The Pregnant Palate: Birthday Dinner

When you’re pregnant on your birthday, you have to focus on a dinner with super delicious food rather than super delicious wine. I suppose you could do super delicious wine, but for me there would be lots of jealousy involved so I request focusing on food. That said, my birthday dinner at small, foodie place in Northeast Portland had both amazing food and some super interesting and yummy wines.

DOC is the restaurant, an Italian place that has about 7 tables and an open kitchen. The menu is small but diverse and everything looked amazing. We opted for the tasting menu – 5 courses, they pick the dishes and each of you get something different so you can share. We were really able to taste a multitude of things.

My husband also opted for the wine pairing for the menu, which is a great way to taste some new things when he does not want to try and drink a bottle on his own. Plus I got to have little sips of most of them. Here are some very cool discoveries we made:

Provenza Spumante Brut “Sebastian” Metodo Charmat – To this day the word “spumante” on a label makes me step back a bit as I am reminded of the cheap Spumante d’Asti given to me in college. But the term “spumante” refers to the amount and size of the bubbles in wine, not to the quality of the wine itself. This particular wine hails from Lombardy and is made in the charmat or tank method, which differs from the traditional Champagne method because the bubbles are obtained by the addition of carbon dioxide into a pressurized tank rather than allowing a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It’s much less expensive than the traditional method, and the character of the wine is more fruit-driven, producing less secondary yeast characteristics. But the style can be delicious, as this wine proves. The palate was full of bright apple, crisp acidity and and a very balanced feel. Good match with oysters (I was told).

The second wine that stood out was a Kerner from Alto Adige – don’t have the producer’s name as the server, who was fantastic, described and poured the wine but we had little time to study the label. Kerner is an interesting grape, found in Germany, Austria and northern Italy. It is a crossing between Riesling and Trollinger, a slightly obscure red variety known to the region. Like Riesling, the wine was aromatic, with stone fruit flavors, crisp acidity and a touch of floral. I loved the texture of this wine as it was more medium-bodied and really lingering. Big fan – want to find more. it was also great with our beet salad and brussel sprouts (those dishes sound boring, but they were phenomenal the way DOC prepared them).

Next up was Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Rusticum, a wine made with white grapes, but fermented in the style of red – using longer skin contact and some oxidation. So rather than being white, it’s a more gold-almost-orange color. The nose is nutty, but with some honey, orange peel and white flowers. The palate has more fruit, though it still retains that nutty characteristic. It’s a very different sort of wine, almost like Sherry, but still retaining white wine characteristics. With the right food (for us, white truffle risotto and a chanterelle mushroom and pasta dish) this wine works. It’s not necessarily my normal style, though. But I love the story – you may have heard of monks making wine, right? Well this wine is made at a convent by nuns. The vineyard is located just north of Rome and the grapes are organically grown.

For our meat course we enjoyed a Nero d’Avola, which to be honest, we never got the name and was not our favorite. Granted, my palate is not in tune to red wines and my husband, as he stated, is still trying to figure out if he likes Nero d’Avola.

So I’ll move onto the last wine, a Moscato d’Asti. I missed the producer, but there are few Moscato d’Astis that I do not like, particularly now – I call it the pregnancy wine as many bottles have only 5% alcohol so a few sips is enjoyable and affects you very little, particularly at the end of the meal. What I particularly liked about this wine was the preparation. Tableside, our server first peeled a piece of grapefruit rind into our glass. He then added elderflower syrup, followed by the Moscato d’Asti. Such a great cocktail! He even made me one with sparkling water over the d’Asti. A great dessert on its own as well.

So that was the birthday dinner for the pregnant wino. In 9 weeks (probably a bit more) I’ll be back to tasting and drinking and will certainly seek out some more gems like these!

Still loving California, but growing more adventurous!

The customers of Wine.com were California Dreaming in 2010, according to the numbers – the region topped our list of most bottles sold and came in with about 40% growth. And why not? California represents some of the most delicious wines in the world, from value to collectible, and the diversity of varieties is so broad, it pleases a Pinot lover as well as a Zinfandel fanatic. That said, we still saw a lot of Napa Valley purchases – that region’s growth was up 92%. Guess that goes with the numbers that show Cabernet Sauvignon was the number one grape variety as well.

But beyond the California borders, we’re excited about what other regions people are trying, like Beaujolais. Often associated with only Beaujolais Nouveau, drinkers are discovering the delicious diversity and quality of Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Crus. Not to mention, 2009 was a fantastic vintage for the region, so great wines at great values were good for all. Bordeaux was also up – another region that enjoyed the 2009 vintage. Portugal came in third at 79%, and that was not just for Port. Dry reds from Portugal, as well as refreshing whites, are finally getting the recognition they deserve. South Africa rounded out the top 4 growth regions – maybe a World Cup boost?

So it looks like 2010 was a year of both traditional drinking and adventurous tasting. We look forward to what 2011 brings!

We’re still drinking Cabernet

For the year 2010, we’ve tracked the top varietals on Wine.com – aka, what are people buying? Unfortunately, this can be hard to distinguish from what people are drinking, as many bottles purchased (particularly during the holidays) are for gifting rather than personal consumption.

