Thursday, September 29, 2011

Five Ways to #*@% Up a Wine Pairing

In the August issue of Food & Wine Magazine is an article by Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor titled, Five Ways to Screw Up a Wine Pairing. It was a clever article and much I agreed with, but with a few exceptions.

1. Artichokes. Artichokes hate wine. They grow on their little stalks thinking, "I hate wine. Ooh, I hate it. I'm gonna grow here for a while, then I'm gonna go mess up some wine." The reason they do that is that artichokes have a compound called cynarin in them that basically makes wine taste awful. If you're dead set on eating artichokes and drinking wine with them, the best option is a light-bodied, unoaked white wine like a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. But you'd be best off with beer: a nice brown ale ought to work just fine.

I do not agree that artichokes actually hate wine. I think they are really just misunderstood. Artichokes really wanted to grow up and be a pretty thistle-type flower and adorn winemaker dinner tables. However, somewhere they got shorted in life. So yeah - - they may hold a grudge against wine, but I don't think they exactly hate wine. I mean, does anybody ever truly enjoy an artichoke without the butter, Bearnaise, mayo or pickled and spiced? The little leaf of the 'choke acts as the perfect shovel to allow us to look civilized so we scoop all of those delicious condiments to our lips instead of using our fingers.

Wine should be paired with the artichoke condiments of choice. I would try any of your favorite whites that are known for acidity like an Italian Pinot Grigio. Be brave and go Brut or when in doubt go Chenin Blanc.

2. Serve your wine too warm (if it's red) or too cold (if it's white).Warm red wine tastes alcoholic and flabby. Serve reds a little below room temperature and they're not only more pleasant to drink, but they taste better with food (throw them in the fridge for 30 minutes before you pour them). Icy cold whites don't taste like anything, so pull them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving.

I certainly agree with this one, especially about the icy cold whites. In fact, yesterday I tasted a very cold Oregon Pinot Gris that just put me off. The nose was "stiff" and a little dusty. The taste was bleak and flat. I later returned to the wine and the nose gave me citrus and stone fruit notes accented with a little bit of yeast. The flavors brought in more citrus, vanilla cookie and a bit of sea salt.

3. Try to make two stars share the table. This doesn't work in Hollywood, and it doesn't work at your house, either. If you have a truly extraordinary wine to pour, serve it with a simple dish. If you're spending 15 hours trying to re-create one of Thomas Keller's intricate recipes from The French Laundry Cookbook, pour something good—but not equally spectacular.

Ahhh - the star is in the eye of the beholder. One man's Julia Child boeuf bourguignon may be another man's canned Dinty Moore stew.

I like being adventurous when it comes to food and wine pairing. Pair Tim's Cascade potato chips or KFC with a pretty bottle of Perrier-Jouet or even a Leonetti Cellar Reserve with your local Ice Burg Drive-In cheeseburger deluxe (don't forget the fry sauce). I bet Beyoncé Giselle Knowles pairs anything she wants with Shawn Corey Carter's (Jay-Z) stash of Armand de Brignac Champagne.

4. Serve oily fish with tannic red wine. Fish oils react harshly with tannins, so don't, for instance, serve mackerel with Cabernet—unless you like the taste you get from licking a roll of pennies. With oily fish, skip the reds entirely and go white. Any of the crisp, minerally seaside wines: Albarino from Spain, Vermentino from Italy, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile's Pacific coast. All of those are good options.

Well, obviously Ray isn't from Washington State. One of the finest native northwest meals is a cedar-planked grilled salmon with a redux of a Washington State merlot, preferably a merlot from Walla Walla. Salmon is known as an oily fish and Walla Walla Merlot is often known as being a bit on the tannic side.

5. Overthink the whole thing. Really. This is the biggest way to screw up a wine pairing, not because the wine and food will taste bad together, but because you'll turn yourself into a neurotic mess who makes Woody Allen seem like a Zen buddhist. Most wines can happily live alongside most foods, in a kind of neutral you-go-your-way-and-I'll-go-mine state. Just stay away from those artichokes.

Hit nail on head. I don't know if I am becoming older and wiser about wine or just loosing patience and getting bored with the snobbery and name dropping about wine. Don't overthink. Just drink. Enjoy.

