Wednesday, March 25, 2009

really -- I'm still here.

Yes, I'm still here, and I'm still drinking wine.

I also have a great list of incredible subjects to touch on... I just haven't had the time to sit down and actually write them.

Stuff to look forward to:

Wedding Wine, what to pick, why, where to get it, and budget
Everything you ever wanted to know about being a corkdork
Armagnac vs Cognac - 'whine notes' style

and more I'm sure -- if I can only link the little post it notes around my desk into a comprehensive thought!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

down in the valley... the valley loire

Forgive me if this goes astray. I started the blog, sitting in front of a roaring fire with a glass of Vouvray, a chunk of double cream brie and a baguette of bread, and ended it with 2 packs of frozen veggies strapped to my bruised ribs, thanks to a soccer game.

The Loire Valley was once the county seat of the French Royal Family, up until the late 1500’s when Henri the IV decided to relocate the Royal Court to Paris (I doubt they had the amazing back alley Curry houses back then -- but I’m guessing he must have had some sort of good reason). Pre move to Paris the Loire Valley was a happening place! They were setting the bar in all things culture, art, architecture, and of course food. When Catherine di Midicis came to france she brought her arsenal of Italian Chef. The area remained the movers and the shakers of the Country until the court moved to Paris

After the move of the Royal Court, the Loire Valley lost it’s clout and it’s only been in the past 50 (and even more recently say 20 years here in USA) that the Loire Valley has re emerged from it’s local shell.

Farming has been a huge part of the Loire Valley for a long long time. Grapes in the area date back to the time of the first buildings of Chateaux dotting the hillsides. As time evolved the Loire Valley wines became the highest regarded and thanks in part to the longest river in France which shares the same name, getting the wine of the Loire Valley to everywhere else proved to be pretty easy. However, because of those trendy royals being what everyone wanted to be like, when they moved to Paris and gained access to other things and their focus shifted - so did the following publics.

Whine Wisdom: For as large as the Loire Valley is, only 1/3 of the area is AOC approved.

The entire Loire Valley is so big, you can split it up into 4 regions - to make disecting it a little easier.

First you got the Upper, that has a very continental climate and Sauvignon Blanc does really well there, also you will see Pinot Noir from this region - the Appellation names are the names of the small communities from which it comes.

Pouilly - Fume Whine Wisdoms: AOC status began in 1937, mostly Sauvignon Blanc, and the soil is a Clay-limestone mix. Fume (smoky) not because there is necessarily a smoky taste to the wine, but named for the smoke like appearance of fog that fingers its way across the vineyards. <- great party trivia!

Sancerre Whine Wisdoms: - Whites got AOC status in 1936, but reds took til 1959. Soil is mostly limestone with some clay and sloping.

Menetou - Salon Whine Wisdoms: AOC in 1959, wines and soil are a lot like Sancerre, but thought to be more focused and elegant.
Quincy Whine Wisdoms: AOC in 1936 - 2nd Appellation in France to be granted status. Soil is more Calcareous temps are a little cooler here too.

Reuilly Whine Wisdoms: Tiny tiny little area right outside of Quincy.

Then you got the Center of the valley -

Touraine makes a variety of wines. Sometimes in this area you will find wines blended from commune appellations and the wines are then given the appellation name of Touraine. Reds and whites are produced almost equally here.

Whine Wisdoms: When you see a Touraine label, you will also tend to see varietal. Looking at a label and it says Touraine Mousseaux? well, it’s made mostly of Chenin Blanc incase you were wondering and has bubbles!

Vouvray - Chenin Blanc is king here. The grape is made into several styles in this area.

Whine wisdoms: When it’s dry, it bears the name of it’s appellation Vouvray, when it’s sweet Vouvray Moelleux and when it’s bubbles Vouvray Mousseux

Chinon - mostly Cabernet Franc although some Cabernet Sauvignon is AOC as well. Light soft, and fruity - good table drink now with friends (or enemies) wines. Sandy gravel soil seems to be the primary ground here

Bourgueil - Much like Chinon, but the soils are more clay, which tends to make the wines a bit fuller in body. Same grapes grown as Chinon.

