Category Archives: Beverages

VALENTINE’S WINE: ON THE FLY & ON THE CHEAP

So…we’re all in luck because our Blue Jean Sommelier, Anders, is back just in time for Valentine’s Day!  If like so many folks, you’re trying to save money by cooking at home instead of going out, here are a few tips for picking the right bottle of wine to go with your gustatory tryst.  Check back Friday for a killer brownie recipe sure to woo any sweetheart.  Come to think of it, who says you need a date to enjoy either?  Wine + brownies for all!  xoxo, Nishta

Anders’ advice:

1.    Decide if you want your cuisine to highlight a special wine or a decent but basic wine to highlight a more intricate dinner.  For instance, if I had a Bordeaux from 1982 I would select a menu with delicious but simple flavors to frame the complexity of the aged French wine – filet mignon with baked potatoes and grilled vegetables would work well.  If your focus is the food, think mainly about the structure of the wine for the pairing.

2.    Plan your wine choice with your meal according to the basics; wine needs to be sweeter than the food, tannin helps cut through fats and proteins, alcohol accentuates spice (go for low alc content with hot foods) and acidity balances acidity.

3.    If possible go to a local wine specialty shop that offers a range of values and has a friendly, knowledgeable staff.   Present them with your desired price and a basic idea of what you are looking for (red vs. white, structured vs. smooth, earthy vs. fruity, oak-aged vs. stainless etc).

4.    If looking for an inexpensive bottle, try varietals that typically can be made with lower overhead costs (i.e. does well in stainless tanks/neutral barrels), is inexpensive because it relative low demand vs supply or is created where labor is less expensive; Pinot Grigio, Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes, Syrah, Merlot, Albarino, Vino Verde, Riesling, Unoaked Chardonnay, Cotes du Rhone, Beaujolais Cru, Aligote, Negroamaro and Valpolicella are all good options.

5.    Finally, if you are in a rush here are a few wines I have always found to have good value for price point: Columbia Crest Grand Estates and H3 wines, Ravenswood Vintners Blend, Catena,  Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc, Argiolas, Layer Cake and Porcupine Ridge.

For this blog I put myself to the test with five minutes to select three wines at a small corner market in the Mission district of San Francisco.  Here’s what I came up with:

2008 Alamos Torrontes- Argentina – (~$9.99)

Torrontes is an aromatic white grape that originated in Spain but now is grown almost exclusively in Argentina.  This bottling by Alamos boast decently intricate aromatics with unabashed lime, passion fruit and floral notes.  The palate is balanced with good acidity, a creamy mouthfeel and overt mineral-lime flavors. .  A great choice to accompany salads, cheese and crackers and or a fish/seafood entrée.

Anders’ Rating:  Class for the Coin

2007 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Merlot – California – (~$11.99
)

Ravenswood is one of the biggest names in Sonoma wine country and although it’s now owned by the corporate wine juggernaut Constellation Brands, its founder and winemaker Joel Peterson purportedly still has considerable control over the wines. The Vintners Blend wines are actually composed of wine that Joel purchases from across the state of California and then blends together as he sees fit, they are therefore what is known as negociant wines (a tradition that has been common in France for centuries).
  This wine has a beguiling, rich nose of spice and fruit.  The palate is a little light but very flavorful.  I get bright plum and black cherry.  While this a very smooth and soft wine, it is not going to improve with age and doesn’t have the tannin to stand to heavy meats,  All in all, quite tasty.

Anders’ Rating: Class for the Coin

2006 AR Guentota Old Vine Malbec – Argentina – (~$20.99
)

The AR Guentota was the only wine I couldn’t identify at the market and has price that typically indicates higher quality production methods with Argentinean Malbecs.   However, this bottle disappointed me.  It had ample tannins but the palate was a little bitter and the fruit came across as overripe.  Still a good price point for malbecs, but I prefer the Catena for about the same amount of money.

My Rating: Maybe Next Year

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A WORLD OF BUBBLY

We interrupt our regular posting schedule to bring you a timely sparkling wine primer courtesy of our Blue Jean Sommelier, Anders.  If you’re still in need of a last-minute recommendation for New Year’s Eve, or simply want to know more about the types of wine you might encounter tonight, look no further.  Also, keep in mind–there’s no rule that says you must limit your consumption of bubbles to NYE!  Every day can be a holiday with one of these affordable bottles at the table.

If you’re new around here, be sure to check out Anders’ previous posts, too.

Wishing you all a safe, festive New Year’s Eve–check back tomorrow for a post about beginnings, endings, tradition, & shrimp creole.

Salud, L’Chaim, Cin-Cin, Prost, Sláinte, À votre santé, et. al!

Another New Year’s eve is upon us and again we find ourselves thinking about our favorite moments of the passing year and looking forward to the promise of the next.  In my opinion there are many beverages that go with fond nostalgia and anticipatory excitement, but none are perhaps quite as fitting as a delicious sparkling wine.  And – nothing really says PARTY quite as well as a chilled bottle of bubbly!


These days there are many choices from all over the world when it comes to selecting a festive vino frizzante, at a huge range of price points. Here is a rundown of many the options that are available to you and a little bit about what goes into each style.

CAVA
Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and although it can technically be made anywhere in the country at least 95% of it comes from Catalonia – vineyards that are not far from the city of Barcelona. Cava is made using the traditional method and can be crafted from the indigenous grapes Xarello, Parellada and macabeo as well as chardonnay and pinot noir.  Cava is an excellent source of value, you can read more about it here.

CHAMPAGNE
Still undoubtedly the king of sparkling wines but often quite spendy. One of the most important things to know is how Champagne is defined by French law. Sparkling wines from the Champagne region (90 miles NE of Paris) have to follow very specific rules to carry the name “Champagne” on their bottle (like using only Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Chardonnay grapes, making the wines using the “traditional method” and aging the wine for at least 15 months). French lobbyists and lawmakers have long fought to make sure that the name Champagne is applied only to wines from the Champagne region.  The true quality of Champagne, however, is a result of intense care, precision and skill with which its grapes are grown.  It isn’t that this can’t be reproduced elsewhere, simply that the Champenoise have been at it for much, much longer than anyone else.

