Move aside Paris, I’m in love with Copenhagen now

NyhavnI finally took my first much deserved vacation from my stressful job of sitting at home all day waiting for the kids to get back from school. So I took advantage of just how small this country is and went East to Copenhagen! The Francophile in me has been seriously challenged because I am so in love with this city. The urban population hovers around 1.2 million and the greater metropolitan area, which also extends to Sweden, is just under 2 million. This makes it the perfect size. There’s still a lot of exciting things to do and a fun night life, but you are never overwhelmed by crowds. The city is almost quiet because of the lack of cars, and you can always find a cozy café on a side street that epitomizes the Danish term hygge, which is a word to describe everything you can think of that is nice and welcoming such as the warmth of a fire and glow of candles, or being surrounded by good friends and having a nice, cold beer on a hot day.
My host-father’s parents live in an apartment in Christianshavn next door to the (in)famous  Christiania, a small area that is governed by its own rules. They were nice enough to let me stay in their apartment for the week while they were away on holiday, so I had the real Copenhagen experience which included doing exciting things like walking to the grocery store to buy something to cook for dinner, and obviously a bottle of wine too!
I’m always having to live on a budget so I picked something out that I thought would be a good value. I’ve been lacking in red wine since coming to Denmark, so I decided on a 2011 Toscana called Contrada by San Felice, what seems to be one of the larger wine producers in Tuscany. The Contrada was made to be a table wine that goes well with the cuisine of the area and I would say that they were spot on.DSC_0724

I found the aroma to be of strawberry jam with a hint of raspberry. The taste was immediately spicy, which was a surprise, but with a fresh quickness to compliment the shocking acidity that left a taste in my mouth that was reminiscent of soda water. It was not complex, but the notes were fluid and well balanced with moderately high acidity. I could taste cranberries, cherries, and crisp, youthful strawberries along with a subtle note of bell pepper. The tannins were very subdued, proving to be a wine that should be enjoyed in its youth. It perfectly complimented the sweetness of the sundried tomatoes in the pesto and was fruity enough to be delicious, but not so overwhelming as to fight with the food. Its a wine to be enjoyed, not pondered, and it made me feel more at home in my temporary residence in the most beautiful city on earth.
Not only was the wine I picked out great, but the bars too! Being a tourist in a city where you know absolutely no one is a life changing experience in itself. I got to see all of the famous sights including Nyhavn, Rosenborg Palace, Amalienborg Palace, the National Gallery of Art, and many others, but sometimes it was a little lonely, especially when the sun began to set and I realized I hadn’t talked to anyone the entire day except for the occasional Jeg kan ikke tale Dansk - I can’t speak Danish. So I bit the bullet and went out to explore the night life on my own and found that Danish people are in fact some of the friendliest most welcoming people in the world. Within only a few minutes of sitting down at a bar, I had people strike up conversations with me, asking if I was alone. I was invited to have a drink with students, professionals, expats, policemen, you name it, and I met incredible people as a result.
My most memorable night was my last, which I spent in what I decided to be my favorite part of Copenhagen, Nørrebro. I found a bar called Bankeråt, which translates in English to “Bankrupt.” When I asked how they chose that name, the bartenders told me that the owner couldn’t think of what to call it and joked that it wouldn’t matter because it would likely go bankrupt anyway. Well the name stuck, but it’s been over 20 years and it has actually become an extremely popular place within both the local and international community.

The service was incredible, with a friendly bar staff and a chef from Miami who gave me a heaping plate of what he said were the only real nachos in Copenhagen. It reminded me of being in Knoxville where the bartenders are happy to give you recommendations and samples of the local beers and I was also insisted upon trying the Cuban rum since us Americans can’t get that back home! I left the bar well after close feeling like a new regular, and I know I’ll be going back when my best friend comes to visit in March.

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A Night of Tapas and a Bottle of 2011 Mas Oller Pur, Empordà

I’ve been in Denmark for a month now, and I must say, my blog would be much different if I had chosen to be an Au Pair in a wine producing country. Wine is just as expensive here as it is in the US, and it is much more common to enjoy a frothy pint of beer in the evening than a glass of wine. Oh yeah, and I’m meant to be taking care of kids so it’s generally inappropriate to explore a full bottle of wine in the evening like I used to when I was allowed to be a little less responsible.

