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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Wine

ST. PATRICK’S DAY: Oysters & Champagne

Oysters and bubbly are not just for New Year’s Eve. Oysters on the half shell are a favorite in Ireland. While they’re popular bar food with a beer, you can create a real celebration with sparkling wine.

Whether with Champagne or the lighter and more affordable Cava and Prosecco sparklers, invite friends over to toast to St. Patrick’s Day.

Alexandra Shapiro, owner of the Flex Mussels restaurants in New York City, offers these tips:

  • Pair body with body. Meatier oysters complement full-bodied sparkling wines.
  • Briny oysters like drier wines. Crisp, dry sparkling wines, such as Cava and Prosecco, pair well with more briny oysters.
  • Avoid sweeter sparkling wines. Save the Asti Spumante and sparkling rosé for desserts.
  • Skip the cocktail sauce! Sipping bubbly with oysters will cleanse your palate so you can truly taste the oysters’ subtle flavors.
  •  

    Champagne and oysters. Photo courtesy
    Champagne Bureau.

     

    The best oysters we know are from Willapa Oysters, which are harvested to order and overnighted to you.

    With an abundance of protein and minimal calories, the bubbly-bivalve combination is much healthier cocktail party option than, say, sugar-laden Margaritas and fat-laden nachos.

    Forget the old wives’ tale that oysters are best when there’s an “r” in the month. This advice came from the days before refrigeration—much less overnight shipping—when oysters spoiled more quickly in the warmer months.

    Everything you need to know about oysters.

    Top off your knowledge of sparkling wines.

      

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    VALENTINE’S DAY: Sparkling Rosé Makes It Special

    Sparkling rosé wine—be it Champagne or from another part of the world*—isn’t a great idea for Valentine’s Day just because it’s pink. The color is an added bonus for Valentine festivities.

    What makes sparkling rosé special is the deeper fruit flavor, fuller body and roundness that comes from pinot noir grapes.† Never confuse rosé Champagne or other fine sparkler with “pink Champagne,” a lesser-quality product that is colored pink, rather than allowing a natural color extraction from the pinot noir grape skins.

    *Only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France can be called “Champagne.” Wines made anywhere else—including other regions of France—are called sparkling wine.
    †Some sparkling rosé wines are 100% pinot noir, others are blended with chardonnay grapes. Sparklers that have no pink color can still contain pinot noir, but have not had skin contact with the pinot noir grapes, which impart the color.

    Rosé sparklers tend to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts. But for about $22.00 a bottle, a bottle of Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé is delicious; for $50.00, the Domaine Chandon Etoile Rosé has wonderful complexity and is well worth the money if your budget allows.

     

    Pretty in pink: as a cocktail or a dessert. Photo courtesy Domaine Chandon

    The two sparkling wines are made by Domaine Chandon, the Napa Valley winery founded in 1973 by Moët-Hennessy, producers of Moët et Chandon and Dom Pérignon champagnes.
     
    Serve these delicious bubblies:

  • As an apéritif, before dinner
  • As a sherbet champagne cocktail (shown in photo): 1 ounce of sorbet in a champagne flute, topped with Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé (the strawberry sorbet complements the strawberry notes in the champagne)
  • With dinner
  • As dessert: Adapt the champagne cocktail by adding a scoop of strawberry sorbet to a sherbet champagne glass, globe wine glass, parfait glass or compote dish; top with champagne and sliced strawberries.
  •  
    Should you serve sparkling wine with chocolates or chocolate cake?

    Only if it’s a demi sec or sec (sweet) style.‡ There’s too much acidity in a brut Champagne or sparkling wine, which fights the sugar in the dessert. Here are our suggestions for:

  • Pairing wines with different desserts
  • Pairing wines with different chocolates
  •  
    ‡While sec is French for “dry,” it’s idiosyncratic that, as regards Champagne and other sparkling wines, sec refers to a sweet style.