CREMANT DE…BOURGOGNE, LOIRE, ALSACE, ETC.
Cremants are sparkling wines from France that are governed by French wine law (meaning they also have aging, grape, vinification and other requirements), use traditional method and are often a GREAT source of value. I have always enjoyed Cremant de Alsace (Trimbach is a good producer) which typically used the Auxerrois grape as a base and can include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer among a few others.

PROSECCO
A sparkling wine made from the Prosecco grape. These wines are produced in the Treviso province of Northeastern Italy (north of Venice and northeast of Lake Garda).  Producers typically employ the Charmat method in making Prosecco, carrying out the second fermentation in large stainless steel tanks instead of in bottle.  As a result, Prosecco is typically less nuanced than traditional method sparkling wine but has bright fruit flavors and is typically best consumed in the year it is produced.

SEKT
Sekt is the name for “sparkling wine” in Germany and those found in the US are typically off-dry and crafted in large stainless tanks (Charmat method). The grapes for most Sekt are also not sourced from Germany itself but from Spain, Italy and France. Deutscher Sekt is the term for Sekt made from German grapes and is typically of higher quality. The grapes can very even more than the provenance, I have found examples made from blends of any of the following; Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Sekt is often a source of great value but may take a lot of experimentation to find a bottle you like given the amount of variance. Translate German sweetness levels this way: Herb = Extra Brut-Brut (bone dry-dry), Sehr Trocken = extra dry (very slightly sweet), Trocken = dry (slightly sweet), Halbtrocken = medium dry (sweet).

AMERICAN SPARKLING WINES
Since there are few laws governing the creation of American sparkling wine there is no standard on which method to use in creating it or which grapes to make it from.  There are, however, many extremely quality focused producers who put forth great bottlings year after year, using the traditional method and classic grapes. Argyle, Schramsberg, Roederer Estate, J Wine Co, Iron Horse and Domaine Carneros are all excellent producers

Feeling quite festive this holiday season, I took upon myself the grueling task of tasting a collection of what I thought promised to be great quality for price sparklers that are widely available in stores. Here are my notes…

NV (Non-Vintage) Montaudon Champagne Brut (France) $24-$38

The Montaudon probably had the best bubbles of the group – it fizzed finely for 30 minutes. I found the aromatics initially disappointingly-dominated by sulphur dioxide (used in bottling) and overpowering yeast aromas. But after about 5 minutes the sulphur blew off and the yeast aromas integrated with really enjoyable notes of apple blossom (I think – not having sniffed an apple blossom for quite some time), ripe peach, apricot and rose. The palate on the other hand was a well balanced with awesome acidity and citrus flavors that leaned toward lime.

My Rating: Fizzle that Sizzled (Like Robert Downey Jr.- troubled at first but came back strong)

NV Henkell Trocken (Germany) $13-$17
This Sekt is a combo of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot noir and Chenin blanc. The resulting blend is incredibly creamy and left the inside of my mouth feeling like I had just downed an English muffin with my usual disproportionate amount of butter. This wine is also relatively sweet (at least 3% residual sugar) and therefore sent my mother running for another glass of brut champagne. I have to say I rather enjoyed both the creaminess and the sugar, I think I may have discovered another personal guilty-pleasure wine. Expect little acidity (not a great pairing wine) and ripe fruit flavors of guava, apricot, cider and bitter almond on the finish.

My Rating: For Sugar and Butter Lovers

NV Zardetto Prosecco Brut (Italy) $10-$15
The first thing that I noticed about the Zardetto was its gargantuan bubbles! I mean the little orbs were almost the size of Dip & Dots and streamed towards the surface like skin divers gasping for breath. Since typically the finer the effervescence the better, I would not say this is exactly a good thing. On the other hand I found this Prosecco’s aromatics alluring and complex. I got bright honeydew, something floral I couldn’t pin down, lilac and honey. The palate was simple citrus that I thought leaned toward lime and left my mouth feeling chalky.

My Rating: I Wouldn’t Dump it Down the Drain (But You Could Do Better)

NV Gruet Rose Brut (USA – New Mexico) $13-$18
Oh my god it’s pink!! Once you get over any adverse preconceptions about rose wine (I used to have plenty) and give this wine a shot I think you will be pleasantly surprised by its rich, creamy fruit and generous effervescence. Flaunts its traditional method-birth with a lot of yeasty aromatics and flavors (croissant, croissant, croissant) blended together with effuse grapefruit and raspberry. I thought it was quite spectacular for money I laid down and it’s from New Mexico!

My Rating: Class for the Coin

NV J-Vineyards Cuvee 20 (USA – California – Russian River Valley) $22-$28
What struck me most about the J Cuvee 20 was its balance and the excitement of what I like to call “the ride” – that is it kept my focused attention from the just slightly sweet attack (when the wine hits the tip of your tongue) through the mid-palate where it spoke overtly of lemon and sweet bread, had a very subtle creaminess to its mouthfeel and showed a generous acidity that could cut through any rich appetizer. It then finished strong with a wonderful minerality that meshed symbiotically with its lemon-citrus notes.

My Rating: Top Notch

DIWALI 2009

Late Friday afternoon, we had to say goodbye to our sweet old girl.

us & our old lady

All things considered, our Lucky Dog lived up to her name.  She didn’t have to suffer through a prolonged illness or regular trips to the vet.  The two people who love her most were right there with her when she died.  LD enjoyed an incredibly high quality of life right up until the very end, something we don’t take for granted.

