Monday, October 19, 2020

10 Tips for Wine Beginners

It's well known that choosing a wine can be an overwhelming experience but it’s also super gratifying to know and learn about wine. With that thought in mind, here are my two cents, for all of you in the beginner's line. 

1-Taste, taste, taste, yes! like everything else, practice makes perfect here too! try to taste as much as possible, take advantage of in-store tastings, go to events (when those are back), and experiment buying a different wine every weekend.  Don't be shy, think outside the box, nobody says you must drink always the same variety or brand.

2-Smell, Smell, Smell, yes! if you really want to recognize all the aromas in wines, you will need to train your nose. Smell everything, not just wine, fruits, flowers, herbs, minerals, earth, spices, meats, etc.

3-Buy a set of good wine glasses, of course you can drink from a cup too, but if you are going to be serious about wine, you need proper wine glasses: Riedel, Spiegelau, Jancis Robinson’s or Andrea Robinson's are my favorites. 

4-Become friends with your wine store guy/gal. Until you know what you like, your wine store guy/gal can let you know about sales and specials, but also he/she can give you advice about wine styles, grapes, matching of food and wine, etc.

5-Don’t always buy the most expensive wine or the cheapest in the list. Well, those that have money think that this is the easiest shortcut, I’m going to buy the most expensive wine and it should be good? Well, sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. Buy things that you like, and trust your palate. I have a confession to make, I do read wine scores, but only follow the critics whose palates I like. I had my share of surprises in the past, when I purchased wines that received 90 + pts and yet I didn’t like them and couldn't understand why they received those ratings. 

6-Visit wine regions, you can start small, like finding out if there are any wine regions near you, for those that live in NY, go to Long Island or the Finger Lakes. Take a winery tour, learn how wine is made (so nerdy of me to plan vacations near wine regions!). Of course, check before hand that they are open and keep social distance.

7-Learn to spit your wines, I know what you are going to say but I want to drink my wine and feel the booze! if you are tasting only 1 or 2 wines that will be ok, but if you plan to taste more, the only way you will be able to do this is by spitting. If you don’t want to make a mess, keep a plastic cup handy with you to spit and then dump it into the sink or bucket (if you are at a wine event).

8-Drink plenty of water, though wine is divine… it will dehydrate you... so drink water to avoid this, and avoid getting drunk too. 1 glass of water per glass of wine should prevent you from making a full of yourself. And have some food, plain crackers will work, avoid tasting with an empty stomach.

9-Read wine books, here are some of my favorites: Karen MacNeil’s "The Wine Bible", Andrea Robinson’s "Great Wines Made Simple", Mary Ewing Mulligan and Ed Mc Carthy’s "Wine, all in one for Dummies" , Jancis Robinson's "The 24 Hour Wine Expert". You want to get technical? Jancis Robinson's "Oxford Wine Companion", Oz Clarke's "Encyclopedia of Grapes", Emile Peynaud's "Knowing and Making Wine", David Bird's "Understanding Wine Technology", etc. 

10-Lastly, read my blog, you can start here: Tasting Basics, Vinification, Basic grapes: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Matching Food and Wine, Buying a mixed case of wine. So, there you have it, my 10 tips for wine beginners! Cheers, Silvina. 


















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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Pairing Wine and Cheese

By popular request, I decided to dedicate this post to a topic unknown to me: the matching/pairing of Cheese and Wine
Unlike most people, I’m not a Cheese eater, my mother suffered from eclampsia (high pressure) while expecting me, and one of her episodes ended up accelerating the early delivery of La Wina into this world.  I came one month before my time and I was a super tiny baby, only weighing 2 kgs when I was born and according to my family, I was too little to breastfeed, so the only way to feed me was via intubation, which means that basically my mother's milk went into my nose. 
To this day, I think this is the reason why, I can’t stand the smell of raw cheese and I only eat cheese when it is cooked like in a pizza or a grilled cheese sandwich. For many years I couldn’t stand butter or milk either! though I started eating butter in my early 20s. With milk, it was different, when I was about 6 years old, I stood my ground and told my mother that I was not going to have milk ever again… (she was forcing on me, two glasses of chocolate milk per day, one in the Am and one in the Pm). No wonder! all I consume these days is almond milk!

