Fall is a bittersweet time for me, I confess. Where others see lovely orange foliage and the opportunity to eat/drink all things pumpkin, I just see the inevitable death of everything beautiful and green (morose, no?) However, when you think about what's going on in perennial plants, this is absolutely not true! I clearly need to snap out of it, because it's just hibernation time! So, on that note, what exactly is going on in the vineyard right now?
Well, in most places in the northern hemisphere, the grapes are picked and well on their way to becoming wine. For most US vineyards, this happens in the month of October. It's the busy season!
Even thought they're done fruiting, the vines have been busy too! While their leaves are still green, they've been using the ol' photosynthesis to store up as many nutrients as possible. Once they're stocked up and the days get shorter and colder, their leaves will turn and drop off. (As a fascinating side-note, grapevines, rather than temperature, use the angle of the sun and length of daylight to determine when to grow and stop growing. Isn't that amazing!?)
Once the leaves fall, the remaining stems and branches (known as canes,) which are done growing, will harden and the plant will quit circulating its nutrients quite so readily. The outer layers of the vine will get very hard and brown, in order to prepare for the harshness of winter (frozen water in soft tissue would be bad news- ouch!)
At this point, they'll be dormant and ready for winter pruning (another topic for another day!)
If you're lucky enough to live somewhere with vines, go have a peek at their lovely colors before the leaves are all gone!
And thanks for sticking with me through my writing lapse. It's a goal to get back on the blogging horse!
Hey there, loyal blog readers! I think many of you probably assume I just fell off the face of the blogosphere. Not so! I have written some new stuff this summer, but... my email subscription client wasn't sending it out! Doh! So, I've switched to a new client and hopefully that will solve the issue. (If you're reading this message in your inbox, then my mission is accomplished.)
In the meantime, please scroll down and see my newest (now old-ish) posts!
Sorry for the technical difficulty and the lag in my writing. Life has gotten busy, but I'm working on it!
Thanks , as always, for reading!
You've heard me extoll the virtues of Vinho Verde, and the wine I'm going to discuss today is a similarly great summer sipper for hot, sticky days (a rarity in Chicago this summer.) Txakolina (pronounced "shahkoleena,") is typically a slightly fizzy, super tart, super light, low-alcohol white wine from Spain's Basque country. (As a side note, in the rest of Spain, you may hear people refer to it as Chakoli or Txakoli- you can do this, but if you wanna be on the inside in Basque country, stick with Txakolina.) Like Vinho Verde, it is incredibly thirst quenching on a hot day, is meant to be consumed young, and goes incredibly well with a large variety of foods. While most Txakolina you're likely to find in the US is white, you may also find a rose or even a red. There are some really unique and tasty rose versions out there- I like the Rubentis from Ameztoi (one of the largest and easiest to find producers from the region, they also make a really yummy white) And though I've never tried one, a few producers are making spicy, interesting, spritzy reds. The exact grape content, it seems, is not very important, though most are unique and native to the region, such as hondarrabi zuri, the main grape in white Txakolina.The white versions I've tried have been the equivalent of a grown-up lemonade to me- tart, with hints of citrus, lemon-lime, and sometimes just a little bit of a floral thing going on. SO GOOD. They'd be just the thing to have with fresh seafood. Next time you're invited to hang out by a pool, or are in charge of bringing a little aperitif/appetizer accompaniment, see if you can't find a Txakolina- odds are your friends will be new to it, and they're bound to be impressed.
I shared the Ameztoi- have you tried any Txakolina you'd like to recommend? Share in the comments!
I'm gonna get this out of the way- I'm sorry for falling off the blog for 4 whole months! It's not lost and gone forever- I've just been stretched a little thin as of late, and it was one of the first things to go. But I'm back, baby! I'm back!
I had a delightful and most impressive dinner at the home of some friends this week. The food was amazing (this is what you get for knowing chefs!) and we popped open a 2004 Domaine Durand Cornas. Cornas is a region in France's Rhone Valley and the wine is 100% Syrah. (It generally does well to age one, simply because they can have pretty aggressive tannins. Bitter and drying when it's young, but silky and complex as it ages.) Right out of the bottle, it had some serious funk going on- my hostess likened it to band-aids and blue cheese- but its tannins had softened a lot. It had a wee bit of a veggie thing going on at first too.
We sipped slowly and enjoyed, but by the end of dinner, it was nothing but fruit- pretty flat, which was sort of surprising.
Thinking about why this happened, got me thinking again about how darn cool wine is. It brings me back to the idea that wine is the intersection of art and science. Just awesome. Like everything in our universe, it's really just a series of chemical compounds bonded to other chemical compounds. Some of these are pretty weakly bonded and evaporate right away, and some take a long time, some even form anew inside the bottle, which is why flavors change and evolve! Exposure to oxygen speeds up the breaking away process, which is why we keep wine so closed up.
In a 10 year old wine, the most volatile of these aroma and flavor compounds had broken away a long time ago, so generally what is left is are the really tightly bonded compounds. Once they get some oxygen exposure, though, they're going to start to break free and become the smells and tastes that you experience!
