Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers

Giving the gift of a bottle of wine to a wine lover can be tricky business. After all, wine aficionados have a reputation for being fussy about wines they like. Never mind that their taste in wine may fall outside your budget. Unless you're a wine geek yourself, there's also a good chance you might miss the mark on a wine they'll really enjoy. And good luck finding a winner they haven't already tasted.

For a different, yet sure-fire way to please a wine lover, give the gift of wine smarts. Wine lovers are a thirsty bunch – and their thirst for wine savvy extends to non-liquid forms, too. That's where these gift ideas come in.
The first of this two-part post presents wine books to thrill the wine lovers on your list. Later this week in Part 2, I'll cover magazine, online and mobile wine treasures, as well as wine toys and tools that really work.

The reading and reference picks below are updated from a resource list I've given out at Wine Essentials, a series of wine education classes at Cooking with Class in La Quinta. Because everyone learns differently, try to pick a format your wine-loving friend will find appealing. All gift ideas here are easy to find locally or order online. Best of all, most won't set you back more than the cost of a good bottle. Happy Holidays!

For the List Lover – Guides and Reviews

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2012
This slim, annual reference by a legendary British wine expert tackles grape varieties, vintage reports, major brands, food-pairing suggestions and hundreds of wines listed by country.

A Toast to Bargain Wines: How Innovators, Iconoclasts, and Winemaking Revolutionaries Are Changing the Way the World Drinks 
By George M. Taber (2011)
A chewy list of splurges, favorites and best buys by country, brands, wine styles and varietals. The first half of the book tells the stories of winemakers who are rattling the vines to create value and drive wine-drinking trends. To take in a remarkable piece of American wine history, pick up Taber's Judgment of Paris, too.

1,000 Great Everyday Wines From the World's Best Wineries
Jim Gordon, Editor-in-Chief
New in 2011, this expert-led hardback serves up wines by world regions with handy tips from reading wine labels to storage and serving. While some prices may not fall into what you consider everyday drinking, the producers and wines in this book are definitely worth seeking out, for budget-seekers and special occasions.

Wine Library Must-Haves

The New Wine Lover's Companion 
By Ron Herbst
The latest 2010 edition is a wine dictionary of sorts, with more than 4,000 entries that cover terms, varietals, techniques, regions, styles and much more. Concise and helpful appendices with tips on glassware, pronunciation, lots more. 

Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (25th anniversary edition 2010) and Kevin Zraly’s Complete Wine Course (2011)
Region-by-region wine smarts and geography made easy by a straight-talking wine educator. The 2011 edition has smart phone tags to his videos.

Wine Style: Using Your Senses to Explore and Enjoy Wine 
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan & Ed McCarthy (2005)
By presenting wines in four basic styles of reds and whites, plus two each for rosés and sparklers, the authors offer an interesting approach to understanding your wine palate. Best suited for experienced tasters, or advanced beginners looking to learn more.

Grapes and Wines: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and Flavours 
By Oz Clarke (2010)
With the author's distinctive charm, this book lists more than 300 grape varieties in an A-to-Z format with pictures, maps and more. The new edition describes Old vs. New World styles, aging capacity and beyond.

Dummies and Idiot’s Guides

California Wine for Dummies 
By Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan (2009)
Straight talk from Wine Style authors with essential knowledge, maps, AVAs, wine travel tips, history and tips, tips, tips galore. Not to be pooh-poohed, these books are great stepping stones for friends who are just starting to get into wine. Also useful for those who are already into wine, but could use a compass on their wine journey.

Wine All-in-One for Dummies by Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Maryann Egan (2009)
Includes Wine for Dummies (2006), French Wine For Dummies, Italian Wine for Dummies (2001), California Wine for Dummies (2009) and Australian and New Zealand Wine for Dummies. The 2010 mini-edition of Wine for Dummies available on Kindle.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine Basics 
By Tara Q. Thomas (2008)
Another great overview of wine with helpful bullets on “the least you need to know.”

For the Food-and-Wine Lovers

Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food
By Evan Goldstein, recipes by Joyce Goldstein (2006)
Much more than its subtitle, this treasure includes essential information on major red and white grapes, sparkling and dessert wines, recommended producers and glossary – a goldmine of useful information with awesome recipes by Evan's mom, the groundbreaking chef-creator of San Francisco's Square One.

Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines With Recipes From His Favorite Chefs
By Evan Goldstein (2010)
Evan tackles 36 grapes with pairing recipes by 36 top chefs, including Suzanne Goin, Philippe Jeanty and Cindy Pawlcyn. There's also a review of concepts introduced in his first book, tips on shopping for wine and an at-a-glance table that summarizes wine styles by varietal. Both books are go-to resources to use over and over again.

The Food Lover's Guide to Wine 
By Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg
Heavy with tips and comments from master chefs and sommeliers, this duo's latest (2011) book is a one-stop resource for pairing wines with food. Easy-to-use quick lists and timelines make learning about wine fun and provocative. From the authors of What To Drink With What You Eat, another must-have favorite.

For Wine-Loving Men

Swallow This: The Progressive Approach to Wine 
By Mark Phillips
Not for everyone, this humorous guide to wines was written by an iconoclast with a knack for explaining wine and wine concepts in plain English. Big on silliness and fueled by testosterone, but also practical.

Coming later this week in Part 2: Magazines, Online and Mobile for Wine Lovers, plus Wine Toys and Tools That Really Work

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays! 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Holiday Sparkler from Argentina

Party planners have bubbles on the brain this time of year. Do you splurge for Champagne or go with a domestic sparkling wine? How much should you spend? What should you serve? And of course, how do you open that pressurized bottle without making a mess or unleashing a cork missile?
We uncorked last week's food and wine tasting dinner at Cooking with Class with an Argentine sparkler that's sure to jazz up your holiday get-together – Spirit of the Andes. Made by Tapiz, a winery owned by former nephrologist Patricia Ortiz, Spirit is a sparkling wine made from the Torrontés grape. Although Argentina's Torrontés was once believed related to a grape from Spain's Galicia that goes by the same name, genetic studies indicate that the desirable Torrontés riojano variant or cultivar represents a cross between the pink-skinned Criolla chica (Mission) grape and Muscat of Alexandria. It is this Muscat parentage that gives Torrontés its captivating perfumy aromas.  

Winemaker Fabian Valenzuela follows the traditional or champenoise method used in Champagne to make Spirit. At an average vineyard elevation of 3,000 feet, sustainably farmed grapes ripen in high-altitude sun while cool Andean nights allow grapes to retain their essential acidity. Hand-harvested fruit is first stainless-steel tank-fermented and made into a still wine. Once clarified, the wine is bottled and liqueur tirage, a combination of sugar dissolved in wine plus yeast, is added to kick off second-fermentation fizzes. Next, the wine rests on its lees, or spent yeast for 12 months, after which bottles are turned or tilted to funnel sediment in the neck. To finish the process, the temporary crown cap is released, sediment is disgorged and a small amount of extra brut dosage is added – a fudge factor of sweet wine that the winemaker adds to adjust the wine to its final desirable profile. The bottle is immediately sealed with a natural cork and wire muzzle.

Ah, that nerve-racking muzzle. One tip for safely opening a sparkler under pressure is to use a folded dish towel the entire time you handle the bottle. Find a sturdy surface and an area where an errant cork won't cause any damage. Sandwich the towel between your firm hand and the top of the wire cage. Keep gentle downward pressure with the towel hand as you untwist the cage. Now, still holding firm downward pressure with your towel hand, slowly twist the bottle while keeping your towel hand steady. As you feel the cork begin to emerge, be sure you have control over the cork end with your toweled hand. Control your slow twist on the bottle until you feel the cork pop into your toweled hand. If executed gently and properly, you should have total control of the cork and little, if any, spillage. Voilà, you're a pro!

In the glass, Spirit sends up delicate, white flower aromas with sweet nectarine and honeysuckle on the palate. Bubbles are persistent, as is the finish, all crisp, clean and utterly delightful. The barely perceptible sweetness is balanced by lively acidity, a combination that makes Spirit a worthy choice as an aperitif or with lighter first courses.

Chef Andie Hubka served a grilled radicchio salad with applewood-smoked bacon, Rogue River blue cheese, scallions, grapes and a drizzle of cactus honey. The salad's sweet notes played off the sparkler's tropical fruit basket flavors while the wine's acidity handled the creamy Rogue blue with finesse.

If holiday bubbles have you bemused, give this southern hemi sparkler a pop. At about $20 at Cooking with Class, Spirit of the Andes Sparkling Torrontés will turn your occasion into a celebration in no time. And if you're curious to learn more about the many different types of sparkling wines from around the world, catch some New Year's cheer at this month's wine essentials class on sparkling wines Thursday, December 29 at 6 PM. Sign up here, or call the school at 760.777.1161. Cin-cin!