Later on, when I was studying wine, I took a class with MS Andrea Robinson to learn how to match wine with foods, guess what? One of her classes was about Cheese… I basically wanted to kill myself, how was I going to eat a whole plate of raw cheeses to master this combination? But thanks to my love for wine, that was so big, even then, I had a tiny little piece of each sample and agreed with Andrea in all her wine and cheese pairings. 

Personal taste aside, I’m fully aware that plenty of the winos love and consume cheese. And cheese and wine make not only an incredible combination, but dinner in many European countries. But most importantly, wine and cheese have a lot in common, for starters, both are the product of fermentation. And cheese like wine can be tasted and assessed by analyzing its basic elements. 

When tasting Cheese like in wine, a lot can be learned by looking at their color and appearance, it’s important also to touch the cheese with your hands to have a better feel of its texture and density, which is very important when pairing. Of course like in wine, Cheese aromas are important, the cheese connoisseur will usually smell the interior, as well as the rind of the Cheese to determine its intensity. On the palate, acidity is also noticed, as well as sweetness, savoriness, saltiness and bitterness. And of course the mouthfeel, is the body of the cheese soft as a mousse? Or maybe creamy? or hard or crumbly? What notes does one get? Dairy (buttery for example) or maybe vegetal or herbaceous, mineral, floral or fruity, fermented or with aromas and flavors of fungi? As I was listening… I started making some mental notes… since some of these things I know from smelling and tasting wines. Eureka! a connection was finally made. 

In the case of Cheese, besides considering their intensity and density, it is also important to check the aging. Fresh cheese has more water content and a delicate texture, while Aged cheese is richer, with more fat and protein. As a cheese ages and dries, it gets more complex flavors: earthy, nutty, or mushroomy notes for example and different levels of pungency that may collide with aromas and flavors in wine. So, always, try to keep the balance between them, remember what I wrote about food and wine pairings, click here to read this again.

Combine Fresh Cheese such as Ricotta, Mozzarella, Burrata, Feta, Halloumi, Camembert, Goat cheeses, etc with delicate and crisp whites, dry rosés and sparkling wines.  For example, combine Goat cheese with Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.  
Combine Semi Hard and Medium Aged Cheeses, that have more flavor and texture such as Edam, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Manchego, etc, with full bodied whites (white Burgundy) and fruity reds such Dolcetto.
Combine Stinky and Blue Cheeses that are savory and salty such as Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, with wines with sweetness for a nice contrast: Port, Oloroso Sherry, or Sauternes will be a perfect match.
Combine Hard Aged Cheeses that have a dense body, nuttiness and saltiness such as Aged Cheddar, Aged Gouda, Asiago and Parmigiano Reggiano with beefer reds such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Rhone Blends. Be careful with tannins, the best pairing to tannic wines will always be fat cheeses with plenty of proteins, tannins won’t go well with high acidity cheeses, since acid makes tannins more astringent and bitter in your palate.
To make things easier for the Cheese lover in you, here is a cheat sheet to some favorite wines and Cheese combinations.

Grape VarietyCheese
Cabernet Sauvignon Aged Cheddar, Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano
ChardonnayBrie, Gruyere, Parmesan, Provolone
Pinot Gris Brie, Edam, Goat Cheese, Mozzarella, Ricotta 
Pinot Noir Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Muenster
Port/MadeiraBlue, Gorgonzola, Stilton 
Rioja/ TempranilloAsiago, Cheddar, Havarti, Manchego 
Chianti/SangioveseFontina, Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano 
Sauvignon BlancGoat Cheese, Feta, Gruyere
Syrah Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano

Remember to keep experimenting and spicing up your lives! Cheers, Silvina.

#wineandcheese #wineandfood #thoughtsoflawina #cheese


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Grape Varieties: Garnacha or Grenache?