But life here is good. I love absolutely everything about it except for 3 things:

  1. There are no street lights on the highway
  2. The light switch for the bathroom is ALWAYS in the hallway
  3. And you buy yogurt in cartons and it’s watery, not creamy
flødeboller

A marshmallow filled flødeboller already being enjoyed

So you can see that I don’t have many complaints. The people are friendly, patient with my lack of Danish, and the food is so so good. I came at the best time of year, just before fastelavn, the Danish carnival. That means lots of cream filled fastelavnsboller and marshmallow filled flødeboller. I think I’ve only gained a few pounds since I arrived in January…

I’ve already met lots of friends, many of whom are also Au Pairs from all over Europe, and two of whom are fellow wine enthusiasts. So last night my new friend from England and I went out for Spanish tapas, and we arrived at the conclusion that it was most economical for us to get a whole bottle of wine, only 330 Kr… I’ve decided not to do the math and figure out how many dollars that is. Helen had talked to me the week before about her desire to learn more about wine and my inner wino came out again in full force. My favorite thing to do is teach others about wine, so when she handed me the wine list and told me what she was ordering to eat, I buried my face in the menu, thankful that the language of wine is universal. Despite not being able to understand the rest of the menu, I could recognize producer names, wine regions, and grape varieties. I explained my choice of the 2011 Mas Oller Pur Empordà - a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon that would be fruity enough for her anxiety over ordering a dry wine, but with enough body to compliment the Manchego cheese and Beef she had ordered.
Empordà is one of Spain’s lesser known and smaller wine regions, but a new focus on creating complex reds that can be enjoyed in their youth has brought a new appreciation to the region. Around a dozen different varieties can be used in their wines including many indigenous varieties such as Cariñena, Grenache, and Macabeo. The region is home to a variety of well-drained volcanic, sandy, and chalky soils and has seaside influences that make the terroir more similar to the neighboring French wine regions in the East than other Spanish regions.

Empordà Wine

Tapas and a bottle of red wine. A perfect combo.

My first sip left much to be desired. It was tight and bitter without any of the fruit I had promised. Before she had a chance to taste it and ruin her impression, I nearly shouted, “You’ve gotta swirl it.” She followed suit, and we both sat there drawing circles with our glasses while the other patrons stared at us like we were a pair of wine snobs or something. I then held the glass of fiercely purple wine to my nose and immediately found violets, black cherries, plums, and possibly a whiff of vanilla coke. My first real taste gave me hints of tobacco with an oaky texture that filled my mouth with dark chocolate. After another minute of swirling my glass, I finally found the fruit I had promised with ripe cherries, cassis, and black currant. The finish was long and powerful with a certain woodiness and a flavor of cinnamon sticks. The tannins were sharp, but smooth and velvety with the Manchego. I didn’t try the beef, but Helen found that the sauce brought out a lively spiciness in the wine, especially on the finish.
The best part about eating out in Denmark is that they give you all the time in the world to enjoy your meal. Nobody constantly asks you if you’d like the check and before we knew it, 2 and a half hours had passed and we were the last to leave the restaurant. It’s nights like these, where I have the time to appreciate and study a wine completely, that make me remember why it is I started this blog.

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Sparkling Wine – Cava, Prosecco, and Champagne

prosecco sparkling wineIt’s been a whirlwind of a couple of weeks. I spent Christmas in Scotland, took a 10 hour train from Glasgow to Brighton (and didn’t actually make it there), spent New Year’s with an oceanfront view, and moved to Denmark. It’s been filled with family and friends, and of course, wine.

But after celebrating New Years with friends that were well aware of my love for wine, I can honestly say that I am completely sick of Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, the works. All those bubbles did not sit well with me after we were 2 bottles in and my head was throbbing the next day.  We started with Cave des Rois Prosecco, a light, peachy Prosecco with notes of clementine and a zippy finish of grapefruit. It was a great compliment to our spicy Indian food by bringing out the complexity of flavors found in the cuisine with its lively bubbles.

We enjoyed many more glasses throughout the night and the question came up, “What’s the difference between Prosecco and Champagne?” I could give a short answer, but I was not entirely sure on the exact differences, so I decided to find out.

