Friday, January 18, 2013

Getting to Know You...Gruner Veltliner

Once upon a time, the Traminer grape met an obscure grape called St. Georgener in a faraway land. The 2 grapes began a torrid "love affair" and the fruit of their passions became known as Gruner Veltliner, one of the defining grapes of Austrian wine.

Gruner Veltliner (or GV as it will be called for the rest of the post) has small greenish-yellow berries on the vine. It grows best along the Danube river in Austria, and the best quality wines come from regions named Kremstal, Kamptal, Wachau, Weinviertel and Donauland. It is also grown in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Germany. GV is known for it's peppery notes both in the bouquet and on the palate, with refreshing acidity and the ability to age for years in a cellar. It also boasts mineral, citrus and sometimes peachy flavors in the mouth.

The wine I tasted was the 2011 Rabl Gruner Veltliner Spiegel, based out of the Kamptal region. This was part of 3 bottles given to me for my 2013 cellaring project. 

Crisp with refreshing acidity and mineral, citrus and stone fruit notes, this wine is light, yet full-bodied. It coats the throat with a smooth, slightly sweet finish that will make you want to sip again and again! I did not pair this with any food, but some recommended pairings include asparagus, smoked salmon, potato pancakes and sashimi. 

What shocks me the most about this wine is it's reputation for aging, and not just for a year or two in the cellar. Some sommeliers and websites state that GV can age upwards of 20+ years. Here's a link to an article of GVs from 1960-1979 that were tasted in 2002, and beat out some notable Chardonnays and White Burgundies. Although I'm unsure of how long I plan to keep these in the cellar for now, you bet it will be a long time! Remember, a fine wine gets better with age!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Neverending Pinot Noir Project

Way back in September I said I would be finishing my Pinot Noir project. Three months later, I'm still drinking Pinot Noir! It turns out I liked it more than I thought I would! However, December 31st, 2012 marked the now-official end to the project. Although I'm unsure of the total number of Pinots I sampled, I became well acquainted with PNs from Canada, the USA, France, Italy, and New Zealand. Here is what I learned:
-Pinot Noir grapes are the divas of the vineyard. They flourish best in a temperate climate; too much heat and the berries can shrivel and get sun burnt. The grapes are also very susceptible to mildew, botrytis and virus diseases. This also explains why Pinot Noirs tend to cost more than other wines.
-Although the wines do have red and black fruit on the nose and in the palate, Pinot Noirs are full-bodied wines that are mostly earthy, with more mineral and herbaceous notes than fruit. I also found a subtle note of black or white pepper on a lot of the wines I tasted.
-There is a special glass to best taste Pinot Noirs with that has a slightly flared rim. A picture of it can be found in one of my previous posts.
-I found Pinot Noirs paired best with beef and lamb dishes. As mentioned, Pinots are full-bodied and hold up against the stronger flavors of the beef and lamb. The New Zealand Pinot I tasted paired really well with a smoked Gruyere cheese. Go for stronger flavors when pairing a Pinot, but feel free to drink it on it's own, especially a wine from California's 2009 standout vintage.

The Best Vintages By Region
Canada: 2007 hands down! If you can't find a 2007, a 2010 Canadian Pinot is a good 2nd choice
California: 2009 all the way! The climate conditions were perfect for growing Pinots. My "silver medal winner" is from this vintage!
Burgundy, France: 2005, 2009
Sadly, I found Italy on a whole to be a miss with Pinot Noir. They specialize in their own grapes for a reason, and I'll be sure to sample them soon, especially with my return to WSET Advanced in the Spring.

The "Medal Winners" (If I had medals to give out, ha ha)

Gold: Chateau des Charmes Old Vines PN 2007. There was a party in my mouth when I first tried this gem! Full-bodied, spicy, a little herbaceous but a beautiful long finish that doesn't leave a harsh aftertaste in the mouth. It made me want more, and more, and more...4 bottles are now in my cellar. I paired it with meat but could drink it on it's own as well!

Silver: La Crema Monterey PN 2009. I love this wine because it has more abundant red fruit on the bouquet and in the palate than in other Pinots. I found this one to be very easy-drinking, with all the characteristics of a Pinot Noir on the palate. My favorite to drink on it's own! 

