A date with Dionysis!
The Wisdom of Wine
Read time: 25 minutes
Living in a world famous city reknown for its wine can be a little intimiating to the wine novice. Wine has been a part of our world civilization since the creation of civilization. Wine for lack of a better term, is liquid magic.
That said, there is no reason to feel overwhelmed with the daunting and copious amounts of wine from which to choose.
First, I would like to say that I am NOT an expert on wine, but I am an expert wine drinker. I would, however, like to introduce you to (the expert) Janet Stone:
"My name is Janet Stone. I am a television and visual media producer during the day, but I try to fill my nights and weekends with wine. In recent years, I’ve been working to gain industry certifications to increase my wine knowledge. So far, I’ve completed the Bordeaux, Intermediate and Advanced certifications from the Wine Spirit and Education Trust. WSET is an internationally recognized program based in London.
I am also fortunate to be married to a chef, making our life very focused around wine and food. He does most of the cooking and I make sure we’re drinking something good to go along with his creations. "
Janet and I will be discussing wine. We will give you a little taste of local history, how to build your confidence when choosing wine, and how to awaken your tastebuds to figure out what you like. Along with that, some delish summer recipes and a homework assignment!!
(We will get to that later.)
Wine is like people and every bottle has its very own personality. Some personalities get along better than others, but there is no such thing as a bad personality, everyone has their merits. The same can be said with wine. Like people, wine can be sweet, acidic, sour, strong, bold, weak, fruity, depending on the situation and of course, how it was raised!
In France, wine is classified by appellation or the region where it was "born." Therefore, instead of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon which is a grape classification, French wine, for example, is named St. Emilion or Margaux.
But first some history: The first vineyards were planted in the Bordeaux and surrounding areas by the Romans in 42 - 43 A.D. and did you know that wine dates back to the late Stone age?! Allow that to sink in for a minute.... I'll wait.
The different regions in France is made up of different terrain which gives the grapes, a mixture of merlot and cab sab, for example, their distintions.The Bordeaux wine region is divided into the Right Bank and the Left Bank split by the Gironde Estuary, which is fed from the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers.
While 13 grape varietals are permitted in Bordeaux, there are six you will find most often.
In Red Bordeaux, the three main varietals are: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. These grapes are blended in various ways, depending on the area where the grapes are grown.
On the Right Bank, Merlot is primary grape varietal used and the most widely planted varietal grown in Bordeaux. Clay soils in that area provide coolness for Merlot vines. You’ll taste flavors of red fruit, plums and figs in Merlot.
The soils on the Left Bank are made of stones and gravel, helping to provide warmth by reflecting heat back to the vines needed for the ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet grapes are the primary varietal in Left Bank Bordeaux and provide tannin in Red Bordeaux wines. You will also taste flavors of black fruits and bell pepper.
Cabernet Franc is used as a blending varietal in Red Bordeaux. It is not as full-bodied as Cabernet and has more herbaceous flavor qualities.
The primary white grapes in Bordeaux are Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. White Bordeaux can be lighter and fruitier or have richer characteristics, depending on the blend of grapes used.
Sauvignon Blanc provides notes of citrus, elderflower, grass, balanced acidity and minerality. Semillon is used in dry, semi-sweet and sweet Bordeaux wines. It provides flavors of apricot and honey. Muscadelle is sometimes used to blend and adds grapey and floral notes.
Now that you know a little bit more about the grape varities, let us discuss your homework assignment. Don't worry, it'll be fun!
HOST YOUR OWN DÉGUSTATION or wine tasting!
NEEDED: A notebook, pen, corkscrew, wine glasses, a few bottles of wine and water and friends. (friends are optional, the rest is not.)
After reading about French wines and their compositions, now comes the time to pick out a couple of bottles that peak your fancy.
You may have oceans of questions, but fear not, it is just wine! As I mentioned earlier, each bottle of wine has its own personality and since there is no such thing as a bad personality, (everyone has merit) your choices will be great!