But about those artichokes - don't give up on them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rethinking Drinking

Some of my readers may not know that I have been a regular contributor to Walla Walla Lifestyles, a magazine about the valley's people, wine and food. It is distributed 11 times a year through subscription with the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. The following article is from the September 2011 issue.

Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment, because the last time I wrote an article about the benefits of wine for the health edition of this magazine, I received the very first hate mail of my very short writing career of seven years. But here I am, revisiting the subject.”

It was pointed out to me by a reader that, for health benefits, it was better to eat fresh grapes than it was to drink wine. My critic claimed that I was just looking for an excuse to drink alcohol, that my use of exclamation marks suggested I was overly excited about alcohol, that I was going to turn into an alcoholic, and that my professional moniker (Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman) suggested I was evil and literally “wild.”

It was implied that I probably wouldn’t substitute wine for fresh grapes if it meant I would have to leave the social wine “scene.” Further, my critic suggested that even though it was my doctor who had recommended a glass of wine a day, I would not have gotten nearly as excited about this “prescription” if he had told me to eat a handful of grapes a day, instead.

Also, I was informed that Jesus did not turn water into actual “alcoholic” wine (it was just grape juice), and there were several examples proved by my critic — and biblical quotes included on behalf of Christianity — to support these rather harsh judgments of me.

I know that in my lifetime I will never change someone’s closely held belief that drinking alcohol is evil, nor do I want to suggest that people turn toward alcohol for any health benefits, especially if they have already abstained from alcohol for most of their adult lives.

However, I am asking that we educate ourselves and lose the judgments against those who do enjoy a glass of wine. The stereotype that all people who drink wine are “winos” and drunks is absurd. All in moderation, and seriously — this is the key —moderation with everything.

Drinking an excess of any alcohol is definitely “evil” (if we must use the word) if it means it is interfering with your leading a productive and (mentally and physically) healthy life, but so is prescription drug abuse. This form of substance abuse is growing, especially among our youth. Perhaps the naysayer’s focus is on alcohol and not prescription drugs because there are no biblical passages specifically regarding “prescription drugs.” Besides, drugs are prescribed by the doctor. It’s okay to pop that extra pill, right?

I am not a doctor, but I wish I could play one on TV. And speaking of TV, have you seen the onslaught of commercials for prescription drugs? These commercials always include visuals of healthy-looking people laughing and taking walks on the beach, and the sun is always shining while the announcer in the background is reeling off warnings about, and all the possible side effects of these drugs. “Don’t drive, don’t take with milk, avoid sunshine (especially if you are a vampire). Do not take if you have kidney problems, liver problems, hang nails and freckles. If you notice symptoms such as shortness of breath, bleeding out your ears or growing a third eye, hang in there and don’t stop taking the drug until you communicate with your doctor at your next quarterly appointment …” I’ve never heard these kinds of FDA warnings on commercials about wine.

Alcohol, especially wine, has been used medicinally throughout recorded history; its medicinal properties are mentioned over 100 times in the Old and New Testaments. As early as the turn of the century, there was evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol was associated with a decrease in the risk of heart attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate alcohol consumption may not only reduce your risk of heart disease, but might reduce your risk of strokes, gallstones and diabetes.

However, it is important to understand that alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks, and the addition of eating a healthy diet and exercising is an advantage.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends (if you choose to drink alcohol) up to one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men. Examples of one drink include: beer, 12 fluid ounces, wine, 5 fluid ounces; and distilled spirits (80 proof), 1.5 fluid ounces.

As Oprah Winfrey used to say after airing a controversial view point or show, “Don’t y’all be sending me any hate mail now.”

Once again, I am not advocating that everyone should stop all prescription drugs or pound down a double margarita with a six-pack beer chaser every night. However, it is also important to note that you can drink all the fresh grape juice you want, but it won’t necessarily make you wise and emotionally and spiritually healthy, either.

I always try to find the positive when faced with any negative, and there was one thing I did learn from the hate mail: Fresh grapes are wonderful and healthy! I especially enjoy them with a wedge of cheese and a glass of wine.

To your health, “physical, mental and spiritual.” May your grapes never be sour.

Friday, September 09, 2011

A Strategy for Wine Tasting: Map It Out!

