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Lusting for Wine: A Dude’s (Or Lady’s) Guide to Wine-Smarts Part IV

With the base knowledge you have learned in the past 3 editions of Lusting for Wine, you are now ready to venture out into the world, fair reader, and fall in love with wine all over again. It seems fairly obvious, but the only way to truly learn more about wine is to drink wineIn the same way you can’t perfect an athletic skill without rigorous practice, you cannot truly appreciate wine or become wine-smart without spending time wine tasting at a winery. Very few people are born with a palate strong enough to fully appreciate the subtlety in great wine. This has to be developed over time with multiple wine tasting experiences. So with that in mind, here are some simple rules (guidelines) for getting the most out of your wine tasting experience.

Part 4: Rules for wine tasting

Rule #1: You do not talk about wine tasting.

Just kidding. Couldn’t resist.

Rule #1: There are no rules. Don’t buy into the hoity toity crap reputation that surrounds wine tasting. Yeah, I said it. Wine tasting is fun. You know why? Because you get to drink. Wine. A lot of it. Whatever snobby reputation wine tasting used to have is going out the window. Wine tasting isn’t for wine snobs. Screw those guys. Wine tasting is for everyone. It’s like a fun and inexpensive treasure hunt where instead of finding gold at the end, you find delicious wine. And then drink it. When you are out wine tasting remember that the goal is to have fun and discover new experiences. There are no rules.

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Rule #2: Make wine tasting a complete experience. Millennials get it. Millennials don’t buy products, they buy experiences. Wine tasting isn’t just about the wine. It’s about the adventure. Pack a picnic, load up your friends, and head out to wine country. Chances are, the wineries you will experience will be in some very beautiful locations in quiet tucked away corners. Take in the views. Wineries and vineyards are some of the only agricultural businesses where you can explore the property at-will and make yourself right at home. Most wineries play up this aspect. They feel like quiet little cottages. This is why so many people get married at wineries. Some even have bocci ball or volleyball courts for anyone to use. Taste some new wine, buy a bottle you like, then spread out your picnic and relax the day away with friends.

winery-sign

Rule #3: Plan ahead and stay safe. There are ways to do wine tasting right. When you are in wine country, find a map of the local wineries either in your hotel or online. Take suggestions from locals (the best way is to go out to a nice dinner  your first night in town and ask your server or bartender for winery recommendations). Once you have planned the wineries you want to taste, literally map them out, as in find them on a map and plot your route. You do this for two reasons: one, many wineries are tiny little cottages in the middle of nowhere and are often difficult to find. Some will require you to look for an extremely tiny sign pointing to a dirt road that you have to travel on for 2 miles before you get the goods. This is where the treasure hunt aspect comes in. Finding hidden wineries is one of the most exciting aspects of wine tasting. Second, if you are driving yourselves ALWAYS designate a sober driver. If you must all participate in tasting, start with the winery furthest away from your lodging and then work your way back, so you are closest to home at the end of your day; however, Lust for Cooking always recommends designating a sober driver or getting a cab. Wine country will also often feature wine tasting tours or drivers for hire.

winery-truck

Rule #4: Learn the proper way to taste. Not for snobbery, but because if you follow the correct sequence you will get the most out of each wine you taste and will make a more informed decision on which bottle to purchase. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated. When you arrive in the tasting room the staff will hand you a menu listing everything they have available to taste. Typically you will pay around $10 for 5 tastes although this will vary. Most wineries will comp your tasting if you buy a bottle after, but don’t demand this. Tastings will come in flights which just means the group of wines the tasting room has paired together in a certain order. Flights will always go in order from white to red and light bodied to full bodied. Some will end with a fortified wine like port. This is because when you are tasting multiple different wines together you run the risk of destroying your palate by tasting a heavy wine first. They will also likely have bland crackers out for this reason. Take a bite of cracker after each taste to restore your palate. Tastes will be 2 oz.