You may feel overwhelmed by the amount of choices presented, but as Shakespeare said, to thine own self be true, know what you like, then compare your tastes to what grape description which best suits your fancy. Remember, some personalities get along better than others, so one of the goals of this homework assignment is to attempt to taste the merit of the particular wine you are drinking, even though it may not agree with your palette.
Shall we conduct an experiment? This experience involves wine and using your senses and writing about it. You will write down the first thing that pops into your head. After you pick a couple of wines, get your pen and notebook and write the date, time, your overall mood of that day, PLUS the name of the wine, year and where it is from.
-- Open the bottle, below you will see a video depicting how to open a bottle of wine. I decided to add it because, and not to sound hoity toity, women are usually served wine, therefore we may not have much practice opening a bottle, still it is an important skill-set to know and to know how to do properly and with respect!
-- Pour the wine into a (clear) wine glass and observe. What do you see? What color is it? Is it light/dark? Write it down your observations in your notebook.
-- Next, smell it. What do you smell? Write down the FIRST THING that pops into your mind! There is no WRONG ANSWER! Does it smell like steak, aspirin, rubbing alcohol, flowers, etc? Write it down.
-- Then swirl it for about 10-15 seconds. The swirl action this allows oxygen to penetrate the wine, allowing it to release its vapors or its bouquet. Now, take another wiff! What do you smell? Write it down.
-- Holding the wine glass by the stem (and not by the bowl, your hands will warm the wine) take a sip and hold it in your mouth allowing it to swish and swirl all around! Doing this allows your tongue/palette to taste its personality. In fact, the tip of the tongue detects sweetness. The inner sides of the tongue detect sourness and/or acidity. the outer sides of the tongue detect saltiness. Does it taste different? Write it down.
At this point you can either spit it out (especially if you are tasting several wines) or simply drink it, but be sure to experience the aftertaste (the finish). And again, write it down. You get the idea! And remember to hydrate yourself, drink water too!
Please note: Professional wine tasters will not swallow the wine, but immediately spit it out (you will see buckets for this purpose)
After the above experiement is completed, you may find yourself a little peckish. Now that you have tasted the wine, I want you to imagine what food best compliments the wine you just tasted. Write it down. Again, there is no wrong answer, just write down the first thing that pops into your mind. Then, make it!
-- By the way, a proper Frenchified household will always have fine and fresh food in stock, but never in bulk.
However, if you need a little culinary inspiration, The Stones have graciously allowed us into their kitchen and are sharing a couple of recipes that would make any Frenchman say, Oh La La! (Scroll Down!)
Only two weeks ago, the famous Bordeaux fête du vin wrapped up! The bi-annual festival features a wine trail along the quays of Bordeaux, also there are guided tours of the vineyards and wine tastings, art exhibitions, concerts, and a firework and a light and sound show every night. The riverfront is jammed with people from all over the world celebrating their appreciation and love of wine. Yes, I was there too. You are able to visit the little wine huts and enjoy a weekend in the company of Dionysis! Next one is in 2016... will I see you there?!
Bordeaux is world famous for wine, that has been her thing for centuries. But, if you are anything like me, I like to dig deeper and really discover a city and her stories! One of favorites has to do with Thomas Jefferson being a wino. Ok, I'm embellishing, but I do know he was quite the connaisseur, so much so that his household went through 400 bottles annually. While Jefferson was President, it was 600 annually! Bordeaux was also the first American consulate overseas, establish in 1789 by Jefferson. Jefferson, the second ambassador to France, following Benjamin Franklin, and located in Paris, also spent time in our region studing wine or oenology. His knowledge and appreciation was said to be vast and it is said that Jefferson kept an extensive wine journal (like your homework assignment!) and letters describing his tastes and preferences. You should check out this book by James M. Gabler.
Now a quick lesson on how wine is made.