Anjou has 19 AOC appellations, and not I’m not listing them all! They also have generic Saumur - some names you will see from this region: Rose d Anjou, Cabernet d’Anjou and Cabernet de Saumur (the two Cab ones are actually Cabernet Franc)

Method Champenoise sparklers from this area can be fund under the names Saumur Mousseux, Saumur d’Origine and Anjou Mousseux. - Lots of grapes varieties are allowed into this arena, which is kinda shocking given some of the rules.

Savennieres - a Chenin Blanc (primary) white wine that is made to age. Possibly not something most of us think about when we are looking in the market for white wines, but Savennieres, will evolve over time in the bottle.

Coteaux de Layon - This area is restricted to sweet and semisweet wines from Botrytized Chenin Blanc grapes (another strict wine law hard at work!) Considered some of the best of the dessert wines of Europe.

Quarts de Chaume: A small area within Coteaux de Layon - essentially a single vineyard appellation with even more stringent standards on sugar, yield and alcohol level. Bonnezeaux is just like Quarts de Chaume, a little larger, just as strict but not as well known (yet)

Whine Wisdom: Depending on how deep your pockets are… don’t be snob and turn down the Coteaux de Layon - it could have been made with grapes from across the street of Quarts de Chaume!

4th you have Nantes. The climate is more Maritime, in thanks to the river, and several of the splits it does in this area, with fingers reaching out to the Atlantic ocean. This is where you find the dry white wine Muscadet. This is a pretty big region, and there is more Muscadet made than all the wines of Touraine and Anjou combined in any given year. The grape (Muscadet) has another name Melon de Bourgogne, but it will answer to either, and is easy to grow, gives you lots of fruit and makes itself into a wine that beautifully accompanies the cuisine of the Nantes area. (what more could you ask for?)

Whine Wisdom Nates: Most of the soil has clay mixed in with sand and gravel.

and with that, I'm going to go find my half drunk bottle of Vouvray, and enjoy it with another wedge of brie!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

is it German? or is it French - let's split the difference and call it Alsatian

Alrighty! I am back on course to share with you all what I am going to -- from this point forward refer to as my "whine wisdom" you can take the h in wine how ever you see fit. *smirk*

Next stop on our Tour de France is Alsace. Wow, way to go Alsace in the area of local pride! I stand here (ok sit) slack jawed at the pride that's been cultivated over the years by the natives of this area. Thanks to all the conflicts of war - the peeps of Alsace, rather than aligning themselves French or German are 'repping for their Alsatian roots, and why is this? Well the area has been passed back and forth over the last 1000 years between Germany and France like a shuttle in a game of bloody badmitton. So is it German? or is it French? the end result (and by end I mean right now) well - both are reflected in the winemaking wisdom of the area.

These cats have it down! (well after 1000 years.. ) they speak their own language - Alsacein , which is a local dialect, not necessarily a mix of German and French, it's just their own jive. Much of their culture is a blend of the two, they get to take the best of each, language, art, culture -- and of course wine. Which is primarily French styled - meaning that it's dry, and meant to compliment foods, not be one of them wines that you can drink standing alone in a corner of a bar, talking to anyone who is drunk enough to listen, although many of the varietals have German origin. (There they go with that sharing thing again!)

To look around the region, you might expect Lancelot to come bounding through a small village with their timber cottages, stone churches and ruins of castles. Thankfully, although historic and beautiful they DO use modern method winemaking, but there is a respect to ancient tradition and like their melding of culture, there is melding of old and new in technique.

Here's your nickel tour history lesson from your's truely. Alsace was established as Frank teritory back in the 400 (AD) time period - back then, the Catholic Church (ya, they are still around!) called most of the winemaking shots- and well, hey they were some of the most educated - it was prolly a good thing. Now in the Mid 800's my pal Charlegmane lost part of his kingdom to Louis the German. I doubt it was a friendly game of cards he lost it over.. but needless to say - Alsace got handed over in the meantime to Germany. Now we time travel to the 17th century -- there is another war, it lasts around 30 years (or at least thats what they called it) and at the end France was once the owners of Alsace. (ping pong anyone?) Moving right along, it's the last 1800s and now Germany's back in control.