The Place:

For me, one of the most important differences is where it comes from. Champagne is from (believe it or not) Champagne, France. That California Champagne you’re enjoying? Yeah, that’s a sparkling wine, not Champagne and there have been many lawsuits over it throughout the years. Just this past year, a story arose about the threat of a lawsuit against Apple if they were to release a “Champagne” colored iPhone.

Prosecco is a wine made in Veneto and Friuli in the Northwestern part of Italy. The name derives from the small village of Prosecco where the drink may have originated. Cava is a Spanish wine that may come from 8 different regions, however most is produced in Catalonia.

The Grape:

Another huge difference is the grape used to make each wine. Champagne can be white or rosé and is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier. Cava can also be white or rosé, but is made from the native Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo grapes. Prosecco is only found as a white wine made from Glera grapes. The different grapes create very different flavors. Whereas Champagne will generally be richer and more complex, Cava and Prosecco both have lighter, fruitier flavors, with Prosecco being closer to Champagne than Cava.

The Method:

To create the effervescence in wine, a secondary fermentation must take place. This can happen in two different ways which sets Champagne apart from Cava and Prosecco. With Champagne, the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. The Méthode Champanoise involves adding yeast and extra sugar to the bottle before it is sealed. Depending on the amount of sugar added, the taste can vary from extremely dry (extra brut) to very sweet (doux).

The secondary fermentation in Cava and Prosecco follows the Charmat Method in which it occurs in large vats with pressure and temperature controls to ensure the proper amount of fizz remains in the wine after yeast and sugar is added. A third technique used today is simply the injection of carbon dioxide just as in soft drinks. This is not permitted with Cava or Prosecco.

The Cost:

Almost just as important as anything else, especially for us college-aged kids, is the price. Champagne is much more expensive than either Prosecco or Cava and not only because of its esteem as many would think. Champagne is also more expensive to produce because the Champagne Method is less efficient and more time consuming. Whereas decent Champagne will generally be above $30, you can find good Prosecco or Cava for under $20.

 

So although I need a break from the bubbly stuff, there is a lot of sparkling wine for you to explore in 2014 such as Cremant d’Alsace, Asti, Trento, Vouvray, and Sekt as well as the famous Cava, Prosecco, and Champagne.

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Wine prices in Europe vs the US – why is it so much cheaper?

I’ve been in Scotland for just over a week now and have spent most of it drinking wines I’ve had before, but for a price that’s 3x less than in the US. £10 Barolos, Sancerres, and Chateauneuf-du-Papes have been just a few of the wines I’ve enjoyed, and with these prices, they’re even better than before. So why is it that these wines are so much more expensive back home in the good old USA? There’s actually a few reasons:

Taxes

What I’m sure does not come as a shock to most is that taxes on alcohol, specifically wine are much higher in the US than in European countries. Not only do many countries in the EU not tax wholesale wine such as Italy and Spain, but those countries that do have a much lower excise tax than the US. Wine is charged an excise tax by 9 L cases whereas the US taxes by the gallon, which increases the taxes by over 2 times in comparison. Whereas somewhere like France is taxing a 9L case of wine only 0.44 USD,  the US is charging $2.54 for the same amount, and that’s only if the ABV is below 14%. That number increases to $3.72 if the ABV is above 14%, which many of the great old world wines reach. Of course, the Value Added Tax (our sales tax equivalent) is generally higher in Europe, but due to the lower costs to retailers, this higher VAT is not enough to make wine more costly in Europe.

Transportation Costs

One of the more obvious reasons for cheaper wine here across the pond is that the closer you are to the product, the less it will cost to get to you. This is especially true for wine. Wine is considered to be a weight-gaining product meaning that the raw materials weigh less than the finished product. Generally, companies will choose to keep the production of weight-gaining products close to the consumers to minimize transportation costs, but this is not possible with wine. To ensure the best quality wine, grapes must be crushed and prepared for the wine making process as soon as possible after being harvested. After the fermentation process has already begun, transport is no longer an option and the wine must be bottled on site. Glass is heavy, and so is 750 mL of wine for that matter so it’s very costly to ship, not to mention the extra care that is required due to the fragile nature of a bottle of wine. This added cost is passed onto us as American consumers.

