Category Archives: Wine, Food, Sonoma

Dessert Wines

I have a major sweet tooth. It’s been that way forever. As a kid, I would always have a stash of candy around (I still do). If I earned a dollar I would bike down to the local store and buy 10 Jolly Ranchers. But I almost always shared my stash. And now, with my life so engrossed in wine, it’s only natural that my sweet tooth would be fulfilled with dessert wines, right?

I’m fascinated by the process that most late harvest dessert wines go through to get to their sweetness. The grapes are kept on the vines for an extended period of time so the brix (sugars) are really high. The sugar levels can range based on region and varietal, but generally are much higher when picked than a typical wine from the same grape.

Not all of this sugar will be converted into alcohol during the fermentation process leaving behind residual sugar. Sugar that’s left over will then create the sweetness in the wine. At some point (when the wine-maker deems it appropriate) the fermentation process will be stopped.

But wait, there’s more!

In really special spots throughout the word a good mold called botrytis can grow on the grapes. This good mold concentrates the juice by removing some water content from the grapes. It literally dehydrates them. Less water = more juice. That is a very good thing. The mold is sometimes referred to as noble rot. Some Chardonnay producers will actually use a few percent of botrytis infected grapes to increase the richness in their Chardonnay wines.

This year, as mentioned in a previous post, everything was late harvest. By my estimation most late harvest wines will be picked between now and mid-December, but some may not happen at all. We’ve had some significant rain in the area already which means that beautiful botrytis may turn into bad mold ruining the otherwise great late harvest wine. Bummer.

Most late harvest wines I’ve come across in Sonoma have been made from one of three white grapes: Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. All of these offer different flavor profiles keeping life interesting for me. When I’m out tasting wine, I always ask if they have a late harvest offering. Most of the time it’s not on the menu.

Since I love sweet things, I usually try to pair this type of wine with different desserts. I’ve tried everything from cookies to cakes and tarts to ice cream. But some appetizers and cheeses are extremely nice as well. Here are my top three dessert and late harvest pairings.

1. Molten Lava Chocolate Cakes

2. Apple Pie or Tart

3. Peaches or Apricots reduced down with some of the wine and poured over ice cream.

Yum!

So here’s the deal: Don’t fear the dessert wine. Okay? It’s not out to get you. Just because it’s sweet doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Just think of what you might want to sip it with. Most wines are designed to be paired foods and this type of wine is no different. Some may be too sweet to sit down and just enjoy a glass. They need food to counter balance some of the sweetness in the wine.

If you try to pair them with different desserts and you still don’t like it, then I guess all I can say is, “More for me”!

Cheers!

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Real. Simple. Food.

If I had a food show on T.V., I would call it Real. Simple. Food. And that’s the way I like to cook. My food is not fancy. It doesn’t have strange ingredients that you’ve never heard of. It’s designed to be affordable, tasty and good. Really good.

No, I’m not a professionally trained chef – and I would never claim to be. In fact, when it comes to my cooking I tend to be fairly humble. The last (and only) cooking course I ever took was in 7th grade. I learned to cook because my mom went back to college and most of her courses were at night. Someone had to pick up the slack. My dad can “cook” toast. And even at that, he burns it almost every time. He says that he likes it that way. My sister never really had the desire and cooks enough to get by with two little kids. She has recently taken up baking and is doing a great job.

But enough about all that – it’s just an intro after all.

Tonight we had real, simple, food. I made Mac n Cheese (the hard way).

Pork chops.

With a blackberry / raspberry port wine reduction.

Grilled corn and fresh French Bread.

Seriously, this is easy food. The hardest part for me (typical) was choosing the wine for tonight.

We started with a 2007 Chardonnay from Michel-Schlumberger in Dry Creek Valley.

This valley sits up in the northern part of Sonoma County and is considered a warmer valley. The grapes for this wine actually come from Dry Creek. Let me  tell you, Dry Creek is not where we normally turn to for Chardonnay. It’s actually a rare grape in that region which is better known for its Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.

