Garnacha! An education

041 EL CIERZOGarnacha, also known as Grenache, is one of the world’s oldest and most widely planted wine grapes. Due to its long growing season and affinity for heat, it is the perfect Mediterranean grape. It has proliferated from its ancient homeland in Aragon to as far as Lebanon in the East, most of North Africa and throughout most of the new world. It’s luscious, fruity, intense and very diverse. Although most Garnacha is used to create blends – think Chateauneuf-du-Pape – it is starting to come into its own as a varietal wine, ready to take the worldstage with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

A grape for all occasions, Garnacha encompasses red, white, rosé, and sweet styles. The grape is very expressive with a wide range of aromas depending on its originating terroir. Red Garnacha wines are fruit forward, lush and soft on the palate, with a good balance between sweetness, acidity and tannins. Key aromas and flavors include red fruit and spices. Garnacha rosé delivers aromas of strawberries, rose flowers and a sweet berry finish; these wines are perfect for hot weather. White Garnacha produces white wines that can range in style from fresh and mineral-driven to rich and lush.

In Spain, as a result of great attention to terroir, major investment in quality, modern winemaking techniques, and old vineyards, a new generation of winemakers is producing Garnacha wines of exceptional character and concentration. We’re pretty excited about what they are doing! 

The 5 most important P.D.O. (Protected Designations of Origin) for Garnacha in Spain are Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano, and the eponymous Terra Alta.

Calatayud is known for its high altitude, rugged terrain and a rich variety of soils. These impressive natural conditions produce a diversity of high quality Garnacha wines.

Campo de Borja is known as the self-proclaimed “The Empire of Garnacha.” It was the first to explore and fully develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines, and produces some of the most renowned examples in the world.

Cariñena is the oldest P.D.O. in the region of Aragon. Known as “El Vino de las Piedras” (“The Wine of the Rocks”) for its rocky and compact soil that holds water exceptionally well, Cariñena is also the largest of the P.D.O.s, with 14,513 hectares of vineyards and 1,600 growers.

Somontano has positioned itself as a producer of “luxury” wines since it became one of Spain’s most modern P.D.O.s in 1984. It has been a pioneer in taking a New World, varietal approach to wine production. Although only about 5%
of the vineyards are currently planted with Garnacha, the region is committed to the varietal and expects to double plantings over the next few years.

Terra Alta is the white Garnacha specialist. It became a P.D.O. in 1982 and produces around 80% of all the white Garnacha in Spain.

It should noted that Garnacha can also be fortified (as it often is in Australia and in the vins doux naturels of Roussillon), for delicious Port-like wines.

Pick up some Garnacha today to see why this is a fantastic, and affordable, varietal wine!

Seeking value wine for the wine lover

14_07_03 1630 The Crusher, Sterling Anniversary_4000_BlogGrocery stores often have the strategic marketing technique of placing their alcohol selection near the check-out registers.  On, say, a Monday morning, this would make little difference to me.  But I don’t grocery shop on Monday mornings.  I grocery shop when I’m out of food and I’m hungry, and for whatever cruel reason that tends to be at the end of a long day, usually a workday—the sort of day when dinner is much better complimented with wine or beer, rather than water.

This was exactly the case last week, and it’s probably why my mouth started watering due to a pavlovian response while pushing my shopping cart down the alcohol aisle, which I could not avoid on the way to the checkout counter.  Now, this was a Trader Joe’s, and these guys are deceivingly clever as to how they present their alcoholic beverage options—the wine aisle’s selection is laid out by price, starting with the more expensive finer wines, and descending in cost to the cheaper table wines.

Thankfully, passing down the majority of that aisle I was undeterred and kept moving forward (granted, I found myself browsing with more and more interest, and my salivary glands kicked into overdrive).  You see, I’m trying to eat healthier (aka avoid the frozen pre-made dinner options), and there tends to be a positive correlation between healthy eating and higher spending at the grocery store, so I have less budgeted for purchasing alcohol at Trader Joe’s.  And anyway, if I’m going to buy a nice wine, it’s going to be from Wine.com, where I can find a much larger selection, and still at competitive prices (shameless plug).