      

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    ENTERTAINING: Wine And Cookies From Cookies & Corks

    As much as we’re fans of casual entertaining—stop by after work for some wine, or at 4:30 p.m. for tea time—we love to plan special entertainments.

    If the planning is effortless, so much the better.

    That’s why we were so pleased to discover Cookies & Corks—a young business founded by two young moms who met via their kids’ activities.

    Cookies & Corks is a new twist on wine pairing: dry wines with sweet foods. The company sells cookies and recommends which types of wines to pair with them.

    Then, instead of popping the cork and serving a plate of cheese, you serve a plate of cookies.

    These are not just any cookies, but sweet-and-savory cookies crafted specifically to pair with the wines. Your own recipe for chocolate peanut butter cookies, for example, would need to be tweaked a bit to work as well as the Cookies & Corks version does.

     

    Open the box, pop the cork and enjoy.
    Photo courtesy Cookies & Corks.

     

    Here’s what’s in store for your get-together:

  • Red Wine Cookie Pairing: White Cheddar Rosemary, Shortbread and Espresso Chocolate Peanut Butter cookies.
  • Sparkling Wine Pairing: Parmesan Thyme, Sea Salt Chocolate Oatmeal and Zesty Lemon cookies.
  • White Wine Cookie Pairing: Apricot Sage, Ginger Molasses and Peanut Butter Chocolate cookies.
  • No need to decide: Get one box of each flavor.
     
    Each box offers two tasting opportunities. The simple approach is to get one bottle of wine per box of cookies. The more interesting approach is to get a bottle of each of the three wine options recommended:
  • The red wine group: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Shiraz/Syrah.
  • The sparkling wine group: Brut Champagne, Rosé Champagne, Demi-Sec Champagne and Prosecco.
  • The white wine group: Chardonnay, Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.
  •  
    Each box contains 15 all-natural cookies—five each of three flavors. Wine pairing suggestions are included, and the wines are easy to find.
     
    If the concept of cookies and wine sounds quirky to you, there’s only one thing to do: Get a box of Cookies & Corks and see for yourself. Sophisticated and novice wine drinkers alike will have a fun time, enjoying the tasty cookies and marveling about how well the pairings work.

    You don’t need to throw a party: Cookies & Corks for a quiet movie evening is also a special event.

    And the next time you give a bottle of wine, including the matching box of Cookies & Corks will make it memorable.

    Learn more at CookiesAndCorks.com.

      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: VinniBag Wine Travel Bag & More

    Thanksgiving is the biggest travel holiday of the year. If you’re planning on traveling with a fine bottle of wine in your suitcase, consider getting a VinniBag.

    We’ve tried a lot of wine travel bags. We like VinniBag the best for car and bus trunks, airline travel and anytime a good bottle of wine can be jolted. It’s not just leakproof: It’s so robustly padded that nothing should break in the first place.

    Like an inflatable bath pillow, VinniBag has inflatable air chambers that protect and insulate wine bottles and other liquids (olive oil, for example). The air pockets provide superior protection against impact and leakage.

    Easy to inflate, VinniBag deflates and stores flat when not in use.

    One VinniBag is $28.00; two or more are $25.00 each. It’s a welcome gift for friends who buy good wine and like to travel with it.

    Get yours at VinniBag.com.

     

    Our favorite wine travel bag: Vinnibag.
    Photo by Jaclyn Nussbaum | THE NIBBLE.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How Much Wine Per Person Do You Need?

    If you’re planning a party, how much wine do you need? Wine quantities will vary depending on the type of party you’re having.

    Gary Sitton, winemaker at California’s Clos du Bois winery, offers these general rules of thumb:

    A standard bottle of wine (750ml, or 25.3 ounces) provides five five-ounce glasses of wine.