But I’m still walking around like a zombie in her absence.  Having an old dog, you try to prepare yourself for the inevitable.  But as with any loss, I’ve found you can’t really understand what it will be like until you are there.  Our whole family life revolved around that dog—coming home to let her out, feeding her, changing her diapers, baking her dog bones, rubbing her belly.  She was my first pet, Jill’s faithful hunting partner, and a source of much joy and comfort to both of us.

Needless to say, we came home Friday to a very hollow house.  A very hollow house that had been, up to that point, in the throes of preparation for a very large party the following night.

collage

During each of the four autumns since my father died, I’ve thrown a party to celebrate the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali.  My first was a small graduate school gathering in my tiny apartment in Tucson—I kept my mom on culinary consultation via cell phone and somehow managed to coax my tiny stovetop into making large pots of rice pudding (kheer) and my father’s favorite kidney bean stew (rajma).  Jill came into town and poured drinks for everyone.  My fellow writers wrapped the patio in lights, brought candles, decorated my sidewalk with chalk drawings.  We stayed up late that night, sitting on the floor of my apartment, the conversation intimate, warm.

Since then, the logistics have expanded considerably but my intentions haven’t changed.  I seek to honor my father, remember him, commemorate him, make him proud.  As with all of my cooking endeavors, I work to earn my place next to my mother and every other kitchen goddess/hostess/Southern gentlewoman I watched growing up, gracious, willful, relentless.  I like the hard work that comes with feeding forty-five people intricate food you made from scratch.  I revel in the ache and feeling that I have squared myself firmly inside my heritage (albeit with a few first-generation twists).

This year, Jill and I considered, for maybe thirty seconds, calling off the party.  But I don’t think it was ever really an option in either of our minds.  What better time to have a house-full of people we love?  Not to mention, what on EARTH would we have done with all of the food I had already made?

diwali food 2

So, the show went on, as the show must do, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best one yet.  You know those occasions when you can feel a place hum with love and good will?  It was one of those.  We saw the smiling faces of some of our favorite people, hugged them, fed them good food, and felt grateful for our life, with everything in it.

I’m humbled by two things right now:

  • The beings I love, love, love with all my might and heart and soul and body, will die someday and I can’t control when or how.  When they are gone, it will hurt irreparably.
  • There are some truly incredible beings in my life.

Take, for example, Leslie, a friend from high school who now sells the loveliest stationery on Etsy and transformed my vague idea for an invitation into this striking card:

diwali-invite

My creative librarian colleague Heather, who manufactured the most beautiful cardstock-and-vellum labels for all of the evening’s food:

diwali-heather label

Or our dear friends Courtney and her husband John, who showed up at our house on Friday night with bags of Thai food and these votive-holders, which they crafted out of baby food jars, copper wire, and the loveliest quotes about light.  I think they’re going to become a permanent fixture in our window:

diwali-candles

My college roommate and talented artist Rebecca swathed the tables in sun colors, rose petals, flowers, and even incorporated pictures of our sweet girl at the last minute:

diwali-LD on table

I could go on and on—indomitable photographer Sonya, whose good work you see all over this post, my beloved Jill, who cleaned our house from top to bottom, wrapped the fence in lights, and set out all of the rental tables and chairs, and the kind-hearted Meg of Maker’s Table, who served as our wine consultant, recommending wonderful bottles  in my price range that would pair nicely with the evening’s spicy food.

Speaking of food, we set out quite a spread, if I may say so myself:

For appetizers, we had:

  • Indian fruit salad with mango, pineapple, pomegranate, & star fruit
  • Bhel Puri, a build-your-own Indian street food featuring spicy potatoes atop a bed of crunchy chick-pea flour snacks, onion, cilantro, & one or both of tamarind and coriander chutneys
  • grilled Halloumi cheese atop mini-pitas with mango chutney and onion relish

Dinner:

  • Lamb Koftas (spicy meatballs in a tomato/sour cream gravy)
  • Saag Paneer (greens with homemade cheese)
  • Channa Masala (North Indian-style chickpea stew)
  • Sweet potatoes & green beans with mustard seeds
  • Basmati rice pilaf
  • Achar (cauliflower, carrot, & jalapeño pickle)
  • Raita (homemade yogurt with grated cucumber & salt)
  • Naan (which I purchased and I did NOT make!)

For dessert, I made Indian-style chai and served up little bowls of Suji Halwa, a kind of porridge made with cream-of-wheat, butter, cardamom, & nuts.  Sounds a little strange, but it’s delicious.

I’m afraid I don’t have all of the recipes ready to post for you here—I cooked in enormous quantities and Sonya wasn’t always around to document the process.  I plan to re-run some of these items and measure more closely next time, so if there are any dishes you are particularly interested in having a recipe for, please let me know.

In the meantime, though I don’t have photographic evidence of it, I did concoct a cocktail which we served at the start of the party.  This drink was a HIT—we went through several pitchers of it before moving onto wine & beer with dinner.

A little bit exotic and very easy to make, this guava concoction paired well with the strong Indian food flavors that were being served; I suspect it would also work well with other Asian cuisines or Mexican food.  If you’ve never had guava nectar, try it!  It has a slightly puckery, but also sweet flavor, distinctive and likeable.

I think I’m going to christen them Lucky Dogs.

collage3

LUCKY DOGS (Guava Cocktails)

This recipe makes a pitcher’s worth, but you could easily adjust it for a smaller batch.  Find guava nectar in the International Foods aisle of your grocery store, either in the Mexican or Indian section.  Nectar can also be found in specialty stores of the same type.

4 cups guava nectar*

2 bottles ginger beer* (I love Reed’s)

1 cup vodka (want to try substituting gin—if any of ya’ll do, let me know how it goes!)

juice of 4 limes

Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher, stir with a large spoon.  Would look lovely garnished with a spring of mint and/or wedge of lime.  You know, if you weren’t serving 45 people all at once.

* Chill these ahead of time or serve the cocktail over ice.