You may've heard me say that 80-90% of the wine on the market is meant to be consumed within 5 years. The reason for this is that most wine is not sturdy enough, tannic enough, or complex enough to stand the test of time. Even a perfectly inserted cork will let in some oxygen, so the wine will never be the same as it was the day it went into the bottle (this is actually a beautiful thing. ) So, in the case of the majority of wine on the market, their compounds break down and evaporate too quickly. So, while some people may claim that old wine turns to vinegar, this is usually not the case (unless it has been exposed to bacteria.) It will just be the most boring, characterless wine you've ever tasted. You'll likely get boring, flat fruit flavors, and a weird, dusty, metallic aftertaste- not much more.
So, what happened with this Cornas? Well, most likely, it was aged just a few years too many. The flavor and aroma compounds had broken just a little too free in the bottle. The ones that were left tasted and smelled pretty great when first poured, but quickly dissipated, leaving only the most simple of flavors and smells. Not bad, certainly not vinegar, but I think my host was disappointed after all these years...
The good news was that he wisely opted not to decant- Decanting would've introduced even more oxygen into the wine, releasing all those compounds super quickly! That would've been a drag (the only benefit I can see of decanting a super aged wine is to get maximum wine out of the bottle without getting sediment into your glass.) Many slightly younger, bolder wines would do well with a decanter, but not this one!
I confess, I've not had any wines much older. I think a 14 year old wine is the oldest I've had. It was a Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape, and it was, hands-down the coolest wine I've ever had (a kick ass gift from my awesome boss at the time, Mindy.) We did decant it, and it rocked. A divine accompaniment to our Christmas roast.
Any of you have any memorable aged wines (either good or bad?) Share in the comments!
How to solve a wine emergency? Below are some theoretical questions, answered with lightening speed by Wine-Medic (aka yours truly,) advice columnist extraordinaire...
Five seconds ago, my clumsy boyfriend spilled red wine all over my lovely light blue dress. It was a gift from my grandmother on her death bed. What can I do!? HELP!
- Seething and Dripping
Grab the baking soda. QUICK! There is literally no time to spare. I wish you hadn't taken so much time writing to me. Rip that dress off. Sprinkle it liberally with the baking soda, and don't miss any of the red wine spots. Don't let it dry- at all! In fact, now get the spots damp and let the baking soda keep doing its thing. Now, throw it in a sink of cold water, gently rubbing the baking soda into the stains. Rinse well and dry. That stain should be gone. No need to banish old CBF to the sofa tonight. Congrats.
My husband and I have been saving a very special bottle of wine for our anniversary. But when we went to pop the cork, it broke off in the bottle. What can we do?
-Thirsty on Our Special Day
Fear not. It takes some doing, but all will be just fine. Grab your trusty (and preferably quite sharp) corkscrew and softly and gently screw it down into what is left of the cork in the bottle. Now, if the cork nubbin is still quite long, you may be able to screw it in enough to pull the rest out without breaking through the bottom of the cork. If not, it's still ok. Do what you gotta do to get that cork out.
Now that the cork is free, get a funnel and some cheesecloth if you have them handy, if not, a strainer will do just fine. Grab your trusty decanter, lay the cheesecloth down inside the funnel, and pour that deliciously special wine through the cheesecloth and into the decanter. You should now have all of the cork remnants left on the cheesecloth and your wine is saved!
If you need to wimp out and not drink the entire bottle (pshaw, I say,) then give your bottle a rinse, shake all of the water out, and pour your wine back into the bottle, putting the stopper back in. This isn't ideal because you're introducing more oxygen into the wine, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
As a side note, storing your bottles on their sides will help keep those corks from drying out and that'll keep this from happening in the future. A sharp corkscrew helps too!
Enjoy. And felicitations!
I spilled red wine on my host's lovely carpet. What do I do? Help! This is why I never get invited to dinner parties! I'm NOT graceful. I want to be discreet before anyone notices!
Well, if you have baking soda, see above. If not, and discretion is a priority, grab the salt shaker. Go! Fast!
Pour salt all over that spot. Gently pat it into the wine. It should help draw the liquid out. Dab your napkin into your water glass, and gently blot away the salt and the stain. Voila. All should be good. Also, take some deep, cleansing breaths. Clearly, people like you, despite your lack of grace, or you wouldn't get invited out. Have some self-confidence! People like you. They really like you!
I was just invited to an impromptu pre-dinner drink at the home of a girl I really like. She asked me to bring white wine, but it isn't cold. It is July and sweltering outside. What can I do?
-Feeling the Heat
Don't sweat. Grab that bottle, a mixing bowl, and pop over to McDonald's on your way to her house. Buy a bag of ice for $1. As soon as you get to her house, put that ice in the bowl with some water, drop the bottle in, and in about 10 min, you'll have a bottle that is cold enough to sip in the heat. After 20, it'll be as good as from the fridge! Use those 10 minutes to dazzle her with your sparkling wit- the wine will just be icing on the cake.
Dinner is in 2 hours and I'm out of wine. What do I do?
Go buy more. Duh. And get a few bottles. This will save you from having to send me the same dumb letter tomorrow.
If you have any legit questions for Wine-Medic, leave them in the comments!