Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Let’s be honest, you are probably the social nexus and best entertainment source of all of your friends and acquaintances. Given this, it is inevitable that this holiday season you will most likely be hosting one, if not all of the the premier holiday parties in your neighborhood/city/region/world.  As a result of this, and the fact that your social network inevitably includes some thoughtful people, you will undoubtedly receive a number of bottles of wine brought by these guests as gifts.  Naturally, you, as a gracious host will follow the standard lines of polite society:

  • Say ‘Thank you’.
  • Add the bottle to the “Open bar” amongst the ones you’ve provided.
  • If you have prepared wine pairings with a specific meal, ask if you can hold on to the bottle for Tuesday Taco night.

But what if someone brings a bottle of wine that is truly undrinkable? I’m not talking about someone bringing a bottle of California Pinot Noir to a Francophile’s house, because that host just needs to get over themselves.  I’m talking about the bottom of the bargain bin, of dubious origin, might not actually be wine, bottle of wine.  These wines aren’t accidentally acquired.  One has to purposefully wander into the specifically set up section of the store that other shoppers are avoiding like the plague and then select a wine solely based on its lowest price status. Yet, it’s still my general assumption that no one brings these wines as gifts on purpose, but then again, I don’t know your friends.  The question then becomes what to do with these wines.  The answer of course depends on whether you’re good or evil.

The Good Way:

First, let Jeff Goldblum teach you how to act:

Then you have to figure out what to do with the wine short of pouring it out in front of the person.  Your best option is to tell them you’d like to save it for Tuesday Taco night (This is a thing people do, right?) and then toss it out the next day.  Do this discreetly if they are neighbors.  Now, some so called experts will tell you to add this wine to a festive holiday punch or cocktail, but if you’re adding bad wine to these things, you’re not making a good punch or cocktail are you?  At a minimum you have to add the other ingredients at a quantity that masks that bad wine taste which is kind of like throwing good money after bad.

The problem doesn’t stop there either.  What happens when you see the person again?  Yes, you can hope the topic never comes up again, but what if they ask you how you liked it?  Like a lost puppy, bad wine follows you.  You have to come up with a back story. Sure, you could just tell the truth and say it wasn’t the type of wine you prefer, because after all, you’re a good person, but you also don’t want to hurt their feelings because you’re a good person. So what else can you do?

  • Use the bottle for a candle holder or art project.  You’ll probably want to remove the label first because no one wants that in their house.
  • Use the wine to catch fruit flies.  It works.  The whole “Catch flies better with honey instead of vinegar” thing is a complete lie.  The opposite works.
  • If it’s a red wine, use it to dye some fabric.  Get crazy.  I don’t know, I’m not crafty.

The Evil Way:

  • Give the person a sympathetic smile and say “I’m so sorry, you’re uninvited to this party now” and then hand them back the bottle of wine.  Close the door slowly.  Lock the door.
  • Graciously accept the bottle of wine (see above Jeff Goldblum tips on acting) and then secretly serve it back to them and only them throughout the party.
  • Ask guests when offering them wine whether they’d like the good stuff or whatever “wine” (air quotes acceptable) [insert guest name here] brought.
  • Re-gift the wine on the next event those who gave you the bottle host.
  • Tell them your Elf on a Shelf drank it…and then died.

 

Whichever path you decide to take remember that wine is there to help you celebrate so share it with those you hold dear and be grateful they’re willing to put up with you.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

GiftGuide

There are a lot of gift guides for wine lovers that come out around this time of year and while I know each and every one of you, dear readers, were planning on getting me a gift, please refrain from using said lists.  There certainly are a number of wine lovers, let’s call them snobs, that appreciate any over-indulgent wine-themed gift that they deem worthy.   This appreciation is of course impossible to achieve unless the gift was known to be picked out by a bigger wine snob.  But what about the wine lover that doesn’t like things and abhors clutter?  What about the wine lover that prefers experiences with friends and loved ones instead of bragging to others about how wine-experienced they are? And what about the wine lover’s family and friends who can’t or won’t spend tons of money on someone who doesn’t have the cheapest hobby out there?

