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Cindy Lemos
 
October 21, 2016 | Cindy Lemos

Football is Back ... Bring Out the Wine! TROUBLED VERSION

It is gridiron season which means lots of pigskin action, camaraderie and food.  It is also the WinoGal version of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Granted, my 49ers are currently cellar dwellers – and that is not a good thing when referring to a football team!

If you are not a big football fan, hanging out with friends who are can feel like being in a crowd of people speaking a foreign language.  Not to worry, though.  Knowing a few key words will up your football “creds”.  For instance, pigskin refers to the actual ball thrown in this game, and gridiron refers to the field upon which the game is played.  You might also think that drinking wine with a group of beer-drinking football diehards is out of place, but that’s a thing of the past.

My first experience with fine wine came while working in Yosemite.  Having been a bartender as a college student in San Diego, it was easy to segway into bartending at the popular Loft in Yosemite Village after graduation.  It was seasonal work, though.  Fortunately, in late August, Stewart Good, Food and Beverage Director at the Ahwahnee Hotel, recruited me to join his wine staff.  (By the way, Stewart is still at the Ahwahnee overseeing the food and beverage staff!)

Knowing that there are many things to learn about fine wine, Stewart didn’t allow newbies to pour wine at events or in the main dining room until multiple education levels were achieved.  So my first fall was spent in the Indian Room Bar at the Ahwahnee and, of course, football was in full swing.

Beer is traditionally the beverage of choice for football fans, but with the Ahwahnee touting over 130 stellar wines from all over the world, we served many glasses of wine in the Indian Room.  The hotel also featured a gourmet football menu, and so began my food pairing experience!  My years in Yosemite as a wine steward and sommelier led me to experiment with my own flavor combinations, pairing food and wine to enhance social gatherings on a daily basis.

Today, I enjoy hosting football parties at home and have put together a collection of my favorite game recipes along with wines to pair with each.  I’m happy to share a few of them below.  Pick one or two, add a few more dishes like a fresh salad with dried cranberries and walnuts, and your gourmet gridiron party is sure to be the talk of the season!

Pinot Grigio is the perfect choice for those who prefer white wines.  The Middle Ridge Pinot Grigio is crisp and refreshing with lots of apple and pear flavors and pairs nicely with cheese plates and fall salads, bratwurst or a deep fried turkey.  If you are the party host, try something daring like Truffle Fries.  Fear not!  They are really simple:

Use large russet potatoes – you can even leave the skin on, just wash well.  Cut off both rounded ends and then slice the potato lengthwise repeatedly to get – well, fries!

Be sure your deep fryer has clean oil, and heat to the maximum temperature.  Fry in batches, being careful not to overload the basket because you want crispy fries.

When fries are golden brown and floating on the top of the fryer, remove them and let drain on paper towels.

Move fries to a large bowl and drizzle a healthy amount of truffle oil over them and toss well.  Then move fries to a serving plate and finish with a liberal dose of truffle sea salt.  (Both of these ingredients can be found in gourmet spice shops and/or specialty markets designed for foodies.)

For red wine lovers, Middle Ridge's Lily Rock Merlot is an excellent choice as it is the perfect accompaniment to baby back ribs slathered in a spicy sauce.  Its smooth berry flavors melded with just a hint of tannins are enhanced when paired with another football favorite – chili!  While everyone has their own favorite chili recipe, this one is easy and sure to be a crowd pleaser: 

1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large jalapenos, chopped (with or without seeds)
1 lb of lean ground beef
1 Tbsp each – powdered garlic, powdered onion & cumin
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp sea salt
OPTIONAL:  up to 1 Tbsp chili flakes, depending upon your preference for heat!
2 large cans of red kidney beans, drained
1 ear of corn, left in the husk & smoked on the BBQ grill
2-3 large tomatoes, chopped (you'll want 2 cups of chopped tomatoes)

Start with a large, deep pan.  Alternatively, if you are planning to transport the chili or keep it warm in a crock pot, you may first use a sauté pan and then transfer the meat mixture to the crock pot when adding the final ingredients. 

Brown the onion and jalapenos in 2 Tbsp olive oil, then add the ground meat and sauté until cooked.   Add in all seasonings and mix well.   Remove the husk & silk from the corn and then very carefully, stand the corn on its large end on the cutting board and cut the corn from the cob using a sharp knife. 