About this same time our friend Phylloxera sweeps through town and takes out all the nobel plantings. After Phylloxera's wipe out, the Germans decide to only replant the easy to farm flat land -- and I'm guessing they were worried "Phyll" might come back for another visit, they decided the safe route to take was planting a hardier variety that could be blended, and hopefully take the brunt and tolerate of any return infestations. 1918 rolled on in, and it came to the end of World War 1 and what of course happened then? Germany lost, and Alsace moved back to French control.. (are you lost yet? I think the score is 4-love)

This time France moved back into the winemaking area of Alsace with a vengence. Everything on the flats got ripped up, and so did everything on the hillside that had returned to wild - all were replanted with noble vinifera... and guess what? the wines were suddenly good again. (are you seeing a pattern here?)

Then World War 2 struck, and the Nazis took up residence in Alsace. Everything French was banned. (I wonder if weekly bathes were mandated? ok - kidding) Exporting was also forbidden (good bye outside revenue) to top it all off, everything made was shipped to Germany (they know a good thing apparently when the see it!)

Finally in 1945 - Alsace went back to France, quality returned and the '2nd cousin who lives in a trailer' variety of grapes were forebidden and after some practice and more procedure in 1962 - they were granted AOC status.

If it's one thing that I know about the French, it's they love them some Terrior. The Alsace area has (is it any surprise?) their own corner on the Terrior market. Floods, Faults, Freezes, Wars and Volcanos (and apparently French and Germans) have helped shape the landscape into many different soil formations (at least 20 - no I'm not naming them!)

Most of the wine (ok about 90% of it) is white. It's also the only AOC region that uses varietal naming. But because of this nifty difference, they didn't really have a use for classes of vineyards in Alsace either. Although (like with anything else) through the years, some people have felt their vineyards exceptional, and have pushed to showcase the top of the top vineyards (and why not? think of the marketing potential!)

Quick whine wisdom: the Noble varieties in Alsace: Riesling, Gerwertz, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (yes it's red) Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Chasselas & Sylvaner (ok and a little Pinot Auxerrois to blend with the Pinot Blanc, and a few of the cutting edgers have planted Chardonnay, but it's totally not approved yet...)

Since the 80's regs have come into place - Only 4 of the nobel varieties (Riesling, Gerwerts, Pinot Gris and Muscat can be planted in the classified vineyards (aka fancy pants or um Grand Cru I think is the offical name) Got the right grape? now make it yield less than 4 tons to an acre - and by the way, when the wines done, you can't blend it - it's gotta be one varietal only - Now THAT'S pretty strict if you ask me.

If you've ever picked up a bottle of wine from Alsace, you might have thought it to be German. Well, it LOOKS like a German wine in that package design (bottle) but does it quack like German wine -- I mean is it sweet? cause you may have seen the bottle and just instantantiously thought it to be sweet - based on judging the bottle by it's shoulders and color (not unlike judging a book by it's cover) -- Don't think yourself bad - most of us think of German wine as sweet (they aren't all, but it's easy to see why we might think that thaks to the majority of German wines exported to the US being sweet) ... what's my line here? oh, yeah, next time you see a bottle from Alsace, take a look and reconsider if you haven't tried it - you might like it... and they are great companions for food - so perhaps invite them to your next party.

More Whine Wisdom(s)

Most Alsace wines are chapitalized, thanks to low sugar at harvest but of course - French Law forbids Acidification, not that they need any thanks to Mother Nature.

Many use natural yeast in the fermentations - and ML ferment is typically only used on the Pinot NOir to soften and stablize it. The Alsatian style uses mostly stainless steel or old oak because they don't want the flavors of the terroir to compete with the oak. (of course this makes the question, how do they get old oak? and what did they use it on when it was new? well - I'll leave that question up to you to ponder)

Final whine wisdom of the day - we all know that a varietal wine has that grape (primarily in it - and apparently in the case of the AOC and Grand Crus in Alsace, ONLY that grape in it - so I won't bother you with details, a Pinot Blanc, is a Pinot Blanc.. But there are a few other styles of wines made in Alsace that are blends and not necessarily so dry. A little 411 on a few of them

Cremant d' Alsace: A sparkler mostly Pinot Blanc sometimes with a little Pinot Noir (really! a red one!) and some Riesling.

