I feel like I should put up a big disclaimer on this post.  So before you rush to the comments to start calling me Mr. Judgey McJudgerson, you should hear me out.  It’s been my experience that there is a significant portion of the American population that doesn’t have a healthy relationship with the toxin known as alcohol.  I’m not necessarily referring to the college aged binge-drinkers and early 20-something over-indulgers who are just out to have a good time, man.  I think most of that can be chalked up to youthful exuberance.  Instead, I’m referring to full-grown adults who after a stressful day/moment/milliseconds of life turn to their friends and say something to the effect of: “Phew! I need a drink!” which is silently suffixed by a look that you would hashtag as #amiright?.  And before you can get both legs of your Offended Pants on, you should know that I’ve been and occasionally still am one of those people.  However, I’ve been doing some reading over the years…

In my other life, I travel around working with electronic health records for various healthcare organizations and I tend to meet a large number of healthcare professionals, both those of the clinical focus as well as those of the operational or financial focus.  To date, my clients have spanned from the Big Island of Hawaii all the way to the coast of Maine so I don’t think my experiences have been regionally focused.  As an aside, since I know you’re curious, yes, there have been a few that have taken advantage of my wine education sessions while I was with them as well.  But I’ve come to find that this Half-Joking-But-Definitely-Doing-It culture about using alcohol to combat stress is pervasive across the country.  Actually, let me put one caveat to that:  there’s a contingent that don’t actually drink, but they’ll make the jokes anyway and quickly follow them up with “But I don’t really drink.” and then look at you in a worried fashion in case you still believe that they would ever ingest alcohol.

You can see this cultural mentality just about everywhere.  There are the “Mom Blogs” that justify why their glass of wine at the end of the day is necessary, there are the constant references to drinking alcohol as a cure for stress in movies and television (Mad Men, anyone?), and the whole concept of Happy Hour revolves around needing a drink after a stressful day of work.  Here’s the thing though, from the medical research readings and hours of experimentation and observation I have done on this subject, I don’t think it actually works.  I may not be an expert on the subject, but I am a reasonably intelligent person with the internet at my disposal (Plus a Health Informaticist who synthesizes a lot of public health recommendations)  and one time I took that Stress Management class in college so I can at least have a reasonably and somewhat informed opinion on the topic.  So let me tell you how I arrived at this conclusion.

This isn't whiskey...it's creative juice.

This isn’t whiskey…it’s creative juice.

First, let’s define the major components of what happens when we get stressed.  Almost immediately after encountering a stressor, whether it be rush-hour traffic, a casual meeting invitation from your boss to review your performance lately, a tiger, or a tiger driving next to you in rush-hour traffic, your adrenal glands begin to produce two hormones: Adrenaline and Norepinephrine.  These two hormones get your body prepped for what is commonly referred to as the “Fight or Flight” response.  Your heart starts beating faster, your blood pressure rises, your muscles tense up and your brain starts calculating whether you should get those fists ready or sprint as fast as you can away from the situation.  Around the same time your Hypothalamus begins producing Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) and your Pituitary Glands start producing Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH).  Neither of these have much of an external effect, but the combination of them eventually produces the hormone called Cortisol.  Cortisol is the breaks to Adrenaline and Norepinephrine’s accelerator and it’s main purpose is to help regulate fluid levels in the body and control blood pressure so your body doesn’t spin wildly out of control.  In other words it is there so you don’t die.  However, Cortisol is also what we associate with the feelings of stress and in fact we can directly correlate our feelings of stress with the amount of Cortisol flowing through our bloodstream.



Once the stressor is no longer an issue, the body self-regulates and the levels of all three hormones begin to reduce.  These hormones aren’t unique to the stress cycle.  You may have heard of them in terms of other bodily functions.  For instance, the norepinephrine pathway is manipulated by a drug to maybe-but-most-likely-not-because-we-have-no-idea-what-it-is-actually-doing* treat depression.  Cortisol, is the hormone that helps us wake up in the morning.  And so on and so forth. So when thinking about managing stress, it is not a matter of eliminating these hormones from appearing in the first place, but allowing them to effectively balance themselves.  Acute stress, or stress that is endured for a short period of time and dealt with generally will not have any negative effects on the body.  Chronic stress, or constantly dealing with stressors and not managing them effectively is what leads to negative health consequences.

