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TIP OF THE DAY: Have A Malbec

Glass Of Malbec In Riedel Malbec Glass

A glass of Malbec in the specially designed Riedel Malbec glass. Photo courtesy Riedel.

 

Celebrated on April 17th, World Malbec Day is the perfect opportunity to open up a bottle of the wine that is Argentina’s claim to varietal fame.

Malbec is a black grape that produces red wine—a deep purple-red in color and nearly opaque, similar to Syrah and Mourvedre.

The original Malbec rootstock came from France, where it was widely planted in the Cahors region in the Midi-Pyrénées region of south-central France, with some in the Loire Valley of central France. Argentina now has 75% of the world’s Malbec acreage.

Argentine Malbec is very different from its French parent. As is true among all wine grapes (and some other crops), planting the same vines in different terroirs* yield different results.

  • Argentine Malbec is fruit forward, with notes of black cherry, black plum and currant. They have lower acidity, more tannins, and fuller body than French Malbec.
  • French Malbec has moderate tannin, higher acidity and flavor notes of black pepper and spice. Because of their moderate tannin and acidity with lower alcohol, French Malbec wines tend to age longer.
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    World Malbec Day commemorates April 17, 1853, when President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina launched a mission to transform Argentina’s wine industry. To start that endeavor, a French soil expert bought grape varietals from France, one of which was Malbec. During the experiment period, which planted different wines in different terroirs, Malbec proved to be a star. It flourished in the Mendoza region of Argentina, in the northwest part of the country at the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
     
    Malbec Is A Very Well-Priced Red

    As a result of the volume produced and the economics of wine production in Argentina, Malbec also proved to be a bargain. It’s a well-priced alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. You can find many good Malbecs for $10 a bottle or less.

    You can also find bottles at twice that price, and even pricier—for example, $95 for a bottle of Cheval des Andes, a joint venture between Bordeaux’s great Chateau Cheval Blanc and Argentina’s Terrazas de los Andes.

  • Some Argentine Malbecs, like the latter, are blended with some Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Petit Verdot—classic grapes of Bordeaux, to give some Bordeaux style to the wines.
  • But there’s a fifth Bordeaux grape: Malbec is also grown there as a blending grape. Because the varietal has poor resistance bad weather and pests, it never became a top French varietal like Merlot and Caber.
  • Some vintners blend in a bit of Petit Syrah instead. Petit Syrah, now grown largely in Australia and California, is a cross that originated in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France.
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    Three Favorite Malbecs From Argentina

    Our wine editor, Kris Prasad, has a fondness for Altos Las Hormigas and Alamos (one of the wines with Syrah, depending on the vintage). Both can be found for $10 or less, although special bottling (e.g., certain vineyards) cost more.

    He also likes Tinto Negro “Limestock Block,” pricier at around $15. He calls it an “interesting wine”; it is two-thirds Malbec. We haven’t had it, but we do love the label, with part of the name spelled backwards (see the photo of the label above).

     

    PAIRING MALBEC WITH FOOD

    Steak—of which Argentina has a bounty—is a classic pairing (give us a T-bone, please!). But Malbec is much more flexible than a pairing with beef. Try it with:

  • Any grilled red meat or pork (serve with some Argentine chimichurri sauce).
  • Duck and other dark-meat poultry like game birds.
  • Full-flavored fish such as salmon and tuna.
  • Braised short ribs.
  • Burgers and barbecue.
  • Pasta and pizza.
  • Blue cheese, washed rind and other strong cheeses.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Dishes with earthy or smoky flavors.
  • Dishes spiced with clove, cumin, garlic, juniper berry, smoked paprika or sumac.
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    Serve it instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Syrah and other full-bodied reds.

    For an even bigger celebration, put on some tango music—which developed in Argentina—and dance!
     
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    *ABOUT TERROIR: The same rootstock that is grown in different locations produces different flavors; for example, depending on where it is grown, Sauvignon Blanc can have grass or grapefruit notes—or neither. Terroir, pronounced tur-WAH, is a French agricultural term referring to the unique set of environmental factors in a specific habitat that affect a crop’s qualities. It includes climate, elevation, proximity to a body of water, slant of the land, soil type and amount of sun. These environmental characteristics gives the wine its character. Terroir is the basis of the French A.O.C. (appellation d’origine contrôlée) system.