Vendange Tardive: What we could call a late harvest - the words mean "late picked" This too can only be made from a single Vintage, and has to be one of the following A-OK varieties -- Riesling, Gewurtz, Muscat or Pinot Gris -- also they can't add sugar to these gems, it's gotta be au natural.

Selection de Grains Nobel (SGN) These little gems have the wonderful noble rot in them (which if you have ever seen this - it's not pretty to look at infact, it makes you ask -- really? I'm gonna drink something that came from... THAT?) These wines are rich, and sweet, and little sticky and viscious and delish.

and that my friends is your nickel tour of Alsace -- stay tuned. I'll be back for more.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

taking a side path, with the green fairy

Today, I’m taking a side path on the wine adventure, to talk about another liquor that holds a very special place in my heart. Absinthe, the magical green liquid and gateway to the green fairy.

I am an Absinthe aficionado. On my bar at home, there are many different kinds of Absinthe -- Spanish, French, Czech, Bulgarian, and German, just to name a few. There are some red in color, but most various shades of brilliant greens, recently I have added a couple of American makers into the collection as well. The spoons and stemware for serving Absinthe is just as diverse and numerous as the bottles and beautiful glass containers for storing the sugar cubes and in my house, have fought (and won) center display stage in my glass racks as functional art.

I am certain after my trip in March to New Orleans, that I will wax poetically about my favorite cocktail, its history, and all the wonders about this intoxicating delight, for a trip to NOLA, is not a trip to NOLA, without a delicious Sazerac Cocktail or Absinthe Suissesse and of course the original preparation of Absinthe cut with water and a cube of sugar, (which is typically how I enjoy the majority of my Absinthe because I like tasting the subtle nuances in the many different styles of the various makers.)

So, then why am I talking about all of this today?

The reason for my blog, is to let people know about a little event going on in the Sonoma County area (Healdsburg) this Friday January 30th, at the Relish Culinary Center. If you want all the details hit up and to RSVP etc. etc. (you can even get on their emailing list, and get all sorts of goodies in your inbox if you like) but here is the blurb from their site:

Please join guest instructor Lance Winters, master distiller at Hangar One and maker of Absinthe Verte, as he shares the history of Absinthe—the ritual, the mystique and the legends. He’ll also tell the story behind getting government approval for his Absinthe Verte, the first US-made absinthe after almost 100 years of being banned. As the NY Times stated in an article about Absinthe Verte, "For years, absinthe’s chief appeal has been its shady reputation and contraband status. But people may be astonished by how delicate, gentle and refreshing some are." At this event, you'll learn about nuanced herbal flavors by tasting of three absinthes, including Lance's Absinthe Verte. You’ll also taste an absinthe cocktail as Lance discusses how absinthe was an integral part of cocktails a century ago. Since absinthe is 120 proof, we'll provide delicious absorbents in the form of french fries and bites of locally-made sausages as we sip.

It’s $69 bucks, and that is a steal.

Can’t make it to Healdsburg for the tasting? Don’t have time to go traipsing to different bars around the world to discover the various green fairies, but do want to learn more? Two of my favorite sites for info, history, and purchasing (although some retailers now offer limited selections in store) are: and

"Absinthe has a wonderful color, green. A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world." - Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

yes, i know it's red.. but thanks for the warning.

It's that time of year when the hunt for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press Medallion is underway, and it's getting down to the wire, and here I sit in 'sunny' California, and as I'm sitting here feeling nostaligic about my wonderful memories of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, and the incredible memories of the friends, and my times that I will always cherish, there is a memory that I keep coming back to, and since it involves wine, I thought I'd share.

It was the hunt of 2007 (anyone who actually participates is nodding along with me on this one) and Jake has found the medallion in 3 clues, so the paper has decided to hide a second one ...good thing too, as I was just flying in to Minnesota the day Jake found it, so had they not, I would have missed out on that years hunt!