Why is it that every single list I can find assumes that gifts must cost hundreds of dollars in order to be worthy of a wine lover?  The only non-$100+ (and coincidentally, the only considerable) item on this horrible list from last year was a book.  Wine books are potential gifts for the minimalist wine lover, but you have to be very careful because it has to be a book that the wine lover was already wanting to read anyway.  Many times, when buying a gift for a minimalist, you must read their mind ahead of time to calculate how they will value various potential gifts.  What’s that? You can’t read minds?  Well, you are in luck.  I’ve created this list, just for you.

1. Wine

Do you know who is going to turn down a free bottle of wine?  No one.  Unless they’re a jerk.   I know you have confidence issues when it comes to buying a wine lover a bottle of wine, but here are a few tricks you can use when you walk into the wine shop:  First, if you’re in a respectable wine shop (e.g. you’re not at a gas station or place that only sells jug and boxed wine) ask someone who works there what their most interesting bottle of wine is.  The minimalist wine lover will enjoy trying something unusual and/or new.  Don’t want to talk to people?  Go ahead and find a bottle of wine that gives you the most specific information about where it is from.  This may limit you to the ones in English that you can read, but if you want to go out on a limb you can find a bottle of German writing that has the most writing on it and you’ll probably do pretty well.  Buying wine like this is a low-risk venture because you’re tapping in to built-in quality controls in wine laws.  Last, don’t worry about getting a really old bottle of wine or spending a lot of money.  While it’s a lot of fun to drink 20+ year old bottles of wine and occasionally the results are divine, a lot of the time, it’s a bit of a letdown in the taste department.  Also, a bottle of wine that sells between $10-$30 is probably going to be enjoyable.  Keep in mind, that for really old bottles, the increase in price is usually related to how much rent has accrued for that bottle sitting in the cellar for however many years.  Now, if you can afford it, go ahead a buy a bottle over that, but only if your minimalist wine lover has expressed interest in trying that particular wine.

Cost: $10-$30/bottle

2. A Corkscrew

There are countless gadgets that are available for the sole purpose of opening a bottle of wine.  There’s only one though that’s worth getting: The waiter’s corkscrew.  It costs, like $5, and sometimes you can get one for free.  Here’s mine:

FullSizeRender

I will venture to say that the double-hinged waiter’s corkscrew is the most advanced wine opening tool in existence.  It cuts foil, and delivers an extracted cork with a 99% success rate unless for some reason you go on a rampage of opening a slew of bottles with old and brittle corks.  As a side, note, if for some reason, you have that rampage opportunity, please invite me.  So unless you have a physical handicap, the waiter’s corkscrew is not only the most bang for your buck, but it is also the most user-friendly assistive device, self-contained tool, one-stop-shop gadget.  It is the cat’s pajamas.  If you want to add a touch of indulgence, you can spring for a personalized one, or one made from exotic materials (Please, no ivory), but definitely stick with the double-hinged waiter’s corkscrew.

Cost: Like $5

3. A Wine Experience

This gift always requires a bit of discretion by the giver since preferences can vary widely.  For instance,  I stopped enjoying winery tours after about 10 of them.  They’re mostly all the same and unless they’re doing something unique it starts to feel like you’re an accountant checking out someone else’s cubicle.  Having a conversation with the winery owner or winemaker, on the other hand, can be a great time for me though.  However, I understand that some people like being herded around wineries, so if that’s their thing, go take them on a winery tour.  For me, I’d rather  take a trip down a road in wine country.  One road only, because, let’s be honest, you’re not spitting out that wine.  Tasting the differences between the same grape variety grown a number of meters apart can be fascinating and it also really gives you a sense of what the wine is like in that specifc area.  Tastings at wineries can vary, but are usually between $5-$10.  Unless they’re willing to shine your shoes too, I wouldn’t pay more than that.

Another option is to do a wine tasting at a restaurant or wine shop.  Most of these, unfortunately, are merely set up by wine distributors or importers to push their wine on you, but occasionally you can get a fun one that does something like a vertical tasting (tasting the same wine from the same producer across different vintages) in which you’d have an opportunity to taste some old wines without paying a hefty price for the bottle.  This way, if it turns out the wine was a dud, you’re only out the price of the tasting instead of the exhorbant price of the bottle itself.  Of course, it always help if the person leading the tasting has some fun stories to tell about the wine, but please take any universal truthisms they spout off with a grain of salt and a skeptical ear.