     

    Los Altos Malbecs

    Malbec Label

    Top: Look for Los Altos Las Hormigas Malbecs, a favorite of our wine editor. Photo courtesy Los Altos. Bottom: The quirky label of another favorite Malbec, Tinto Negro.

     

      

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    TIP: Wine For A Wedding Shower

    Tissot Trousseau Amphore

    Le Cigare Volant Label

    Goat-Roti Wine

    Marilyn Merlot

    Top: A bottle of Trousseau wine from Stephane-Tissot.com, rated 91 by Robert Parker. Second: The seminal fanciful label from Bonnie Doon Vineyards. Follow the red line to the flying cigar. Third: Goat-Roti, punning on the Rhone wine Côte-Roti and the classic Rhone label style. Photo courtesy FancyCellar.com. Bottom: Need you ask? It’s Marilyn Merlot from Marilyn Wines. Different vintages have different photos of Marilyn.

     

    We received a news release right after Valentine’s Day, for a red wine called Trousseau from the Jura region in eastern France. The grape variety itself is called Trousseau or Trousseau Noir, an old variety. It is grown in small amounts in Europe, with the the largest vineyards found in Portugal (it is one of the grapes blended into Port). It is now being grown in California.

    Although the timing was coincidental, we thought: Valentine’s Day…wedding proposals…wine to serve at showers or weddings. Let’s suggest wines with fanciful names.

    First, a bit on Trousseau:

    We have no idea how the grape was named Trousseau. The original meaning of the French word means “a little bundle,” and refers to the clothes, linens and other items collected by a single woman in anticipation of marriage.

    A girl and her mother would start gathering items for the daughter’s trousseau years before the anticipated event—years before she might be of the age to be courted!

    In the days when most people had little extra to spare, the mother might tuck away items when she could: a set of extra bed sheets, blankets, dishes, and other items.

    As disposable income grew, the wares could contain bridal items, jewelry, fine linens, china, silverware, clothing and lingerie and much more.

    So: Did some vintner, centuries ago, put aside wines for his daughter? Did that wine become known as Trousseau? The record is mute—at least so far as we could research it in English.
     
    HOW WINES AR NAMED

    For most of their history, wines were named after the region or grape varietal: Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon, Burgundy or Pinot Noir, for example. The bottle labels followed a classic design. The name (title), contents and bottle shape were/are usually regulated by law.

    Some 40 years ago, some modern vintners began using fanciful names and contemporary label designs as a marketing tool. The innovator was Randall Grahm of Bonnie Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, California.

    Graham, a maker of quality wines, became the talk of the wine world in 1984 with the release of “Le Cigare Volant” (the flying cigar), a red Southern Rhone blend. The label spoofed a classic Rhone label of a vineyard, but look closely: a large cigar (think blimp) flies over the vineyard. The brand continued with other fanciful names, including our favorite, “Thanks, Semillon.”

    You may have encountered some of Grahm’s legacy: Bored Doe, Goats Do Roam and Goat-Roti from Fairview Winery in South Africa and Marilyn Merlot from Marilyn Wines in Napa Valley, and others. California’s Topolos Winery was acquired by Russian River Vineyards, which [sadly?] discontinued its popular Stu Pedasso Zinfandel. Here are more wines with names of questionable dignity.

    And here’s a sampling of other whimsy: fancifully-named wines that won’t offend Grandma.

    Anyone with a special event on the horizon can design their own wine label. Just do an online search, and you’ll come across them.
     
    ABOUT TROUSSEAU WINE

    Trousseau, which is planted in Europe, California, even Australia, is called “paradoxical”: light-bodied and pale red, but with intense aromas and a firm tannic grip. You may come across producers from the Jura in your wine store (Jacques Puffeney, Jean-François Ganevat, Michel Gahier, and André et Mireille Tissot as well as from Californi (Arnot-Roberts and Copain).

    We proffer our own suggestions for wedding wine: Cloud 9 Cabernet, Just Married Merlot and Wedded Bliss Sauvignon Blanc.

    Feel free to contribute your own.

     

      

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    VALENTINE’S DAY: Sparkling Wines For Gifting & Drinking

    Brachetto d'Acqui Banfi

    Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui: a wine that says “Be My Valentine.”

     

    If you’ve taken a look at Champagne prices, you’d like a recommendation on which way to go.

