Tag Archives: food and wine

Wine education for the rest of 2016

penguinIf you’re looking to learn more about wines, winemaking, grape growing, sensory evaluation and a variety of related and semi-related topics. here’s your Field Correspondent’s schedule of classes for the balance of the year:

July 9 – Growing grapes and making wine: An inside look at the processes involved in viticulture and the art of making wine. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

July 23 – Wine and cheese: Learn about how and where cheese is made, as well as principles to follow when pairing wine with cheese. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-5 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Aug. 20 – Wine on a budget: Find out how to walk into anywhere that sells wine – including the drug store and the corner ice house – and pick out the best wine in the place. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Sept. 10 – Sparkling wines of the world: From Champagne to Spain, from Italy to who-knows-where, get a look at the remarkable world of wines with bubbles. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Sept. 24 – Bring your own bottle: Each participant in the class brings a bottle of red wine, learns principles of sensory evaluation, then takes part in a “blind” tasting to try and identify each wine. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-5 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Oct. 8 – Texas wines: Learn about the long history of Texas wine, the booming present and the optimistic future for the business – as well as taste some of the best examples around. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Nov. 5 – Thanksgiving and wines: Find out about food pairings, and how to match wines with the biggest meal of the year the easy way – by tasting. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-6 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Nov. 12 – Port and cigars: Two of life’s luxuries, examined in detail, with examples. Come prepared to sit outside. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Dec. 10 – Cabernet Sauvignon. We’ll be taking at look at the global phenomenon that is the King of Red Wines, with a little look at history and a lot of tasting. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

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A baker’s dozen tips for wine cheapskates

wine 4-10-16Let’s face it: For most of us, $20 is a lot of money for a bottle of wine. We may love the stuff, but we also have to do things like pay the electric bill and put gas in the car.

Honestly, a lot of wine in that “budget” price range isn’t good for anything but staining your teeth or cooking a tough old chicken. But with a few tips, there are ways to drink like a king on a cheapskate’s wine budget. And the best thing about it: Most of the great “cheapskate” wines are available just about anywhere you can buy wines, including convenience and drug stores.

1. The Island’s Specialty

One wine you can find just about anywhere, and at a reasonable price, is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. And much of it isn’t from just anywhere in New Zealand, but from what may be the best Sauvignon Blanc region in the world, Marlborough, on the northern tip of the country’s south island.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is what California Sauvs wish they could be. They are laden with tropical fruit character, with that herbal backbone and that edge of acidity that makes them so absolutely perfect with a variety of foods. And you can get a very, very good one for less than $15, and often it’s closer to $10.

2. The Portuguese Secret

Another regional specialty that isn’t nearly as famous as Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc is Vinho Verde from Portugal. Vinho Verde, which means “green wine” in Portuguese, isn’t really green, unless you think of “green” as young and fresh. It’s made to be fruity, light, slightly fizzy and slightly sweet – a thoroughly refreshing white and sometimes even pink wine. The grapes they can grow in northern Portugal are ideal for it, and there’s lots of it – for $8 a bottle or less, in most cases.

3. Not Your Mother’s Liebfraumilch

A lot of people make a face about German wines, but it usually can be attributed to truly awful blended wines like Liebfraumilch (literally, “Milk of Our Lady”), a generic and sinfully sweet white. You won’t find a fine German wine in a bargain hunt, but you can use a couple of clues to snatch one that’s much more drinkable than its predecessors. Most importantly, find one that specifically says “Riesling” on the label, since that ensures it was made from that noble grape and not some generic blend. Also look on the label for the word “Qualitatswein.” Qualitatswein is a step up in the country’s strict labeling system from the cheap stuff, which is labeled as Tafelwein. Well-chilled, even a cheap German Riesling can be a delight, busting out of the bottle with fruit flavors and an edge of acidity that sets it apart from the sweet junk out there. How much will it put you back? About $8.

4. A Different Kind of Fizz

During the 19th century, some rather nasty plant epidemics put a lot of French winemakers out of work. A big chunk of the ones from the Champagne region wound up in northeastern Spain, and they brought their knowledge and skills for making bubbly with them. One thing they left behind, though – the high prices. A Spanish Cava, made using the same methods as French Champagne, with much of the same character, can go for $12-$15.

5. Tapas, Anyone?

Another specialty of Spain is Rioja, a lovely middle-weight red wine. It goes particularly well with a lot of Spanish tapas, the finger-food that seems to be everywhere on the Iberian Peninsula. Don’t expect it to be big and Cabernet-like, because it isn’t – especially the lower-priced versions. But buy an inexpensive one and then use your savings on some Manchego cheese, which is made from sheep’s milk around the same parts of Spain as Rioja. Spend $10 on the wine and $5 on the cheese and have a feast.