  • For a sit-down dinner party, plan on half a bottle of wine per guest. Then, buy an extra bottle or two, just in case the festivities go on longer than anticipated, or guests want a glass of wine before or after dinner.
  • For a cocktail party with a caterer or wait staff, plan on one-third to one-half bottle of wine per person, per two-hour period. If you’re also serving hard liquor and your guests are divided in their preferences, go for the smaller amount.
  •  

    A wine pourer helps to pour without dripping. Photo courtesy Rosendahl.

  • For cocktail parties with an open bar or where guests serve themselves, plan for 10% percent more than with waiter service.
  •  
    Now that you’ve got a handle on the wine, here’s how to calculate the amount of hors d’oeuvre.*

    *In French, the singular and plural word forms are the same: hors d’oeuvre.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Try A Glass Of Muscat (Moscato) For Dessert

    For dessert: a glass of Moscato wine.
    Photo courtesy Gallo Family Vineyards.

     

    America doesn’t enjoy enough dessert wines. From late harvest Rieslings to sparkling red Italian Brachettos, hearty Ports and unctuous Sauternes, a plethora of dessert wines is waiting to be discovered.

    A sweet wine can be enjoyed with more than just dessert. Think of the sweet carbonated beverages that are enjoyed at lunch, dinner and in-between. It’s easy (and much more delicious and food-friendly) to substitute a light, sweet wine like Muscat (Moscato in Italian).

    The Muscat grape is not well known in the U.S. But it’s so prevalent the world over that wine historians believe it may be the oldest domesticated grape variety—the one from which all other grape varieties are descended.

    While it is possibly to vinify the grape into a dry wine, Muscat/Moscato is more popular as a sweet dessert wine.

    Not only is Muscat very flavorful, but it can also be very inexpensive. The low cost of growing the grapes in other countries translates into bargain Muscats. This summer, we’ve been enjoying Gallo Family Moscato from the famed California vintners, made from Argentina Moscato grapes. The cost: just $5.99 per 750 ml bottle.

     

    Sweet yet elegant and sophisticated, the lush, fruity aroma beckons from the glass. The flavors—notes of peaches and honey—are satisfying enough to be the dessert, for fewer than 130 calories per glass.

    A glass of sweet wine, with or without a piece of fresh fruit, is often served as dessert in Europe. You can also serve it with cookies: Follow the Italian tradition of serving Vin Santo, a dessert wine from the Tuscany region of Italy, with biscotti and other cookies (shortbread works nicely).

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Wine With Oysters

    A great treat: oysters with a variety of
    white wines. Photo by Nathan Maxfield | IST.

     

    We love oysters, so we hosted an extensive wine-and-oyster celebration last Friday, National Oyster Day (August 5th).

    When we began eating oysters (way back in our college years), the de rigeur wine was a crisp Chablis from northern France—or Champagne, if you were a bon vivant.

    But if you know what to look for, you can buy an oyster-friendly white wine for $10—and have more money to spend on oysters. We’ve asterisked * the more affordable wines we tried (of course, some wines in these categories are more than $10—ask your wine store clerk for help).

    And here’s another budget-wise tip: Each participant was assigned one of these wines to bring to the party.

    STILL WHITE WINES

  • Albariño.* A lighter style crisp white wine, a refreshing Albariño is a delightful oyster pairing in warm weather.
  • Chablis. The classic pairing, a French chablis is dry with notes of minerals.
  •  

  • Chenin Blanc (Dry).* This is not our favorite white wine grape, but if you enjoy Chenin Blanc, try it with oysters.
  • Dry Riesling.* A sophisticated approach for palates that demand something different.
  • Chardonnay. We love Chardonnay but prefer something a bit lighter with oysters. If Chardonnay is your go-to wine, pick an unoaked style.
  • Muscadet. This bistro regular can be hard to find in the U.S. If your wine store carries it, here’s an opportunity to get to know Muscadet.
  • Pinot Gris. An Alsatian Pinot Gris is one of our favorite oyster pairings: rich with spicy tropical fruit notes.
  • Pinot Grigio.* Made in Italy from the same grape as Pinot Gris, this style is lighter, crisp and clean.
  • Sauvignon Blanc.* Depending on where it’s grown, this wine can be grassy or citrussy (we like both styles). It’s always good, clean and balanced.
  • Sherry (Dry). This combination is popular in Spain, although we find that the nutty flavors of the wine interfere with the delicate flavor of raw oysters. It goes better with cooked oyster dishes.
  •  
    SPARKLING WINES

