Monday, December 30, 2013

Screw caps or cork?

Screw cap or cork? The long debate that many are not knowledgeable about, which was apparent to me when I used to work in retail. I would have folks ask for a recommendation and if I would bring them over to a screw cap they would ask for something that had a cork. No other reason than they felt that they would look cheap at a party or they wanted to go through the motion of pulling a cork. I can understand enjoying pull the cork out of the bottle because I like the process myself, but if anyone looked at me cheaply because I bought a screw cap I couldn't help but laugh for their ignorance. 

The problem with corks is that about 5% of wines, give or take, are ruined due to the wine being “corked”. You will know it when it happens. It can be described as if smelling a wet dog or it has a moldy, musty smell. I'm sure many of you don't enjoy that nor would you want to drink something that smells like that. This is caused by TCA, trichloroanisole, which is a reaction between molds and the chemicals used in the cork production.

Screw caps first boomed in New Zealand and many Australian producers have adopted using it as well. A lot of the Old World countries are slow to adopt the transition of some of their wines to screw caps like Italy and France. Screw caps provide freshness to the wine without ruining it due to any oxidation or being “corked”. There is a question whether some of the long-term aging wines will develop in the bottle and grow with age using this method. Another benefit to bottles with screw caps is that you can keep the bottle upright, on its side, upside down, whichever way you want where with corks it must be at least on it's side for the wine to come in contact with the cork or else the cork will begin to dry and air will seep in oxidizing the wine.

There is another option of replacing corks instead of the screw cap and that is synthetic corks made from plastic. If I had to choose these over corks though I would go with corks because synthetics aren't proving to be solving the problem either as oxidation can slowly take place with these, therefore, if you wanted to age this wine at all it's not reliable.

I think as the years go on and as more and more producers begin to introduce their wines with a screw cap people are getting to understand the benefits to it, but I think we still have a ways to go with the general public.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A great Falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio

feudi di san gregorio falanghinaItaly has hundreds of grape varietals, which the majority of them many won't know. The varietal I'm writing about today comes from southern Italy and is called Falanghina. Falanghina is a white varietal typically coming out of the coastal areas slightly north of Naples including Naples and the Amalfi coast. It can be blended with a variety of grapes depending on the producer. Recently I enjoyed Falanghina from a highly regarded producer, Feudi di San Gregorio, located in Campania. 

Feudi di San Gregorio has been in business since 1986 in Campania, in particular Sorbo Serpico in the Irpinia region part of the Avellino province. I also have to note that one side of family is from Avellino, including many folks in the Boston area. Feudi started off with 30 hectares and have grown to over 300. The terroir here is very unique due to the volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius nearby. 

Avellino in Campania
Avellino, Campania
In addition to Falanghina, Feudi produces other great wines including Aglianico, Greco di Tufo, Taurasi and Fiano. A lot of whites in Italy tend to be drier including this one, but it has some nice floral notes with some pineapple hints on the palate. It was aged 5 months in stainless steel tanks. 

This bottle will run you about $12 to $15 so if you're looking for something to replace your typical Pinot Grigio challenge yourself to try something new and grab a bottle of this. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The process of how to make homemade wine

One of the things I have yet had the time to do, but am very interested in is homemade wine. Definitely a fun and interesting hobby and something you can experiment with and fine tune over time. I have taken a wine making class locally at the Beer & Wine Hobby shop in Woburn, MA and it's a great place to learn, get the basics and get all your supplies including the juice itself. Plus, how great is it to go to a holiday party this time of year and pop open your own wine than buying one off the shelves? It's a great conversation starter!

Making homemade wine

For home wine making enthusiasts, fall is the time to begin making a fresh supply of homemade wine to get you through the upcoming winter (New England especially).  One of my good friends shared with me the process that he takes part in every year with his in-laws of Italian descent that taught him the ropes. This is the process that he goes through, but I'm sure everyone's process differs slightly.

Be prepared to invest as least two full afternoons to the process, plus you will need to occasionally check on the wine and transfer it to a new container to rid it of sediment. The start-up cost can be quite high if you don’t have the necessary equipment.  If you don’t, I’d suggest asking around to see if there are any clubs you might join or places that will let you utilize their equipment.   

There are numerous places locally that sell a wide variety of wine grapes and/or grape juice.   My friend has traditionally frequented wholesalers at the Chelsea & Everett fruit market.  Grapes typically begin arriving in mid-September through the end of October.  While the majority of grapes are sourced from California, you can also find a number imported from overseas markets including Italy.  Just as a good chef seeks out the freshest ingredients make sure to shop around in search of the best quality grapes.  