Now let’s put alcohol into the mix.  The amount of research on stress and alcohol is fairly limited, but there is at least enough to contradict one big assumption.  The general working theory that your average Happy Hour patron has is that alcohol can be used as a tonic to relieve stress.  Basically, the thinking is that alcohol applied to stress is like aloe applied to a mild sunburn:  Apply liberally and eventually the irritant will go away.  Unfortunately, it appears that mixing alcohol with stress is more like a two-way street than a topical application.  Not only does alcohol affect the stress hormones, but the stress hormones appear to have effects on the body’s reaction to alcohol as well.

When you are stressed and you take those first couple of gulps of your apple-tini, I think most people would report that you do feel better.  And why not?  Alcohol, in small doses, has a relaxing effect through stimulating the release of Dopamine and Serotonin.  Serotonin, consequently helps to mitigate Cortisol.  These two hormones don’t necessarily get rid of the stress hormones, but they make us forget about them for a bit.  However, at some point, that same alcohol begins to turn into another source of stress on the body itself.  What point is this?  The jury appears to still be out and I’m sure there are a myriad of variables that can affect this, but the threshold is probably lower than we all think.  Regardless, this means that upon reaching this point, the “medication” quickly becomes an additional source of stress piled on top of the stress that has built up in your body.  This is pure conjecture here, but perhaps “Angry Drunks” are just those who are really stressed out people who make themselves more stressed out by consuming copious amounts of alcohol.

From the opposite side of things, the stress hormones have a general effect on how our body responds to the alcohol consumed.  This is mostly seen in a dampening effect of our intoxication level.  Therefore, people tend to consume more alcohol when they are stressed out because that point where you feel intoxicated arrives later than it typically does.  How this happens is still not clear, but you could probably see this in your own drinking habits if you kept a journal of your stress levels while drinking (Doesn’t that sound like fun?!?!).  Consequently, if you are continually drinking while stressed out, your alcohol tolerance level will probably keep going up as well which could lead to chronic alcohol abuse/dependency, poor sleep, prohibition, and of course, more stress.  In other words, the very thing you are using to reduce your stress becomes the source of it.

Now who needs a drink after reading all of that? Just kidding! Don’t do that.  I think the lesson that can be pulled from all of this is that before we drink we should be aware of our stress levels and the reasons why we are reaching for a drink to begin with.  If you’re stressed, and you have a glass of wine or two with dinner, it is probably unlikely that you will suffer any consequences.  In fact, you’ll probably just enjoy it.  However, if your habit is to binge on a few drinks after a stressful day of work or child-rearing, that habit could be detrimental to your long-term health.  In fact, it might even be a good public health campaign to encourage people not to drink if they are feeling stressed and save the drinking for the happy or at least mood-neutral times.  I think there is some evidence to state that stress or just being in college could be a major contributing factor in the over-consumption of alcohol.  Stress can be better addressed through other activities like exercise or meditation which there is plenty of positive evidence to support.  Therefore, next time you get the invitation or inclination to indulge in some alcohol application to your stress problem, take a second to think about it, and then politely decline. Save the drinks for when you can enjoy them since that’s what they are there for anyway.

*This isn’t a joke, the drug commercial is legally obligated to state that they have no idea how the drug actually works.

Some additional links for more fun reading:



WhiskeyGifThere was a time, not too long ago that I drank whiskey neat because I was a man or something.  OK, there were actually some good reasons for this:

  1. If you order whiskey neat in a bar, there is a low risk of them screwing up the drink.  Plus, you know exactly how much alcohol you are getting compared to everything else that might potentially go in the glass.
  2. If I’m having a good tasting whiskey, I just want to taste the whiskey.  No accompaniment needed.
  3. I have a beard sometimes and therefore it’s required of me by society to drink whiskey neat.
  4. Everyone I’ve talked to generally agrees that I look BA drinking whiskey neat.  Some have even gone as far as saying I look like a BAMF, but they may be over-exuberant.

Over this past winter however, I did a little dabbling in the H20 realm, and now I’ve been adding a few drops into some whiskeys depending on my mood.  As a frequenter of high class bars all around the world, as I know you are, you may have picked up on this little technique and even perhaps noted that certain high class bars will serve a small dram of water alongside the whiskey.  This is not a suggestion that the bartender thinks you may be alcoholic or can’t handle your liquor as I once thought in my early twenties when asked if I wanted a glass of water alongside my whiskey.  The presentation of water alongside whiskey is more of a, “If you desire it…” offering.