Add kidney beans, corn kernels and tomatoes into the chili and mix well.  Cover and leave on low heat, setting for at least 2 hours to allow tomatoes to break down and the flavors to fully develop. 

Serve with grated cheddar cheese, fresh chopped tomatoes and chopped scallions. 

For those who enjoy a full bodied red wine, Middle Ridge's Meritage is an excellent choice.   The hearty cherry/berry flavors and developed tannins are the perfect pairing for a smoked beef brisket or beef ribs with a hearty BBQ sauce.  A lot of people are afraid to do their own brisket when, in reality, the oven version is really quite simple – the secret is to cook the brisket “low and slow” the day before the football party:

20 lb beef brisket – Keep in mind that you lose approximately half of the weight during cooking, so plan accordingly.  A good rule of thumb is at least 6 ounces of finished brisket per guest.  Having leftovers is a good thing, so don't be afraid to buy extra meat.

Put the brisket, fat cap down, into a deep roasting pan.  Set your oven or smoker to 225 degrees.

2 cups of whole fruit juice, depending on what sort of flavor you wish to cultivate.  Pineapple acts as a natural meat tenderizer, so your meat will break down more and may cause it to finish faster than apple, pear, pomegranate or even cherry juice, so keep that in mind.  A mix of fruit juice can also be used, so be creative depending on what else you are serving that day.

Add seasonings to the juice & mix well:

1 Tbsp each – powdered garlic, powdered onion and cumin
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp each – smoked paprika and chili powder

Using a food syringe found in specialty kitchen stores, carefully draw the seasoned juice into the syringe.  Pierce the meat, being careful not to fully penetrate the meat to the bottom of the roasting pan.  Depress the plunger and watch as the juice swells the meat as it absorbs the juice.

Repeat this process across the top of the brisket, piercing the flesh at one inch intervals.  When the brisket begins to leak juice during this process, you know that you have it fully saturated.

Now make a rub using the exact seasoning ingredients noted above for the juice infusion and rub across the entire surface of the brisket.

You are now ready to put brisket into the oven or smoker.  Expect this to take at least 10-12 hours.  You want the internal temperature to be 195 degrees when finished.  Use a meat thermometer to check this after 10 hours.

And there you have it … wine and football go very well together!  So grab some bottles of your favorite Middle Ridge wine, plan a football-themed menu and tune to your favorite team's game this weekend. 

Cheers! 

Time Posted: Oct 21, 2016 at 3:36 PM
Melody Johnston
 
October 1, 2016 | Melody Johnston

Food & Wine Pairing, the Chef Christo Way

“Wine is a dance partner that knows its moves but needs a partner that is also equally versed and willing to dance the same dance.  You can’t have a wine that dances a waltz with food dancing the rumba,” says Chef Christo.  And he should know – Chef Christo has catered some of New York’s most glamorous events, wowing everyone with his creative, artistic food presentations.  So if he says a food is dancing a rumba, you probably want to find a wine that can shimmy to the beat of conga drums … and you’ll get an incredible pairing like this one.

Drawing on creative imagery when describing food and wine is what Chef Christo does on an ongoing basis, and it’s really no surprise when you learn about his artistic background.  Before becoming a chef, he worked for more than a decade as a fashion stylist for major magazines.  “I picked out clothes and created unusual accessories to go with them,” says Christo. “I made funky head wraps from paper, I tied ties in unique ways – that kind of thing.  I’d take all that and put it into my presentations.”  These days, he pours that artistic ingenuity into his cooking where he feels that the presentation is just as important as the taste.  “I use a color a wheel to help me pick the seasonal ingredients for my recipes.   I try not to have too similar colors on a plate.  Layers of colors are okay, but I prefer contrasting colors.  So, for example, if I choose corn as an ingredient, I would put it with purple potatoes.  I go about my cooking the art school way.”

He is always trying out unique combinations but the experiments starts first in his brain, not in the kitchen.  “If I experiment when I’m cooking and it doesn’t work out, then I’ve wasted food.  So instead, I put together unique food combinations in my mind.  As I shop for the ingredients I visualize the final product.  I start to see how it will look as I shop.  Then I go to the kitchen and try it on the plate a couple of times to make sure it all works.” 

Christo’s CHOCOLATE CHERRY VELVET ANTLER STEAK is a great example of this meal-making mental imagery.  “I took one taste of the Zinfadel and absolutely knew that I had to make a chocolate-cherry sauce to pair with it. Then I wanted a nice rich meat to go with the sauce, and I thought of venison.  Just be sure to get a mild cut of venison – you don’t want anything too strong.”

