Refreshing Wine Cocktails for Summer Sipping

cucumber-mint-wine-cocktailWhile attending a North Carolina Symphony Summerfest concert recently on an unusually pleasant June evening under the stars at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, I was reminded of how occasions such as these—basking in the laid-back easiness of the season with dear friends and good music—are perfect for a light, refreshing wine cocktail.

In searching the Web to find some recipes to share with you, I came across these concoctions that combine two my most favorite things: wine and herbs. I’m super excited to try them all, and I hope they whet your palate, too. Here’s to many more carefree summer evenings!

Gewürztraminer Agave Ginger Ale (From WineFolly.com)

Perfect wine cocktails balance sweet, spice, sour and savory. In this cocktail, the spiciness of the ginger is balanced with sweet (agave) and sour (wine). Cava adds spritz without reducing alcohol content. Tabasco adds just the right amount of savory to the mix.

Recipe:

• 3 oz Gewürztraminer (such as $7 Chateau St. Michelle)
• 3 oz Cava (such as $7 Cristalino Brut)
• teaspoon of muddled ginger
• 3/4 oz agave syrup
• Optional: 1-2 dashes of Tabasco

How To:

Put sliced ginger and agave in a cocktail glass and muddle with a wooden spoon until ginger pieces are fragrant. Add Gewürztraminer. Stir. Strain into a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass with ice. Top with sparkling wine.

Cucumber Mint Fume Blanc Fizz (From WineFolly.com)

If you’re not into super-sweet, this potent potable sounds like a yummy alternative. Cucumber wine cocktails are refreshing and savory. Mint and lime add sour to balance the drink. This drink is not for everyone because it’s not sweet. However, if you’re reading this and your mouth is already watering because you’re sick and tired of overly sweet summer drinks, then read on!

Recipe:

• 3 oz Fume Blanc / Sauvignon Blanc (such as $6 Barnard Griffin)
• 3 oz Cava (such as $7 Cristalino Brut)
• 1 oz cucumber water
• 1/2 oz lime juice
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• pinch coarsely chopped mint

How To:

Make cucumber water by grating, blending and straining a cucumber. Add cucumber water, fume blanc, lime juice, sugar and mint to a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice. Strain into a serving glass and top with 3 ounces sparkling wine.

Strawberry Basil Moscato Lemonade (From WineFolly.com)

In this summer stunner, basil adds more savory.

Recipe:

• 6 oz Moscato (such as Wine Cube Moscato, from Target)
• 4 Strawberries
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 sprig basil
• 1 ounce lemon juice

How To:

Blend all ingredients, except wine, together. Strain into tall glass with ice. Pour over moscato. Add bendy straw.

Lemongrass & Blood Orange Wine Spritzer (From KitchenConfidante.com)
Serves 4.

Recipe:

Lemongrass Syrup
2 stalks lemongrass (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar

Spritzer
ice cubes
2 cups Lemongrass Syrup
1/2 cup blood orange juice
white wine (Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio work well)
seltzer water

How To:

To make the lemongrass syrup: Trim the ends off the lemongrass and chop into 2-inch pieces. Using a morter and pestle or the back of a knife, crush the lemongrass stalks to help release the juice. Combine lemongrass, water and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Let it cool in the refrigerator. Strain.

Fill glasses with ice cubes. Add 1/2 cup lemongrass syrup and 1/8 cup blood orange juice to each glass. Fill remainder of glass with white wine and a splash of seltzer water. Garnish with a lemongrass stalk and serve.

Can a Glass of Wine a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

wine-glass-medI’m sure we’ve all seen the myriad headlines over the past few years touting the health benefits of wine.* But can including wine in your daily diet really make a difference? I’m pleased to report that, in moderation, indeed it can. Extensive studies on the topic disclose some pretty impressive findings suggesting that wine—especially the red variety—may promote a longer lifespan, improve mental health, protect against certain cancers, and provide benefits to the heart.