A whiskey enthusiast might state that adding a few drops of water to the glass will “activate” the aroma compounds in the whiskey.   A logical and cynical mind might respond: “What the hell does that mean?” Usually, the whiskey enthusiast really has no idea, but hopefully is at least speaking from the experience they have had where they prefer the whiskey with a few drops of water opposed to the whiskey sans agua.  So what’s really going on?

In the simplest sense, the addition of a bit of water is masking certain aromas and enhancing others.  That fact is really the actionable part of any research that’s been done so far on the subject.  If you want to get really sciencey, (Which OMG, yes, do I) then you can read a nice little paper on it here.  If you want an educated professional’s nicer description, you can read it here.

Therefore, if you want to have a go at this little bit of scientific manipulation here’s what you do:

  1. Grab two glasses
  2. Pour an equal amount of whiskey into both
  3. Smell and taste both, perhaps with some water in between
  4. Drop, let’s say, 5-10 drops of water into one of the glasses
  5. Smell and taste both again.  Do they smell or taste slightly different?
  6. Proceed to drink both glasses of whiskey.  Don’t act like you weren’t going to.

If you truly want to be scientific about it, I would get someone else to apply the water for you, but you’re probably drinking alone again so don’t worry to much about it.  The key word in step #5 is “Different”.  Notice I didn’t say “Better” or “Worse”.  Just different. Different strokes for different folks.

In applying this new found knowledge, whenever you come across a whiskey that you like, but it’s perhaps not “Popping” for you; give it a few drops of water.  You can really keep adding drops of water until the point where you start telling yourself that “This tastes like watered-down whiskey.”  If you come across a whiskey you don’t like, you are free to use it for fire-based parlor tricks, a fuel source, or a disinfectant in the event of a bar fight.  Water dilution will never help a bad whiskey unless it’s diluted to the point it can no longer be tasted.

Additionally, that scientific research article mentioned above which you didn’t read also concludes that cooling down the whiskey (AKA: adding ice) may have a similar, albeit through a different mechanism, effect.  Personally, I haven’t found a whiskey I prefer at “Ice temperature” opposed to room temperature or slightly below room temperature, but I will leave that to personal preference.

For those that really want to be an annoying snob to their friends, I would recommend only utilizing water sourced from a location near the distillery of the whiskey you are drinking.  While there is certainly no proof behind it, some people do claim that utilizing the whiskey’s local water is truly the ultimate experience. I think something could be said for not using overly hard or overly soft tap water, or perhaps even the ice that has been sitting in your freezer for the past month, but here in Minneapolis, the tap water is just fine.

Think of this as an extra tool in your drinking tool belt and not something that should be done every time.  “Whiskey need a little sprucing? *Sprinkle in some magic water!” And remember, if you hide the water, people will think you’re drinking it neat anyway.

*Extra points for creative sprinkling technique.

Unlike in Europe, the tapestry of the American wine story is still mostly comprised of people who are the first or second generation of winemakers and vineyard owners. Getting into the winemaking business in this country is therefore more entrepreneurial and less about taking on the family business. The stories of these entrepreneurs are, to me, always inspiring since I will count myself amongst the countless that have ever had a fantasy of leaving my day job to toil amongst steel fermentation tanks and oak barrels. Yet, here we are while folks like Chad Johnson of Dusted Valley live out our day dreams.

I met Chad quite a few years back on one of his many trips to Minneapolis to market his wine and admittedly, with full editorial disclosure here, I’m a fan of what Dusted Valley does and their wine. The story of how Dusted Valley came into being though I think wonderfully exemplifies the modern American wine story. Take a few kids from the Midwest, give them a dream, and with the right tools and resources with perhaps a dash of luck, they’ll set out and get to work. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago on one of Chad’s latest trips to Minneapolis for the Minnesota Food and Wine Show as well as the accompanying Washington State Trade and Media tasting that I finally sat Chad down to tell me the story of Dusted Valley. Of course I recorded it, and while there was a little more background noise than I would have liked, I have posted the full interview as an episode of the Wine and Food Experience Podcast which I will of course, highly recommend you listening to at the bottom of the page.