You’ll love how Chef Christo dresses up venison with caramelized red onion, blue berries and orange zest. It’s finished with a bittersweet chocolate compound butter, and served with carrot puree, julienned zucchini and fried yucca.

Chef’s wine recommendation: Middle Ridge 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel

You can find “Chef Christo Gonzales” on Facebook, or enjoy his blog – Chez What?

Time Posted: Oct 1, 2016 at 11:45 AM
Cindy Lemos
 
October 22, 2015 | Cindy Lemos

Football is Back ... Bring out the Wine!

It is gridiron season which means lots of pigskin action, camaraderie and food.  It is also the WinoGal (that would be me!) version of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Granted, my 49ers are currently cellar dwellers – and that is not a good thing when referring to a football team!

If you are not a big football fan, hanging out with friends who are can feel like being in a crowd of people speaking a foreign language.  Not to worry, though.  Knowing a few key words will up your football “creds”.  For instance, pigskin refers to the actual ball thrown in this game, and gridiron refers to the field upon which the game is played.  You might also think that drinking wine with a group of beer-drinking football diehards is out of place, but not any more!

My first experience with fine wine came while working in Yosemite.  Having been a bartender as a college student in San Diego, it was easy to segway into bartending at the popular Loft in Yosemite Village after graduation.  It was seasonal work, though.  Fortunately, in late August, Stewart Good, Food and Beverage Director at the Ahwahnee Hotel, recruited me to join his wine staff.  (By the way, Stew is still at the Ahwahnee overseeing the food and beverage staff!)

Knowing that there are many things to learn about fine wine, Stew didn’t allow newbies to pour wine at events or in the main dining room until multiple education levels were achieved.  So my first fall was spent in the Indian Room Bar at the Ahwahnee and, of course, football was in full swing.

Beer is traditionally the beverage of choice for football fans, but with the Ahwahnee touting over 130 stellar wines from all over the world, we served many glasses of wine in the Indian Room.  The hotel also featured a gourmet football menu, and so began my food pairing experience!

My years in Yosemite as a wine steward and sommelier led me to experiment with my own flavor combinations, pairing food and wine to enhance social gatherings.  And every fall, I enjoy hosting football parties and have put together a collection of my favorite game-day recipes along with wines to pair with each.  I’m happy to share a few of them below.  Pick one or two, add a few more dishes like a fresh salad with dried cranberries and walnuts, and your gourmet gridiron party is sure to be the talk of the season!

Pinot Grigio is the perfect choice for those who prefer white wine.  The Middle Ridge Pinot Grigio is crisp and refreshing with lots of apple and pear flavors and pairs nicely with cheese plates and fall salads, bratwurst or a deep fried turkey.  If you are the party host, try something daring like Football Truffle Fries.  Fear not!  They are really simple.

For red wine lovers, Middle Ridge's Lily Rock Merlot is an excellent choice as it is the perfect accompaniment to baby back ribs slathered in a spicy sauce.  Its smooth berry flavors melded with just a hint of tannins are enhanced when paired with another football favorite – my Kickoff Chili!  While everyone has their own favorite chili recipe, this one is easy and sure to be a crowd pleaser.

If you enjoy a full bodied red wine, Middle Ridge's Meritage is an excellent choice.   The hearty cherry/berry flavors and developed tannins are the perfect pairing for my smoked beef Touchdown Brisket or beef ribs with a hearty BBQ sauce.  A lot of people are afraid to do their own brisket when, in reality, the oven version is really quite simple – the secret is to cook the brisket “low and slow” the day before the football party.

And there you have it … wine and football go very well together!  So grab some bottles of your favorite Middle Ridge wine, plan a football-themed menu and tune into your favorite team's game this weekend.

Cheers!

Time Posted: Oct 22, 2015 at 11:06 AM
Chris Johnston
 
August 13, 2015 | Chris Johnston

A Sideways View

Remember the movie Sideways?  This very popular movie, which came out in 2004, chronicles the journey of two middle-aged men -- a self-proclaimed wine expert and his soon-to-be-married actor friend -- through the Santa Ynez wine region.  It changed the landscape of red wine, driving sales of Pinot Noir into the stratosphere while causing Merlot sales to plummet.  As a Merlot lover, that movie always annoyed me, but I decided to revisit it since we recently released our Lily Rock 2009 Merlot and 2014 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.  There are a lot of great quotes in the movie, so I thought I’d have some fun with them and maybe even slay a few myths.  So here we go …

If you've seen the movie and know a bit about wine, you know Maya adores wine and everything she says about wine is true.  What you may not know is that wine snob Miles is almost always wrong about wine. 