    Our recommendation: Steer away from Champagne and look at other sparkling wines. Here are two of our favorite affordable bubblies for Valentine’s Day. Both are crowd pleasers. One is a perfect dessert wine or an apéritif; the other can be enjoyed anytime, with any course.

    Drink them yourself or give them as gifts. As with all sparkling wines, serve them chilled.
     
    BANFI ROSA REGALE BRACHETTO D’ACQUI

    This sweet sparkling wine from the Piedmont region of Italy is a vivid rose red. The color is natural!

    It’s made from the Brachetto df’Acqui grape, which grows in the area of Acqui Terme in rocky, calcareous soil (tough soil makes better wines).

     
    The bouquet is very aromatic, with hints of raspberries, strawberries and rose petals. You’ll taste hints of fresh raspberries, with crisp acidity.

    In addition to dessert—cakes, tarts, ice cream—it pairs well with seafood, cheeses, spicy fare and yes, that box of Valentine chocolate.

    One of our friends calls this wine “love at first sip.” It’s pretty romantic stuff.

    The price: $17-$20 per bottle. The pronunciation: bra-KET-toe d’AH-qwee.

    There’s more on the brand’s web page.
     
    YELLOWTAIL BUBBLES SPARKLING ROSÉ

    A recent Top Pick Of The Week for the holidays, this sparkling wine from Australia makes everything more festive—at just $10-$11 per bottle. It’s not a sweet wine, but crisp and refreshing, so it can be paired with anything.

    The fragrant nose promises cherries and strawberries on the palate. Unlike the deep red of Brachetto d’Acqui, it’s a pale pink color, similar to a rosé Champagne.

    Depending on the retailer and promotion calendar, the bottle may come with a resealable, plastic cap that allows you to seal in the bubbles for the next day. If not, and if you don’t have one, pick up a Champagne resealer. It’s inexpensive, and really does keep that wine sparkling for days.

    And it can be the part of the gift that remains, when the wine is long gone.

    Here’s our full review of the wine.

    And here’s the Yellowtail Bubbles Rosé web page.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Buying Champagne For New Year’s Eve

    If you’re headed to the store to buy Champagne for New Year’s Eve, there are a lot of choices. Where should you start?

    We’ve written a lot about lower-cost sparkling wines like Asti Spumante, Cava, Crémant and Prosecco. Our Top Pick Of The Week is Yellow Tail from Australia. All are delicious bubblies, worthy of toasting the new year.

    But if you want to toast the New Year with Champagne, here are some money-saving tips.

    You Don’t Need To Purchase A Vintage Champagne

    There are two categories of Champagne: vintage and non-vintage. By law in the Champagne region of France, a vintage year can be declared only when the grapes contain a specific level of sweetness, which varies from year to year. Even in a given year, the sugar levels (called brix) can vary from vineyard to vineyard.

    With a vintage bottling, the year will prominently appear on the label. Otherwise, no year is given, and the Champagne is nonvintage.

  • A vintage year means that all the grapes used to make that wine came from that particular year’s harvest.
  •   Champagne Flute

    For a classic toast: a flute of Champagne. Photo courtesy Champagne flute.

  • Vintage Champagne represents only about 10% of the total production of the region. On average, producers will declare a vintage in three out of every ten years. Each producer declares for its own house; there is no “regional decree.” In great-weather years, almost every house can declare a vintage.
  • When no vintage year is declared, the Champagne is known as nonvintage wine, although a more accurate term would be multivintage, since wines from different years are blended to create the signature house style (le style de la maison, a consistent taste from year to year). Nonvintage Champagnes are not inferior to vintage ones; they’re just different.
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    Vintage Champagnes Are More Expensive Than Nonvintage Champagnes

    Of the Champagnes shown below, Pol Roger (puhl roe-ZHAY) nonvintage is about $40 a bottle. The current vintage on store shelves, 2006, sells for more than $100. Big difference!

    This is due to key factors in both marketing and production. The first is supply and demand. There are more than three times as many nonvintage years as vintage years. Vintage bottlings are considered more prestigious, creating greater demand.

    Production factors also justify the higher price for vintage Champagnes. For nonvintage Champagnes, the law requires a minimum aging time of 15 months after the commencement of the second fermentation (where the bubbles are created by added yeast that eat added sugar). For vintage years, a minimum of three years of aging is required.