  • Champagne. Champagne and oysters: sexy and luxurious. Pop the cork for a special occasion.
  • Cremant d’Alsace. This bubbly, from the Loire region, has a more affordable price and just as much festivity.
  • Prosecco. This lighter-style sparkler from Italy is always popular for warm-weather drinking.
  •  

    BEER WITH OYSTERS
    While we were comparing all of the wines, someone asked for a beer.

    We pulled out several different styles: an amber ale, IPA, Pilsner and stout. All were delicious, but the stout, a roasty style of beer (the term comes from the dark-roasted malts used to brew it) was deemed a perfect beer pairing.

    If you’re looking for a gourmet Labor Day activity, here’s your blueprint!

    See our Oyster Glossary for everything you wanted to know about oysters.

    Check out the different types of beer in our Beer Glossary.

      

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    RESTAURANTS: A Great Wine Pairing Dinner At The Capital Grille

    There are more than 40 The Capital Grill restaurants in the U.S. We’ve only been to one, and it’s a class act. It has become our restaurant of choice when we’re going to dinner with people who want a steak-and-seafood evening with good wine.

    If this is up your alley, The Capital Grille is offering the best wine tasting deal we know of:

    Now through September 4th, for just $25 with dinner, you can have as much as you want of nine sparkling, white and red wines, including a Port-style dessert wine from Australia (charmingly called The Portly Gentleman). Known as the Generous Pour, if purchased by the bottle, the wine tab would be almost $800.

    At a recent dinner, we opted in and tried all nine Generous Pour wines. We declare it the best $25 restaurant wine experience—as well as an enlightening, fun and delicious evening.

    You can have your wines any way you want them, including pours of any and all nine wines and refills of your favorites.

     

    Days later, we’re still enjoying the Generous
    Pour experience at Capital Grille. Photo
    courtesy Capital Grille.

     

    We started the evening with a Marquis de la Tour Crémant de Loire, a lovely French sparkler that was the apéritif. We asked for more to go with the yummy pan-fried calamari with hot cherry peppers. The buttery St. Jean Belle Terre chardonnay went better with the lush lobster mac and cheese.

    The ability to try so many wines with dinner—to compare and contrast—is a wonderful experience. Do you prefer the La Cana albariño or the St. Jean chardonnay with oysters on the half shell? Try it and decide (we preferred the albariño).

    We had both whites, the Crémant and a Byron Bay pinot noir with our salmon—and confirmed that we continue to prefer pinot noir to white wine for pairing with salmon.

    Those who ordered steak had five different reds to compare, both international and from California. We accepted “donations” of meat from their generous portions to try with the reds.

    At this point we should have called it quits and let The Portly Gentleman suffice as dessert.

    But no: We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the rich dessert menu (cheesecake, coconut cream pie, crème brûlée, flourless chocolate espresso cake and some lighter temptations).

    A wine pairing dinner is a wonderful way to spend an evening with friends or colleagues, sharing good food and wine adventures. The wine selection was specially chosen by Master Sommelier George Miliotes to complement both the menu and the season.

    You can send someone a gift card to the Capital Grille. What a great gift (hint, hint)!

      

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    PRODUCT: Trivia Cocktail Napkins

    Trivia napkins break the ice or stump your
    friends. Photo by Jaclyn Nussbaum | THE NIBBLE.

     

    If your party guests don’t know each other, breaking the ice can be the first order of the day.