Maya:  I like how wine continues to evolve.  Like if I opened a bottle of wine today, it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive.  And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity.

She’s right!  Wine is a living, breathing thing.  You might think that once wine is bottled, the biological process stops … almost, but not quite.  A little oxygen enters through the cork, and even this minute amount is enough to allow the wine to age.  It’s why I favor cork closures over plastic corks or screw-tops.  The latter don’t allow any oxygen to be exchanged, and wine needs the internal chemical reaction with oxygen to gain complexity – it helps form long tannin chains, and the longer the chains, the smoother and mellower the wine.

Miles:  (tasting the Estate Chardonnay at Byron Wines)  Mmm, a little citrus ... maybe some strawberry ... passion fruit ... and, oh, there's just like the faintest soupçon of, like, asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese.

This quote always makes me laugh.  When you get that vegetal, asparagus flavor, it means the grapes were not fully ripe at harvest.  It’s definitely not something you want in your finished wine.

As far as the “nutty” component goes, that could be from malolactic fermentation.  But when Miles adds the cheese reference, it clearly points to a bacterial problem  -- probably Brettanomyces.  Again, not desirable!

His reference to strawberries is also comical.  Strawberry isn’t a component of any Chardonnay I've encountered, nor is it mentioned in the wine tasting notes for any of Byron's many Chardonnays.

Jack:  If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.
Miles:  No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving.  I am NOT drinking any (BLEEPING) Merlot!

This quote between Miles and his un-wine-educated friend Jack is probably the most famous one in the movie.  It set the stage for the rapid decline in sales for the previously popular Merlot.  Tasting rooms everywhere began hearing wine visitors tell their pourers, “Give me anything, just not Merlot.”

Merlot is a fantastic grape.  I love a well-made bottle of Merlot.  It tends to be very smooth – it’s not in-your-face bold, and it’s not as acidic or tannic as other varietals.  That's why I use Merlot as the base of our Meritage.  Typically, 50% of the blend is Merlot, and the rest is Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  One time I varied this, and the Coyote Run blend was born.  It, too, is half Merlot, but I blended it with some Petit Verdot and Malbec I had on hand at the time.  I love to experiment, and the Coyote Run turned out great.  It sold out quickly, but I’ll be bottling the 2012 vintage soon!

Jack:  (pouring champagne while Miles drives on their first morning)  Pinot Noir?  Then how come it's white?

Little does Jack know that some white wines come from purple grapes.  For instance, the Middle Ridge Pinot Grigio grapes are purple.  The same is true of Pinot Noir – purple grapes.  The Pinot Noir Champagne Jack was pouring was probably a light blush color at crush, but the color falls out quickly during fermentation.  It's all a function of how firmly the grapes are pressed.  My Pinot Grigio goes to press on a medium setting – 18psi pressure on the grapes.  It starts out pink but, after fermentation, it’s a light straw color, just like the color of the Champagne Jack and Miles were drinking in the movie.

Miles:  Quaff-able, but uh ... far from transcendent.

Quaff-able refers to a drinkable, young wine that doesn't require aging yet can still be delightful.

Transcendent sends you to another level, generally referring to an older, beautifully aged wine opened at the perfect time in its aging crescent.

At Middle Ridge, we make both quaff-able and transcendent wines.  Our new Lily Rock label features many wines that fall into the “quaff-able” category, debuting with a 2009 Merlot from the Russian River Valley.

Our flagship, black label wines are crafted for the “transcendent” category.  My goal has always been to make wines that are drinkable on release, yet will continue to benefit with a few years of cellaring.  Thus far, I've been very satisfied with the results.

I invite you to try a few Middle Ridge wines and let us know what you think.  And above all, drink what makes your palate happy.