Chad met the other founders of Dusted Valley in his second foray into college at the University of Wisconsin – Stout. This was after a few years spent wandering around the West Coast in a youthful narrative that probably embodied some combination of Kerouac’s On The Road with a touch of Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test thrown in for good measure. But it was a time when California wine culture was taking a strong hold, and Washington and Oregon were on the upswing (Fun Fact: Dusted Valley became only the 52nd winery in WA in 2003). So while that culture may have honed his interest in pursuing a food science degree, the waitlist to get into UC Davis prompted Chad to look a little closer to home and he wound up at Stout. Whether wine was involved or not when Chad met his future wife, Janet, I didn’t ask but discussions about wine were certainly had as he got to know her and eventually her brother, Corey Braunel and Corey’s future wife. A wine business though wasn’t at the forefront of their minds since Midwestern values tend to focus more on what is practical first. So upon graduation, they all got respectable jobs and started to make lives for themselves. Yet the wine bug kept nipping at Chad. Coincidentally, Janet landed a job opportunity on the west coast and Chad was able to transfer out to the area in his pharmaceutical sales position.

Part of his week Chad would spend with his day job, and the rest he would spend touring around the burgeoning wine scene of eastern Washington learning all he could about the wine industry and the desire to start something sooner rather than later kept growing. Things moved fairly quickly after that through 2003 and 2004. The Braunels soon moved out to join the Johnsons and before they knew it they had a few tons of grapes and the help of a willing winemaker to show them the ropes. While Walla Walla, WA wasn’t necessarily chosen at random by Chad and crew, they were certainly fortunate to choose a place that had a fairly collaborative winemaking culture. Winemakers can be notorious for not sharing what they do behind closed doors. Even after the tutorials in winemaking though, they soon ran into the issue of how to sell the wine they’d made.

The pursuing years have been an education in how marketing and selling wine works. Simply by making good wine or even receiving accolades for it as Dusted Valley numerously has over the years does not guarantee that anyone will buy the wine. Chad and crew have been active students of the wine marketing world. Chad served a few years on the Washington State Wine Commission where he got to rub elbows with the likes of mega-wine producer Chateau Ste. Michelle and get further insight into how the wine world works. Additionally, they have struck up contracts with entities like Whole Foods for expansion opportunities of their Boomtown and Dusted Valley labels. Of course, they also spend a whole lot of time on the road getting their wine under the noses of whomever they can which has been made slightly easier these days now that their staff is expanding.

What I find most thoughtful about the how Dusted Valley approaches what they are doing is that they are constantly benchmarking themselves against wines that they themselves love whether it be Italian, French, or even other Washington wines and they’re willing to try something new. Then they’ll take something like a Rhone style Syrah heavy blend and fold it into what they’re doing.  So in addition to having enough talent to make and sell some tasty wine, they’re also demonstrating that they have good taste as well. That combination of having good taste and enough talent to produce something that can measure up to good taste is certainly an enviable combination worth watching develop over the years to come.


Chances are that if you’ve come across a wine from Washington State it was one that was owned by the Altria Group.  Their wine holdings include Chateau Ste Michelle, Snoqualmie, Erath, Hawk Crest, Fourteen Hands, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, Villa Maria, Esk Valley, Seven Falls, O Wines, and Domaine Ste Michelle.  I say it’s statistically probable because they account for something like 80% of all wine exports out of Washington and that’s really a shame.  No, it’s not a shame because they produce poor quality wine.  In fact, they’re producing pretty good wines for each of their respective price points.  Even the fact that the Altria Group changed their name a few years ago from Phillip Morris Companies which leaves many that know that in a moral dilemma anytime they consider buying one of the wines isn’t the entire reason.  It’s a shame that the Washington wine you’ve probably had comes from the Altria group because there are so many other talented people growing grapes and making wine in that state that you really need to start drinking their stuff.

I’ve been going to a Washinton State trade and media tasting in Minneapolis off and on every March for the past 5 or so years and I think what is most remarkable about the event is that the wineries that show up are still wanting to prove that their wine is just as good as California or even Oregon which is now just starting to fade out of their brief shine in the international spotlight.  It’s a combination of optimistic enthusiasm and a serious chip on the shoulder; the plucky boxer that is hell bent on reaching the top and won’t stop to even acknowledge what they’ve accomplished so far.  Ironically, in my work with the Minnesota wine, I look to Washington to learn lessons about how to market and grow the industry.  To me, they’ve been nothing but a success story and are still climbing.