Wine Laws

A less obvious reason for cheaper wine in Europe is the laws that regulate the industry. The EU intervenes in the production of wine a great deal more than the US. New laws beginning in the 1970′s enabled the government to regulate yields and replantings to ensure that supply properly met demand while creating quality standards that ensured consumers were getting the best possible product. Through the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU, certain agricultural products, including wine, are bought by the government in an event of a surplus. This allows winemakers to produce more than demanded without the fear of not selling all of their wine, which drives down the cost to consumers. While all 50 states fund their growing wineries in some way because they are seen as good for tourism, these grants pale in comparison to the 1.31 billion Euros given to wineries throughout Europe every year.

Culture and Demand

Finally, wine culture is just not as prevalent in the US as it is in Europe. Where you’ll see wine on the table every night and even at lunch time in the large wine producing countries of Europe, you just don’t see that in the US. Europe consumes 60% of the world’s wine whereas the US drinks a mere 11.71%. We simply aren’t drinking enough of it. But as our wine consumption continues to rise, as well as our domestic wine production, we may begin to see a drop in wine prices. But this is unfortunately far away as we continue to see a rise in wine prices year after year.

So as I’ve been enjoying the wine prices in the UK, I’ve been looking forward to the even cheaper wine I’ll be seeing as I begin my travels elsewhere. 2 euro bottles in Italy and France? Don’t mind if I do. So if you’re ever in Europe, forget the sights. All you need is some good company and a pocketful of change. It should be enough for you to lose yourself in a few bottles of incredible wine.

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2012 Trapiche Sauvignon Blanc – Mendoza, Argentina

trapiche sauvignon blanc 2012The first thing I noticed about my flight on Icelandiair was that everyone was inexplicably happy. I was one of the first on the flight and being in the second row from the entrance to the cabin, I was allowed to see everyone boarding the flight. I was overwhelmed by the number of blonde hair and blue eyed people ducking their heads to squeeze through the door into the cabin. As if there were some sort of curtain of joy between us and the long tunnel into the plane, the passengers would just brighten up upon entering and they’d project their perfectly white smiles to everyone already seated as if we were old friends. The backs of the seats gave fun facts about Iceland and the baggage compartments described the Icelandic Christmas elves, one of which threatened to steal our complimentary hot chocolate. I can’t wait to live in Scandinavia for the next 6 months.

I was served some chicken curry concoction that was actually quite nice and chose to purchase a little bottle of 2012 Trapiche Sauvignon Blanc from Mendoza, Argentina. I twisted the cap off and poured it into my plastic airline cup. It smelled like a Sauvignon Blanc – a warm floral scent with just a hint of cat pee. I’ve been told not to describe it in that way, but I will always be able to identify a Sauvignon Blanc from that distinct aroma. I tried to swirl the glass, but it was a little difficult between the shaking of the plane and the fact that I was drinking out of a flimsy plastic cup that felt as if it would break apart on me at any moment if I held it just a little too firmly. The wine had decent minerality, there was certainly a chalkiness to the wine, but I mostly got this huge citrus burst of lemon-lime and tangerine followed by a moderately long grassy finish matched by its moderately high acidity. I was surprised to say the least that I would find such a wine on my flight to Iceland, but then again, hello Europe.

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1992 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

It isn’t every day that you get to say you drank something as old as yourself. I graduated from the University of Tennessee last Friday, and after confirming that yes, I had passed all of my classes that semester, we went as a family to Bistro by the Tracks and brought with us a bottle of 1992 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. My coworkers were very surprised to hear of my wine of choice since I was always an obnoxious Francophile when it came to wine, eager to help anyone wandering around the France aisle of Bob’s and dragging those in Pinot Noir to Burgundy. But my birth year was not a good one for wine, unless you were making Port, or you were in Napa Valley producing its world famous Cabernet Sauvignon.

California makes great Cabs, if you’re into overwhelmingly oaked, fruit forward wines. But even though I’m always skeptical of their wines, many of them are capable of aging, with 21 years being a great amount of time to let your bottle from Napa Valley sit in a cellar. My parents were unable to predict my obsession with wine at the time of my birth, so instead of pulling out a bottle from our non-existent wine cellar, we instead found a bottle through wine-searcher.com, which allows you to browse by region, vintage, or producer.