Determining which varietal of grapes to purchase is a personal decision.  When purchasing grapes, pay attention to how the grapes look - - do they appear fresh?; is the skin firm?; or does it give?; are there signs of premature rot? - -and feel free to ask questions of the seller.  It may help to break off one or two and taste for quality.  Wine grapes are typically sold in 35lb wooden crates.  On average 15lbs of grapes will yield about 1 gallon of wine, though this varies depending on how much juice you press out of them.  If this is your first time you may want to start off small. 
Making homemade wine

Once you buy your grapes, the first thing you want to do is crush them requiring a crusher & destemmer.  You’ll need something to store your crushed grapes.  The cheapest option is to use 5 gallon plastic trash cans.  Crushing the grapes allows the fermentation process to start.  You can let this process happen naturally or once you're more experienced you can check PH levels or add yeast.   

Once you finish crushing the grapes, take some stirring device and  turn over the mixture a few times.  One very important point to note:  it’s crucial that you turnover the mixture at least once, though preferably twice, each day in the intervening week. My friend lets the crushed mixture rest for a week before pressing them. 

Pressing the grapes is a lot of work, but makes for a social occasion.  You will need access to a press for this important step.  My friend typically presses each load of grapes twice to ensure he's extracting as much juice as possible.  The juice from the press falls into a bucket positioned underneath the press and is then transferred into a 5 gallon glass or 9 gallon containers for aging/storage.  You can place a screen in the funnel to filter out any leftover debris from the pressing process.  Ensure each storage vessel is filled up to the neck and properly sealed using a rubber stopper.  Store in a dark, cool location and ensure it is away from any heat source. 

After about 6 weeks, you will want to transfer your wine.  You will want to do a second transfer, but typically wait 8+ weeks to do this.  Usually the wine is drinkable around Christmas, but really hits its peak around Easter.  By summer, most homemade wines start to turn, though it’s still possible to have a great tasting homemade wine a year later. 

There’s no true right or wrong way to go about making homemade wine.  Provided you follow the basic steps, you should be able to easily create a pleasing homemade wine.  Note, if white wine is your thing, worry not.  The primary difference in the process is that you simply combine the crushing and pressing process into one long day as you do not want the juice to begin fermenting on its skins as you would with a red wine. 

It’s a great activity to pass the time on a fall weekend with a group of close family and friends and as mentioned above you could be enjoying a bottle now for the holidays!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tis the season for prosecco from Caneva da Nani!

Valdobbiadene DOCG wine mapIn celebration of the holiday season at my last Italian language class of the year we celebrated with lots of treats and one of them being a prosecco from the producer, Caneva da Nani, from Guia di Valdobbiadene, Italy. Guia is a village in the town of Valdobbiadene, which is situated in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy in the province of Treviso. 

The name, prosecco, derives from the name of an actual town prosecco near Trieste. Prosecco originates from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region and Veneto region and the majority of the prosecco of this area is produced in Valdobbiadene, where this wine comes from, and also Conegliano.

Caneva da Nani has been in business since the early 70's. Their vineyards are set on steep slopes providing great drainage. It's very similar to the previous blog that I wrote on the Aosta Valley. The location of this region is between both the Alps and the Adriatic Sea so they have many influences with cold air coming in from the alps and more warmer air coming in off the Adriatic Sea helping to create some good crisp, acidity in the prosecco.

The best comparison to prosecco if you haven't had it would be champagne, but obviously can't be called that due to not be growing in the Champagne region of France. I would recommend consuming it within a few years of production or like most folks do, as soon as you get home from the wine or liquor store. It can be enjoyed alone as an apertif, but in Italy it's also enjoyed as a mixed cocktail called a Bellini, mixed with white peach juice. They even sell bottles pre-made of Bellini if you don't want to mix it yourself.

Typically I'm not one that enjoys many things with bubbles, but this was enjoyable, especially with some fresh parmigiano reggiano. It was very light, easy drinking and had tiny bubbles that almost created a frothiness in my mouth. It was a drier style with some light apple and tropical hints.

It's a great affordable alternative to champagne and it's especially great around the holidays. Pop a bottle at New Years and toast with your loved ones for a healthy, happy New Year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Great premium wines at affordable prices with 90+ Cellars!

This weekend I attended a fantastic tasting at Lucia's Bodega in Windham, NH. It was my first visit to this wine shop and won't be my last. If you're in the area and can attend a tasting that they hold on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays I recommend it. They have a great tasting bar. The tasting this past Saturday featured 90+ Cellars and I was able to meet the CEO, Kevin Mehra. I had heard such great things about their wines and was happy to be able to sample 7 of their wines: Lot 85 Chardonnay, Lot 98 Spatlese Riesling, Lot 53 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 94 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 90 Rosso Toscana, Lot 100 Monster Red and Lot 101 Syrah.