Time Posted: Aug 13, 2015 at 10:20 AM
Cindy Lemos
 
June 30, 2015 | Cindy Lemos

Introducing ... Lily Rock Cellars

There's a new wine label in the Middle Ridge family and after trying their debut wine – the Lily Rock Cellars 2009 Merlot – I have to admit, I am smitten. Also known as Tahquitz Rock, this huge monolith of granite rises over Idyllwild and was made legend by native tribes who told tales of disappearing maidens and boulder battles between braves and an evil chief that tore deep holes in the earth, forming the local lakes.  Today it is a favorite of rock climbers as the sheer granite pitches rival some of the challenging climbs found in Yosemite.

Merlot is my favorite wine grape, bar none.  It was disparaged for no good reason by Miles in the popular wine flick Sideways, which led to a real life collapse in Merlot sales.  However, it turns out his coup de grâce 1961 Cheval Blanc that he opens at the end of the movie is made from Cabernet Franc and yes, MERLOT! 

Merlot is a sibling of Cabernet Sauvignon, and both share Cabernet Franc as their proud papa.  It is one of the five grapes of Bordeaux that can be used in any combination in the popular American Meritage blends.  (Note:  Pronounce Meritage like “heritage”.  After all, we are Americans, not stuffy French oenophiles!)

Merlot's mother is a little known, but prolific grape varietal called Madeleine de Noire Charentes.  She also begat Malbec, another of the five red grapes of Bordeaux blends.

The fruit in the Lily Rock Cellars 2009 Merlot hails from the esteemed Russian River Valley, and I was hooked by the first sniff.  An intoxicating bouquet of cherries rushes your senses and is carried through in the taste of this delightful wine.  It is silky smooth with lush Bing and bright red cherries, and it finishes with a strong undertone of well-developed tannins – no bite here!  There's a hint of northern California produce throughout, reminiscent of baby spinach, which adds to the complexity of this wine.

It is the perfect match for a bacon-wrapped filet mignon with grilled asparagus.  It also would be stellar with a salad of baby spinach sprinkled with dried cherries, roasted walnuts, and a bit of crumbled Mexican queso fresco, all generously coated in a warm bacon dressing served with crusty sourdough garlic bread. 

Cheers!

Time Posted: Jun 30, 2015 at 7:20 AM
Cindy Lemos
 
June 29, 2015 | Cindy Lemos

Nothing Sweet About This Rosé

2014 Vin Gris of Pinot NoirNormally, when a rosé is poured into my glass, I expect a sugar rush to accompany the first sip.

Not the new Middle Ridge 2014 Vin Gris!  The color is a beautiful salmon pink and it is decidedly on the dry side.  Winemaker Chris says it has aromas of pear and lychee – I'm unfamiliar with lychee so I looked it up.  It is the sole member of the Soapberry family. {wildly unhelpful!}  I also see that it's popular in southern Asian cuisine.  As I have no experience with it, I'm putting it on my shopping list to check out.  However, the pear on the nose is unmistakable.  

Rolling it around in my mouth, the pear is still there and is joined by a burst of strawberries, finishing with a smooth cranberry love bite. 

This is a blush of Pinot Noir.  It retains earthy undertones of the varietal and I immediately went to the refrigerator to pull out some gorgonzola.  That was a bit too much, so I added a wedge of brie, put both in the microwave to warm them up and voila!  The melding of sharp and creamy cheeses pairs perfectly with this wine and really brings out the strawberries in this delightful rosé. 

The fruit for this wine was sourced from the Santa Rita Hills, home to the Pinot Noirs made famous in the movie Sideways.  The region's fruit has always been stellar, however, Pinot Noir is extremely finicky and hard to grow.  It is a thin-skinned grape and needs the cool ocean breezes and almost perfect soil to reach its potential.  It's a wimp of a grape really ... you won't find Pinot Noir clinging to a steeply terraced hillside like Cabernet Sauvignon.  Then even with the best fruit, it requires a talented winemaker to create a truly exceptional wine. 

Hence, you'll rarely find a rose made from a Pinot Noir.  Most winemakers simply aren't up to the challenge.  Our Mad Scientist from Idyllwild was not daunted.  Nor would he knuckle under to popular thought which would dictate a sweeter wine in the finished product.

The result is a smooth, dry, crisp rosé with gorgeous color and perfectly balanced acid.  It’s the perfect accompaniment to grilled salmon or a juicy pork chop – either of which would be awesome with a savory pear sauce.  I plan to enjoy another glass with some bacon/gorgonzola/brie stuffed mushrooms on a bed of greens with pear balsamic vinaigrette.

Cheers!  Oh, and while you're enjoying a glass of Vin Gris, read more about it in the summer newsletter, including an interview with Winemaker Chris.  Carry on!