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A FAREWELL TOAST

The food world has been loudly buzzing since Monday’s shocking announcement of the Gourmet magazine shut-down. All day yesterday and into today, foodies, bloggers, industry professionals, and (former) Gourmet employees have vented, ranted, mourned, and waxed nostalgic on Twitter and other forums. (I’m no exception.)

Really, I’m not qualified to say much about the closing of the magazine except that I’m surprised and will miss it terribly. Gourmet helped shape me (and many a budding foodie, I’m sure), shaping my aesthetic, building my culinary vocabulary, and offering me exposure to various cuisines and the cultures behind them. I’ve never been much of a magazine subscriber, since there seems to be much more fluff than substance out there, but Gourmet was one I have been happy to pay for. So, even though I had originally scheduled this simple fig salad for today’s post, I just had to tack on a little farewell toast to Gourmet, featuring a cocktail from—of course—last October’s issue. Here’s to you, Gourmet, with many thanks.

champagne toast

FRENCH 75 COCKTAIL

serves 6-8

As you may already know, my honey is rather fond of sparkling drinks; I am rather fond of gin. This drink is the marriage of our alcoholic worldviews in a glass!

I think this would make an excellent substitution for mimosas at a brunch, or pair nicely with a birthday cake/celebratory dessert. They’re also pretty tasty just on their own.

ingredients:

a third of a cup (1/3) sugar

a third of a cup (1/3 ) water

½ cup gin (I used Hendrick’s)

3 T fresh lemon juice

1 bottle well-chilled Champagne

Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let the syrup cool, then add the gin & lemon juice. Chill the syrup until cold.*

To assemble the cocktails, pour 2 T of gin mixture into each glass. Slowly top off with Champagne.

[I rimmed my Champagne glass with some coarse sanding sugar, but the original recipe recommends you garnish with lemon zest—a candied version would be nice, too!]

*Gin syrup can be made ahead & chilled.

FALL FIG SALAD

More of an idea than a recipe, I owe the inspiration for this salad from my Shaila Aunty, who grows beautiful green figs in her Memphis backyard. She’s not actually my aunt; she’s one of the many men and women from our close-knit Indian community who raised me as one of their own.

I can’t adequately express how much or how many ways I admire my Aunty—she’s a passionate philanthropist, wife, parent, & friend, possesses an incredible talent for painting, reads prolifically, and is an excellent cook. She has loved and supported me since before I was born, and she taught me to put figs in my salad.

Figs are almost assaultingly sensual and luscious; I love how they look atop a bed of mixed greens. Since several varieties are still in season, fig salad can be a great counterpoint to roast chicken or other fall dish. If you decide to add prosciutto, though, you could serve large bowls of the salad alongside a vegetable soup with some crusty bread.  Leftover figs?  Serve them for dessert over vanilla ice cream.

ingredients: zoomed in fig salad

mixed greens

figs, quartered

Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

chopped pecans (I used candied, but you could use plain)

optional: prosciutto

dressing: balsamic vinaigrette–you could use pre-made or make your own, like I did.  Any chance to use my fig-infused balsamic!  But you could also try this method for quickly infusing your own (just substitute “fig” for “strawberry” in the recipe).

Set the quartered figs atop a salad bowl full of greens. Scatter generous handfuls of pecans over the bowl, then top with fat shavings of cheese. If using prosciutto, snake the strips through the salad before dressing it.

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WINE TASTING BASICS PART II – KNOW THY WINE

Picking up where we left off last time– you’re on a date and have averted embarrassment, confirmed that the selected wine is sound and perhaps even impressed your companion with a theatrical display of swirling and sipping. But how do you know if you are treating your sweetheart to a magical bottle that transforms itself with every sip or if you just paid $60 for bottle that is on sale for $9.99 at your corner gas station?

wine tasting set-up

In a lot of ways, wine tasting is a very personal experience and ultimately your opinion is the only one that matters. That being said, there are widely accepted guidelines for what constitutes a good bottle of wine and understanding these guidelines can make your imbibing that much more rewarding.

There are four basic ways of analyzing a wine: by its visual appearance, the aromas it gives off, the way it tastes in your mouth, and the sensations it causes in your mouth. Really, you can break this down further into three simple components:

Appearance
Nose
Palate

Last time we covered the visual and olfactory sides of tasting but didn’t delve that deeply into what happens on the palate. There are 4 primary tastes that we encounter when tasting wine and one of them is almost entirely exclusive to fino sherry (saltiness).  The other three are sweetness, sourness (or acidity) and bitterness (astringency).  The sensations that wine can cause include mouthfeel (smooth, coarse, oily, sticky, etc), weight (body), temperature and the drying sensation caused by tannin.

None of these necessarily make one wine better than another, rather the collective taste mixed of the with the visual and aromatic components of the wine tell us whether this is a Jackson Pollock or just an over-excited toddler hurling paint at a canvas.  Again, wine tasting isn’t an exact science, but here are some factors that help inform you of a wine’s quality:

BALANCE: Do the aromatic, taste and sensation pieces meld together seamlessly?  Are the wine’s fruit-flavors in balance with its tannin and acidity?  Is this Riesling’s sugar well balanced with its acidity or does it taste flabby?  Does the oak character in the wine blend into the other flavor components or does it awkwardly stand out?

INTENSITY: Can you easily smell the wine or does it seem tight and closed?  Is it excessively obvious or is it wonderfully and mysteriously subtle?

COMPLEXITY: Does this Chianti taste like you just chomped on a big sour cherry and nothing else or does it have awesome layers of leather, violets, clay and oak as well?

DURATION: How long does the taste of the wine linger after you swallow? One minute? Three? Five? What do you taste?

VARIETAL CHARACTER: Does this wine taste like what you expect from this varietal(s) or a wine from this region?  If not, is this lack of varietal character to its detriment or advantage?

X FACTOR: Also known as the “Wow” factor, the excitement factor or distinctiveness.  This is what makes a good wine great or pushes you over the edge from like to love.