Here are just some of the benefits that you get from drinking wine:

The Benefit: Promotes Longevity

The Evidence: A Finnish study of 2,468 men over a 29-year period, published in the Journals of Gerontology, 2007 showed that wine drinkers have a 34 percent lower mortality rate than those consuming beer or spirits. Source: foodandwine.com

The Benefit: Slows the Aging Process

The Evidence: Researchers from Harvard Medical School reported that red wine has anti-aging properties. Specifically, resveratrol (from the red grape skin) was the compound found to have the beneficial effect. Their findings were published in the journal Cell Metabolism. Source: medicalnewstoday.com

The Benefit: Reduces Heart-Attack Risk

The Evidence: Moderate drinkers suffering from high blood pressure are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack than nondrinkers according to a 16-year Harvard School of Public Health study of 11,711 men, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 2007. Source: foodandwine.com

The Benefit: Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease

The Evidence: Red-wine tannins contain procyanidins, which protect against heart disease according to a study at Queen Mary University in London, published in Nature, 2006. Wines from Sardinia and southwest France have more procyanidins than other wines. Source: foodandwine.com

The Benefit: Reduces the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

The Evidence: Research on 369,862 individuals studied over an average of 12 years each, at Amsterdam’s VU University Medical Center, reveals that moderate drinkers have 30 percent less risk than nondrinkers of developing type 2 diabetes (as published in Diabetes Care, 2005). Source: foodandwine.com

The Benefit: Lowers the Risk of Stroke

The Evidence: The possibility of suffering a blood clot-related stroke drops by about 50 percent in people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol according to a Columbia University study of 3,176 individuals over an eight-year period, published in Stroke, 2006. Source: foodandwine.com

The Benefit: Decreases the Risk of Cataracts

The Evidence: Moderate drinkers are 32 percent less likely to get cataracts than nondrinkers; those who consume wine are 43 percent less likely to develop cataracts than those drinking mainly beer according to a study of 1,379 individuals in Iceland, published in Nature, 2003. Source: foodandwine.com

The Benefit: Cuts the Risk of Colon Cancer

The Evidence: Moderate consumption of wine (especially red) cuts the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent according to a Stony Brook University study of 2,291 individuals over a four-year period, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2005. Source: foodandwine.com

The Benefit: Lowers the Risk of Developing Dementia

The Evidence: A Loyola University Medical Center study, published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, reported that moderate red wine drinkers had a 23 percent lower risk of developing dementia compared to nondrinkers. Source: medicalnewstoday.com

The Benefit: Reduces the Risk of Depression

The Evidence: Drinking wine may reduce the risk of depression, according to researchers from several universities in Spain. Data was gathered on 2,683 men and 2,822 women aged from 55 to 80 years over a seven-year period. The findings were published in the journal BMC Medicine. Source: medicalnewstoday.com

*The health benefits come from moderate wine consumption, defined by the American Heart Association as one to two four-ounce glasses a day.

Smartphone Apps to Improve Your Wine Smarts

hello-vino-resultIn this age of smartphones, tablets and instant access to information, it’s no surprise that the adage of “there’s an app for that” has made its way to the wine world.

Whether you’re a seasoned oenophile or a novice wine drinker, a little knowledge can go a long way towards choosing the perfect bottle. In researching this article, a few apps appeared repeatedly as favorites and I’ve summarized them for you here:

Hello Vino (hellovino.com) is a robust wine pairing and suggestion app for the iPhone and Android. It can recommend wines with popular picks, value options and accolades. It lets you browse categories and subcategories of wines based on occasions, taste preferences, and wine varieties. You can take pictures of wine labels and use the app to get ratings, food pairings and tasting notes among others. It has a photographic memory which will help you remember your favorite wines. It also provides audio reviews. Cost: Free

Snooth Wine Pro (snooth.com/iphone-app) for iPhone lets you snap a picture of a wine label and the app automatically matches it to Snooth’s database of over one million wines. Once a match is found, the app gives you plenty of data to help you locate it near you or find an appropriate substitute if it’s not available close by. With this app, you can also add the wine to your Wishlist or Virtual Cellar; purchase the wine online through the Snooth retail network; read expert and user reviews and post your own; and browse for similar wines by winery, region, or varietal. Cost: $4.99. Note: A free version of this app is available as well, but the image recognition capability is not available and ads are displayed.

For Android users, check out Swirl Pro. It has a lookup function that accesses the Snooth database for similar details, but you have to type in the name of a wine rather than taking a picture. Cost: $2.99. Note: There’s also a free version that allows all of the browsing and tagging, but only lets you add a couple of wines.