Historically France, Italy and Spain have claimed for themselves to be the country of origin for Garnacha Tinta/ Grenache Noir/ Cannonau. However, all historical evidence proves it is indeed a Spanish grape variety originally from Aragón. This is so, because in Spain is where we can find the greatest diversity of this vine, including all three colors of the Garnacha varieties (black, grey and white) as well as Garnacha mutations such as the Garnacha Peluda.  

This post is dedicated to Garnacha Tinta that produces a variety of very interesting wines, from fruity, easy to drink reds (Côtes du  Rhône Villages, Cariñena, Campo de Borja), to dry, fleshy rosé (Provence, Navarra, Tavel), to big bodied reds (Rasteau, Gigondas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat) and sweet dessert wines like the Vin Doux Naturel or VDN (Banyuls, Maury, Rivesaltes and Rasteau).

Garnacha/Grenache is a very Mediterranean grape, it was exported from Spain to the South of France (Languedoc Roussillon, and the Southern Rhône), to Sardinia, Italy but, it also can be found in other countries along the Mediterranean such as Greece, Israel, Cyprus and North Africa. This is due in part to its love for warm, hot weather, Garnacha/Grenache needs plenty of sunshine to mature and won’t do well in moderate climates. 

It is early budding but late ripening, it has plenty of sugar, which means it can yield high alcohol levels very easily on its own, (16% is the norm). It’s a very vigorous vine, usually pruned in a short bush (globelet), closer to the ground, to easily receive the heat from the soils and withstand strong winds like the fierce Mistral in the Southern Rhône.  It’s a vigorous vine, and does better at low yields, no more than 35 hl/ht, though top producers such as the famous Chateau Rayas will only have yields of 15 hl/ht tops and others in Priorat will have vines with yields at 5 hl/ht.  It can suffer from coulure (uneven flowering) and from downy mildew and bunch rot due to its tight bunches and thin skins. It does best when stressed, and can tolerate drought, better than any other variety, though in some places irrigation is allowed. Hot, well drained soils are best for Garnacha/Grenache, such as the galets (huge round stones) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or the llicorella (slate) or schist of Priorat, but also soils with high limestone content will be excellent to provide acidity that this variety very much needs. 

It yields a very sexy wine with a pale red color (a usual give away when tasting blind) and red fruit notes of strawberry, red plum, red cherries, fresh or stewed. It can showcase spices such as garrigue herbs,oregano, tobacco and white pepper. Most Garnacha/Grenache based wines will have low to moderate acidity, and very soft tannins. When yields are high such as in the basic appellations of Côtes du Rhône, the wines tend to be approachable sooner. Low yields give wines with a lot of concentration and extract, heavy and dense, these can easily age for at least 20 years. Low yields usually happen from meticulous pruning but also from very old vines, some of which can be over 100 years old and ungrafted. (like those in Priorat & Barossa Valley).
The alcohol level in these wines is always high, and it can be a challenge for the producer to keep it balanced with the rest of the elements, most Garnacha/Grenache wines tend to have big bodies, even in the case of rosé. Garnacha/Grenache is prone to oxidation, and this is why it is usually blended with other grapes in most appellations; historically, it has been used as a filler that provides body and alcohol. GSM wines are the typical blend of Mourvèdre (Monastrell) Garnacha/Grenache and Syrah popular in France, California and Australia. 

At the winery and to make red wines, Garnacha is macerated with skins to extract color and some carbonic maceration (whole berry fermentation), which is used to preserve its fruit. Stainless steel, concrete or old oak vessels are preferred, and no excessive new oak, which can strip the wine of its delicious fruitiness. A slow and long fermentation, with minimal racking is recommended to avoid oxidation.

In the case of rosés, the focus is to keep the fruit and the freshness as much as possible, to do that, producers will pick earlier to keep some of the acidity, and do direct pressing, very quickly getting a pale salmon color wine like the wines of Provence. In Navarra, Spain, there is a short maceration with skins which will provide a deeper pink color. Stainless steel fermentation at low temperatures is the norm. 