Of course, another fine option (probably the best) would be to contact me for a private wine lesson for them and their friends.  They’d think that was pretty awesome.

And last, if money and time are no objects, take them on a world tour of wine countries.  They will love you forever.

Cost: $5-$10/tasting, $35-$65/class, approx. $5-$20 million for a proper world wine tour

4. Wine Accessories

Here is the list of appropriate wine accessories for the minimalist wine lover:

  • A wine glass.  Maybe a few more in case friends are over.
  • A decanter.  Also see: milk frother or blender.

Cost: $5-$30. Let’s not get too crazy.

5. A Wine “Cellar”

One of the greatest gifts to give to a minimalist wine lover is a place to put their wine.  Now you could build them a bat cave for wine, or you can follow this amazing post on how to set up your own DIY Wine Cellar, which apparently is massively popular on Pinterest.  A minimalist is not prone to clutter, but wine bottles do take up space.  Therefore, at a minimum, you can point to a spot in your domicle, and say: “I gift you this spot here to put your wine.”  If the spot is next to a radiator or above the microwave, you’ve just insulted them, but if it’s in an out-of-the-way place that’s got a steady temperature to it, you will be thanked.

Cost: $0-$40.  A Wayne Inheritence would be required for the bat wine cave.

Read Full Post »

Picture1

Every year as the holidays start to roll in, it seems that every wine and/or food related outlet is ready to let you know which wines you should buy in order to have the perfect experience.  I always am particularly amused by the interviews with wine “experts” bemoaning how difficult it is to pair wines with a traditional Thanksgiving meal (Revelation: It’s not).  It is also interesting to note how the “perfect” wine pairings for various holiday meals changes from year to year.  Apparently perfection is now something that can be outdone, which makes me want to start a hyperbolic series listing the More-Perfect wine and food pairings so I won’t be outdone by the likes of everyone else!  However, the idea of the perfect wine pairing extends beyond the holidays and into general food and wine snob culture.  The question I have for these people purporting perfect pairings is this: Can you define what a perfect pairing is?

Take this infographic for instance by someone at Vinepair.com.  I won’t show the image here, because it’s ridiculous, but I could probably switch every single wine/beer/liquor pairing around on their chart and no one would complain.  It’s clearly not based on anything except someone’s [unique] preferences.  Fortunately, they posted another article shortly thereafter, giving some good advice even though it was supposedly only for “Geeks”.  So, sorry casual wine drinkers, you’re going to have to stick to imperfection again this year.  (However, here’s another good article that doesn’t appear to be for geeks that may help.)

Whenever someone (expert status or not) claims a match is a perfect pairing and you really press them on why they think it’s perfect, the answer always boils down to: “Well, I liked it.”  There isn’t a metric being used that will be universally true for everyone and that’s really the crux of the issue here.  Not only do people have their own individual preferences, but the variety of what is being served at various holiday meals should negate the relevenace of any broad holiday wine and food pairing advice.  Yes, even Thanksgiving.  But I do understand the point of giving this advice; it’s to make it easier for the casual drinker to pick out some wines at the store that they can bring to dinner.  However, this is why I find it puzzling that many of these articles list specific wines down to the producer and vintage.

There are a stunning amount of wine producers in the world; so stunning that there is not a single person in the world who has tasted the offerings from them all.  If you were to pop in to a different wine store in each state and make a Venn Diagram listing all of the wines each store had, the amount of overlap would actually be quite small.  On the severely cheap end is where you find the most commonalities, because the business model of producers like Yellow Tail, Franzia, and Charles Shaw is to mass produce their product.  Region-specific wine producers though, by their very nature, can’t produce enough wine to make it available in the majority of wine shops across America (let alone the rest of the world).  So while it is great advertising for a wine producer when a wine writer from Napa or New York City annoints them as a perfect pairing for whatever holiday meal, it actually provides little to no value to a reader in Fly-Over Country (Where, surprisingly, most Americans still live) that won’t be able to pick up a bottle of that wine because their wine shop doesn’t carry it.