I was in Matty B's Supperclub in downtown Saint Paul(I've heard rumor's it's closed and that makes me sad) waiting for some of the Cooler Crew to get there, so we could go get the next clue. (Cooler Crew, is a group of medallion hunters, kinda like a close knit family for 2 weeks of the year, and an amazing group of individuals that I am lucky enough to call my friends)

Matty B (That's Matt Birk, from the Vikings) was there at his supperclub that night, and was hanging out at the bar. We were making small talk for a few minutes and I was looking over the wine list, deciding to have a cup of liquid warmth before heading out to stand in the sub zero temps and wait for the paper (albeit with a bottle of snow shoe, but THAT's save for another story, another time)

Matt asks me what I'm planning on having. With one more glance over the menu, I decide on the Zinfandel (sorry I don't remember what it was, but I do remember them having a beautiful 04 Hess Cab another night) and infact told him so. Matt stops, processes this info I've just given him, and then quietly whispers to me...
"You know that's a red right?" Yup. I sure do know it's red. We both laugh, and he says, I can't tell you how many people just assume it's pink. haha. funny stuff.

The bartender comes over to take my order, and I order a glass of the Zinfandel. She goes to get it, and retrieves a glass and the bottle, walks over and sets the glass down infront of me, and as she is pulling the cork out, looks at me, and says "You know this is a red wine?" Now Matt and I both laugh, and again, I assure her that I DO INFACT know that it's red. We all laugh, and she says, "you have no idea how many people get really mad and say "that's not Zinfandel! Zin is pink!" She pours it, and it's a lovely red Zin.

A few minutes pass, and several of the crew arrives. We are sitting there, drinking and chatting and having an all around good ruckus of a time. One of my friends comes over and asks what I'm drinking. I say Zinfandel, and she looks at me quite puzzled and says... "but Zinfandel is pink!"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ode to French Bubbles

Since yesterday was National Pie Day, in honor of it, I felt it necessary to go get a slice of the real deal from a little amazing local restaurant here in Sonoma County, called Humble Pie (you can read their yelp reviews and yes, that’s me with the 5 stars on there) Amazing food, and amazing pie. Last nights pie was enjoyed with a glass of Sokol Blosser Evolution #9. Pure heaven next to the pear and blueberry on butter crust pie as well as the apple and walnut pie, both topped with homemade vanilla ice cream.. Hungry yet?

Where was I? oh yes, that is right -- Champagne.

I love bubbles. Sparklers are some of my favorites. Proscecco, Cava, Sparkling Wine, Champagne, Heck, I’ll even drink Cold Duck every now and then… I love it all.

Today, I’m going to focus on the real deal - the stuff straight from the Champagne Region of France, as I drink quite a bit of beautiful bubbles on a frequent basis, by skipping the others, it will give me something to come back to in future blogs.

First, the basics of how Champagne is made.

You have a base wine. In France this wine can only be made of 3 grapes - Pinot Noir (red grape, white flesh/juice) Pinot Meunier (red grape, white flesh/juice) and Chardonnay (white grape, white flesh/juice) That’s it. In other places there are other rules, but let’s just focus on what the French do in this world famous region.

Base wine fermented dry and are then blended. Each ‘house’ as they are called in the region, has their own special recipe for how much of each they put in their blend. For Example, Nicolas Feuillatte uses 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Chardonnay in their brut blends. The percentages of each are one of the ways, each house typifies their style of champagne, it’s part of their artistic signature. This base blend is called a Cuvee. Occasionally when they have a really really stellar year, you will see a vintage blend as well, but much of the champagne out there, is a blend of years.

The blend is made and then Yeast, Sugar, and Fermentation Nutrients are added - the blend proceeds down the bottling line, and each of the bottles are sealed with a crown cap. (think beer bottle)Now, a secondary fermentation is happening right inside the bottle, and this takes between 1 and 6 months depending on proprietary mix of ingredients each house uses, average ferment time is about 2-3 months.

After the second ferment is complete, the wine ages on the yeast, and depending on the style the house is going for, it can be as early as 6 months, and as long as 3 years on average. This sitting is called tirage (a good scrabble word) and the breaking down of the yeast cells is a process called autolysis (a better scrabble word) which imparts what some would call the typical or traditional flavor of champagne. I’m not sure how most people would describe it, but to me, if you have ever made homemade bread, it’s that slightly fermenting smell of the bread dough as it rises, it’s the smell that makes your mouth water, long before the bread has actually hit the oven, and begun to bake. Know what I’m talking about? Good. This process is called methode champenoise which is meant to mean “fermented in this bottle”

Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Brut Blanc (~$175 a bottle) ages on it’s yeast for 6 years. I’m guessing that’s part of the reason it’s so spendy, they have to pay for all that cellar time. All that yeast time, gives the champagne a texture to me that is almost milky in a bizarre way close to baby formula, which I know sounds strange, but is actually quite good.