In the case of the VDN (Vin Doux Naturels), these are fortified sweet wines, meaning that alcohol has been added to them, raising their levels to 16-18%. The addition of neutral grape spirit is done like in Port, during fermentation and to halt it. The addition of the spirit will kill the yeasts before they have a chance to eat all the sugars in the must, which will result in a sweet fortified wine. Some of the VDN are made in a youthful style, that will feature black fruit notes of blackberries, cherries, raisins. Others are exposed to oxygen, like Oloroso sherries or Madeiras, many of them are aged in demijohns (glass, large containers) that are exposed to the sun and heat. These wines will acquire a rancio character and feature caramel, nuts, coffee and chocolate notes. 

Best places to grow Grenache are in the Southern Rhône,  like Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages that provide entry level, every night, uncomplicated reds. Things will get more interesting in classic appellations such as Ventoux, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Rasteau and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tavel is known for its wonderful and refreshing rosés, blended with Cinsault. Reds are usually blends of Grenache with Syrah and Mourvèdre. There’s plenty of Grenache in appellations in the Languedoc Roussillon and Provence (rosés). In Spain, we find the beefest Garnacha reds in Priorat, where it can be blended with Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Navarra makes wonderful rosé wines (sometimes blended with Tempranillo) Campo de Borja, Calatayud, Cariñena and Penedès produce beautiful reds made of Garnacha, sometimes blended with Carignan.  Australia’s Barossa Valley and Mc Laren Vale produce good samples from very old vines usually between 100 to 150 years old.  California’s Paso Robles and South Africa have shown a lot of promise too. 
In general, Garnacha/Grenache is best consumed when young, except in the case of big bodied reds that can age up to 20 years, VDN can age for much longer for 30 to 40 years. 

Top Producers: 
Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Château Rayas,  Clos des Papes, La Nerthe, Vieux Télégraphe, Château de Beaucastel, Domaine St Préfert, Domaine Giraud, Paul Autard, Famille Perrin. etc. 
Priorat: Alvaro Palacios, Mas Martinet, Clos Mogador, Costers del Siurana, Clos Erasmus.
Provence Rosé: Chateau D'Esclans, Miraval, Hecht and Bannier, Champs de Provence, Mirabeau, Domaine Ott. 
Navarra Rosé: Nekeas, Castillo de Monjardin, Gran Feudo (Julian Chivite), Senorio de Sarria.
California Rhone Rangers: Alban, Bonny Doon, Tablas Creek, Epoch.
Australia: D’Arenberg, Penfolds, Yalumba, Hardys.

New releases I tasted lately, all under $25: Garnacha/ Grenache at this price point, offers everything to please the crowds: fat bodied reds, high but very well integrated alcohol, super soft tannins and plenty of fruit, minerality and spice! Try any of them, you won't be disappointed!

Las Moradas de San Martin Senda 2016, $13.99 (DO Vinos de Madrid)
Made from 100% Garnacha from 40 to 85 years old vines. This wine is organic, and bottled without filtration. Aged for 10 months in French oak.
Fleshy red with light tannins offers black fruits (plum and blackberries) blended with spice (cinnamon and cloves) notes from oak.

Marqués de Cáceres Garnacha 2018, $18.99 (DO Cariñena)
100% Garnacha red from vines averaging 30 to 40 years old. Macerated with skins for 15 days followed by alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel and aged in bottle for 6 months.
Smooth, yet dense red, full of red fruit aromas featuring fresh raspberry and strawberry, and a beautiful juicy finish.

Famille Perrin Nature Rouge 2018, $14.99 (AOC Côtes du Rhône)
A blend of Grenache with Syrah, made from certified organic vineyards. Fermented in stainless steel, followed by aging in vats for a year.
Mellow, every night red, offers black currant, garrigue, black olives and white pepper notes, laced in a supple finish.