    Trivia Party Starters prints cocktail napkins that entertain your guests and get them to interact.

    We chose Beer and Wine versions, but there are 12 subject categories that include Baby Shower, Celebrity, Christmas, Comedy Movie, Sports and TV Sitcom, among others.

    While they’re a bit pricey, at $5.99 Canadian/$6.23 U.S. for 20 napkins and 40 different questions—two questions per napkin—you only need one pack to get the party started.

    You can also make a game out of it, playing “Napkin Trivial Pursuit.” The person who collects the most napkins wins…a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer.

    Check ‘em out at Trivia Party Starters.com.

    P.S. What vitamins does beer contain?

    Answer: All of the important B vitamins, plus vitamins A, D and E. More about beer nutrition.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Best Wine For Sushi

    This week we attended a trade event called Riesling & Co. World Tour 2011, sponsored by GermanWineUSA.com, a trade association that aims to heighten awareness of the quality and special nature of German wines.

    At most wine tastings, there’s a selection of cheeses, breads and other foods to go with the wine. At this Riesling tasting, the only food served was sushi—plus dumplings and spring rolls targeted to those who don’t eat sushi.

    It was a perfect pairing. Those who don’t drink beer or saké have a winner in a Riesling, part of a quintet of other white wines that includes crisp, high-acid Riesling and Pinot Blanc, spicy and aromatic Gewürztraminer and Viognier. Champagne and other sparklers go well, too.

    Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc are grown in both the Alsace region of France and in Germany. Viognier is largely Alsatian, but Germany has been amping up its production. All four varieties are grown in California, where they are known as “the Rhone clones.”

     

    Riesling is the wine to pair with sushi.
    Photo by Lognetic | Dreamstime.

     

    While wines from the same grape variety taste different based on where they were grown, each region produces delicious wines. It’s a question of finding which producers you prefer.

    The New Riesling
    Rieslings have changed substantially over the last 20 years. In an effort to gain more fans worldwide, vintners have moved away from the traditional style of Riesling with its notes of petrol and flowery, sometimes heady aromas. Today, the wines are made to be food-friendly across a rainbow of cuisines. The crispness and acidity are just right for sushi.

    Riesling is vinified into six categories, in order of increasing sugar levels based on the ripeness of the grapes when picked. Don’t let the word “sugar” scare you away: The slight sweetness in Kabinett and Spätlase wines goes very well with sushi.

    Kabinett Rieslings, with the lowest sugar levels, are the best place to start.

  • Kabinett Riesling is a light wine, typically semi-sweet with crisp acidity. It can be vinified to be dry (you’ll see the word Trocken, dry, on the label).
  • Spätlese Riesling, typically semi-sweet or sweet, is made from late harvest (Spätlese) grapes.
  • Auslese Riesling is made from selected very ripe grapes. Auslese means “select harvest.”
  • Beerenauslese Riesling is made from overripe grapes vinified into a rich, sweet dessert wine. Beerenauslese means “select berry harvest.”
  • Eiswein (ice wine) is made from grapes that have been naturally frozen on the vine, resulting in a very concentrated flavor.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling, nicknamed TBA, is made from overripe, shriveled grapes often affected by noble rot—an extremely rich sweet dessert wine that is a glass of heaven. The name means “select dry berry harvest” or “dry berry selection.”
     
    Our favorite producers: Dr. Loosen, Müller Cattoir and Weingut Robert Weil. But you can start your Riesling voyage with any German—or California—Riesling.

    Now for the bad news: Just try to find Riesling (or a Pinot Blanc, Gewürtztraminer or Viognier) at a Japanese restaurant. You may have to do some lobbying with management. At a minimum, ask if you can bring your own wine for a corkage fee, a charge by the restaurant for every bottle of wine or spirits served that was not bought on the premises. It is usually equal to the price of the most affordable wine that the restaurant carries.

      

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