The top ranking variety this year (as it was last year) is Cabernet Sauvignon. It grew 38% in volume and led the charge in number of bottles sold. This is not a huge surprise – Cabernet Sauvignon tops many people’s lists. It is one of the most planted and well-known varieties, and is made in a number of styles. It is also a popular gift.

For white wines, Chardonnay tops the list! It’s the other pea in the pod with Cabernet so that should come as no surprise, either.

The numbers we liked more were those in growth – what varieties grew the most this year. Always fun to look at. For reds in 2010, it was Gamay, the fresh & fruity variety of Beaujolais. Growth for Gamay was 200%! We chalk some of this up to the fantastic 2009 vintage in Beaujolias as well as a few great deals on top producers. Next in growth was Bordeaux blends (136%), always a favorite, followed by Sangiovese (93%).

What about whites? One of my favorite varieties, Riesling, came in first at 47%, which is exciting as Riesling can be a much mis-understood grape. Viognier, another fun varietal, came in second at 44%.

So while it seems that people are sticking to Cabernet and Chardonnay in many ways, we’re excited to see the diversity of what’s growing in popularity and what people are sipping. Cheers to trying something new.

How to preserve or use leftover wine

As a member of the “empty bottle” club, leftover wine is rarely an issue in our household. However, there are times that a nice bottle goes unfinished and half (or more or less) of the bottle needs to be preserved for another time or put to use elsewhere.

If it’s a wine you want to save, there are a few ways to go about it. One of the most successful is one you may have not yet tried. Pour the remaining wine into a smaller container, such as a plastic or glass water bottle and seal it. Then place it in the fridge (even if the wine is red). The less oxygen/surface area ratio as well as the cooler temperature will help preserve the wine. If it is red, just take it out of the fridge an hour or so before planned consumption. The second option is the wine preserver spray, Private  Preserve, a container filled with inert, safe gas that, when sprayed into the wine bottle, blankets the wine and protects it from oxygen, the evil gas that can lead to a wine’s ruin. Just spray and re-cork and stick it in the fridge. Finally, there is the Vacuvin Vacuum wine saver. Though not the most effective, it is probably the most popular. This device sucks all the oxygen out of the bottle (or tries to) in order to protect the juice from ruin. If you do use this option, do stick it in the fridge for best results.

Sometimes a wine not only tastes different the next day (or two days later), it tastes downright bad. This is because oxygen, which can benefit a wine in small doses, is the element that puts wine on the path to becoming vinegar.  A wine starts to oxidize the minute it sees oxygen and the transformation can be quick or slow, depending on the wine.  Luckily, there are a couple of other ways to re-use this wine, other than pouring it down the drain.

– Make a marinade – While you can buy wine made for cooking, it’s usually best to use a wine that you’d actually drink. Most wine recipes cook-down a wine until the alcohol is gone and the flavors are concentrated, which is a perfect fit for leftover wine. Here are some great recipes from Real Simple magazine for using leftover wine.

– Turn it to vinegar – Though wine naturally, eventually turns to vinegar, it is a long process. The process can be sped up using a bacteria called “mother of vinegar,” which can be found at some random hardware or wine equipment stores. When you add “mother” to the old wine, it helps to speed up the process of vinegar transformation. After it’s done, you discard the “mother” and strain the vinegar. You can read a first hand account of how this works here.

If you’re not in the empty bottle club yet, hope you try one of the above suggestions to preserve or put your leftover wine to good use. Cheers!

Wine & Chocolate Pairing

Two of life’s greatest pleasures can be the hardest to pair together. Wine and chocolate are both decadent and pleasurable and a delight to have together,  when done correctly.  Sweet chocolate with tannic wine can make the wine taste bitter and is a match to avoid. You need to balance sweet with sweet – a good rule of thumb is: keep the wine as sweet as the chocolate.

regalechocolateHere is a quick guide to which wines go well with types of chocolate

White Chocolate
Lots of sugar here, and very little cocoa, so pair white with white – try Ice wine, sweet Muscat or a sweeter style Riesling.

Milk Chocolate
Try a ripe and juicy Pinot Noir from California or a dessert wine, like an Australian “sticky.”

Dark Chocolate
The one that pairs best with red wines, try Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon (preferably ones that are not too tannic, unless your cocoa content is high).

Chocolate desserts
Yum… chocolate dessert. From cake to mousse to souffle, chocolate desserts are popular and delicious. Port is a classic for all types of chocolate – truffles, cakes, etc. All sorts of port, but particularly tawny port, due to the nutty flavor, matches well chocolate desserts. Try also Australian Muscat, Banyuls or another fortified wine.

Since many of us pull out some chocolate while we are still enjoying the red wine from dinner, it’s not a set rule so don’t shy away from testing and tasting. Some chocolates have added flavors – cherry, orange or nuts. A few that I’ve had that tasted delicious recently:

Chateauneuf-du-Pape with cherry flavored dark chocolate (60%) – this would probably go well with Pinot Noir, too.
A Margaux (Bordeaux) with orange flavored dark chocolate (70%) sticks
An Italian super tuscan  blend with hazelnut dark chocolate (60%)

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy them both!

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