When the aging process is done, it‘s time for the next step, it’s called Riddling, and it’s performed by people called Riddlers (insert Batman jokes here) The bottle is placed into a fancy rack, that sorta looks like a sidewalk sandwich board with big holes to hold the necks of the bottles and every day it’s turned ever so slightly and tipped just a little bit more, until one day after several weeks, the bottle is upside down, and all the yeast is stuck up inside the neck. (2 point scrabble word is sur pointe)

So now you got all the funk down in the neck of the bottle and it’s trapped. It’s time to get that out, but you don’t want to lose any of that preciously aged juice… so you freeze the neck of the bottle and then when you pull off the crown cap, a little pressure forces it out. This is called disgorging. (no, not a term for an eating disorder)

Time to finish this product up, and get it out into the market so it can make back some of it’s money. To button up the project, a small amount of held back wine, mixed with a little sugar is added back in to the bottle to sweeten it up (dosage is the proper term) top it all off with a mushroom cork, with a crown cap and the funky little wire cage to hold it all together , sap a label on it, and it’s ready to go to market.

There are plenty of places you can learn more about the different styles of champagne - a quick and dirty cheat sheet, so you know what is on your bottle:

Certain words refer to the sweetness (or the amount of sugar in the dosage) They go in order from the least sweet Extra Brut (little or no dosage and a residual sugar content under 0.6); Brut; Extra Dry; Sec; Demi-Sec; and then finally Doux (minimum residual sugar is 5.5 percent and can go up to as high as about 8)

There are general tolerances of peoples ability to perceive sweetness, so rather than going on and on about this - try several from several different producers and see what is right for your palate. Foods are also going to change how you perceive the sweetness - so keep that in mind when selecting. Each house has a distinct style to help assure customer consistency, but there are several factors that can influence each of their styles, be it the percentages of each type of grape used.

In general, the Pinot’s will give it more boldness, the Chardonnay will add balance and fineness. The vineyard sites will play an important factor (there is that French Terroir at play once again!) the blending of the various years, and also the amount of aging on lee’s (autolysis - remember that good scrabble word!)
Other words you may see on a champagne label, and why they are important to you:

Non Vintage - wine of several mixed years
Vintage - must be 80% from named year (often seen on banner years)
Blanc de blanc (white from white - exclusively Chardonnay
Blanc de noir (white from black) Pinot Noir &/or Pinot Meunier only
Rosé - this can be achieved by either extended skin time, or by adding some red wine into the cuvee blend. Typically this is a brut styled champagne.
Tete de cuvee - most houses have a top o’ line product and it’s almost always a vintage brut, and with it, they give it their own fanciful name.

Now, little about the Region itself …
I’m not sure if I am supposed to feel bad or not for the region of Champagne. The name gets a lot of misuse which kinda sucks. Imagine your name being Sarah, and there being another girl named Sarah who isn’t a nice person, but when ever she gets gossiped about people think that it’s you being talked about? Not fair!! Of course the opposite can also be true, so I guess you have to take the good with the bad. Thanks to this misuse - Champagne has several regulatory agencies to help try and save their rep. (kinda like PR people but with more power and lobby $) One of the agencies is called CIVC or the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne - it’s their job to keep champagne prestigious. Nice digs if you can get ‘em.

You may be thinking to yourself and saying - but I’ve seen labels of American producers that say champagne on them! Yes, it is true - Gallo, and Korbel and possibly one or two others, but those are the two that come to mind, can still use the term, as they have been grandfathered in thanks to them making a sparkler for so long, before the laws became tougher about the use of the word on labels.