6. It’s Not Just for Candles Anymore

Our friends in Italy used to export oceans of cheap wines to this country, with much of it not fit to throw in the ocean, much less drink. But the Italians are now the No. 1 wine producers and exporters in the world, and they don’t want you doing a spit-take when you sip the most-famous Italian wine, Chianti. Once again, remember it’s not supposed to be Cabernet. But having a simple Chianti with Tuscan-style Italian food is another cheap-food-and-wine experience that will make your eyes roll back in your head.

7. Oceans of Chardonnay

The oaked Chardonnay fad seems to be fading, but if you still love your Chard with that touch of oak character, you’re in luck – the biggest-selling imported Chardonnay in this country is available just about everywhere liquor is sold. Look for Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay – it’s Australian – the next time you’re buying gasoline, Fritos or Twinkies at the local convenience store, ice house or stop-and-rob. It’s lightly oaky and fruity like a typical Chardonnay, and just ridiculously cheap, sometimes less than $5 a bottle.

8. Chile, Anyone?

In grape-growing circles, Chile is known as one of the places on earth that has never been affected by phylloxera, the root-chewing louse that nearly wiped out world wine production during the 1900s. To drinkers, it’s known as the home of very good – and often well-priced – red wines. Just about any Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Carmenere is going to be drinkable, but if there’s a choice, look for regionally labeled wines, from the Maipo Valley or the Central Valley.

9. Just over the Andes

Across the high mountains from Chile is Argentina, where an orphaned grape from Bordeaux known as Malbec apparently loves the high, dry climate of Argentina’s winegrowing regions. If there’s a choice, the most-notable Argentine Malbecs are from the Mendoza growing region. They’re not as cheap as they used to be, but there still are big, bold, drinakable ones for $12.

10. One Word: France

You have to work pretty hard to find a bad French wine for less than $15. Why? First of all, they know what they’re doing when it comes to wines in France. There’s plenty of expertise, as well as plenty of grapes, to go around. And the French aren’t all that keen on losing any more of their share of the world wine market, so they’re especially dedicated to making really good value-priced wines in gigantic quantities. They may be from the second line of a famous producer, or they may be from the country’s biggest production regions, in the south of the country. But they’ll more than likely be good.

11. Buy Local

If you went to Europe and drank the table wine at a little bistro and came back raving about how good it was, it may be because you were at a scenic little bistro in Europe drinking wine on vacation. More likely, though, is the fact that the wine in that carafe, which probably came from a giant container in the back, was made nearby. Locally made wines, especially in the Old World, often match the local cuisine. They are crafted by people who know how to make wine in their local conditions. Sure, they might never put it in a bottle, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

In the United States, that kind of winemaking is growing in popularity every day, albeit without 500 to 1,000 years of winemaking history or the bulk containers (we seem a little freaked out by wine in 100-gallon tanks). More and more often, local wines are matching local foods, and making them affordable, too. From New Mexico to New York, local wines abound, and they’re finding a place next to local foods.

12. Look for Strays

Any wine cheapskate needs to have a sense of adventure. Most big wine retailers will have closeout sections, prime for the hunt. It’s where they sell wines that maybe they bought a few too many cases of, or wines that for one reason or another didn’t sell elsewhere in the store, or wines they picked up from another retailer on closeout. Don’t dismiss it immediately just because it’s $1.99. But do be careful: If a white looks orange or brown, or it’s four years or more past the vintage date on the bottle, move along. Reds can be a little older, but don’t be impressed by a 10-year-old vintage on sale. Even red wine made in this country is designed to take home and drink right away, not be aged.

Also, if there are signs of leakage around the cork, or the bottle leaks when you pick it up, or the display has signs of leakage, put the bottle down and step away.

13. See the Signs

Don’t be afraid to browse, pick up bottles and read the labels. Most of what’s on the back is pure malarkey, but sometimes there’s pertinent info on the front. Wines from a designated region (smaller than a state) can be good values. Most of the less-expensive California wines will simply have “California” as a location of origin in the label, which means it could have come from anywhere in the state. If the bottle has the name of a growing region on it, known as an American Viticultural Area, it’s likely to be a step up from state-designated wines.

Looking to Recreate Some History

Alerting the media about the (Re)Judgment of Paris. Feel free to pass along…

Dry Comal Creek Vineyards to mark anniversary
of ‘Judgment of Paris’ wine tasting competition

Victory for California wines in 1976 changed wine world forever

Bottle shock flyerNEW BRAUNFELS — It has been called the event that democratized wine around the world. It inspired a best-selling book and a Hollywood movie. It turned little-known winemakers and wineries into superstars.

And now, Dry Comal Creek Vineyards is recreating that moment, as part of its Winery U wine education program.