  1. Examine the wine’s color and appearance. Young wines will look more watery especially around the edges. High quality wines will have vibrant colors, whereas wines past their prime will be dull and murky. If you tilt your glass a ways and then stand it back up straight you may notice clear streaks running down the sides. These are called legs. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t mean anything.
  2. Stick your nose in the glass. Go ahead, do it. Wine glasses tilt inwards at the top to control the release of gasses from the wine. You can’t really get a sense of the aroma from outside the glass, and tasting glasses will typically be large enough to accommodate your face. So stick your nose in and take a big whiff. Try to describe to yourself what the wine smells like. Swirl the wine around quickly in your glass to add more oxygen, then smell again. Notice if anything has changed.
  3. Taste the damn thing. Take a sip. Describe to yourself what it tastes like. Different flavors that pop up are called notes. Notes indicate the complexity of the wine and will vary person to person depending on what your brain experiences. Winemakers don’t manipulate tasting notes; they don’t add in strawberry juice to make the wine taste like strawberries, (or snozberries), etc. There are no right notes, but often multiple people will taste the same thing in a strong complex wine. Take another sip and swirl the wine to every corner of your mouth. See if the flavor expands.
  4. Swallow. Or don’t. There are no rules. I like the full experience so I almost always swallow each taste. But if you are the sober driver, or you are reaching your limit, go ahead and spit the wine out in the spittoons on the counter. Then dump out any excess wine in your glass that you don’t want in the spittoon.

wine-swirl

Rule #5: Learn some terminology. Each wine will have different characteristics on a scale that you can judge by tasting. There are four big ones to look out for:

Acidity: PH level of the wine. More acid will cause a pucker effect like sucking on a lemon.

Tannins: Red wine gets red from the winemaker leaving grape seeds and skins in the juice during fermentation. The chemicals released from this process are called tannins which make the wine a darker red the longer it sits. Highly tannic wine will make your mouth dry.

Body: Also called mouth-feel. This is the degree to which the wine feels like water or syrup in your mouth. Fuller bodied wines linger longer.

Sweetness: As mentioned earlier, wine is made by fermenting grape juice with yeast to turn sugar into alcohol. Wines with more alcohol will be dry (not sweet) because the yeast ate all the sugar. To make a sweet wine, the winemaker will chill the wine at the right moment to cut off fermentation before the yeast is finished. This will leave some sugar behind. Try not to confuse a fruity tasting wine with a sweet wine. Dry wines will often have a sweet fruity taste, but that doesn’t mean there is actual residual sugar. Experience will help you tell the difference.

Rule #6: Have a life changing moment. Always remember the point of wine tasting: to drink a wine you have never tasted before right from the source. Wine tasting is designed to expand your knowledge of a winery you are familiar with, or expose you to a winery and to wine you never thought possible. Every mind blowing experience I have ever had with wine has been at a winery. Always take a winemaker’s recommendation and don’t be shy about exploring wine through all your senses. The sensuality of wine is most perfected when you can talk to the person that made it, see where it is made, and drink it while enjoying a sunset holding hands with the person(s) you love. There may be nothing better in life.

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Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about garlic (including how to peel it) – and then some.

Do you love garlic? We, at Lust for Cooking, loooooooove garlic – often to the detriment of those standing near us. So why not take a closer look at this absolute kitchen must-have? Here is everything you’ve ever wanted to know about garlic – and then some.

  1. Garlic is a member of the allium family, which includes onions, shallots and leeks.

    garlic-and-onion
    pixabay.com

  2. The use of garlic goes all the way back in recorded history and was considered medicinal in ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Babylon and India. Over the centuries it has been considered a cure for infections, wounds, cancer, leprosy, colds, flu, coughs, bronchitis, fever, ringworm and intestinal worms, liver and gallbladder problems, heart problems, and digestive disorders – basically everything – and is still used to treat many of these issues today.


  3. We do know that garlic is an effective antimicrobial, can help reduce cholesterol levels, and is effective in helping to prevent cancer and heart disease.

  4. While good for humans, everything in the allium family is very bad for dogs. Never feed your dogs anything with onion or garlic, including stock that may have been flavored with onion or garlic.

  5. In the past, garlic has been thought to ward off tigers, the plague, evils spirits, werewolves, and vampires. Turned out not to be so effective against the first two, but the jury is still out on the rest.

  6. Garlic’s potent odor and flavor come from a chemical reaction that occurs when a clove is sliced into or crushed. Within the cells lies an odorless, sulfur-containing amino acid that only comes into contact with an enzyme in the cell walls, called alliinase, when the cell is disturbed. When these two mix, the reaction creates a new enzyme called allicin. This is what causes garlic’s pungent flavor. (A similar reaction occurs in onions when they’re sliced and that’s the reason they make you cry.) Cooking garlic then softens the flavor by converting the enzyme yet again. Science!

