving Dinner

As you sit down to stuff your pie hole this Thanksgiving, you might not know which wine to wash it down with.  364 days I year I love geeking out on wine and food pairings.  Usually around late morning each day I'm thinking about what the main course will be for dinner, and which wine will compliment it.  It's pretty straightforward most of the time, but when Thanksgiving comes around, it's that one day out of the year where I feel like I'm playing Rugby with my taste buds. All the flavors together resemble a demolition derby of delectables that are all having a scrum on your dinner plate.  You have turkey, which is kind of dry until you gravy on it.  You have cranberry sauce, which is tart and sweet and gelatinous.  And you have mashed potatoes which are a starch (hopefully with butter) and of course all the other trimmings.  Where the hell is the bacon in all this?

There's no single wine that will compliment all of that.  My Mom usually just says, "screw it, I'm serving a buttery Chardonnay."  That's one approach.  Not really one that'll compliment the flavors, but it's one approach.  Keep in mind, the five taste regions on your palate are probably sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami aka savory.  I say probably because every time I do a presentation about your taste buds, someone always comes up afterwards and reminds me the taste region theory is outdated and has been disproven.  It works for me.

If you really want to bring out the nuances of flavor through complimentary tastes, you might want to consider serving a couple of wines with dinner.  In recent years the Bakas family has been going with a 2-wine solution to Thanksgiving Dinner—A dry Rosé and a Riesling both for the main course.

The right Rosé will be dry with cranberry cider notes while hiding residual sugar.  That's ideal if your turkey wasn't brined for a month, then mummified in bacon.  It serves the same purpose as cranberry sauce to compliment the meal.  Pinot Noir can also be a good option if you want to have a red wine with dinner.  Pinot is light enough that it won't overpower the turkey while providing a warm cozy feeling for your taste buds.  Pinot Noir is also good if your table looks funny with just a rosé and riesling on it.  You might want to have a member of the red wine contingent in attendance and that's when you bring out the Pinot Noir.

The Riesling should usually be on the dry side too and could even be a Pinot Gris.  Alsatian wines are great with Thanksgiving due to their acidity and restraint of sweetness.  You want acidity in wine to "cut through" things like gravy or mashed potatoes.  A dry turkey will also benefit from a little residual sweetness.  Not that your turkey will be dry, it's just the nature of the bird. So there you have it.  When pairing wines with Thanksgiving dinner, reach for a nice pink wine not called White Zin and a drier style white wine like Riesling or Pinot Gris.  Depending on what you cram into your mouth will determine which wine glass to sip out of to compliment the flavors.  Of course, if you're my Uncle Earl you'll just have a beer.

Cheers!