Straight facts about the region of Champagne

Champagne does have very unique soil. It’s a mix of clay and 2 kinds of chalk. One is a type of limestone the other is belemnite chalk - which isn’t found anywhere else. The French in general are huge on the use of Terroir, so I’m sure they are pleased as punch to learn that we can’t replicate their soil in like Ohio or something. Chalk soil has notoriously good drainage and heat retention and it also discourages leaf growth, allowing more sun on the fruit and less chance of mildew growth to funk-ify the wine. Why is this a concern? Mostly because the climate is rather cold by comparison to most grape growing regions. The grapes have naturally high acid levels (great for Champagne production) but frost is a problem here and too much rain, can cause the grapes to swell, and ‘water down” flavor components, plus can add additional dangers of premature mold and rot.

Dom Perignon was a monk who greatly improved viticulture and winemaking procedures in the region Although he did coin the phrase “come quickly, I’m drinking stars!” . Not once did he think his name would make it into Rap music by Americans music artists.

Champagne ‘houses’ are called marques. The oldest most established houses are called grands marques. Because of their long standing success and role in the French economy, they are required to have a role in the export market - at present 25% of all French wine that is exported is Champagne. Again, way to take care of the local economy!

For all the ratings that the AOC tosses around, the vineyards of Champagne are also rated, however the primary roll of rating in this area is for basing grower payments rather than classifying the wines. Due to greed and gouging within the system, in the early 90’s the rating system became a way to set benchmarks for payments but the champagne houses were no longer obligated to pay that amount. (Once again we see greed rear it’s still ugly head)

In ending the blog on a sweet note, let’s get back to that amazing Caramel Apple Pie from yesterday. You’ve made it, and now you need the perfect bottle of bubbles to serve with it. Well, since I just spent the last several minutes educating you on the French ones, I’ll recommend from them, but keep in mind that many other Sparklers be it Italian, Spanish, Californian or even from good ole New Mexico will sing next to a slice of pie.

My Picks although a little expensive, but are well worth a special treat once in a while. (hey - don’t think I drink this stuff every day… au contraire mon frere! I’m a single gal with champagne tastes, but a sparkling wine budget!) You get what you pay for with champagne, and thanks to transport costs, extremely expensive grape costs, and lots accrued costs during long term cellaring, the overhead for champagne certainly puts it in a price class all it’s own.

Nicolas Feuillatte, Champagne Brut “Blue Label” Non Vintage ($35)
Billecart-Salmon Rose Brut NV ($75)
Moet & Chandon White Star NV ($40)
Perrier Jouet Grand Brut NV ($50)

A note about stemware (yes, stemware - the term glassware makes me think of mason jars and OJ tumblers)
Champagne (and this goes for any type of bubbles really) should be enjoyed out of a tulip Photobucket
or flute glass Photobucket
and it should be extremely clean (residue of soap will make your bubbles flat)

Every good champagne glass has a small imperfection at the base inside the glass, this imperfection allows the bubbles to be the focal point of the glass. (psst - great party fodder!)

Saucer Glasses Photobucket
crafted in the shape of the breast of Marie Antoinette, should be saved to serve dessert IN, not the bubbles that you drink with it, as the design isn’t conducive to giving you the best champagne experience possible.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

mmmm Pie!

Today is National Pie Day. I don’t know why this excites me so much, perhaps with yesterday being Inauguration Day, and the seemingly increase of pride in being an American that comes with such an event, you can’t help want to have a slice of something that is so conceded to being of American origin and what I would consider our National dish.

For all the amazing things that come out of my kitchen, 99% of them are NOT baked goods. I am a great cook, but I am a self admitted horrid baker. My cookies, although tasty, tend to lack any visual appeal and perhaps this is also the #1 reason I tend to bake cupcakes rather than full cakes, aside from their ease of serving, they are much easier to decorate, and when all combined just as beautiful (plus I can toss the screw ups)

There is however ONE exception to my baking blunders, that without a doubt is hands down phenomenal, and that is my pie making abilities. Nothing quite takes you back in time like a good slice of pie. I often serve pie as dessert when entertaining, and you will be surprised how well various wines - not just dessert! Go with this American Classic.

I am very partial to strawberry rhubarb pie with a light fruity red wine, banana cream with sauvignon blanc and deep dark lush berry pies with bigger reds and lets not forget all the wonderful dessert wines and of course port that make the final course so memorable.