  7. Because of the nature of this chemical reaction, the way you prep garlic will affect its potency. Slicing is less disturbing to the cells than crushing, so slicing garlic will produce a milder effect. (We at Lust for Cooking say crush the crap out of it.)

    garlic-with-press
    pixabay.com

  8. Does peeling garlic piss you off? There’s a trick to it. If you crush a clove of garlic with the flat of a knife, the skin will then peel right off. If you need a lot of garlic, say a whole bulb, crush the entire bulb with a frying pan. This will separate the cloves and start loosening the skins. Then place all of the cloves in hard lidded container and shake the crap out of it. That should finish the job. If you want to peel your garlic without crushing it, soak the cloves in hot water for five minutes. That should loosen the skins right up.

    garlic-peeled
    pixabay.com

  9. Garlic plants have different cooking applications throughout their life cycle. You can harvest the leaves and use them like chives. You can eat the scapes, which are the flower buds before they bloom. Scapes are milder in flavor, like a shallot, but can be used to flavor just like garlic. For more on scapes, check out Bon Appétit’s guide. And the bulbs themselves are delicious both young and green and at full maturity.

    garlic-greens
    By Leo Michels (Own work, http://www.imagines-plantarum.de) via Wikimedia Commons

  10. You can grow garlic by planting a clove in well-drained soil. The clove then produces more cloves and eventually become a bulb. Plant in late fall and they will start to shoot up in early spring. Hardneck varieties grow best in cold climates and softneck are better for warm climates.

    garlic-cloves
    pixabay.com

  11. There are many varieties of garlic. The varieties are divided into two categories “softneck” and “hardneck.”

    • Hardneck varieties have a very tough woody stem that grows up the middle and which is not present in softneck varieties. Hardneck varieties include: Porcelain, Rocambole, and Purple Stripe (considered the best for roasting), and they are generally considered more robust in flavor. If you see some, buy it.

      garlic-hardneck
      pixabay.com
    • Softneck garlic is typically what you see in a grocery store because they have a longer shelf life. Softneck varieties include Artichoke and Silverskin. They have a milder, grassy flavor, but are still delicious. Other notable incarnations include:

      garlic-softneck
      pixabay.com
    • Elephant Garlic so named because it’s, well, HUGE. It’s actually a misnomer as it’s more closely related to onions than to garlic. The flavor will be more like a shallot or leek, mild and onion-y.

      ackerknoblauch_allium_ampeloprasum
      wikicommons.com
    • The elusive and highly coveted Black Garlic is actually not it’s own variety, but really regular garlic that has been fermented. Its flavor is supposed to be almost indescribable, though many have tried. Descriptions tend to come out something like, “delicious in a garlicy/vinagary/carmely/plummy/chewy/chocalately/bitter/sweet/umami-y kind of way.” You either love it or hate it.

      garlic-black
      pixabay.com
    • Creole Garlic is actually in a category by itself as it has both softneck and hardneck characteristics. It has a rosy hue and a spicy bite but is rare and can be rather difficult to find.

  12. When shopping for garlic, be sure the bulbs are dry and firm. Garlic, especially softneck garlic has a long shelf life, so don’t worry about it going bad. Avoid garlic that’s starting to sprout green shoots, as it’s past its flavor prime (though it won’t make you sick or anything). Once that happens you may just want to plant it.

    garlic-green-shoot
    pixabay.com

  13. And finally, what to make with garlic? EVERYTHING. There is no way to narrow this down. But if you want a treat in it’s purest form, then roast it whole. Cut off the top quarter of the bulb, drizzle liberally with olive oil so that it gets into the crevices, wrap it in tin foil, and toss it on the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until soft, at 400 degrees (Fahrenheit). Then spread it on whatever you like: bread, vegetables, ice cream – just not the dog.

    roasted_garlic_1
    Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)

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Lusting for Wine: A Dude’s (Or Lady’s) Guide to Wine-Smarts Part II

So last time on Lusting for Wine, we discussed how to read a label when picking out a wine (here). And you’re like, “Well that’s all well and good: vintages, wineries, appellations, alcohol…varietal? How the hell are you supposed to read the label and pick out a great wine if you don’t know anything about the grape you are drinking?”