The bottle arrived in heavy duty packaging to protect it from the elements and my parents brought it down on the 8 hour voyage from DC to Knoxville, TN. We arrived at Bistro by the Tracks, wine in tow, and after being seated our waiter began eyeing the bottle to show that he was just as excited as I was to open it up and when he uncorked it and poured me the first taste we were both holding our breath. I took my first sip and immediately let my lips curl into a smile. I let him know that it was good, and he poured everyone else a glass including himself, and almost served my 15 year old sister who surprisingly refused. I know I wouldn’t have done such a thing at her age.

The wine was a cherry bomb. It smelled of sweet cherry pie with a toasty vanilla crust. The first sip was a wall of black cherries with blueberry undertones that bombarded my tongue. It was surprisingly tannic, which had helped to preserve it over the past 2 decades. With a wine like this, I had to make myself order a filet mignon; my first ever. “Wow, this is a great knife,” I said as I cut into what was apparently just an extremely tender steak. I took a bite of the delicious piece of meat and took another sip of the wine. The tannins disappeared and the fruit flavors, although it was already so fruity, became even more pronounced. It may not have been my favorite wine, I enjoyed the Barolo I had had days earlier much more, but it was the perfect representation of what a California Cab is meant to be, and one of the coolest wine experiences I’ve had since I first began my journey into the world of wine.

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2007 Paolo Scavino Barolo, Italy

It was the beginning of the end. I was starting my first shift of my last week at Bob’s and had a list of wine I needed to get before I lost my discount. First on that list was a Barolo. I’d been talking about buying one ever since my first day of work, but never found the excuse to shell out $40+. But that night was the night. We were going to Savelli’s, a small Italian restaurant on Sutherland Avenue that Wade had been wanting to take me to ever since I first told him I liked wine 8 months ago. Savelli’s doesn’t even have a wine list, but they instead encourage all of its patrons to bring their own bottle to share at the table. The small restaurant looks like a hole in the wall from the outside, with a parking lot for only a few cars out front. The inside is small and cozy with candles lit at each table lined with the kind of chairs you would see at a café in Paris. Since our first date back in May, my love for wine has now turned into an obsession, and it seemed only fitting that I would share this bottle of 2007 Paolo Scavino Barolo with the person who got me into wine in the first place.

2007 paolo scavino baroloThe first thing our waitress did was open the bottle for us. I was nervous. I always am when I first open a bottle I have high expectations for. I had high expectations for good reason. Barolo is considered to be the king of Italian wines, with stringent quality controls to ensure that only the best wines become true Barolos. The appellation is located next to Barbaresco, but is on higher slopes with more maritime influence that allows the grapes to ripen more quickly. These wines are generally heavily tannic, but many winemakers now produce wines in a more modern style that makes the wines more approachable in their youth.

We poured a small glass (small because we like to feel like we are drinking more wine than we actually are) and then I did my usual wine snob routine. I swirled the glass, looked at the bright, clear ruby color of the wine against the white menu, and closed my eyes while I breathed in an aroma of fresh cut roses and cherry pie. When I opened my eyes, he had already put the glass to his lips and I eyed him with suspicion. “Did you already take a sip?”

He looked scared and shook his head to signal that he was of course waiting for me, but I knew better and just laughed at his fear of upsetting me. I let myself take my first sip and was blown away by just how good it was, it was everything I had ever hoped for. It had this pure taste that just washed over my palate with a silkiness unmatched by even my favorite Pinot Noirs. It was full and rich, but presented a delicate flavor of licorice and fresh picked raspberries and cherries with a leathery tannic finish. After each swallow, I was speeches from the fruit cocktail of an aftertaste that almost led me to believe this bone dry wine was a little sweet.

It was a wine to remind me of how much everything has changed in the past few months. I’ll be on a plane to Denmark in only a few days and it’s scary to think about what I’ll be leaving behind, but also what I will be gaining from this new experience. I reminisce back to walks through World’s Fair Park, grabbing beers downtown, going to hockey games, and days at the dog park with a cup of Java in my hand. This week began the end of my life in Knoxville and for a second, I thought it was only just the beginning. Barolo will always taste of saying goodbye. Barolo will always taste like the feeling of my heart in my throat and feeling both incredibly happy and sad at the same time. It will always remind me of starting over. Barolo will always remind me of him.