Therefore, if you’re a wine writer, let’s go ahead and stop the “Perfect Pairing” nonsense.  I bet I could find at least 50 other wines that would be just as good to various people.  If you’re the wine drinker though and you’re wondering what to bring to dinner this Thursday though, I will offer this:

Buy some wines you like of varying colors, bubbles, and sweetness.  The more specific they are on the label about where it comes from, generally the safer the bet.  As long as no one shows up halfway through the meal with a selection of wines that everyone unanimously prefers over the ones you brought, yours really will be perfect pairings.

Cheers.  And for those still looking for meal ideas, you can just have what I had last year.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

photo

The start of fall marks a very important moment in the year where the leaves begin turning, the nights and mornings are crisp and cool, and the sweaters come out of storage.  Most importantly though, this is the last chance you have to make some tasty beverages that you can enjoy during the winter holiday season.  This year, I’m prepping some Aronia Berry and Blackberry Schnapps as well as some Red Plum Liqueur.  Making treats like this require 3 months at minimum to sit so you should probably drop whatever you’re doing and get started.  You’re probably wondering why I didn’t alert you to this sooner if 3 months is the minimum, but I’m a realist.  You, as well as I most likely don’t have the patience or willpower to resist cracking one of these open if it was going to sit beyond 3 months, so really I’m doing you a favor.

Fortunately prep is minimal and there is quite a bit of margin for error so you can even embark upon this project after a hard day of apple picking and tipping back the hard cider.  Before the instructions though, let’s go over a little bit of terminology.  For our purposes, let’s assume you reside in the US for this terminology lesson.

What does it all mean, Aaron???

Liqueur or Cordial: Distilled spirit infused with fruit, cream, herbs, spices, flowers, or nuts and a sweetener.

Schnapps:  Derived from the German word Schnaps, or “Swallow” in English.  Any kind of alcoholic drink with distilled spirit in it. Most bottled schnapps will usually be infused with some natural flavoring.  Does not necessarily need to be sweetened.

Therefore, liqueur or cordials are kinds of schnapps, but schnapps is not a kind of liqueur or cordial.  Now, if you are traveling to parts of northern Europe, Schnapps will likely be some infused brandy or aquavit.  Traveling to the UK and that cordial is most likely going to be some non-carbonated soda pop (Sound tasty?).

 

Recipes For Tasty Goodness

A note on which distilled spirit to use:  If you’ve ever seen a recipe that calls for neutral grain spirit, they are talking about vodka.  Before you get your flavored end-product, it all starts with a pure distillate that is about as close to being only ethanol and water that the producer could get it to (or cared to).  After that you add your flavorings to produce that whole array of colorful beverages in the liquor store.  Gin, although classified into its own category starts as vodka as well.  The difference between schnapps and all of those flavored vodkas? Not much.

Aronia Berry and Blackberry Schnapps

  • 16 oz of Aronia Berries (They’re super trendy right now so you can find them frozen or fresh in any upscale grocery store).
  • 10 oz of Blackberries
  • 750 ml of distilled spirit
  • 1 2000 ml mason jar or sealable glass container

Intense instructions: Put all of the ingredients into your glass container.  Seal. Put into a cool and dark place like your basement and do not touch it for at least 3 months.

Red Plum Liqueur

  • 6 Red Plums
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or rock sugar
  • 750 ml of distilled spirit
  • 1 2000 ml mas jar or sealable glass container

Intense instructions: Put the plums into the jar. Put the vodka into the jar.  Pour the sugar over the top. Resist the temptation to shake or stir it. Put into a cool and dark place like your basement and do not touch it for at least 3 months.

Read Full Post »

Recently, NPR ran a story about the Danish concept of Hygge (“hue-gah”).  Admittedly, I didn’t actually hear the story, but was told about it be someone who only wishes to be described as “The best person in the world” and “Incredibly sexy”, but nonetheless, it sparked both of our interests and some thorough Google research and execution of the concept soon followed.  A quick definition of the word would be as difficult to do as defining Terroir for the wine world, but at its heart Hygge is a warm emotional connection to a moment.  “Cozy” seems to come up a lot when describing it.  However, the best found definition was found here.  The current theory is that Hygge is responsible, or at least a large part of why the Danes are so happy according to people who measure that sort of thing.  Naturally, those of us in Minnesota have been taken with the concept since Hygge is particularly an effective draw during our winter months.  In other words, we view it as a way to stave off the impending madness that comes from the winter doldrums.