To give you some background on 90+ Cellars, their business started in 2009. They are a Boston based company and they buy high end surplus wines from wineries all over the world. They are the number 1 fasting growing brand in New England and are #3 in premium wine sales. They currently sell their wines in 8 states. The wineries they purchase from have extra inventory that they sell off. Some of the wines 90+ Cellars receives are bottled ready without a label, they put their label on it and sell it for a fraction of the price. Each state is different with the way they handle this process and most wineries will sell their surplus to other wineries. If they don't sell off their surplus and can't move their wines they now would have to reduce their prices, which in turn would affect their status and reputation in the market so this turns out to be a great option for them.

The wines they carry are from all over the world. Some of the wines I tasted were from the Mosel region in Germany, Mendoza in Argentina, Bordeaux in France and Rutherford, CA. They carry a few different levels of wines from the entry levels at $10-15 then those around $15-$20 and then those that are more limited and highly allocated. They purchase their wines by the lot. They are the same producer time after time to provide consistency. Sometimes they get their hands on some great wine and it's a one time deal so they will retire that lot number once they are sold out.

My personal favorites from the weekend were Lot 85 Chardonnay and Lot 101 Syrah, with a close third being Lot 100 Monster Red, which was a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. I look forward to continuing to tasting more of their wines and I strongly suggest you go out and grab a bottle or attend a tasting of their wines. It's a great way to taste some premium wines at an affordable price. Especially during this time of the year with the holidays. Impress your family and friends with some great bottles of 90+ Cellars.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to pair wine and food, what goes and what doesn't

So one of the most common questions I used to get in wine consulting is “I'm having____and what is the best wine to pair with it?” This can be easy or complicated depending how you look at it. For me it's easy because most of the time when I'm drinking wine I prefer to enjoy the wine on it's own so I can truly pick up the aromas, characteristics and taste of the wine without the masking of the pairing with food. Think about it, most people are drinking wine while they are cooking, sitting a bar or restaurant with friends chatting and then it's consumed with dinner or if you're lucky in some cultures like Italy being able to enjoy some wine over lunch. Don't we all wish we could do that during the day? I like to drink what I like rather than what I'm told goes well together. After all, it's your taste buds that are living the experience. Don't get me wrong, I have attended wine and food pairings and have tasted some great compliments to one another such as melon wrapped in prosciutto paired with a Moscato d'Asti. The saltiness of the prosciutto with the sweetness of the Moscato were a perfect match.
italian wine and food pairing

With that said, there are some general rules to follow and some things you should keep in mind when trying to make the perfect pairing. Number one, think of the density of the food you are eating. Is it light, like a fish, or are you eating something heavy, like steak or lamb? The common saying that I'm sure everyone has heard is to drink white with fish and red with meat. It's a good rule to follow, but you also need to think about how it's prepared.

That leads me to number 2, what types of sauces is the dish being prepared with? A grilled simply seasoned fish isn't going to be the same as a fish in a cream sauce. You might do a sauvignon blanc with the grilled fish, but a chardonnay to pair with the cream sauce. Try to take a look at the fat content in the food itself in addition to the accompaniments or how it's prepared. A nice meaty, hearty steak is going to be fattier than a piece of chicken so it will stand up better to a bolder, richer red like a cabernet sauvignon.

Wine and Food pairing flight

Alcohol is another factor that can overpower the dish if not paired correctly. Typically wines that are 14-15%+ are considered to have high alcohol, which you can usually sense in the wine because you'll feel the heat in your mouth or throat. Not paired correctly it will overpower the dish and ruin the taste of the dish. You will also get the same effects in spicy foods. If you have a dish that is spicy that creates its own heat in your mouth and now you have a high alcohol wine neither will be enjoyable. Salts are also known to do this. For example, if you are having asian foods with a slight spice you might want to try pairing it with a Gewurztraminer or a Riesling to balance it off.

If you experiment with it you will also notice in some wines that are highly tannic or that have high acidity, when paired appropriately, will smooth and round out. I recently had a Malbec Riserva that was a great wine alone, but it was so rich and full bodied that I probably could only enjoy a glass of it, but once I had paired it with my meal it had changed it's characteristics based on the pairing and now I felt I could finish the bottle (if I really wanted).

Sometimes it helps to think of the origin of where the food came from as well. When I lived in Italy many years ago someone taught me that some believe the food there was established around the wine. When you think about it, it stands true for many of the regions I've visited in Italy. For example, a pasta with sauce or “gravy” can be classically paired with a Chianti Classico or a dish with porcini mushrooms might pair well with a Barbaresco, Nebbiolo or even an Arneis due to it's earthiness and meaty consistency. This stands for a lot of the European and Old World countries that have centered their meal around the wine to complement the food.

So I may have said it's easy and after mentioning all these factors it may still be a lot to think about, but the more you experiment the easier it will get. Great harmonies can be created with the right pairing. Don't be afraid to ask for pairings at your local wine shop or shoot me an email and I'm happy to provide my insight. Have fun with it!