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!

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 TO throw pizza dough

I've always wanted to know how to do that thing you see on TV and movies where someone is throwing pizza dough into the air without having it end up all over the place.  Here's a quick little step by step video showing how to do it like a pro.  I've also added one of my favorite pizza recipes with a few wine pairing suggestions:

The Lowrider Pizza

This recipe is based on a pie served at Proto's in Colorado. We took something good and made it orgasmic! How? you might ask. By adding more crisp, savory bacon.

Get yourself an unbaked pizza crust (we like the Pilsbury pizza dough at most grocery stores). In a bowl, mix together tomato sauce with about a TSP of chipotle Tabasco sauce or some other chipotle sauce. Add a little more to give the sauce a little Jackie Chan kick to your tongue if you'd like. Cover the pizza with shredded mozzarella, crisp bacon bits, small red onion slice and pineapple chunks. Don't hate on the pineapple going on the pizza, it serves a purpose which is to counter the spice of the chipotle. Bake the pizza as fast as you can, then cover the pie with chopped cilantro.

Of course, when in doubt, add some more crisp savory bacon bits. It's a simple pizza to make, but a good twist to feature the bacon.

lowrider baby, yeah!

Pizza and wine are one of the easiest wine pairings to do.  You could practially pull any red wine out to have with pizza.  Because of the spicy kick from the chipotle, I'd go for a red wine with a little more sweetness.  Jammy style, lighter wines like Quinta do Crasto from Portugal, Flora Springs Sangiovese, Cougar Crest Syrah and many Australian Shiraz will do the trick

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HOW TO: Grill a Turkey

charcoal Here's a recipe that might help reduce the amount of dishes and cleanup. The result is a turkey with a smoky flavor and crisp skin and comes from Barbara Ries' A Tradition Is Born. Use a well-brined bird (overnight). Serves 12

INGREDIENTS for the brine 1 12-lb. turkey 1 cup kosher salt 1 lemon, halved 1 orange, halved 1 onion, cut into wedges 3 gloves garlic, chopped 4 bay leaves 1 TBSP dried thyme 1 TBSP ground black pepper

INGREDIENTS for the rub 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped 2 cups flat leaf parsley, finely chopped 2 TSP chili powder 1/2 TSP cayenne 1/4 TSP ground black pepper 2 oranges, zested and cut into wedges 8 TBSP unsalted butter 1 large onion, roughly chopped 1 carrot, roughly chopped

1. Brine the turkey by combining salt, lemon, orange, onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and pepper in a 12-qt. pot or cooler. Add 1-1/2 gallons of cold water and stir together. Squeeze lemons and oranges into brine and add halves. Submerge the turkey, weigh down with dinner plates if necessary. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. The morning of Thanksgiving, remove the turkey and pat dry with paper towels. Make the rub by combining garlic, parsley, chili powder, cayenne, black pepper and orange zest in a large bowl. Using your fork or hands, work butter into ingredients to form a paste. Rub all over turkey. Put orange wedges, onions, carrots and 3 cups water into disposable roasting pan fitted with a rack. Set the turkey on top.

3. Build a medium-sized charcoal fire in a kettle grill, arranging the coals so they cover only one half of the bottom grate of the grill. For a smokier flavor, add water-soaked wood chips to coals. Place cover on grill and open the top and bottom vents of the grill, let the coals burn until and instant-read thermometer inserted into the top vent of the grill reads 500°F. Transfer roasting pan to the top grate of the grill on the side opposite the coals. Cover grill and cook for 30 minutes then cover breast with aluminum foil. Cook turkey, adding water to roasting pan as necessary and replenishing the coals every hour or so to maintain a temperature of roughly 350°F. Continue cooking until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the turkey's thigh resisters 165°F. That's about 3 hours for a 12-lb. bird. After grilling, let sit covered with foil for 30 minutes.

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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!

BBQ Pork Ribs

Barbecue sauce
Image via Wikipedia

1 rack pork ribs, defrosted 12 OZ BBQ sauce 1 TBSP olive oil 1 white onion, finely chopped 1/2 TSP celery salt 1 TSP chili powder 1/2 TSP onion powder 2 TBSP Old Bay Seasoning 1 TSP Paprika 10 OZ. honey 1/3 cup sugar 1/2 cup brown sugar Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Brush ribs with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes. While ribs are cooking, combine remaining ingredients together. After ribs have roasted for 30 minutes, pour/brush half of mixture over ribs and roast for another 30 minutes. Preheat grill for finishing. Remove ribs from oven and place face down on grill. Cook 5 minutes, turn over and brush remaining mixture all over ribs. Cook on grill 5-10 minutes until desired doneness. You can also use the broiler for finishing instead of the grill. Clean the grill by putting aluminum foil over the grates and turn the heat to high after you remove the ribs. It'll cook off all that sticky sauciness.

Alright, so it's not bacon, but it's close. It's pork, baby! Pork ribs cooked on a grill...what could be better than that? Well, actually, lots of things. But I'm not gonna lie, these ribs are mighty tasty. There's so many different ways to do ribs, but what I was going for here was a BBQ sauce with just the right amount of attitude with a little Bruce Lee roundhouse. If you want more cowbell, dial up the chili powder as this is more of a doctored BBQ sauce than one from scratch. Depending on which sauce you use as your base, it might have quite a bit of sugar in it already. So to offset sweetness, add more bitter flavors like garlic. Zinfandel-based wines seem to pair well with this recipe. Tonight I'll be popping open a bottle of 2006 Spann Vineyard MoZin from Sonoma. It's a blend of Zinfandel, Mourvédre and Petite Sirah. This is one of those wines where someone at the table will verbally exclaim something like, "OMIGOD that's good!" or some descriptor using four letter words to impress how good the wine is. It's well made, and in true Spann style, it's has impeccable balance. If some red wines are like a wool sweater on your tongue, this is a cashmere sweater. Silky, aromatic and enough flavor intensity from the Petite Sirah to stand up to the BBQ sauce on the ribs. Cheers!

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