    However, in vintage years, most Champagne houses will age their wines even longer. Riper grapes have longer aging potential; aging develops more layers of flavor and complexity. The wine still needs to age after it’s bottled (see the next section). It costs more to finance and manage the inventory, and that expense is reflected in higher prices, along with supply and demand.

     

    Pol Roger Champagne Label

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/pol roger vintage2000 230

    TOP PHOTO: The label of nonvintage Pol Roger Champagne. BOTTOM PHOTO: The
    label of vintage Champagne, in this case the
    2000 vintage, which, due to the need for
    longer aging, should be drinking very well in
    2015.

     

    An Important Note About Aging

    Vintage Champagnes typically need to be laid down for at least 10 years, and ideally for 15 or 20 years, to develop their great nuances. The vintner constructs the wine to last for the long run.

    While the vintage wines can be drunk when they’re released for retail sales, knowledgeable buyers don’t plan to drink a current vintage anytime soon.

    For all the celebrities and others who spend big at restaurants and clubs on newly-released vintages of Roderer Cristal or Dom Pérignon, for example: This is wine infanticide. The wine is drinkable to be sure, but much more simplistic than it will be when fully developed. It’s better to enjoy a nonvintage wine than a too-young vintage,

    Nonvintage wine, on the other hand, is ready to drink as soon as it is released. Yes, it will develop more with a few years of bottle aging, but don’t hesitate to pop the cork right now.

     
    Don’t Be Afraid To Buy Champagnes You’ve Never Heard Of

    Smaller Champagne houses don’t spend money on marketing and cost less than the “name brands.” However, a Champagne you’ve never heard of can be even more delicious to you than the brands you know.

    A number of years ago, on a recommendation from wine expert Robert Parker, we purchased and went crazy for a $35 bottle of Egly-Ouriet, a smaller producer we’d never heard of. Most buyers have still never heard of it, and it remains very well priced.

    You may find that “unknown” Champagne houses—Betrand Devavry, Jacques Selosse, Paul Dethune and Vilmart, for example—are sparkling treasures.

    If you have style preferences—for example, if you prefer a fuller bodied Pinot Noir-based Champagne rather than a lighter “blanc de blancs” made only with Chardonnay grapes—let the wine clerk make a recommendation.

     
    Only True Connoisseurs Can Tell The Difference Between Vintage And Nonvintage

    Only Champagne connoisseurs—those who drink a lot of it and have the expertise to analyze what they’re drinking—can tell you if a glass of Champagne served blind holds a vintage or a nonvintage.

    We still remember when we were taken to dinner years ago, by a Wall Streeter who ate and drank “the best” almost nightly. He ordered a bottle of vintage Veuve Cliquot, but the waiter returned with a bottle of the nonvintage and apologized that they were sold out of the vintage.

    My friend scoffed and snorted at the thought of nonvintage Champagne, and chose another brand with a year on the label. Net net, a little learning is a dangerous thing. If you like Veuve Cliquot, you like vintage and nonvintage alike.

    So the final word is:

  • If you know what you like and want to save money, buy the nonvintage version.
  • If you don’t know what you like, ask the wine clerk to point out the great values.
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Vermouth & Tapas, For Brunch & Cocktails

    Vermouth is enjoying a renaissance. Vermouth (ver-MOOTH) is a fortified wine—one that includes a base spirit—flavored with a proprietary mixture of botanicals (roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, spices).

    A glass of sweet red vermouth with an orange slice or twist was long a fashionable apéritíf for café society*. In Barcelona today, vermouth and tapas are a hot duo after mass, both at home and at the vermuterías that have popped up to serve them.

    Today’s tip is to try a bit of café society at home. Turn it into a brunch or cocktail party with tapas. Use the occasion to get to know vermouth, trying the different styles.

    You don’t have to try them all in one day. We’ve turned our monthly Sunday friends-and-family brunch into a vermouth and tapas event, trying different vermouths and tapas each week. So it doesn’t get burdensome, participants are assigned to bring a bottle (for those who don’t cook) and a variety of tapas (for those who do).

    And we have a great time!