Wine Events (localwineevents.com) is a simple, yet useful iPhone and Android app to have if you like to attend tastings, festivals, auctions and other wine-related activities and want to stay current on events in your area. It offers a plethora of choices for wine lovers, plus it gives you the option of posting the event to Facebook. Cost: Free

Cor.kz (http://cor.kz) is an all-purpose iPhone app touted as “like having a sommelier in your pocket.” Its most popular feature is its CellarTracker, which lets you access information on over one million wines. Use the search tab to find wines by name, region or varietal. There’s even a barcode scanner that identifies your bottle and delivers thousands of user ratings, tasting notes and other general information about the wine. Keep track of wines you like or want to try by rating them and adding them to your virtual cellar. Cost: $1.99

Wine Ratings Guide (nirvino.com) is another app for iPhone and Android that’s likened to having a personal sommelier with you at all times. This highly rated, user-friendly app connects to a database of over a million wines to provide reviews, tasting notes, pairing suggestions and price points. It offers room to add your own ratings and the ability to view customized lists from other users. Cost: $3.99

A few other apps worth checking out are Corkbin (corkbin.com), the Approach Guides Wine App (agwine.com), Drync Wine Pro (drync.com), and Vivino (vivino.com).

Have another favorite wine-related app? I’d love for you to share your recommendations with me.

Cozying Up with Winter Warmers

DrinkingRedWine_Fire-On a cold, dreary January day, I like to settle in with a robust red wine that warms me to my extremities.  Following are four reasonably-priced favorites that we keep stocked at my house for those winter weekends when we have the luxury of hibernating indoors.

Mark West Pinot Noir (http://www.markwestwines.com/)
Winemaker’s notes:  Enticing aromas of strawberry and raspberry with barrel notes of caramel, vanilla and baking spices.  Oak aging rounds out the palate and gives the wine its body.  The wine drinks of deep, concentrated raspberry, cherry pie with a touch of cola berry.  The wine shows juicy fruit texture and subtle oak.

Lisa’s notes:  At $10 a bottle, I think this is a very nice California pinot noir.  Although it’s slightly heavy on the oak, the fruit surfaces enough to make for a well balanced wine.  I’ve found it to be a nice accompaniment to salmon.

Cupcake Red Velvet (http://www.cupcakevineyard.com/)
Winemaker’s notes:  Over the top aromas of chocolate, deep rich blackberries, red fruits that follow through the palate to a creamy mocha finish that is unmistakable in its intensity and length, with a hint of coconut.  It’s reminiscent of a blackberry chocolate cupcake with a mocha coulis.

Lisa’s notes:  This California wine, averaging about $10 a bottle, is a tasty blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah grapes.  With just a hint of sweetness on the finish, I find it to be light and velvety enough to drink on its own.  The winemaker suggests pairing it with sweet and spicy Hoisin steak, a barbecue bacon cheeseburger, or even dark chocolate fondue.

Banfi Centine (http://www.castellobanfi.com/)
Winemaker’s notes:  A blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  On the nose, fruity notes of raspberry and plums, but also spicy hints of coffee, liquorices and cinnamon.  The complex structure, soft and round at the same time, makes this wine particularly elegant.

Lisa’s notes:  Having visited the Banfi vineyard estate and winery while vacationing in Italy, I find the “Super Tuscan” Centine just as appealing at home as it was in its enchanting birthplace.  This ruby red beauty is medium-bodied with intense cherry and blackberry flavors.  It’s an exquisite wine with soft tannins and a lingering finish.  And at $9 – $12 a bottle, it’s a superb value!  While I enjoy it on its own, it also pairs well with pastas, roasts, grilled meats or poultry, and medium-aged cheese.

Salvatore Principe Malbec  (http://www.prestigewinegroup.com/brand-salvatore-principe-33.html)
Winemaker’s notes:  This Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina is complex and beautifully crafted.  The grapes are harvested from low yielding vines, creating a wine that is rich in color showcasing dark plum and cherry flavors accented by layers of chocolate.  Twelve months of oak aging adds character and tantalizing tannins.

Lisa’s notes:  My husband and I were introduced to Malbec at a 2010 Christmas Eve dinner and were instantly infatuated.  When we happened upon a bottle of Salvatore Principe’s Malbec at Sam’s Club, the artistic label enticed us to try it.  This luscious wine, which costs $9 – $12 a bottle, blends flavors of ripe plum, warm spices, a hint of chocolate, with a finish of juicy raspberry.  Try it with pasta, vegetables, cheeses, pizza and roasted meats.

How to Taste Wine Like a Pro

030110Sommelier 1.jpgIf you’ve resolved to make 2014 the year you become more educated about wine, I welcome you to what promises to be a most pleasurable activity. A great way to discover which wines are your favorites is by tasting a wide variety of them! Start with your basic senses of look, smell and taste and you’ll be appreciating wine in no time.