Sometimes it's ok to pick a wine based on its label.  Gorgeous labels. Tasty wine.

Sometimes it’s ok to pick a wine based on its label. Gorgeous labels. Tasty wine.

The winemaking culture in Washington borrows heavily from France; Bordeaux and Rhone in particular.  While you certainly see a number of single varietals, it seems everyone has a flagship blend of either the Merlot/Cabernet Sauvingon/Cabernet Franc or Grenache/Syrah/Mouvedre variety.  Reds are certainly heavily favored, but their Chardonnays and Rieslings are certainly attractive options.  What is nice is that most of the wineries tend to shy away from the “Fruit Bomb” style that’s so popular with Robert Parker and California wines and instead opt for a touch of grace.  I believe we call that restraint.

Next time you’re out at the wine shop or a restaurant, do yourself a favor and search out a Washington wine and give it a try if you’re unfamiliar.  Walla Wall and Columbia Vallery are perhaps the two most established wine regions, but new ones are popping up regularly now.  However, it’s always difficult to find wine from these newer regions unless you drive the 4 hours + from Seattle to get to the regions themselves.  If you can manage it, try to avoid the Altria Group wines as well.  Again, not because they’re making bad wine, but to give the other winemakers a chance.  I’d say in most cases you’re not going to be disappointed and everyone wins if they start shipping more wine out of Washington.

Washington State AVA Map_Page_1

More maps and winery listings can be found here.


Fall at a Minnesota vineyard


Wine and climate are intricately linked. For anyone who has gone through any sort of wine training, you inevitably also get a lesson on macro, mezzo, and micro climates as well. Wine education doesn’t usually touch on genetics (although I feel it should), but climate is one of three factors that influence how a grape varietal expresses itself. The other two factors are soil, and how other living creatures (mainly humans) interact with it. These three factors combined are neatly summed up into the French word, Terroir. One of the fun things in wine is finding that grapes of the same genotype (what it’s born with) will produce wines with slightly different characteristics based on the terroir they exist in. One could also describe this as being a grape’s phenotype.

For a few thousand years the climate where wine grapes were developed and the soils they were developed in have remained relatively the same. The human factor though is what we consider to be the “Art” or “Science”, depending on your perspective of winemaking. The winemaking is a controllable factor. The soil, while not controllable, is a steady constant that only changes when you move the vines. The weather though (a sub-factor of climate), is the unpredictable element. This is why people lament certain vintages and praise others even though today’s winemakers have mostly figured out how to handle the ups and downs of a year’s weather variations. While the weather varies year to year, the winemaker knows the approximate parameters of what it’s going to be like because that’s what climate is.

Now, those climates are a-changing. I suppose you could choose not to believe in that sort of thing, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone in agriculture (Or, you know, Science) that isn’t at least considering how things will change for them in the future. Grape growers and wine makers are no exception. Minnesota Public Radio has recently been running a series on the effects of climate change locally and globally. One of their articles has wonderfully shown how Minnesota’s climate has been changing over the past 100+ years with some pretty specific details so I decided to use that as a jumping point into how Minnesota’s wine industry could see some changes in the future. Give the article a full read here and then come back for my grape-related thoughts below that loosely correspond with their headers.

It’s Warmer and Winters Are Warming Faster

In general, this could be good news for grape growing in Minnesota since our main antagonist is how cold it gets in the winter. Theoretically, if we could eliminate sub-zero temperatures, the number of varietals we could grow would exponentially increase. Currently, zero, that’s right, zero of the European varietals of vitis vinifera that are predominately used for wine making across the world are able to be grown in Minnesota successfully and in quantity to make commercial wine from. This is what has driven the interest and research on hybrid grapes that take the cold hardiness of native grapes (vitis riparia mostly) and the wine making qualities of the aforementioned European grapes. So, hurray if we eliminate those obscenely cold days that stay below zero during the winter.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. What grapes generally don’t appreciate are moody temperature swings. Yes, the idea is to stress the grapes as they grow, but the idea is to do this gradually. Vines (and really all plants in general), keep to a pretty set schedule throughout the year which is dictated by what the weather is doing. When it warms for spring, the buds begin to break and things start to grow. Summer the grapes start appearing and energy production switches to them. Fall, the grapes mature and ripen. Winter, the vine goes dormant to survive the winter. When the vine incorrectly thinks the seasons are changing due to random temperature swings, bad things can happen.