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2008 Produttori Barbaresco, Italy

I am now reaching the end of my college career and the stress of it all is beginning to set in. I’ve had multiple papers due in the past week and more papers due in the next week along with finals, and the continued petitioning process of obtaining my French minor. It’s hard to believe that I’ll actually be walking across that stage so soon, at least if my mom has her way. I couldn’t care less about the tradition of the actual graduation ceremony. With late nights in the library and quick and easy meals prepared while running in and out of my house, there hasn’t been much time for wine, which has probably increased my stress levels the most. You can only come up with so many ways to pair wine to pasta and parmesan cheese.

2008 Produttori BarbarescoI finally took the time after a long day at work to make myself something nice. I concocted an improvised eggplant parmesan and finally opened up my bottle of 2008 Produttori Barbaresco to enjoy with it - a wine I had been waiting for a special occasion to open. Being stressed out of my mind seemed like the right occasion.

Barbaresco is a region in the Italian Piedmont most known for its ruby red wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. Although similar to the neighboring region of Barolo, Barbarescos have some clear differences that you can taste, with Barbaresco being the leaner of the two and with what some would say, more elegance than that of the rich, tannic wines of Barolo.

That first sip was heavenly, with a silkiness that balanced the rustic backbone of the wine. I let out a sigh of relief after tasting the cherry and pomegranate notes and let the moderate spice of licorice linger on my tongue. After the bottle had been opened for quite some time, the fruity notes began to fall away to more of the forest floor notes of mushrooms with an aroma that hinted of wet moss. With a big bite of my eggplant parmesan covered in melted mozzarella though, a burst of fresh fruit notes would emerge, only to hide away again until my next mouthful of cheesy goodness. I think I can breathe again.

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2011 Predator Zinfandel, Lodi

The light from the computer screen was burning my eyes, or maybe it was just the content of the email. I had forgotten about a ton of lab materials in a professor’s lab from months before and now she was mad. I had to go pick all of it up immediately. I hopped in my car and searched for parking in Fort Sanders (the only problem with moving is that I can’t just walk to campus anymore.) I somehow procured a space only 3 blocks away and made my hike up the hill, praying that Dr.            would not be in the lab to chew me out.

Her back was facing me and she was leaning over a beaker with some grey liquid, swirling it around like a wine glass making some comments about organic materials. Her grad student acknowledged me, and I made a couple quick apologies to which Dr.             only said a few words. I got out of there with my test tubes and solutions without even a rude remark. Thank god for passive aggressive people.

As I left the building with testing supplies falling out of my arms, I felt a huge surge of relief. I would never have to do something like that ever again. I was free with only 2 and a half weeks left of class, and only 5 weeks until I left the country. My once important research was long behind me, and I was about to start on a completely new part of my life – I felt an instant inspiration to cook something fantastic.

Time to experiment with Gorgonzola cheese. I had discovered my addiction to Gorgonzola cheese sauce during my time in Italy. Anytime I saw it on the menu, I had to order it, and it was always incredible. When I got home and was teaching myself to cook, I attempted to make it, but I was left with a milky and clumpy mixture that tasted alright, but not the same as I had remembered. I put my attempts aside until this week when I finally felt motivated to put the effort in.

gorgonzola cheese sauce

A successful cheese sauce

What I learned was I had been missing a roux; a simple mixture of half parts butter, half flour. It works as a thickening agent and creates the creamy consistency required of all good cheese sauces. Having made a proper roux, I could tell I was already on the right track before I had even added the cheese. By the time all the Gorgonzola, Gruyere, and Parmesan were folded into the sauce, we were drooling. I took one taste of it and wanted to cry it was so good. To add some more flavor, we tossed in some baby bella mushrooms and then before placing the dish in the oven, we covered it in slices of smoked Gouda. I was later rushed to the hospital for cardiac arrest.

2011 Predator Zinfandel

Named for the ladybugs that prey on the grape eating aphids in the vineyard

But really, this dish could’ve induced a heart attack in an otherwise healthy person. When it was done baking we garnished it wish fresh basil and opened the 2011 Predator Zinfandel by Rutherford Winery. Then my stomach dropped. “We don’t have any wine glasses do we?”