Here’s my challenge to you!  If you have two hours and $50 to spend on wine (if not, try halving the wine list), go out and find following wines and then taste them side by side. For an extra challenge, have a friend pour them for you and write down which is which.  If you both would like to taste, line up 4 glasses for each person and number them 1 to 4. One person pours the wines, the other person switches the glasses. Both record what they did and neither should know which is which until they compare notes.

2008 Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) $10.99
2006 A to Z Riesling (Oregon) $12.00
2007 Angeline Pinot Noir (California) $13.99
2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State) $13.99

Taste through these wines organizing your thoughts by accessing the appearance, nose and palate. Then rate wines based upon the metrics above. Which wine do you think is of the highest quality?  Which do you like the most?  Finally, if you are tasting “blind,” reveal the wines’ true identities. Any surprises?

I find tasting wines next to each other a lot of fun and a great way to highlight differences. I hope you do too!  Below are my impressions of wines [see: Anders’ Wine Rating Scale]. Until next time… Sante!

nobilo 2008 Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) $10.99
Notice the rampant acidity- when you hold the wine on your tongue and then start to move it around in your mouth it makes your cheeks squeeze in.  I really like this wine.  New Zealand sauvignon blanc is always an easy wine to pick out of a multi-varietal blind tasting because they are typically quite fruity. This Nobilo delivers on this promise of fruit with juicy flavors of grapefruit, lime and passionfruit. I also got a little bit of cream on the nose and healthy bit of minerality on the finish. Made me think of licking wet rocks in my mouth as a kid. A classic example of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and stellar for the price.  I think it would be delicious with French bread and chevre.

Anders’ RatingTop Notch

2006 A to Z Riesling $12.00 a to z
Exotic spice, candy note, bosque pear, golden raisin and musk on the nose.  Distinct honey and citrus flavors on the palate- slightly sweet (off dry) with a voracious acidity.  I chose this one to demonstrate sugar in a wine but its generous acidity actual reduces the perception of the sugar quite well. Think about the sweetness when it hits the tip of your tongue. Really quite different from the Rieslings I am used to.  This probably will not appeal to everyone but I found it quite fun. Slightly fuller bodied than the Sauv Blanc, quite complex.

My Rating: Class for the Coin

angeline 2007 Angeline Pinot Noir $13.99
It has an unctuous mouthfeel, tastes slightly bitter and displays sweet aromatics of cooked fruit and vegetables (beets especially) eucalyptus and herbs. I think it is made from overripe and overpressed grapes.  It is not as acidic as Pinots can be and shows its alcohol on the nose. Not bad for a Pinot at this price point, but what does that say?

My Rating: Maybe Next Year

2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon $13.99 h3
Amazingly soft for a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Herbal aromatic notes, maybe a little thyme.  Some dairy notes on the nose as well. Shows its oak, but the wood doesn’t drown out the fruit. Lush berry flavors on the palate hang on through a finish that is impressively lengthy. Well balanced and a steal for $14 greenbacks. It is a wine that I think is easy to like and would appeal to a large group of drinkers.

My Rating: Class for the Coin

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WINE TASTING BASICS–PART I

Dragging your feet on this why-did-you-taunt-us-with-one-day-of-vacation-and-then-make-us-come-back-to-work Tuesday?  Yeah. I feel you.  But fear not!–our Blue Jean Sommelier is here with the first in a two-part series designed to help transform the idea of wine tasting from fussy and intimidating to approachable and fun.

wine pour

I hope you enjoy today’s post and find it as useful as I did.  As always, if you have questions or suggestions for Anders, our fine sommelier, please do let him know via comments below!  He’ll be back with Part II next Tuesday, and I will see ya’ll on Friday as we kick off a new food series on BJG.

yours in post-holiday fogginess, Nishta

WINE TASTING BASICS–PART I Andersintastingroomcropped

Anders, Blue Jean Sommelier

You’re on a date and the question, “What about a bottle of wine?” arises.  Your extremely cute companion looks at you expectantly.  So, you put on your most knowledgeable face and pick a bottle that sounds enticing.  Except then, the waiter pours you a short glass from the newly-opened bottle and once again you are on the spot…

What do you do with that little taste of wine?  How do you know if it’s any good?  How can you impress your date with your wine knowledge, or at the very least, keep from making a fool of yourself?

Don’t panic–wine is a complex and dynamic little juice, but it can be analyzed in ways that will minimize trepidation and increase enjoyment.  We’ll start today with the 4 S’s and continue next week with a Blind Tasting you can follow along with at home!

PART I: STARE, SWISH, SNIFF, & SIP

STARE

There is glass of wine sitting enticingly in front of you, so what do you do? It’s time for the 4 S’s: Stare, Swish, Sniff and Sip.  First, look that glass in the meniscus and stare it down (Ok, so you don’t really have to stare). Basically, wine can tell us a lot simply by looking at it. Is it red, white or rose?  Does it have bubbles?  Is it browning on the edges? Is it dark purple or a light garnet in color?  Is it clear or hazy?

A couple of guidelines: wines from cooler climes are often lighter in color than those from warmer climates, a browning in color (especially around the edges) indicates oxidation – which usually means the wine is aged, and if the wine is not perfectly clear, that’s alright.  Many wines have sediment floating in them and this is typically just an indication that they have not been filtered.  If you see little white crystals in the bottom of your wineglass, fear not! These are just crystals of tartaric that have fallen out of solution–if you are feeling adventurous, you can even eat them.  They’ll tase, not surprisingly, like acid.

SWIRL

Next up, the ever so fun swishy-swish!  DO NOT be ashamed of this step as it is perhaps the most important thing we can do to enhance our tasting experience.  When we swirl our glass of wine we are vastly expanding its surface area and volatizing some of its aromatic particles.  We are also exposing it to oxygen which can help it open up.  From experience I would recommend making sure you have a glass with a nice spherical or tulip shape before swirling.  This will also help funnel the aroma of the wine to your nose.