I was expecting a big, bold and buttery Chardonnay. What I got instead was a beautifully balanced wine with aromas of apples, baked bread and quince. In the mouth this wine got even better. Full, rich and not buttery, but with a lighter finish. During the glass plus that I had, the wine kept getting better and better. Let’s just say I was truly impressed.

With dinner, I chose a Malbec out of the Rock Pile region by Keating Wines.

Keating Wines is a small producer, who is  about ready to open a tasting room south of the town of Sonoma, with some really killer wines. I was first introduced to Keating Wines about two years ago and just fell in love with this Malbec. He also produces small amounts of Petite Sirah and Merlot, with some Cabernet and Zinfandel coming in the near future.

Most of the Rock Pile Viticulture Area is planted to Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, but there’s also a few Bordeaux varietals up there too, including this Malbec vineyard.

I’ve found this to be one of the best Malbec’s in Sonoma County. The fruit is ripe, but not too much so. There’s an excellent  mouthfeel that leads to a long, dry finish, but it’s not overly tannic.

I think it was a great choice for the meal and it paired perfectly with our pork chops and port reduction.

No meal is complete without dessert….

Yes, that’s a Tinker Bell plate. It’s leftover from my daughter’s birthday. My wife made these amazing Nutella butter cookies and we had some vanilla ice cream too. The sauce is the same port reduction that we used on the pork chops. Again, it’s simple. One sauce, two purposes. Everything really doesn’t have to be complicated, just make sure it’s real.

Cheers!

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Hello!

Recently I decided that blogspot was not performing the way I needed it to, so here I am at wordpress.

You can see all of my original posts here.

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Sommeliers’ tasting my wine….

I saw this article posted a few times yesterday, including on Bella’s facebook page and just had to comment about it.

In case you skip the article a quick summary:

A customer at an upscale restaurant in New York was shocked to find out that the sommelier had tasted his wine when he asked about it being flawed. It was unclear where the sommerlier tasted the wine.  I thought most restaurants and their staff opened wine at the guests table and not before bringing the bottle out (and for good reason), but either way the somm tasted the wine and determined it was good. The customer, however, had been to the establishment the week before and had the same bottle of wine. He determined it was not of the same quality as the previous week. The restaurant said that they taste all bottles opened to ensure good quality wine. They think of it as a service to their guests.

Anyway, let’s get to the meat and potatoes.

If I found out someone tasted my wine before or after bringing it to the table, I would be very upset. I understand the restaurant’s reasoning of wanting to ensure quality, but communicate that to me. Don’t just open my wine and take a sip. I think of that as quite rude. Now, if the sommelier had come to the table and said something like, “Would you like me to taste a small sip of your wine to ensure it’s quality?”, it would then be my option to say yes or no. But the way this article describes the process, it makes it sound like there’s not a choice.

We are Americans after all, and choice is what we long for. We want a choice about everything, but I digress.

Many times in local eateries in Sonoma County (and some select other places), I bring a bottle of wine to dinner.  Because I work in the industry it’s much more cost effective for me to this. It also leaves me more money to expand upon the dinner options. In this case, I will sometimes (depending on the service) leave a small taste for the server or staff of the bottle I brought. But it’s my choice. Sometimes, I don’t. Usually it depends on how good the bottle is. There usually isn’t leftover wine in my house.

But if I paid full price for a bottle in a restaurant, I feel like I should get the whole bottle. Every. Last. Drop.

If this experience happened to me, and I wasn’t given an option, I likely wouldn’t be visiting that restaurant again. In addition, if the bottle isn’t opened at your table, send it back. There are no guarantees on what’s in that bottle unless it is opened at your table. There’s a story floating around out there about a restaurant that was busted for pouring “cheap” wine into a very expensive bottle over and over for a group of business people. Every time these folks ordered a bottle, a new one showed up – uncorked. Of course, the guests paid full price for all the bottles opened. Not okay. Not even funny.

Cheers!

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