Famille Perrin Les Cornuds 2017, $19.99 (AOC Vinsobres)
The typical blend of Grenache and Syrah. The Grenache is fermented in stainless steel while the Syrah is fermented in wooded tanks, the Syrah is also partially aged in oak from one year.
Tantalizing red, featuring blackberry, cherry and black pepper notes.

Domaine La Font de Notre Dame La Source 2018, $23.99 (AOC Rasteau)
A super blend of mostly Grenache (80%), Mourvedre (10%) Syrah (5%) and Cinsault (5%).  The average age of the vines at the domaine is 80 years old. 25 % of the wine is aged in second use French oak. 
Unctuous red featuring ripe black fruits (black cherries and plums), licorice and graphite notes.

Domaine Guintrandy Visan 2017, $18.99 (AOC Cotes Du Rhone Villages)
A blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah from 30 year old vines that are certified organic. This wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Mineral laden (chalky) red offers blueberry, ripe plum and licorice notes and a refined finish.

Castell D' Age 0%S02 Added, 100% Garnatxa 2018, $23.99 (DO Penedès)
100 % Garnacha from biodynamic vineyards. The wine was made without sulfur and it says so on the label. Fermentation takes place with indigenous yeasts. No filtration or clarification, this is a red "au naturel".
Super sensuous red, featuring raspberry marmalade and black cherry notes.

Happy Garnacha/ Grenache day! which this year falls this Friday 9/18/20. Cheers! Silvina.

#Thoughtsoflawina #Garnacha #Grenache #WineWednesday

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Thanks to Cynthia Hurley French Wines, Vineyard Brands & Las Moradas de San Martin for this beautiful selection of wines.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Bye Bye Summer 2020!

I must admit, this was no ordinary Summer! Though, things are getting a bit better in NJ,  we have fewer cases Covid 19 everyday and a low infection rate, still things are far from normal and so different from preCovid times.

It was also the first summer in years I spent working, maybe I should toast to that, that I was able to work and to learn! Part of the summer, I spent attending many wine webinars, brushing up and looking for topics to write in my blog, and though, I didn’t have a proper vacation like every year,  that didn’t stop me from enjoying other things, like walks in the park, outdoors lunch and dinners with friends (always respecting social distancing), series binge watching (right now I’m exploring non Netflix venues, like Britbox, Hulu and Amazon Prime), and let’s not forget the streaming of concerts and plays (specially from Argentina). 

With a few days left before the end of the summer and before autumn comes lurking in, I decided to wave this summer goodbye with a picnic at the park enjoying a delicious bottle of sparkling white from boutique winery Sosie Wines.

Sosie’s owner and winemaker Scott MacFiggen and his wife Regina make a line that includes still (red, white and rosé) and sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Rhone varieties: Roussanne and Syrah. 
All of their vineyards are located in the very heart of California’s wine country, spread nearby Sonoma and Napa Valley. They are either certified organic or organic farmed, meaning grown without pesticides or chemicals, always protecting the health of the soils, the purity of the air and water, and the preservation of the local ecosystems.

Sosie Sparkling white 2018 is made from 100% Roussanne grapes sourced from their Vivio Vineyards, in Sonoma county.  I admit I  was looking forward to tasting this sample, since this is a first for me, most of the new world sparkling wines I tasted in the past were always either from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. The base wine was completely fermented with native yeasts, followed by malolactic fermentation in neutral oak casks. The bubbles were created using the traditional method (or Champenoise) with second fermentation in the bottle and aging on its lees for 14 months before degorge. No dosage was added, yielding a “Brut nature”, dry style.
This big body bubbly is full of ripe pear, herbal verbena and honey notes, interlaced with yeasty and almond flavors. Ending clean and polished.
Only 45 cases of this wine were produced.  The suggested retail price is $30, and best of all, you can buy this directly from the winery via this link.
Happy Labor Day! Bye bye Summer! Can’t wait to say bye bye to Covid 19 too, Cheers! Silvina.

#thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday #Sosiewines #Roussannesparkling

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Salads and Wines!