But, Trader Joe’s has of course come up with a solution for buying wine on a small budget, and if you’ve been a college student in the last decade, you likely know what I’m talking about: Two Buck Chuck.  It’s Charles Shaw, a brand of bargain-priced wine that was given its own scale of classification: “extreme value.”  So here I am at 7:30 PM on a Wednesday night, hungry and annoyed by all-too skinny aisles, with a cart full of foods I don’t even know exactly how to turn into a meal (kale, organic yogurt, free-range chicken), and I want a drink.

Ultimately, it’s curiosity that gets the best of me.  I used to drink Two Buck Chuck all the time, when it actually only cost $2 a bottle.  It’s more or less how I was introduced to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay – can’t forget white Zinfandel – and I wanted to know if I would still find these to be enjoyable wines.  So I bought one of each, took them home, and in the meantime I’ve tasted them all.

Suffice it to say that my taste has changed since the days of using Charles Shaw in red SOLO cups to play “wine pong.”  While I’m working on my goal to develop my wine knowledge and have an even deeper appreciation for what makes a quality wine, I honestly never intended to actively dislike cheaply made wine.  There’s just no turning back after you expose your palate to some of the better wine out there.  Once accustomed to the good stuff, the mouth wants nothing to do with a cheap wine that has little going for it with the possible exception that it has alcohol.

However, it’s flawed thinking to suggest the senses always have to be pitted against the wallet—great wine does not need to also be expensive wine.  I’m currently on a mission to find some of the greatest wines out there for under $15.  I’ve come across dozens already, and the list is growing.  If you’re buying wine on a budget, I suggest you undertake a similar challenge.  It’s fun, it’s not terribly expensive, and you get to educate your palate while also learning about the world of wine.  You can start by narrowing in on the almost 200 wines we offer at Wine.com that have 90+ ratings and are sold for under $15.   If you’re clueless, you can try our Live Chat service and feel free to ask for our favorites at your price point – we have plenty.  While it can be hard to pass up the allure of the price of mass-produced super cheap wine, I think you’ll find the few extra dollars spent on a nicer wine make for a much more enjoyable wine drinking experience.14_04_16 1130 Rioja at The Wine Bar_1600_Blog

My top picks include:

The Seeker Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Hahn Estates GSM 2013

Castello di Meleto Borgaio Toscana 2011

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2013

Cune Crianza 2010

Domingo Molina Hermanos Torrontes 2012

Poema Brut Cava

Las Rocas Rose 2013

Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Zinfandel 2012

Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir 2012

Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

The Crusher Petite Sirah 2012

Robert Oatley Signature Chardonnay 2013

Celebrate International Italian Cuisine Day With Wine and Risotto!

Saturday, January 17th is International Italian Cuisine day. I thought we should blog about great food from the “old country”.  While there are tons of great Italian dishes out there, I have been craving that specialty of northern Italy, risotto.  Traditionally served as a first course, this creamy and delicious rice dish can work as a satisfying entrée.

Risotto can range in variety from the exotic Risotto Milanese, which is enriched with saffron, to light and delicate seafood riosotto, to the dark and dusky risotto al Barolo.  Regardless of the condiment or flavoring, great risotto begins with great rice. You need a short grain rice which is high in starch content.  Arborio or carnaroli varieties are readily available in most grocery stores.  It is well worth the effort to search for a specialty store that carries the vialone nano variety.

The next important trick to great risotto is mastering the method.  Instead of steaming, risotto is made by the timely addition of broth or water.  There are 2 tricks to this… First, make sure that the liquid and the cooking rice are at the same simmering temperature. Secondly, gently stir the liquid into the rice, and only stir as much as you need to. If the grains break, your risotto will become gummy and pasty.

Here is a base recipe and some ways to change it up:

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups homemade broth   OR   1 cup canned broth diluted with 4Ingredients cups water.  (I actually heat extra because it would be a disaster to be caught without enough cooking liquid.)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons onion or shallot chopped very fine
  • 2 cups Arborio OR other imported Italian risotto rice
  • 1/2 heaping cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • Salt, to taste

 

Directions:

  1. In a sauce pan, bring the broth to a simmer. Make sure that it is close to the pan where you are making the risotto.
  2. Heat a heavy-bottomed sauté pan that has high sides (2” or so) and add the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the onion and cook gently until the onion is translucent.Making Risotto
  3. Add the rice to the sauté pan and stir gently so that all the grains are coated with the butter and oil.
  4. Now you will begin adding the broth from the sauce pan to the sauté pan one ladle at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to make sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  5. When the rice absorbs one ladle of broth, add another ladle of broth.  Repeat this process until the rice is tender but al dente. It should take about 20-25 minutes and the rice will look moist and creamy, not runny.
  6. When there is about a minute or 2 to go, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
  7. Remove the pan from heat and add all of the cheese, folding gently in order to even distribute.
  8. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately with additional shavings of parmigiano. Serves 6

Risotto Recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Variations:

White Truffle Risotto: Shave a half ounce of white truffle all over the top of the risotto right before serving. For those of us like me who are on a budget, you can always drizzle a bit of white truffle oil over the top.

Mushroom Risotto: In a separate pan, sauté about a pound of your favorite mushrooms in some butter and olive oil. I add a clove or 2 of garlic and some salt and pepper to taste. I deglaze the pan with a bit of wine and continue to cook until the mixture is dry. Before I add the butter and cheese to the risotto, I stir in about half of the mushroom mixture. I pour the finished risotto into a platter, top with the remaining mushrooms and chopped chives.

Butternut Squash Risotto: Cook and finely dice some butternut squash, about 2-3 cups. Instead of adding that last ladle of broth, add a ladle of heated heavy cream and fold in half of the squash. Finish the risotto with the butter and cheese. Top the finished risotto with the rest of the squash and some fried sage leaves.

 

Some WINES to try with these Risottos:

 

 

 

What is it with these wine competitions anyway?

PicMonkey Collage

In the wine business, we all talk about O-N-D (October-November-December). Success or failure, the fourth quarter is a deciding factor, as we move wine fast. Yet like grape growing, business begins at the start of the New Year. Last week I participated in one of the largest wine competitions in the world- the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. With over 6,300 wines entered and more than 50 judges, divided into 19 panels, this event officially rang the bell for the beginning of the wine judging season. In the United States there are around 30 significant competitions and internationally there are at least half as much. Yet there is much confusion about wine competitions and if they really have an effect on the fortunes of wineries.

Over the last two decades, publications like Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, the Wine Advocate and Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (now Vinous), have become the gold standard. Consumers have become confident and accustomed to these publications, and rightly so; those magazines have done an excellent job in representing their genre. But what about wine competitions, do they offering anything to the consumer? Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals – what do those all mean?

Since the mid-1980’s I have judged in as many as 15 competitions in a year. I even ran one (Executive Director of the San Francisco Fair National Wine Competition 1987-1989). As a judge, we often taste as many as 200 wines in a given day and at the conclusion of all competitions, we anoint winners (typically with medals). In the marketplace, this sometimes plays very big and the winning wines see more sales.

This year, when I sat in my chair on panel #4 on the first work day of 2015, I was thinking, wow, we are already here judging wines. Welcome to 2015. I was joined by long time professionals Dr. Richard Peterson and John Schumacher. We had a blast judging together as we agreed to disagree. Our panel was nicely balanced with a wide variety of wine experiences between the three of us.

What is it with wine competitions anyway?
The industry recognizes the value of wine competitions on many fronts, the most important being that hundreds of thousands of wines get tasted blind by qualified wine professionals and that those awards get entered a the large pool called: Wine Marketing. For me, blind tastings keep my palate fresh and honest. Additionally, tasting with other professionals and networking with even more allows me to keep up to speed in the world of wine. Yes, wine competitions are important to all of us who love wine.  I’ll be sharing some of my favorite finds through our facebook and twitter pages, so stay tuned!

Wine Quotes to start your weekend!

Cheers!

I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.
W.C. Fields

“I don’t like whiny and cheesy people, but I do like wine and cheese people!” – Anonymous

“Seven days without wine makes one weak.” – Anonymous

“My only regret in life is that I did not drink more wine.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Compromises are for relationships, not wine.” – Sir Robert Scott Caywood

“It doesn’t matter if the glass is half empty or half full. There is clearly room for more wine.”

“Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes, the special occasion is that you’ve got a bottle of Champagne in the fridge.” Hester Browne (author, freelance writer & journalist)

“Great wine requires a mad man to grow the vine, a wise man to watch over it, a lucid poet to make it, and a lover to drink it.” – Salvador Dali

“Wine is sunlight held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei (Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher)

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