Nice Legs! Everybody talks about them, but what do they refer to?  Legs are the streams of wine that course down the side of your glass after swishing.  The thing to know is that they are an indication of the viscosity of the wine and therefore its alcohol content.  The more plentiful and vigorous the legs the higher the alcohol count.

SNIFF

Bring the glass up to your nose and take a big sniff.  What are you looking for?  You can read about and study various aroma wheels, but I like to break it down into fruit, floral, earth, and wood.  While “fruit” and “floral” are straightforward, “earth” refers to notes that remind me of underbrush, topsoil, minerality, clay, etc.  “Wood” refers aromas like cedar, vanilla, dill and coconut that result from the oak that wine is aged in contact with.

SIP

Now it is finally time to get your mouth wet.  Take a sip of your wine and let it sit on the top of your tongue.  Did you taste sweetness on the tip of your tongue? Are you experiencing a puckering sensation from the acidity?  Get a sense of the wine’s weight, which clues you into the body of the wine (heavy = full body).  Now draw in a short breath over the wine- this will take its aroma up to the olfactory receptors in your nose.  Start moving the wine around in your mouth and note any feelings of dryness; this is the tannin in the wine binding with the protein in your saliva and literally drying out your mouth.  Make sure you are thinking about any fruit, earth, wood and floral characters the wine might have.  Finally, swallow (or spit) and note how long the flavors and aromas linger.

GRAB A GLASS!

Here’s my challenge to you.  Find the closest bottle of wine… wait, put the bottle of cooking sherry back by the stove!  Grab the closest bottle of palatable wine and pour yourself a glass.  Now run through the process doing your best to think about the wine, what it’s telling you and how you feel about it.  Take your time, have fun with it.  The idea is to build your own wine vocabulary at your own pace.

Flashing back to our date scenario, keep in mind that all you really need to do when tasting wine in a restaurant is to give it a little swirl and a sniff.  If it smells clean (we will discuss wine faults later, but for now, just know that a cardboard odor is not a good sign!), smile, approve, and proceed.

blue moon

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: HOMEMADE GRENADINE

As you may already know, teaching is my day job.  Eighth grade English, to be precise.  And in-service started this week.  Hence this post involves cocktails.

back to school cocktails

I know; I’m very lucky to have a summer vacation at all.  My job is truly fabulous because I love my students and I’m able to have a big chunk of time off to do all kinds of other things I may be interested in doing.  But a big part of why my job works so well for me is that I was. not. made. to sit behind a desk and/or in meetings all day.  And in-service is pretty much one big meeting.

So.

Doubtless you’re familiar with grenadine—if you’re like me, from the Shirley Temples of your youth?—but it’s also used to add color and sweetness to “grownup” drinks.  Originally, grenadine was made from pomegranates, hence the signature fuschia color, but as you can see, the bottled pre-made no longer has such wholesome origins:

storebought grenadine

Therefore I suggest to you the simple, even meditative act of making your own grenadine and storing it handily in the fridge where it will be waiting for you when you come home from a long day of meetings.

Even though the summer is technically “over” now that school has started, it’s still hot as blazes and so we’re going to keep the Summer Classics Series going through Labor Day–be on the lookout for a lovely Farmer’s Market Pasta & a killer fresh-fig dessert.

HOMEMADE GRENADINE (pomegranate syrup) grenadine ingredients
adapted from Alton Brown

ingredients:

4 cups pomegranate juice
juice from half a lemon
½ -1 cup sugar (adjust according to the amount of sugar in your brand of pomegranate juice)

Combine all of the ingredients in a deep saucepan over medium heat, stirring while it heats until the sugar has dissolved.  Turn the heat down and allow the mixture to simmer until the syrup has reduced by at least half.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool at room temperature before transferring to a jar in the fridge.  This will yield between 1 ½ – 2 cups of homemade grenadine, which should keep in the fridge for up to six months.

There are a million cocktail recipes out there that involve grenadine, but here’s one classic & one that I just made up:

TEQUILA SUNRISE

These things go down like a vacation in a glass.  Ahhh…..

you will need: tequila sunrises

tequila
orange juice (freshly squeezed is extra delicious!)
homemade grenadine

The method is simple: fill a glass with ice.  Pour in some tequila, as much or as little as you’d like.  Pour in orange juice nearly to the top of the glass, leaving just enough room to drizzle a few tablespoons of grenadine over the whole thing.  Because it’s a syrup, it will ease down slowly to make a lovely pattern—like a sunrise—so don’t stir!  Just drink.

BACK-TO-SCHOOL TONIC

Because I just threw this one together, feel free to adapt it in any way you see fit.  Basically this is like a cosmopolitan, just with pomegranate flavor instead of cranberry.  And it was delicious.  Cheers!

you will need:

1 lemon
orange liquor (I used Cointreau)
vodka
homemade grenadine

If you’d like a fancy lemon garnish, I recommend peeling a curlique with a paring knife before you juice the lemon; much easier.

For two drinks, fill a cocktail strainer with ice.  Squeeze in the whole lemon, add a generous glug of orange liquor & two shots of vodka.  Pour in between ½ – ¾ cup grenadine.

Shake it all up, strain, and pour.  Garnish with lemon twists or orange slices, etc.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE

People! This is so unbelievably easy and delicious, you must make it NOW. No, seriously, because when you do, you will take one sip and promptly kick yourself for not trying it sooner.

homemade iced coffee goodness

Cold-brew iced coffee is a world of difference from throwing some ice cubes into formerly hot, regularly-brewed coffee. The long “brewing” process extracts all the levels of flavor from your coffee but leaves out a good deal of bitterness. I recommend springing for a pound of “nice” coffee beans when making cold-brew, as the complexity will really shine through.