Time Posted: Jun 29, 2015 at 7:50 AM
Melody Johnston
 
May 19, 2015 | Melody Johnston

4 Medals for 2010 Meritage

Celebrate with Great Savings!

$27 per bottle with purchase of 3+
(regularly $37)
Shipping included on case orders

Our 2010 Meritage took another medal, this time at the Pacific Rim Wine Competition. This luscious wine has now racked up four awards -- two gold and two silver! We'd like to celebrate by offering our loyal followers a great deal on a great wine. For 3 days only (thru Thursday, May 21), you can enjoy this award-winning wine for only $27 a bottle ... and we'll even include the shipping on case orders.

We call our 2010 Meritage, Paso Robles our yum-yum juice. Aged in French oak for 39 months, it's a very aromatic wine with lots of ripe plum and juicy dark cherry aromas that morph into bright cherries. With just the right amount of acid and a smooth tannin structure, this wine is a delight to drink alone or pair with food. And Middle Ridge fans are enjoying it, too.

"This was a gift to me and is a fantastic gift for any wine lover. Velvety and rich without overpowering food. What a wonderful surprise."
-Vanessa H.

"Served this to my Thanksgiving guests and they loved it! I can't wait to age it for a few years to see how it matures."
-Linda H.

ORDER YOURS TODAY!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER.
Use promo code MEDALS (3-11 btl) or AWARDS (for case orders).

Price includes delivery to IDYLLWILD ADDRESS with use of promo code IDY.
(Note: Multiple promo codes are accepted at checkout.)

Offer good through 5/21/15.
We are currently able to ship to three states--California, Florida and Washington, D.C.
Shipping to a California address is only $9.99 for any size order. Other rates available at check-out.
This offer may not be combined with any other discount.

Long Beach Grand Cru   Sommelier Challenge   Inland Empire Magazine Wine Competition   Pacific Rim Wine Competition

Time Posted: May 19, 2015 at 9:57 AM
Chris Johnston
 
May 18, 2015 | Chris Johnston

Deer Sightings Project - What a success

On June 21st, 2014 - we released our very first "Artist Series" labels. Six in all, captured from the 22 "Deer Sightings" public art installation in Idyllwild, California.  All of this in a public celebration that included wine tasting, presentations and honoring ALL of the people in our village that make up the arts community.

A place like Idyllwild is truly unique and inspiring.  I heard someone once say that "Per-capita, we have more artists and musicians than any other place in the USA".  This statement should be considered very accurate - because we have more creative people here than i have encountered anywhere else in my 50+ years of existence.

The day was filled with friends, family, and community enjoying great company, food supplied by the soon-to-open restaurant "Ferro" and our wine.  Great times.

Middle Ridge had produced a Cabernet Sauvignon in a 230 case run.  We had decided some time ago to come up with an "Artists Series" where we would find a theme we could use to put on the labels.

We had sponspored one of the deer sculptures to be painted.  She is beautiful.  Her name is "Dottie". 

 

Time Posted: May 18, 2015 at 11:00 AM
Chris Johnston
 
November 3, 2014 | Chris Johnston

Wine Aromas & Oak Barrels

In my post on Demystifying Wine Aromas, I mentioned that smell – not taste – is the human sense that defines the overall flavor of wine.  And I spoke about the Middle Ridge Signature Aroma Table – a smell-able display of aroma “reference standards” that are typically used to train wine competition judges and wine writers.  I prepare the Aroma Table every year to help guests at our Annual Barrel Tasting learn to identify aromas in wine and develop an understanding of what they enjoy.  The table contains over 40 aroma samples – everything from black cherries, nutmeg, and tobacco in red wine to pears, lime and grapefruit in white wines.

The Signature Aroma Table has been a huge hit year after year.  Guests enjoyed it so much – especially when they had one of those “Aha!” moments – that I wanted to do more to enhance their learning experience.  And that’s why I expanded the table to include oak aroma samples.

The first addition to the table was five samples of wine aged in French oak.  Each sample represents a different toasting level on the inside of the barrel – light, light+, medium, medium+, and heavy.  (Winemakers get to choose the toasting level when buying barrels.)

It was so much fun to see the looks of surprise when guests smelled the samples and realized how much barrel toasting impacts the aroma of wine.  These are definitely good students, so I couldn’t stop there.  The following year, I added a set of American oak samples.  Now guests could experience not only the impact of toasting levels but the differences in the type of oak used as well.  Wow, this was fun!