Grapes are harvested, then crushed and pressed to create juice. In white wine, both happen before fermentation. In red wine, pressing usually happens after fermentation.
Fermentation: Though yeast can be naturally present, it is usually added to the juice. Yeast eat the sugars in the juice, resulting in the creation of alcohol and carbon dioxide. Red wines are typically fermented with their skins, seeds and pulp for color and tannin. Wines can be fermented in barrels, cement vats or stainless steel tanks.
Aging: Top quality Red and White Bordeaux wines will be aged in new oak barrels. Lesser quality wines may use oak but the barrels may not all be new. Some wines are not aged in oak at all. Barrel aging concentrates the fruit, adds oak flavor and softens tannins.
Bottling: Once the wine has been properly aged, it is bottled. Some wines are to be enjoyed immediately; others can be aged for years, while the flavors in the wine develop further within in the bottle.
This is a good website for more information on the wine region of Bordeaux: http://www.bordeaux.com/uk
Food pairing ideas for this summer:
Grilled Romaine with Tomatoes and Parmesan: (Serves 2-4)
2 heads Romaine lettuce (cut in half) 10-15 small grape tomatoes (halved) Olive oil 1 lemon (cut in half) ¼ cup shaved Parmesan cheese sea salt and black pepper to taste
Place romaine sections; cut side down, on a hot grill. Cook until the edges of the romaine begin to char, and then flip to the other side. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Top with halved tomatoes and season with sea salt and fresh, cracked black pepper. Finish with shaved Parmesan. Serves 2-4.
In this dish, White Bordeaux, will pair nicely with the acidity in the lemon juice and tomatoes and the smokiness of the grilled lettuce
White Bordeaux is also a great match with salmon, trout, vegetables and goat cheese. This next dish can be made with any vegetables you have on hand. Try with asparagus or peas as well.
Summer Vegetable Cream Pasta: (Serves 2-3)
½ pound pasta (any shape or variety, we enjoy penne brown rice pasta) 1 tbsp. Olive oil ½ white or yellow onion (small dice) 10-15 small grape tomatoes (halved) 4 cloves garlic (minced) Splash of white wine 2 medium squash and/or zucchini (medium dice) ¾ cup cream ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese 4-5 basil leaves
Boil pasta in salted water until al dente. Heat Olive oil in pan over medium heat. Sauté onions for a few minutes, then add tomatoes and garlic. After a few minutes deglaze your pan with the white wine. Add squash and zucchini, but don’t cook too long. You want the vegetables to have a bit of a bite and not be wilted and flimsy from overcooking. Add cream, let reduce and thicken a bit. Add Parmesan cheese and stir until it melts. Drain pasta, but keep ½ cup of the pasta water in case the sauce needs thinning. Combine pasta and vegetable/cream mixture. Add pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Plate pasta. Tear or chiffon basil leaves. Sprinkle basil leaves and more Parmesan cheese on top.
This dish will work with a Red or White Bordeaux. You can use White Bordeaux to cut the fat in the sauce with acidity or use Red Bordeaux to complement the richness and creaminess of the dish.
Also pair Red Bordeaux with grilled steaks, burgers and vegetables, duck or lamb.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, Janet and I hope you learned something new! Thank you, of course to Janet, for her talent, knowledge and overall fabulousness!
Remember life is too short to eat bad food ake care of yourselves, eat and drink well and have a Happy Summer!
Sincerely Yours -- Jennifer
FRENCHFIED FOR LIFE
Bonjour et Bienvenue!
Thank you for stopping by for a spell!
I am a 40-something year old American woman. Born in Texas, raised in Las Vegas!
Frenchified for Life
is a fabulous little lifestyle blog about truly embracing French life!
My intent is to simply inspire you to create something unique and beautiful in your everyday life. The French have this wonderful and annoying habit of seeing the world through rose colored glasses, might as well learn something from them!
That said, I lift my glass to you!
By the way, I mention the name Cachou (or The Cash) a lot, I'm referring to her...