Plus—added broken economy bonus!—it is so much cheaper to make iced coffee at home than to buy it at your friendly neighborhood coffee-pusher. Even if you spend $10-12 on your pound of beans, that pound will generate at least 2 dozen servings of iced coffee before you’re through. Fifty cents a cup?  So save some money and liven up your morning…I’m telling you, there is nothing better for the Friday morning commute than a tall travel-mug full of cold, caffeinated deliciousness.

COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE coffee beans

This recipe produces a concentrate, meaning that the finished product is designed to be diluted with water and/or ice before milk, cream, sweetener, are added. I, for example, like mine mixed with creamy vanilla soy milk & a little sweetener.

That being said, if you are a caffeine junkie like, ahem, someone I live with, dilution may not be necessary.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups water (use bottled or filtered if you want extra-good stuff)

2/3 cup ground coffee

(don’t buy pre-ground; either grind at home to a medium/coarse grind or request a barista to do the same)

Combine the two ingredients—I like to use a large liquid measuring cup or something similar, with a spout, to make pouring the next day easier. You’ll want to use a spoon or spatula to stir in the grounds; it’s a little messy, but don’t worry, this is not an exact science.

Cover the mixture with a plate or plastic wrap and let sit on room temperature overnight (or for a good long while). If you have a French press, use it as you would for hot coffee. If not, line the opening of a wide-mouth jar with a coffee filter and pour through. You may need to repeat once or twice to remove all of the grounds.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Keeps for…well, I don’t know how long, because in my house, it’s always gone in a week!

morning coffee to-go

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A BIRTHDAY & A WELCOME

Hello fine people!  I do so hope you are doing well and keeping cool out there as July winds itself up into August (to ask the proverbial rhetorical: when did that happen?)

I have two VERY EXCITING pieces of news for you today!  First, my Blue Jean Spouse & sweet love, Jill, is celebrating her birthday tomorrow.  Can I just say, I’m so achingly grateful that she came into the world and I’m tremendously proud to share my life with her.  Happy birthday, honey!

gala

Second, and there’s even a fun tie-in here, I am so pleased to announce that we have a new addition here at Blue Jean Gourmet!  My best friend’s brother, Anders, has agreed to be our guest sommelier, sharing his wine expertise with us monthly (read his full bio here).  He’ll post on special topics and tie-in with what we’re cooking around here, but he’s also happy to answer any wine questions you may have.  So please comment away!

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love wine of all kinds, the world of wine can be a little intimidating and needlessly snobby.  Anders, while he has the credentials and knowledge, is a totally approachable, down-to-earth guy and I think he will fit right in around here.  He’s even created his own clever Wine Rating Scale so you don’t have to fuss with boring points.  Not to mention, he’s totally handsome, right?  Anders

(I’m allowed to say that; I’m his sister’s best friend.)

So, enough from me already—I’ll turn you over to him.  Have a lovely weekend, everyone, and I’ll see you on Tuesday, when our regular, recipe-posts will resume.


Greetings to all of Blue Jean Gourmet’s faithful and happy birthday Jill!

Normally I would talk about how to take wine drinking (and tasting) to the next level in my first post.  But seeing that it is Jill’s birthday and given Jill’s proclivity for sparkling wine, Nishta asked me to touch on the subject.  So here goes…

Sparkling wine is a very special type of juice.  Originally it was actually the bane of winemakers in cooler climates.  For centuries, winemakers trying to make dry wines were puzzled by bottles that kept developing bubbles and often exploded in their cellars.  What they didn’t realize was that when they laid their wines down to spontaneously ferment over the winter, the cold temperatures of Northern France and England were halting the process and leaving excess sugar behind.  The winemakers would then bottle the wine which would later restart fermentation in the spring, creating CO2 and carbonating the wine.

Eventually some of our wine-consuming predecessors developed a taste for this frothy wine and savvy producers figured out ways to make stronger glass, better ferment the wine, and even remove the dead yeast cells from the bottles after an intentional second fermentation was completed.  As a result, today we enjoy crystal clear sparklers that seem to embody the spirit of celebration and whose combination of effervescence and high acid make them formidable pairing wines.

For Jill’s birthday, I want to focus on a sparkler that I find especially compelling because simply- it is darn good for the amount of money you have to shell out.  The bodacious bubbly in question is Cava; a Spanish wine that can be made in any of six different wine-making regions but typically comes from the Penedes region in Catalonia (about 50 kilometers from Barcelona).

The secret to Cava’s success is that it is required by law to be produced in what is known as the Traditional Method (just like Champagne).  This means every bottle has to go through its second fermentation in the bottle you buy it in rather than in a different bottle or in a massive tank.

This process has important implications on the size, longevity and abundance of bubbles as well as the potential for yeasty notes in the final product.  It’s these yeasty notes and fine bubbles that define high-end Champagne and can be found in Cava for sometimes as little as one-tenth of the price.  If you are wondering what exactly “yeasty notes” encompasses- they are flavors and aromas of bread, biscuits, brioche, etc. combined with a slightly creamy mouthfeel.

Some pairing ideas for dry white Cava: grilled shrimp with lemon juice and garlic, sushi or sashimi, fried oysters, crackers with Gouda.  Or, if you are an East-Coaster like me, try it with lobster and butter.  Cheers!

1+1=3 Brut NV                                              ~$15.99 Retail 1+1=3BrutNVCava

My first impression of the 1+1=3 is that when I sat down taste it 10 minutes after it had been opened and five minutes after it had been poured, is that it had already stopped bubbling, lame.  After putting to my nose my mood shifted as it displayed nicely subtle aromas of almond paste and clover.  It had a strong lemon flavor and a healthy acidity. Overall I wasn’t blown away and I was never the best student of arithmetic but I’m pretty sure 1+1=2.

Anders’ Rating: What Else is on the Shelf?


parxetcuvee21Cava

Parxet Cuvee 21 NV                                     ~$10.99 Retail

The Parxet was also not bubbling when I sat down, but showed some yeasty characters upon inspection with my nose.  Aromas of toasted brioche melded well with a very lemony palate.  To my surprise it became quite pleasantly frothy in my mouth, despite being previously devoid of bubbles.  It showed a racy acidity and a nuance of raw almond that lingered on the finish.