On Saturday, May 10, the winery will sponsor “Bottle Shock: (Re)Judgment of Paris,” in commemoration of the Judgment of Paris wine competition that changed the world in May 1976.

Anyone who registers for the May Winery U session will be included on the distinguished panel of judges, which also will feature a number of guest judges from the wine world. The event begins at 10:30 a.m. at the winery, which is located at 1741 Herbelin Road, just outside New Braunfels.

The original competition matched California and French Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, judged by a panel of French experts. The tasting was “blind,” so the judges did not know which wines they were evaluating.

When the votes were tabulated, California wines won both categories. The lone journalist at the competition was Time magazine Paris correspondent George Taber, whose report in the June 1976 edition of the magazine helped launch a wine revolution that continues today.

“The Paris Tasting destroyed the myth of French supremacy and marked the democratization of the wine world,” noted wine critic Robert Parker wrote in 2001. “It was a watershed in the history of wine.”

Robert Mondavi, the man credited with leading the growth of California wines in the 1960s and ‘70s, said the competition put California “squarely on the world map of great wine-producing regions.”

Taber’s popular book, “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine,” details the story, and the tasting was the basis for the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock.”

The (Re)Judgment of Paris will feature a turn-back-the-clock atmosphere and incorporate as many of the details of the original event as possible, including pouring some of the wines from the original producers.

Registration is available online at the Dry Comal Creek website.

Natalie’s wine and food matcher

There’s a great way to use your computer to pair foods and wines – or wines and foods, if you swing that way – that’s absolutely free.

It’s part of Natalie MacLean’s wine education universe, which includes everything from books to a blog.

Click on the image to see some of her recommendations. There’s also a link to her mobile app on the site, in case you want suggestions in your pocket, and to the blog widget, which unfortunately won’t work in WordPress blogs like this one.

Top 10 food and wine pairings

On the occasion of the annual edition of the Winery U food and wine class, here’s a list of some of my favorite pairings. Some of these will be featured Saturday, I promise:

Fish with Sauvignon Blanc

The typically prepared white fish fillet, with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of green herbs like fennel or dill, will enhance the character of Sauvignon Blanc, which is citrusy with a backbone of grassiness.

Manchego with Rioja

While most of the really specific wine-and-food pairings in the world have disappeared with the globalization of the world wine market, one very local Spanish pairing still stands out. Manchego cheese, made only with milk from the Manchega breed of sheep in La Mancha, pairs remarkably well with the red wine made Rioja from the Tempranillo grape. Both are of medium weight, texture and flavor, with complementary flavors.

Steak with Cabernet Sauvignon

This is an ideal match in weights and texture, with hearty food and hearty wine. But beyond that, the chemical makeup of Cabernet Sauvignon, with plenty of tannins, pairs it perfectly with steak. Tannins bond with proteins and fats, which means that in addition to standing up to the steak’s weight, the Cab also will cleanse your palate as you eat.

Spicy Asian food with sweet Riesling

While the textures match, there’s a big contrast in flavors. The sweetness of the wine reduces the heat of the spicy food and at the same time enhances the flavors. The fact that Rieslings are served well-chilled helps make this a good pairing as well.

Mushrooms with Pinot Noir

A well-made Pinot Noir has just a hint of earthiness, one that is enhanced by the character of just about any kind of mushrooms. A typical mushroom also will have a slightly chewy character, just enough to balance with the weight of a Pinot.

Dark chocolate with Merlot

Wine and chocolate are always mentioned in pairings, but they don’t always work well together. But in this case, the fruity character of a Merlot pairs well with a not-too-sweet chocolate. There’s a slightly bitter edge to chocolate that helps it match with a slightly tannic wine, like most Merlots.

Buttered popcorn with Chardonnay

It’s an odd thought, but the complementary weights and flavors make this an ideal match. The typical Chardonnay has a buttery character, the result of contact with oak. Popcorn, especially made in the traditional way (with oil, butter and salt) has enough weight to match Chardonnay.

Feta with Pinot Grigio

There’s nothing in the world that works better with a sharp, chewy cheese than a sharp, light wine. The acidity, especially in a wine like Pinot Grigio, cuts right through the fatty texture of feta. With some added flavors, as is typical with a feta, it also could match well with Sauvignon Blanc (with added herbs) or Riesling (with added red peppers).

Peppered pork chops with Shiraz

A big, bold Australian Shiraz has all the weight it needs to pair with grilled pork. Using freshly ground pepper or a pepper-based rub on the pork will bring out another bit of character, the peppery backbone of the wine.

Peanut butter with sweet sparkling

The strangest pairing in the world, but one that thoroughly demonstrates the principles of contrasting flavors and textures. The lightness of the wine works perfectly with the heaviness of the peanut butter, and the sweetness is a dramatic contrast with the saltiness.