North Warms Faster

There’s really a big divide between the climate of southern Minnesota and northern Minnesota. Currently, although there is certainly debate about this, I would say wines from vineyards from Central Minnesota and south are more favorably received than those of the northern part of the state. One of the major technical hurdles that MN winemakers face is that of having more than the desired amount of acid in the grapes. In general, the colder the region, the more acid will be found in the harvested grapes. There are measures that a winemaker can take to counteract this to a degree, but the more ideal the grape is, the wine will be easier to make as well as potentially better.

It Rains More

This can only be bad. We get plenty of rain in Minnesota. So much, that irrigation of vineyards in the state is rare and if used restricted to preparing vines for winter in the late fall. More water, assuming the vines don’t drown, would mean more vigorous growth of the green parts of the vine (shoots, leaves, etc.). If the vine has to put all of its energy into supporting the green parts, it will put less energy into developing the grapes which means they won’t taste very good. Vine vigor already requires a lot of human power to control, meaning people are out there trimming of excess growth constantly throughout the year. More growth would mean more labor or limiting the expansion of a vineyard…or growing poor grapes.

Intense Storms Are More Frequent

Again, more bad stuff. Intense storms bring about damage to a vineyard. Hail, is an obvious culprit that would rip through grapes, but even intense rains can damage a crop. So short of someone inventing a weather force field, there’s nothing that can be done to counteract this.

Ice Melts Earlier/Snow Season Ends Earlier/Growing Season Grows Longer

You’d think this would be a positive, and in general it is. A longer growing season gives grapes time to spend developing anthocyannins, which turn into the things we associate with flavor in the wine. However, what’s been happening the past few years is that we have a warm spell in early to mid-spring which causes the vines to get started on their bud growth and then the next week the weather plays a cruel joke by snapping the temperature back down below freezing, killing off those buds. While the vines do have a backup second bud (and third), the first is going to be the best. It’s like killing off your kitten and then replacing it with a new one. Not the same, is it? The winter of 2013/2014 was particularly harsh in Minnesota. While the vines themselves survived, most of their buds unfortunately did not. This led to crop losses of up to 90% for the 2014 harvest season.

Hardiness Zones Move North/Species Migrate

I think this factor has the most potential for unknown effects on grape growing. On one hand, moving down hardiness zones into ones that are more common to grape growing is beneficial. However, this also means that the ecosystem that has developed in that hardiness zone is going to migrate north as well. Birds, trees, shrubs, insects: All of these can effect the nutrients in the soil, what pests are going to be found in the vineyard, and how the grapes will express themselves (genetically speaking). The sheer number of factors that go into this is mind-boggling and I don’t believe anyone has been able to come up with a computer model to mimic how this can play out.

In Conclusion…

Outside of climate change, the Minnesota grape growing and winemaking industry really had to conquer one hurdle: How to get grape growing vines that produce tasty wines to survive the winter. This is a really difficult problem to solve, but certainly not unsolvable. In fact, with the recent advances made by the University of Minnesota’s grape breeding project, a lot of progress has been made. With climate change, the hurdles faced by the industry become a moving target. The very problem being worked on today could no longer be a problem in 20 years, but a new one or more likely, multiple problems will have filled its place.

Awhile back I decided I should finally learn how to make pasta and it turned out so well that I don’t think I’ve bought pasta from the store since then.  I don’t say this to make you jealous of my pasta snobbery.  I do this to encourage you to make your own delicious pasta…and to be jealous of me.  Anyway, to dispell these insane rumors going around that I make up new dishes every night, I’m posting this pairing to show that I really do revisit dishes I’ve already made and try them with different wines.  Of course, it’s rare that I make something the exact same way twice.  That’d just be so boring. This time I herbed up the pasta.  Details below!

Spinach and walnut pesto (no I didn’t hand grind it this time, that’s crazy) with browned ground hot italian sausage over sage and marjoram herbed homemade pasta.  Heirloom tomato chopped and scattered over the top.