These tips from the Pennsylvania Winery Association and winetasting.com will guide you on your way:

Pour. Pour some wine into a glass, allowing enough room for swirling. If you only plan to sample the wine before moving on to another, pour just enough for a few sips.

See. Tilt the glass away from you against a white background. Note the color of the wine from the rim edges to the middle of the glass. Different wines will vary in their color intensity (white wines gain color as they age, while red wines lose their intensity and may turn brownish or brick red). Wine color is affected the most by the age of the wine, the grape variety, and the amount of time spent in oak.

Next, notice the wine’s clarity; is it clear and brilliant or cloudy and dull? Can you see sediment? Also observe the body of the wine by the way it coats the sides of the glass. If the “legs” trickle down slowly, it has more body; if it falls down in sheets, it has less body.

Swirl. Swirling wine in the glass exposes it to a larger surface area, allowing oxygen in and bringing out its natural aromas. On a flat surface, grasp the stem and move the glass in a tight circle for a few seconds. Or swirl gently by moving your wrist or hand.

Smell. The smell of wine is referred to as its nose, bouquet or aroma. Sniff the wine, first with your nose a few inches from the glass, then lower your nose into the glass and breathe deeply. Repeat if desired, resting your sense of smell in between. A wine with great complexity will offer different aromas each time, as well as several scents at one time. Common aromas include different fruits, spices, herbs and flowers. These will give you an indication of what to expect when you taste it.

The sniff test can also detect a spoiled wine before you taste it. “Off” smells include sherry (the wine has oxidized from age or improper storage), vinegar (the wine contains excessive acetic acid), cork/mustiness (a defective or inferior cork has affected the wine), or sulphur (the wine contains excessive sulfur dioxide).

Sip. “Chew” the wine or roll it over your tongue to cover your taste buds. Different parts of your tongue are designed to taste different things: sweetness (tip of tongue); sour/acid (inner sides); saltiness (outer sides); and bitter/alcohol (back of tongue). A balance of the following characteristics is ideal: body fullness or thinness; acidity; tannin; sweetness; and fruitiness. Because smell and taste are inextricably linked, feel free to breathe lightly through your nose while tasting the wine.

Swallow or Spit. Swallow the wine—or not. While most people choose to swallow the wine, some (especially those tasting many different wines) will spit the wine into a receptacle or paper cup, which is later dumped into the receptacle. If you do swallow, notice the aftertaste, or finish. The better the wine, the more defined the finish. Good finish will linger on your palate for quite some time and will reflect the flavors of the wine or have flavors on its own.

Happy sipping and cheers to your exploration!

Wine shops proliferate downtown

wine_shop_2This article by Amber Nimocks appeared in the Sun., November 17 edition of The News & Observer. It’s a great overview of the independent wine shop culture that is permeating the downtown Raleigh area. Enjoy!

If a rising wine tide lifts all oenophile boats, then downtown Raleighites will soon be living in an age of top-shelf juice bliss.

In the next few months the number of locally owned wine shops within two miles of my house in downtown Raleigh will jump from three to five. That’s pretty remarkable, considering that nine short years ago when I moved here, there was just one – Seaboard Wine Warehouse – within walking distance.

A look around at the single-home construction and apartment buildings going up in and around downtown bears witness to the area’s booming population. But can we really support five wine shops?

“The more the merrier,” said Craig Heffley, who is preparing to open a downtown Raleigh version of his popular Durham Wine Authorities. “If this becomes the wine district of Raleigh, I’d love it. … The thing about it is we all have different products and we all have different focuses.”

When Seaboard Wine Warehouse started selling its carefully selected inventory 17 years ago, its focus was on being downtown’s only wine shop. This was long before Tyler’s Tap Room, 18 Seaboard or Phydeaux moved into the Shops at Seaboard Station and helped it become the anchor of downtown’s north end.

Seaboard was the first wine shop I knew of that kept a record of what you buy, so that when you come in and say “I want that wine I got last time …” they know what you’re talking about. This month, Seaboard announced a new feature, a Le Verre de Vin dual preservation system, which uses vacuum technology to keep opened bottles of still and sparkling wine fresh. It’s similar to the preservation systems The Raleigh Wine Shop and Wine Authorities use to serve by-the-glass tastes of their inventory.