Bronze: Louis Latour PN 2009. If you want a good benchmark Pinot from it's homeland of Burgundy, you can not go wrong with this one! I tasted notes of black pepper, bell pepper, eucalyptus, with hints of coffee and meat. Another full-bodied, long finish wine. A great choice!

Best Pairing: Veuve Clicquot with Rack of Lamb Persillade. Because Pinot Noir makes up only a part of the composition in Champagne, I was surprised that it stood out against the harsh, bitter flavors of the lamb! The delicate flavors of the Champagne complemented the lamb in such a way that I couldn't take a bite of meat without savoring a sip of wine in my mouth right after! 

So that's it. Although the blogging portion of the project is now complete, I don't expect to stop drinking Pinots altogether, which is why the project will never officially end in my life. Besides, I've only scratched the surface! Cheers to the Pinot Noirs I will continue to taste in the future!

So what's next for 2013? I will be taking on 2 projects; the first is a cellar-based project thanks to my darling husband. I will be tasting 4 wines, and then cellaring the bottles to see how they age. This one will take a few years (if not longer) to complete and will lead into the 2nd project, a research-based project on the wines of Penfold's. Stay tuned for the tasting notes!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Oh, Fudge...

"Only I didn't say "Fudge." I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word!" Adult Ralphie, A Christmas Story

Thankfully, no curse words were uttered during the making of my Mint Chocolate Fudge! 2012 marks the first year I participated in the trendy and some-people-dread-it bake swap. The plan was to make 4 dozen gluten free and nut free goodies, 1/2 dozen per attending mama. At first, I had no idea what to make. I asked around and got some good ideas from some friends. And just like that, the recipe came to me in the first Christmas card I received in the mail, from the Realtor that sold our townhouse in June. The recipe was for foolproof chocolate fudge. I knew as soon as I read the recipe that I had to try it, because this recipe doesn't require the use of a candy thermometer and careful watching. And what better audience than a bunch of my mom friends (with my husband as "Quality Inspector")? I am happy to say that the fudge turned out divine! My mom friends were wowed by them, and my husband loved the fudge so much he took the last 1/2 dozen to work to share it with his coworkers. And not only did the fudge disappear, but there were rave reviews about how great it was too! So here is the recipe I made, with a few tweaks I made from the original recipe. Enjoy!

Foolproof Mint Chocolate Fudge
Makes: 2 dozen squares in a 9 x 13" glass pan

Vegetable oil cooking spray
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup 35% cream
3 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup crushed candy canes

1. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with 2 sheets of waxed or parchment paper-one lengthwise, and one horizontally so that the ends hang over all sides of the pan. Coat evenly with cooking spray.
2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat cook sugar, salt, butter, cream and marshmallows, stirring often, until marshmallows are almost melted, about 5-6 minutes.
3. Bring mixture to a boil; cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add chocolate chips, vanilla and peppermint extracts and stir until chips are melted. Pour mix into lined pan. Let sit for 2-3 hours.
4. Sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of the fudge to firm up overnight. This is what mine looked like before it's sleep in the fridge:

5. Remove from fridge and let sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, to soften up the fudge for cutting into squares.
6. Trim off the edges and cut into 24 squares. Feed the trimmed edges to your "Quality Inspector" (ha ha). My squares looked like this:
7. Package up for swapping or serve and enjoy!
A few helpful hints that I found made all the difference with these batches of fudge:

-Use good quality chocolate, or the best chocolate you have on hand. I used Hershey's semi-sweet chips, but in the future I might try Ghirardelli or Bernard Callebaut to add richness.
-I found that making the fudge the night before and letting it rest overnight in the fridge was an important step. The original recipe stated that the fudge would be set at room temperature after 3 hours; it was not even close to being set at that time. Lots of things are better when they have time to "chill out", this fudge is no exception!
-In case your fudge isn't set when you go to cut it, make sure that you have a cup or mug of warm water on hand to rinse off your knife for smoother, easy cuts. 

If you love the pairing of chocolate and mint and want to indulge in a treat this holiday season, I highly recommend this easy, hassle-free recipe. You will be amazed at the results! If I don't get the chance to blog before Christmas, I hope you and yours have a fabulous holiday season surrounded by family and friends, good food and good times. To you and yours, from me and mine!