Part 2: Varietals

We discussed in the last post how American wineries most often bottle wine by a single varietal instead of by region, which is the European tradition. Here are the characteristics of some of the most popular varietals that you will see being sold in American grocery stores and restaurants. Remember, to put a single varietal on the label, that bottle must contain at least 75% of the juice of that varietal. Anything less than 75% of single varietal and the bottle is considered a “blend” of different varietals.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Arguably the world’s most popular grape, “Cabs” are prolific. A hybrid offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon can grow in just about any climate. Sauvignon is French for savage, at that is pretty appropriate for this powerful varietal. Cabs are full bodied, dry, tanic, and almost always good no matter where they come from. Cabs are also one of the best aging grapes. Pairs best with grilled meat.

Pinot NoirAlmost nobody but serious wine enthusiasts gave a rat’s ass about Pinot Noir until the release of the movie Sideways. The movie created so much demand for Pinot Noir, wineries actually started selling too much, diluting the market with bottles that weren’t ready and almost destroying the integrity of this beautiful grape. Pinot is the opposite of Cab: delicate and extremely hard to grow. Pinot Noir is medium bodied and SUBTLE. It can only grow in climates with hot days and very cool, foggy nights, making it ideal for coastal vineyards in California (Santa Barbara, Monterey, Paso Robles). If cultivated correctly, Pinot can deliver a life-changing wine drinking experience. If the winemaker or vintner isn’t careful, Pinot can be mediocre. Pinot is also the primary varietal used to make sparkling wine. Pairs well with classic french dishes like beef bourgogne.

white-grapes

Chardonnay: The most popular white wine, Chardonnay is a close relative of the Pinot family. In fact, Pinot Blanc is so similar to Chardonnay it took DNA testing to reveal they were actually different grapes. As such, choose Chardonnays that grow in Pinot regions (hot days, cool nights). Chardonnay is one of the only white wines that traditionally goes through secondary malolactic fermentation during production, a process that can cause a “buttery” flavor. Chardonnay is dry and crisp, and can be very fruity and refreshing. Also, because Chardonnay is still typically aged in oak barrels like red wine, it can have an “oaky” flavor that other white wines which are aged in stainless steel barrels (a current trend) will not have. Also used in sparkling wine. Pairs best with poultry.

MerlotMerlot gets a bad rap from hipster wine tasters, many of whom are persuaded again by the movie Sideways (after the movie Pinot sales skyrocketed and Merlot sales tanked), because it is accessible for new and inexperienced wine drinkers. Merlot is medium bodied and easy to drink with subtle floral flavors. The truth is: a Merlot in the hands of a great winemaker can be an unbelievably beautiful and satisfying experience. Don’t be a snob about it. From the same region in France as Cabernet. Pairs well with pasta with a red sauce.

Zinfandel: Another wine that hipsters decry because it is popular with new wine drinkers due to accessibility (spawning several awful pun-based labels like “Seven Deadly Zins”). Zinfandel is actually one of the world’s great grapes. Called Primitivo in Italy, Zinfandel grows best in very hot climates. Check out Zinfandels from Lodi in California. It comes in two types: dry and spicy, or fruity to the point of being jammy. Like Merlot, a great Zin will surprise and blow you away. One of the few varietals that does best without much aging. Drink Zin with a grilled burger or fried chicken.

SyrahCalled Shiraz in Australia, Syrah is another French grape that spans the world. Syrah is full bodied and does well in intense heat. Don’t confuse Syrah with Petite Sirah, which is a completely different grape. Syrah ages extremely well and won’t disappoint a wine drinker looking for bold, intense flavor. Pairs well with grilled red meat and pork.

Sauvignon BlancI heard an experienced wine drinker once say the world has two types of people: Chardonnay drinkers, and Sauvignon Blanc drinkers. The other white wine, “Sav Blanc” is a parent of Cabernet Savignon, and can grow all over the world. Soft and citrus-y, Sav Blanc typically finishes very clean, which contrasts it to the buttery or oaky finish of Chardonnay. Pairs well with shellfish and cheese.