Wine: Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012


Remember when I had a similar dish with a white and it was fantastic?  Well this red was fantastic with it too.  Please log this into the “More evidence” column as to why there’s no such thing as a perfect pairing.  Now this wine obviously carries a lot more tannins than the white I paired previously, but as long as everything is properly salted with the lemon juice in the pesto, those tannins are reduced to supporting players in the dish and the fruit comes forward in the wine.  Now with red wines you’ll also get the bonus of matching some of the notes of a good char on the oak with the maillard reaction of browned meat.  So is it a different experience than with the white? Yes, of course, but I’ll give you different answers depending on the time of day as to which I prefer at the moment.


Fun Italian food fact: The tomato is not native to Italy…or Europe.  It’s native to South America.

Homemade Bitters


Recently I was invited to a holiday party that included the traditional gift swap.  However, being that I live in Minneapolis and Hipster-itis is an epidemic here, all gifts were highly encouraged to be homemade.  Being that my latest batch of wine, a Syrah, is months from being ready, I opted to make some bitters, because when one doesn’t have wine, cocktails are a nice alternative.

First off, what are bitters exactly?  Bitters is an umbrella term for any alcohol infused with botanicals which leave the end result tasting rather…bitter; bittersweet on occasion.  At your local trendy cocktail establishment, you’ll see a lot of them are making their own bitters in a variety of flavors and a few dashes of any particular one will show up on a high number of drinks on the cocktail menu.  However, if you want to appear cool (Like, really cool) when you’re out to eat at a fancy establishment, forgo the post-meal coffee and ask for a bitters to settle the stomach.  On multiple occasions, I’ve had waiters thank me for ordering a bitters because, and I quote: “[they] don’t see that much anymore.”  Even if you don’t like it, you’ll at least get some street cred with the waitstaff, so that’s something.

The homemade bitters that I made were more geared towards cocktails and here’s how you can make your own.  First, you’ll need a spirit as your base.  For starters, use a neutral grain alcohol.  If you have no idea what that is, just grab a high proof vodka or Everclear.  This will be the only time it is socially acceptable to buy Everclear.

Next you’ll need to decide what flavors of bitters you want to make.  You can scour the internet for some or use the ingredients that I did for the 3 types I made as follows.  Ingredients are listed in descending order of their presence in the blend:

Orange Bitters:  Orange peel, chicory root, cardamom, coriander, clove, allspice

Lavender Bitters:  Lavender, orange peel, coriander, vanilla, ginger

Caraway Bitters: Caraway seeds, orange peel, coriander, celery salt, vanilla

There was approximately 2-3 tablespoons of total ingredients in the 6oz of spirit I infused.



After that you just let them sit while giving them a shake once a day for at least a week.  The longer you let them sit, the stronger the flavor will be (up to a point).  Once the intensity is to your liking, strain the infusing agents out of the bitters and bottle them up.  I used eye dropper bottles because I’m fancy.



And of course I would be remise if I didn’t include cocktail recipes for the bitters you just made.

The Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 6 drops orange bitters
  • Splash of club soda
  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • Orange peel for spritz and garnish

The Old Fashioned is a drink you build, meaning you just throw it all in a glass.  First place the sugar cube in and put 6 drops of bitters on it.  Once it softens a bit, muddle it up and spread it around the glass.  Toss a large ice cube in (or ice sphere for extra points) the glass.  Then dump in your whiskey followed by the splash of club soda.  Spritz that orange peel and/or rub it around the rim and toss it in the glass as well.

The Very Fine Italian Greyhound

  • 3oz grapefruit juice
  • 2oz vodka
  • 8 drops caraway bitters
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (or just an equivalent dash of sugar)
  • pinch of salt

The Very Fine Italian Greyhound is a stirred drink which requires a glass full of ice purely for stirring.  Throw all of the ingredients into the stirring glass and stir for at least 10 seconds.  Strain the contents into your drinking glass which will preferably be a coupe, but a copper mug is fine if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Wisp

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz white vermouth
  • 3 drops lavender bitters

The Wisp is a shaken drink which means you’re required to exert some physical effort.  Throw some ice into your shaker along with all of the ingredients.  Close up the shaker and shake it like you mean it for 10 seconds.  Strain into a coupe or martini glass.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 441 other followers