Some examples of Hyggelig (“hue-gah-lee”) things:

  • Savoring a warm meal with someone while being basked in the candlelight.
  • Curling up on the couch with your cup of morning coffee and reading a book.
  • Enjoying the conversation of friends on a cold winter’s eve.
  • Hearing your soft footsteps running on a trail in the snow.

Basically, Hygge, is what this blog is all about for those of us who are imbued with the world of wine. Interestingly enough, the other dovetail of Hygge and this blog (which I assume is the American national past time) is that it’s all about mental framing and priming.  When an idea is framed, it is put in a certain context.  This is like setting the boundaries of a debate topic, or when the media presents a story in a certain light; in a way, how you think about something is restricted by the parameters set forth.  Priming on the other hand is presenting bits of information ahead of time that influence the direction your thought process goes down in the future.  If you’re paranoid, you’d probably call this being brainwashed.

You will like this wine.  Shhh, don't talk, just drink.

You will like this wine. Shhh, don’t talk, just drink.

Framing and priming are an integral part of the wine and food experience.  We have expectations [framing] as to what a wine will taste like and if it meets or exceeds that expectation we will have a positive experience.  If we just recently took a whiff of a particular herb and we notice an herbal smell in a wine, we are more likely to label that wine aroma with the herb we originally took a whiff of [priming].  This is why wine descriptors, although fun and sometimes poetic, are mostly bullshit, but I will have more to say about that in a future post.  I have often been asked how I create wonderful experiences revolving around wine and food and to take away some of the shroud of mystery, it’s mostly that I am able to frame and prime people’s mental state in the way that I want for the experience I give them.  Yes, I have a certain level of cooking ability and a knack for judging what wines various people will like with a meal, but if I just set a dish down with a glass of wine down and said “Here’s your dinner. Eat it alone.”  the Hyggelig-ness (I just created that) of the situation would drop dramatically.  So I put the lights down a little lower, set the music to match the mood (always have music), light some candles, point out aspects of the food and wine that I think go together well, and lo and behold; suddenly we’re having a good time.

Let’s take that clambake I did back in the summer as an example.  If you tried to recreate that yourself, you could have gotten the exact same food and the exact same wine, but it could have really sucked as an experience for you if you ate it in a hurry in between doing errands or with a dog constantly barking at you, or perhaps you were just in a bad mood.  You really have to linger in the experience to the point where it become intimate.  Notice I didn’t say grand, opulent, or even fancy. Just intimate.  Connected.

Anyway, tonight I will be creating some Hygge with a dish of pasta, chorizo, and chickpeas and most likely a darkly fruity red wine (Pro secret: you can generally enjoy any wine with any food as long as you like them both and make slight adjustments if necessary).  I will wear my most Hygge heavy shawl sweater.  The atmosphere will be set with a fire in the fireplace, some ambient candle light, the lights from the Christmas tree, and some music turned down low as the snow falls outside.  Conversation will be enjoyable, and most importantly, the experience will be lingered over.

image_2

Hygge prep

As the Cranberries once asked: “Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let in linger?” To that I say Yes, Cranberries, yes you have to let it linger.  Therefore, I hope all of you, especially those of us in the wintry north and the shortest days, find some Hygge this winter.

Mega-Hygge candle

Mega-Hygge candle

Read Full Post »

Potato Latkes and Sarao

Rating: 4/5

Potato Latkes with applesauce and sour cream as toppings.  Sticking to the basics here!

Wine: Gran Sarao Cava Brut NV

Notes:
So this is a bit late if you think of this as a strictly holiday meal.  I grew up eating Latkes throughout the year though.  However, the Latkes I grew up with were nothing more than grated potato and minced onion smashed together.  In this version I added both mashed and grated potato with the onions and some matzo meal to boot.  This adds a bit of heaviness that I didn’t previously have.  And why not pair some Latkes with some Cava? Apple to play with the applesauce, yeast to play with the matzo and potato. Some dry bubbles to take some of the oil away.  This was a pretty good pairing!  However, I could have preferred a bit more acidity in the wine to cut through some of the heaviness of the Latkes.

Read Full Post »