MalbecMalbec means “bad break” in French. Once the principal grape to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec was replaced by Merlot. Shunned by proper French society, Malbec found a new home in South America. Malbec from the Mendoza region in Argentina is now one of the world’s most exciting varietals. Apart from rooting for the underdog, Malbec enthusiasts love its velvety blackberry notes, and the fact that it is now the mascot of South American wines which are continually gaining more and more respect around the world. Pair Malbec with Mexican food or any spicy chili dish. 

purple-grapes

Carmenere: Speaking of South America. Carmenere is the legendary “lost grape.” Pliny the Elder wrote about Carmenere in the first century A.D. It was once a proud and ancient French varietal, until it was hit by a grape destroying plague called phylloxera in the nineteenth century and was wiped out. French vintners assumed Carmenere was extinct, and it disappeared for the next century. And then out of nowhere, Carmenere was discovered growing in Chile in 1994. DNA testing revealed that a group of European immigrants had planted Carmenere in Chili in the late nineteenth century thinking it was Merlot. It was fruitful and multiplied in its new South American home. The flagship grape of Chile, Carmenere is medium bodied and earthy, and pairs well with steak or empañadas.

Sangiovese: If you want to delve into the complex world of Italian wines with your friends, invariably you will spend the vast majority of your time talking about Sangiovese. The flagship grape of Tuscany, Sangiovese is the primary varietal used in Chianti. Sangiovese is the quintessential Italian wine drinking experience. It tastes like your grand mother’s spaghetti and meatball dinner put into a blender and made into wine. If you are out wine tasting and hear the winemaker mention a “Super Tuscan,” don’t expect to see a mustachio’d Italian superhero swoop in and swoon your girlfriend. It’s actually a Sangiovese blended with certain French grapes. More on that later. Drink Sangiovese with a pizza right out of the oven, or with any tomato-based pasta.

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio: Yet another variety of Pinot, Pinot Gris originated in France but hit world fame in Italy known as Pinot Grigio. Rich and tart with a smooth finish, Grigio can easily hold its own against other more popular white varietals. Chill a bottle of Grigio and head to the beach on a hot day; you won’t be disappointed. Pairs best with risotto and white-sauced pasta dishes.

Riesling: The prince of German wines, Riesling is a white wine commonly drank with dessert due to its high potential for sweetness. Riesling is gaining in popularity in the United States, and American Riesling drinkers are discovering how complex it can actually be. Also, holy aging, Batman. Riesling can succeed for multiple decades. Pairs best with after-dinner sweets, but also try it with oysters or cold shrimp.

Tempranillo: What Sangiovese is to Italian wine, Tempranillo is to Spanish wine. The principal grape in “Rioja” blends, Tempranillo is the ever present native Spaniard. Tempranillo ages well and can range from medium to full bodied. Tempranillo means “early” in Spanish, and was so named because it is harvested before Garnacha. Pairs well with tapas, olives, and lamb.

Garnacha/Grenache: One of the most underrated varietals in the world, Garnacha originated in Spain and found a home in the Rhone region of France with its blending partner Syrah, where it became known as Grenache. On its own, Grenache is incredibly complex, sporting great spice and seemingly impossible layers of flavor. Blended with Syrah in “Rhone” blends, Grenache becomes a powerhouse. Buy a Rhone whenever you see one and try for yourself. It is also sometimes called a “GSM” in America, due to the blend of Grenache, Syrah, and the third Rhone child, Mourvedre. Try pairing Grenache with ribs.

This only scratches the surface of the world’s vast variety of varietals. You could write an essay about each of these. But, as I said from the beginning, I don’t intend to make you an expert, only to make you know what the hell you are talking about. Don’t ever let anyone tell you one varietal is superior to another. Every varietal has the potential for greatness. As wine is a living thing: imperfect, tempestuous, stubborn, beautiful, complex, sensual… it is also impacted by the living imperfect human beings that produce it. Every wine has the potential to excel, or fall short. Find a varietal that speaks to you and stay loyal to it. Then switch and try something else. The world is made better by diversity. This is also true in wine.

A Note on Red vs. White: Inexperienced wine drinkers pick a wine color like they’re picking a team. “I’m a red wine drinker/I only drink white wine.” The more you wine taste the more you realize: red or white is the least important aspect. Red wines vary so drastically, one red is as distinct to another red as it is to white. White wines can be as complex and powerful as the best Pinot Noir. If you’re just sitting around drinking wine, drink whatever color you are in the mood for. If you’re having wine with dinner, then you do want to be specific because certain wines do pair better with certain foods. Here’s a very loose guide: White meat/White Sauce/White Wine. Red Meat/Red Sauce/Red Wine.

For more quick reads on these grapes and more, check out these awesome flashcards, Vinifera: The World’s Great Wine Grapes and Their Stories.

More delicious wine knowledge to come. Stay tuned to Lust for Cooking.

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