Some of my readers may not know that I have been a regular contributor to Walla Walla Lifestyles, a magazine about the valley's people, wine and food. It is distributed 11 times a year through subscription with the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. The following article is from the August 2011 issue. Please note: at the time the original article was written, edited and set for publishing, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance's new Mobile Wine Tour had not been launched.

If you are a visitor to the Walla Walla Valley, or even a local showing your wine-loving friends around, you want to make the most of your time visiting the wineries. As I have always said, “So many Walla Walla wines, so little time.”

First of all, getting the most out of your wine touring means it’s okay not to visit all of the wineries in the Valley in a one- or two-day visit. You can always return to Walla Walla another time, right? We would love for you to come back. Tasting room assistants may have to force a smile at the customer who stumbles in at closing time and says loudly, often with pride, “Woo-hoo! Yours is the 19th winery we have visited today!”

I taste wine for a living and have judged wines at various competitions. What I can tell you about my palate is that after many wines, it becomes fatigued. I need to care for it by pacing myself, spitting and keeping hydrated. I even munch on special foods like unsalted crackers, bread and raw button mushrooms (which soak up the wine like a sponge) to keep my palate “refreshed.” Really, it is okay to visit only four to six wineries in a day.

Visiting with the winery’s staff, tasting the wines, enjoying the architecture and ambiance of a winery and the often-glorious views of the foothills and the vineyards are all part of the wine-touring experience.

Calm down. It’s your day off. Wine tasting is not a college frat party. It is about tasting the results of the art, science and craft of the winemaker and understanding the area’s terroir.

To get the most out of your wine touring, organize and strategize ahead of time.

First of all, you will need a list of the wineries that are open to the public. There are various publications in Walla Walla to assist you. Tourism Walla Walla, The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Walla Walla Lifestyles and the Walla Walla Wine Guide have maps available and information on line you can print out.

Many of the wineries, as well as some of the downtown tourist agencies, will have the same complimentary maps and guides to Walla Walla wineries available.

Are you more likely to access information via your computer or smartphone? Website wallawallawineguide.com has printable wine maps and also has a downloadable application for your Android phone. Steve Roberts, author of “Wine Trails of Walla Walla,” offers a companion application through iTunes for your iPhone and iPad.

So, you have your list — now what?

Strategize! Luckily, there are specific areas around the Valley where there are clusters of wineries. Don’t spend time going from one end of the Valley to the other. Take a morning, afternoon or a full day, and concentrate on just one area.

The five key areas are: Downtown, Eastside/Airport, Westside, Southside and Oregon. Take advantage of your time and miles if you are coming east into Walla Walla via Highway 12. For example, before you check into your accommodations, you can visit a few of the Westside wineries, located on that old highway: Bunchgrass, Cougar Crest, Glencorrie, Grantwood, L’Ecole N° 41, Lowden Hills, Reininger, Skylite Cellars, Three Rivers, Waterbrook and Woodward Canyon. Be sure to check their hours to make the most of your time. You can also do the same if you are coming into town from the east or traveling north through Oregon — there are numerous wineries located off those routes.

See? There ya go. You’ve checked a few wineries off our list before you’ve even hit downtown, or you can visit them on your way out of town. Get the most out of your Walla Walla wine-tasting experience without having a fuzzy palate or fuzzy memories — the result of the “19 wineries we visited this morning!” Relax and make some memories — that is what wine tasting is all about.

Friday, September 02, 2011

From Walla Walla and Around the World: #CabernetDay

Author, Certified Sommelier and Brand Strategist Guru, Rick Bakas did it again! Last year, he convinced over 3,000 people in over six countries to join forces and celebrate Cabernet Day! This is the second year on the first Thursday of September that wine lovers all around the world converged online to celebrate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Dominant Blends - - the King of Grapes!

We used all kinds of social media from Facebook and especially Twitter to share the wines we were sipping. Smart phones, laptops and even live stream videos were all about in winery tasting rooms, wine bars, wine shops and even private parties from one to several!

Many thanks to Jaime at L'Ecole No.41, Muriel from Otis Kenyon, Vicky from Seven Hills Winery and Shari from Woodward Canyon for collaborating and for their enthusiasm! Now see for yourself what Cabernet Day is all about.