     
    A BRIEF HISTORY OF VERMOUTH

       

    Red Vermouth

    An apéritif of red vermouth. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

     
    Vermouth evolved from a 16th-century practice in Northern Italy and Germany, where apothecaries would blend extracts of herbs and roots to blend with wine and brandy. This was the way to make bitter medicines more palatable. (Virtually all spirits were first developed for medicinal reasons.)

    The original recipe for red vermouth, and possibly even the name “vermuth,” was invented in Torino, Italy in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. The red vermouths of subsequent producers like Cinzano were based on Carpano. Carpano is still a major brand in Italy, perhaps best known today in the U.S. for its Punt e Mes (“Point And A Half”), a sweet and bitter style.

    In the late 19th century, bartenders began to make cocktails with vermouth. The Manhattan and Negroni, made with sweet vermouth, and the Martini, made with dry vermouth, are three that remain popular today. A plain glass of sweet vermouth is still enjoyed as an apéritif in Italy, France and Spain, the three largest producing countries.

    There are a number of different vermouth styles: sweet and dry, red and white, amaro (with added bitters), chinato with added chinchona (quinine) and often gentian (a root), alla vaniglia with vanilla, and others. Vermouth houses typically make a variety of styles.

    While many vermouths are regional and not imported, familiar names in the U.S. include:

  • French vermouths Noilly Prat, Boissiere
  • Italian vermouths Cinzano, Martini & Rossi
  • Spanish vermouths Lacuesta, Canasta Rosso
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    Other countries have gotten on the vermouth bandwagon. There are a number of American brands (Atsby, Gallo, Imbue, Ransom, Sutton Cellars, Vya from Quady), along with vermouths from Australia, Germany and elsewhere.

     

    vermouth with tapas

    Trade the Mimosa and omelet brunch for vermouth with tortilla española and other tapas. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

     

    VERMOUTH & TAPAS

    After Ferran Adría closed the famed El Bulli temple of molecular gastronomy, he opened a vermutería in Barcelona: Bodega 1900, that serves different vermouths and tapas.

    In Barcelona, the trendy food capital of Europe, vermouth is now the midday fashion on weekends. It’s called “la hora del vermouth” (vermouth hour, after “cocktail hour”): good food and drink, good conversation, a good time hanging out with friends and family.

    It’s easy to create your own “la hora del vermouth” for brunch or an all-vermouth-and-tapas cocktail party.

    EASY TAPAS

  • Fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar (or you can grill them)
  • Fried green plantains
  • Green olives stuffed with piquillo peppers and anchovies
  • Grilled shrimp with olive oil and lemon juice
  • Marinated peppers and anchovies
  • Manchego cheese with serrano ham
  • Mussels with vinaigrette
  • Oysters and/or clams on the half shell
  • Potato chips, homemade or artisan
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Serrano ham
  • Tortilla espanola, an omelet with onions, peppers, potatoes and sausage (substitute a frittata or quiche)
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    For brunch, add a green salad, with fruit salad for dessert (you can marinate the fruits in a bit of sweet vermouth or orange liqueur). If someone wants to make flan, by all means!

    Here’s what the menu at a tapas bar looks like.

    We promise, you’ll love this new approach to brunch and/or cocktails.
     
    SPANISH ANCHOVIES

    Many Americans recoil at the thought of anchovies, tough, bristly and way too salty. But these are cheap anchovies, typically served by diners and pizzerias. You must try fine Spanish anchovies—practically another species.

    Tender Spanish anchovies and boquerones, white anchovies, are imported canned and available fresh in May and June.

    They are a classic Spanish tapa. Boquerones are lightly pickled in vinegar and olive oil. Lightly salted and smoked anchovies are only distantly related to the over-salted anchovies too many of us have had.

    They are truly delicious. Try them: La Tienda is an importer of fine Spanish foods, and the photos of anchovies on their website will change your mind, even before the first bite.

     
    *Café society was the precursor of the jet set, and what more recently has been called the “beautiful people.” Beginning in the late 19th century, these wealthy individuals and celebrities gathered in fashionable cafés and restaurants in New York, Paris, and London. As a social group, they attended each others’ private dinners and balls, vacationed at the same elegant resorts, and so forth. In New York City, café society would hang out at El Morocco, the 21 Club and the Stork Club. American journalist Lucius Beebe (1902-1966) is generally credited with creating the term “café society” in his weekly column in the New York Herald Tribune, which ran in the 1920s and 1930s.

      

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