I have a confession to make, I have gained 5 pounds since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, maybe it was way too much chocolate, way too much ice cream, way too many cannolis from my favorite bakery that stayed open during the pandemic, or being at home all day.  
When I work,  I walk more, not only in my building but to commute back and forth and to run errands… And even though I have kept my morning walks like clockwork, it’s not the same… Oh well I guess it’s time to change my eating habits, before my pants get too tight! and what better way to do this than by eating more of my favorite salads. 
Guess what? I’m sharing some of my favorite recipes with you. Since, I have a sweet tooth, one thing I like to do is to add fruit to my salad… don’t look at me as I am from another world… this is just a great way to eat fruit too, especially if you are like me...I don’t eat enough fruit servings… I would go for the candy bar instead of an apple any day😀😄

For My Everything Salad (this is my lunch most of the days), you will need:
A box of Spring mixed Lettuce
Grape tomatoes 
Chickpeas from a can, to add extra protein and crunch
1 red delicious Apple cut in pieces, if there’s no apple you can substitute for fresh pineapple, or strawberries in the last case I don’t put tomatoes)
Green olives or pickled cucumbers
Roasted chicken breast cut in cubes
Salt, Pepper, EVOO and Balsamic Vinegar
I keep my dressing very simple, I don’t use commercial dressings, I don’t need all that creamy stuff/junk any way, all I use is extra virgin olive oil, lemon (if your protein is fish) or balsamic vinegar (for chicken or turkey), salt and black pepper.
I usually dress up the salad first, heat up the chicken for like 2 minutes in the microwave, so that it’s not cold but warm and add it in the end. If you don’t have chicken in the house,you can use turkey (cold cuts). 
The best match for this beautiful salad is a Sauvignon Blanc from Yllera Sauvignon Blanc 2019 $15 or Boada Verdejo 2019 $10 (both from Rueda, Spain). What did you think that I was going to stop drinking wine, to lose weight? I think I’d rather fast every other day (i.e. intermittent fasting). 

My second favorite salad is Baby Spinach and Sweet Pumpkin, and it has only 3 ingredients:
Baby Spinach or Arugula (if you are like me and like some bitterness on your greens, arugula can also work).
Roasted Kabocha Pumpkin or Roasted Korean Sweet Potatoes
2 Hard cooked eggs
Salt, Pepper, EVOO, Balsamic Vinegar
I cut the Kabocha pumpkin in cubes and I roast it in the oven with salt, pepper a bit of fresh dill and extra virgin olive oil). If you are using the Korean sweet potatoes, I cooked them wrapped in aluminum foil as you would any baked potato, once they are done you can wait until they cool down to cut them in cubes.
For protein, you can do chicken here too, but I’d prefer hard cooked eggs, cut in fine slices. Once again the dressing is the same, extra virgin olive oil, with balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper. My secret here is that I serve the squash or sweet potatoes warm, so I put them in the microwave for 1 minute before finishing the salad. 
The best match for this salad will be a Gewurztraminer, like the Elena Walsh AA Gewurztraminer V Kastelaz 2018. $30 (Alto Adige, Italy) or Domaine Fernand Engel Gewurztraminer Reserve 2018 $15 (Alsace, France).

Argentinean Waldorf Salad
5 Beets (boiled and cut in cubes)
2 Green Apples 
Walnuts (a bunch chopped)
Salt, Pepper, Light mayonnaise
This salad is one of the few I eat with mayonnaise, it’s my mother’s version of Waldorf. Most Waldorf’s recipes use celery instead of beets, but in my family we like it like this! It was a staple in all our holiday celebrations, especially for New Year’s eve, when it’s summer in Argentina.
I would match this with a rosé like Erath Winery Pinot Noir Rose 2018 $15 (Oregon, US) or Piedra Negra Rosado 2019 $12 (made from Pinot Gris, in Mendoza, Argentina)

I hope you will give my salads a try! until the next one, cheers! Silvina. 

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#thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday #wineandsalads #summerwines #erathrose #piedranegrarose #Elenawalsh #DomaineFernandengel #Yllerasauvignonblanc #Boadaverdejo.