So what is it that folks experience?  Here’s some interesting info on what happens to wine aromas the longer a barrel is toasted:

  • Wine aged in a lightly toasted barrel retains some of the fresh wood aromas of the barrel.
  • As a barrel is toasted longer, the fresh wood aromas diminish and sweeter, sugary aromas from the wood such as butter, caramel and vanilla increase.
  • At higher toast levels, these aromas are replaced with darker, earthier aromas such as spice, smoke, tobacco, and coffee.

And what about the differences between French and American oak?

FRENCH OAK is a much tighter grain than American oak.  As such, the aromas imparted by a French oak barrel are more subtle, which allows those of the grape varietal to be more noticeable.  In addition to a perceived aromatic sweetness, common descriptors for wines aged in French oak are fruity, cinnamon and allspice along with chocolate, smoky and coffee.

AMERICAN OAK, with its wider grain, tends to impart stronger, more obvious and sweeter aromas.  Common descriptors for American oak are vanilla, honey, butterscotch, coconut, sweet spices and dill.  Aromas of pine, resin, and cedar are also associated with American oak.

From the winemaker’s perspective, a wine barrel is never “just” a barrel but a powerful took in the winemaker’s arsenal.  I actually think of them as my spice boxes.  I use them to season wine in much the same way that I use spices to season food when I’m cooking.

Winemakers usually have a strong preference for the kind of oak and the toasting level used to make their barrels.  I certainly do!  I use French oak – and a medium or medium+ toast – exclusively because I like the way it works in subtle ways to enhance the natural fruit aromas of the wine.  In my opinion, American oak tends to overpower the beauty of the fruit.  But, like I said, that’s my preference.  You have yours, too, although you may not know how to describe it or what to look for when you’re shopping for wine.  And that’s why I love sharing the experience of our Signature Aroma Table.  If you live in Southern California or can make arrangements to be in the area, I hope you’ll join us for our Annual Barrel Tasting and develop a better understanding of what you enjoy in wine … one sniff at a time!

 

Time Posted: Nov 3, 2014 at 7:03 PM
Melody Johnston
 
November 1, 2014 | Melody Johnston

How about some dinner with your wine?

“A little splash of the wine you are drinking can’t hurt the sauce you are making,” says Chef Christo, executive chef for New York’s Showstoppers Catering.  We agree…after all, it’s pretty common practice at Middle Ridge headquarters to add a little "sauce” to whatever is brewing on the kitchen stove. If it’s midnight, you just might find Winemaker Chris cooking up some wine-glazed chicken as one of his infamous midnight snacks – and he often uses whatever open wine is in hand.

When it comes to cooking for his glamorous clientele, Chef Christo takes this approach a step further.  He only cooks with the wine that he’s serving later with that particular meal.  “Otherwise, it introduces too many different tastes.  And if they picked that wine for their dinner, then I know they like it.  So why use anything else?”  

And how does Chef Christo select the perfect wine to pair with his gourmet recipes?  He actually figures out what food to serve after his client has picked the wine.  “The food can be adapted to the wine – the wine can’t be adapted to the food.   When I’m putting together a pairing, I taste the wine first and whatever little nuances or even bold flavors come out at me, then I start to think about balanced contrasts and accent points to bring out the flavor even more. So, if I taste oak and apple in a wine that a client likes – then I can pick food that goes with that wine. If a client does the opposite and tells me, ‘I want your Moroccan Grilled Salmon; find us wine to go with that,’ it’s a lot more difficult because wine preferences are so subjective. “

When Winemaker Chris sent over his bottled cocktail The Mule for Christo to try, the chef’s creative mind started working right away on the perfect recipe to go with it.  After sipping on it a while, he came up with delicious ORANGE SUPREME CHICKEN which is easy to cook for a family dinner, yet it’s dressed up  just in case company stops by.  “This dish pairs beautifully with The Mule since it plays off nicely with the thyme orange glaze and the soft unctuousness of the roast chicken.  The spicy bite of the arugula complements The Mule’s subtle carbonation.”   

Chef’s wine recommendation: Cocktails Sur Lie, The Mule

You can find “Chef Christo Gonzales” on Facebook or enjoy his blog – Chez What?

Time Posted: Nov 1, 2014 at 3:53 PM
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