He slowly opened the cupboard to expose his meager collection of coffee mugs. Just coffee mugs. But sometimes you have to put the wine snobbery behind you. I suppose it’s almost the season for it anyway, so Christmas tree mugs it is! The white mug really brings out the color of the wine too.

We both took a sip together and my face immediately lit up. It was spectacular with jammy notes of black fruits. I closed my eyes and just took it all in, but upon opening them, I started to get nervous. He was still looking into his mug with this expression I couldn’t quite figure out. Finally he opened his mouth, “It tastes kind of smokey and maybe peppery.”

I looked at him, shocked. “That’s exactly what it tastes like!”

I was so proud. But I was even more proud of our delicious meal. The noodles were perfectly al dente and you really can’t go wrong with cheese sauce. The layer of smoked Gouda accentuated the smokiness of the wine, while the spiciness of the Gorgonzola really brought out the pepper notes. I would highly recommend investing in both the wine and the cheese.

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Wines for Fall – Alsace, Mosel, and CDR

This past week in Knoxville has reminded all of us that it really is Fall, and winter is quickly on its way. Temperatures dropped below 30 this week and there were dozens of people coming into the store to stock up on some cold weather drinks. What struck me though was how many people had come in to taste wine and upon tasting a surprisingly good Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc, said immediately after, “That would be great for the spring time.”

Are you serious? If something tastes good, why wait until warmer weather? I’m a red wine drinker myself, but I can appreciate the importance of including white wines in our Fall menus. Many think that it’s time to switch to reds because their more full-bodied nature allows them to be paired with the heartier dishes we prepare this time of year, but Maja and I were set on proving this wrong by finding some awesome white wines for Fall.

I brought the wine, she brought the food, and we had ourselves a white wine tasting feast. We got to her and Tyler’s house exactly on time and walked into a kitchen filled with the smells of roasting squash and spices that immediately warmed me after our 20 foot trek from the car. But what warmed me even more was what she pulled out of the fridge upon our arrival – a golden brown liquid that could be none other than her grandmother’s homemade honey schnapps from Slovenia. Smooth and mildly sweet, its warmth goes straight to your chest and acts as the perfect aperitif.

After I stuck the 3 wines we’d be trying in the freezer to chill them as quickly as possible, Maja opened up her already opened bottle of Canvas Chardonnay that we were both obsessed with for its delicious buttery taste and $7.99 price tag. By the time our glasses were emptied, the table was set with a butternut squash quinoa risotto and a side of cabbage and carrot salad with pumpkin oil and roasted pumpkin seeds, all of which were seasonal foods.

wines for fall - pinot blancTime to pop open the bottles! We started with the 2012 Wolfberger Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France. Alsatian wines gain a floral and spicy character from the sunny and dry climate as moisture is blocked from the western Vosges Mountains. Riesling is the most common grape variety, but is closely followed by Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris (same as Pinot Grigio but created in a different style.) Pinot Blanc is one of the lesser used grapes and is often found in a blend with the more common, Auxerrois Blanc. Pinot Blanc is meant to be drunk young as it lacks the aging capabilities of its sibling, Pinot Noir. Ours was very subtle on the nose, only hinting towards some floral notes, and was delicate on the palate. A taste of apples, pears, and honey were followed by a tingling spiciness that was accentuated by the cabbage, but overpowered by the creamy butternut squash.

wines for fall - rieslingNext on the list was a 2011 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling from Mosel. Many of us associate Riesling with only extremely sweet wines, but they can range from a dessert-styled wine to bone dry. Ours was off dry, with only some residual sugar. Located on some of the steepest slopes in the viticulture world, nearly all Mosel Rieslings are manually tended and harvested, and some of these vines are over 150 years old, creating some of the most terroir reflecting wines in the world. Often found in the late-harvest wines is a strong smell of petrol, that’s right, gasoline. We could smell this immediately, bringing about notes of rubber and tarmac. Only some of this aroma came through on the taste, allowing for a strong note of sour apples and honey suckle to cut through the butternut squash risotto and create a delectable pairing.

Our third wine was a sad story. I was excited to try my first Côtes-du-Rhone blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, but our wine was corked, meaning it had gone bad. We immediately poured out our glasses and filled up with some Madeira, perfect for dessert anyway.

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