One of my favorites to pair with champagne or sparkling wine, is carmel apple pie. mmm my mouth waters just thinking about it!

Tomorrow’s blog is all about champagne, so in honor of today being National Pie Day, I will share with you my recipe and tomorrow you can pair it with a sparkler, and enjoy it this weekend.

The crust:

A must is a scratch crust. With proper planning, it takes all of a few minutes additional to whip up a scratch crust. The trick is to actually listen to the ingredients in front of you, rather than try to do everything ‘by the book’. I’ve been making my Grandmother’s Pie Crust Recipe for as long, and nothing is simpler.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
6 -10 tablespoons ice water

combine flour and salt. slowly cut in half of the shortening, then the second half. Sprinkle the ice water, one tablespoon at a time, over mixture. toss mixture together with hands. keep going until the dough is just moist enough to hold together when pinched. Divide evenly and roll into 2 balls, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour.

Take 1 ball of dough from fridge, and roll out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8-inch thick, and 2 inches larger in diameter than your pie plate. This gives you enough to make a good rim.

Press the pie crust into the tin, and then lightly poke holes in the base with a fork, so the crust doesn’t bubble - pop into a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 mins (watch it starting at minute 15)

The Filling:

I make way more than enough filling, because I like to just eat it on the side, or top vanilla ice cream with it.. I mean really - can you ever have enough caramel apples?

6 Granny Smith Apples, skins removed sliced paper thin and one inch sections (an apple corer/peeler/slicer thingy is totally the way to go with this)
3 “other” softer apples. I use Fuji’s - prepared the same way.
A little lemon juice to toss with apples to stop them from browning, and adds a little something to the finished product (about 2 teaspoons of concentrate)
At least a stick of butter.
1 Vanilla bean (scraped)

In a large sauce pot, melt 2 TBS of the butter, and then add the apples, stirring slowly until the apples begin to soften, slowly add the cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla bean. I don’t list quantities for the spices, because it’s really to taste, and depending on the apples, slowly simmer the apples on low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring and adding spices until to your liking.

When apples are soft, but not to the point of mushy - remove mix from heat and allow to cool to room temp.

The Caramel Sauce:

In another pot, make your caramel sauce. (If you don’t want to take on this much work, Mrs. Richardson’s makes a pretty good premade version, although I’m a sucker for the real deal)

1 cup Sugar
6 TBS Butter
½ cup Heavy Whipping Cream

Over Medium heat, heat sugar, stirring constantly, as it begins to boil, when it does, remove from heat, but continue to swirl pan not stopping. Quickly whisk in the butter and slowly set back over low heat. Once butter is in and well mixed, slowly (this is scalding hot) add the cream. Watch for foaming, make sure you use a larger then necessary pot when making! Continue to stir and stir, and remove from heat, continue the stirring as caramel begins to cool and stir is smooth.


You now have your pre baked pie crust - spoon about half of the caramel sauce into the bottom of the crust and smooth out to make a nice even layer. With a slotted spoon, scoop from the top of your apples mostly spiced fruit, trying to avoid as much of the extra liquid that has accumulated at the bottom, into a small bowl, slowly fold in ½ teaspoon of cornstarch then gently small scoop out of the bowl to fill the crust as you go until you reach nearly the rim of the crust.

Heap additional apple filling into the center of the crust.

Pull the second dough ball out of the fridge, and roll it out on the floured surface. again making it slightly larger than the pie. Slowly lay the crust ontop of the pie and press down the edges together.

Paint the pie crust in a mixture of egg whites and a little milk, and sprinkle with raw sugar, taking special care to push down the edges of the crust to meet the bottom crust edges. Trim excess dough.

Poke some small steam holes into the top crust in a pretty design.

Pop back into the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes at 400 to bake the top crust.

When finished, allow the pie to come to room temp before serving (this will allow all the inside to cool and thicken.)

At serving time, slice pie and place on oven safe dessert plates. Pop back into a warm oven to heat slightly (or use a microwave), also warm the additional caramel sauce (best stored in a mason jar) and pour over the top. Serve with some vanilla bean ice cream and some crushed candied pecans.

mmmm a slice of heaven.

Stay tuned tomorrow for pairings of this amazing pie.