Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SwirlSavvy's New Wine Column on Culinate

It's official! I have my first regular wine column. I'll be writing "Swirl," a fun Q&A wine column for a food and cooking-oriented community/social network site called Culinate. It's one of domestic goddess Rachael Ray's favorite sites and I hope it becomes one of yours too.

The first column "Making a good bottle choice" is included below. Send over questions you'd like addressed in the column. And again, thanks for your support.

I got hooked on wine while living in San Francisco. After moving there, I quickly began spending as much time as possible (without raising eyebrows) in Napa and Sonoma counties. Shortly after discovering this new world, I fell in love with how passionate everyone in the industry is about wine — from winemakers to vineyard caretakers to the people who poured the wine in tasting rooms.

Wine wasn’t something they learned about and drank to impress their friends or colleagues. Instead, they believed, as I do now, that wine is something of the earth, which makes us slow down, at least for a bit, to take time truly to commune with others.

And most importantly, wine is simply a soulful and delicious thing to drink.

With this in mind, I’d like Swirl to take the intimidation out of wine and add more fun and adventure to the subject. As a food-loving friend of Culinate, I’m eager to answer your wine-related questions, whether related to entertaining, food pairing, what to try, how to order — whatever’s on your mind. To get this Q&A format going, please send your questions to me at Anu [at] SwirlEvents [dot] com.

How to be sure to pick a good wine

To kick off, I’d like to address one of the most commonly asked questions: “How do I make sure a wine I pick is going to be good without tasting it?”

We have so many choices in wine, whether in a restaurant or in the supermarket aisles, and we can’t “try wine on” before paying for it the way we would a new pair of shoes. Picking the “right” bottle can give some of us the trepidation we normally experience in a used-car lot.

Many of us choose wine based on a label we find familiar or attractive, and make a beeline out of the store, praying the bottle is good enough to go with the elaborate dinner we’ve planned.

Here are some methods to deal with the madness:

  1. Know the importer. There are a healthy handful of great wine importers that scour the back roads of tiny villages across the world to find the best international bottles (tough job, eh?). You’re nearly certain to pick a worthy bottle by choosing one of their selections. Some of my favorite importers include Kermit Lynch, Michael Skurnik, Louis Dressner, Jenny & Francois (great for natural/organic), Terry Theise, Becky Wasserman, and Rosenthal.
  2. Establish your go-to shop. I prefer shopping in small wine shops. When shelf space is precious, each bottle needs to earn its keep. Plus, a small wine shop doesn’t make me glaze over like the superstores do. A good wine shop’s staff should be well-educated about wine in general, and very knowledgeable about their particular selection. Keep going to the same store so the staff learns your preferences. And most importantly, make your preferences known. Remember one good bottle you had recently and be able to describe your experience. You don’t have to have remembered the producer or vintage. If you can say, “I recently loved this white wine because it was really fresh and tasted zippy in my mouth,” or “I’ve had a few Oregon Pinot Noirs and really enjoyed them, but want to try something a bit different,” you give the staff a lot to go on about your tastes.
  3. Expand your horizons, slightly. Generally like Chardonnay? Then try its “Old World” (i.e., European) equivalent, white Burgundy. It’s the same grape, but Old World convention names the wine by its region of origin instead of by the varietal (grape) name. A few more equivalents to get you started: Pinot Noir = red Burgundy; Cabernet/Merlot = Bordeaux (red); Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon = Bordeaux (white); Sancerre and Pouilly-Fuissé, Sangiovese = Chianti.

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How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

Visit http://www.riasbaixaswines.com for more info on Rías Baixas Albariños from Spain

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