Anders’ Rating: Class for the Coin


Gramona Gran Cuvee 2004                         ~$19.99 Retail  GramonaGranCuvee2004

Hooray! Bubbles from the beginning! Awesome aromatic intensity- what was that?  Browned biscuit, amaretto cookies and pineapple on the nose? Yummy. The palate didn’t disappoint with a nice weight, creamy mouthfeel and flavors of pineapple and mandarin.  A good length too!  If you can spare the 20 greenbacks I would certainly give it a try. It kept me guessing as new flavors kept emerging.

Anders’ Rating: Top Notch


aria-pinot-noir-bottleSegura Viudas Aria Pinot Noir Brut NV    ~$12.99 Retail

The Segura was by far the champ when it came to bubble longevity, the CO2 just wouldn’t relent.  A strikingly floral and fruity nose of rose petals, red raspberry and tangerine.  I was surprised to get conspicuous blueberry on the palate, complemented by a generous honey note.  Seemed much sweeter than I actually think it was, probably could have used a little more acidity.  However, really fun and complex, my only caveat is that if you don’t like fruity and floral this probably won’t be your thing. It was absolutely stellar with smoked salmon and I am drying to try it with Tuna Maguro.

Anders’ Rating: Class for the Coin

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FATHER’S DAY BRUNCH: EGGS BENEDICT & BLOODY MARYS

dad

There’s a self-consciousness that comes with grief, the consciousness that the people around you:

a) have never experienced anything like what you’re going through,

b) are utterly at a loss for what to do to comfort/support you,

c) wish you would just “get better” already,

d) are terrified by the thought of death and hate you reminding them that their loved ones will die.

Sometimes I feel like “that girl who talks about her dead father all the time.”

In the filing cabinet of my brain and heart, food and my father are inextricably linked. One of the great ironies of it all is that losing my father, an unabashed epicure, sent me straight into the kitchen, where I got really good at cooking all kinds of things I wish I could make for him now.

For example, Eggs Benedict and an excellently spiced Bloody Mary—robust, made with love, fit for a king. It’s the brunch I’d make for my dad if I could.

Pray tell, what are you feeding your father (or husband, partner, uncle, grandpa, etc) on Sunday? Are you cooking at home or taking him out? Does your family have a Father’s Day culinary tradition? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Wishing all Dads a very happy Father’s Day, with lots of love from BJG.

EGGS BENEDICT (BLUE JEAN GOURMET STYLE)

EB--decorated, close-up

There are lots of variations on theme of EB; this is just how I happen to like mine.  I really don’t think you can go wrong if you stick to the basic premise of  layering toothsome pork product & gooey egg on top of crusty bread and slathering the whole thing in hollandaise.

A word about hollandaise.  It’s really not as fussy as everyone makes it out to be–at least, it has not been a culinary-pain-in-the-butt for me.  I’ve heard tell that you can make hollandaise in a blender, and if you have done so with success and think it’s way easier than my method, please do share.  I’ve made mine several times the old-fashioned way with great success, so if you’ve been afraid to try the stuff, I urge you to give it a whirl.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

spinach (either a package of frozen, chopped or a big bunch of fresh)

English muffins (traditional) or another bread product

Canadian bacon (substitute thick-cut ham or many slices of thin-cut ham)

poached eggs*

eggs, butter, water, fresh lemon juice (for the hollandaise)

salt & pepper, hot sauce (optional)

TO MAKE HOLLANDAISE:

2 egg yolks

juice from 1/2 a lemon

6 T butter, cut into cubes

salt & pepper

Combine the egg yolks with lemon juice in a small saucepan.  Whisk to combine over low heat; the yolks should thicken quickly.  Toss in the butter cubes and continue whisking until the butter has melted.

hollandaise step 2

hollandaise step 3

hollandaise fin

The mixture will become a bit lighter in color, which is a good indication that you’ve got things well-emulsified.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

TO ASSEMBLE:

The trickiest part about making this breakfast is the timing.  You basically want to save the hollandaise for last, because it does best when served very soon after it’s made–it’s a little bit diva like that (na-na-na-a-diva-is-a-female-version…okay, yeah I’m going to have that song in my head now.)

My plan of action is usually this:

1) cook spinach, season with salt & pepper, set aside

2) brown Canadian bacon in a skillet, keep warm in a low oven

3) toast English muffins, add to the low oven

4) poach eggs* & turn out into a paper-towel-lined platter in, you guessed it!, a low oven

5) make hollandaise

6) stack ’em: English muffin half on bottom, top with Canadian bacon, then spinach, then a poached egg.  repeat.  pour on the Hollandaise with a generous hand!

* The internet is full of wisdom for how best to poach one’s eggs; I’ve done them the old-fashioned way, in a pot of vinegar-spiked water and I’ve done them the lazy way, in an egg poacher.  However you get your eggs poached is fine by me!

BEST BLOODY MARY MIX

bloody mary

ingredients:

1 large bottle spicy-hot V8

Juice of 2 limes

2 T. white vinegar

2 T. prepared horseradish

2 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. garlic powder

1 tsp. celery salt

1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

A generous glug of any of the following
olive juice, pickle juice, or juice from pickled jalapeños

Plenty of freshly-ground pepper

garnish: celery, spicy green olives, limes, celery salt

Combine all ingredients and store in a pitcher in the refrigerator. When you’re ready for drinks, first “salt” the rim of your glasses.  Rub the lip of each glass with a lime wedge; then, turn the glass upside down and onto a plate-full of celery salt.  Twist the glass to form a rim.

To mix a drink, combine 3 parts mix to 1 part vodka or gin over ice.  Garnish with a tall stalk of celery and a toothpick speared with an olive & lime wedge.

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