Archive for the What's the Deal With…? Category

What the heck is…Zweigelt?

Posted in What's the Deal With...?, Wine Review with tags on August 10, 2010 by winechef

Only my new favorite inexpensive red that you can start drinking first thing in the morning! Well, maybe you should at least wait until lunch time…but that’s not the point! This unpretentious red is light, low in alcohol, and generally pretty damn affordable! Picture a juicy Zinfandel masquerading as a Pinot. The first time I bought a bottle I was going for something eccentric, something new that I didn’t hold much stock in. It came in a liter bottle with a bottle cap. Really, how good could it be? About half way though the bottle I decided. This is farking delicious!

So what is it? A cross between Blaufrankisch and St Laurent, Austria’s other two shining reds. It’s light, often refreshing and has flavors of cherries in varying degrees of ripeness.

What should you eat with it? Pure picnic wine. With its lightness, fun fruit, and nice acidity this wine will go with everything from pizza to BBQ chicken. I’d even dare to say that it would go well with some Chinese dishes, or at least pork fried rice.

Here’s a few:

2008 Martinshof Zweigelt 1L

2007 Walter Glatzer Zweigelt Riedencuvée

2008 Umathum Zweigelt


What the heck is…Blaufrankisch?

Posted in What's the Deal With...?, Wine Review with tags on August 10, 2010 by winechef

Besides being fun to say, Blaufrankisch is a red wine most commonly exported from Austria. Spicy like a Syrah, (minus the roast beef and pastrami flavors that have been making me gag), and light like a Pinot noir. It’s also grown in Croatia, Washington state, and Germany, where it is known as Lemburger. For more on that click here but for now, let’s concentrate on what it is, where it’s available and what it pairs with.
Similarities abound between a killer gamay and German pinots. Cherry and pepper with a nice acid backbone make this for an ideal food wine. The tannins are supple and the alcohol is relatively low. As long as you avoid the overly oaked Blaufrankish’s when they’re young, you shouldn’t have any problem picking one off the shelf of a reputable wine shop to have with dinner tonight.

Here are my picks:

2008 J. Heinrich Blaufränkisch

Another light, unfussed with Blaufrankisch that could easily become your go to Summer red at $13.99 a bottle.

2006 Wenzel Blaufränkisch

Beautiful, light, elegant, and a great price at $17.99 a bottle for  a pure expression of Blaufrankisch

2007 Moric Blaufränkisch

An ageable Powerhouse from a killer vintage. This one will go with your over the top meat dishes.

And for something closer to home try Washington’s Steel “Blue Franc.”

The lighter versions can pair nicely with lighter meat dishes and takes nicely to a slight chill. Burgers off the grill with pepper Jack, and smoked paprika aioli would be a perfect pairing for a cellar temperature Blaufrankisch, where as an older age able Blaufrankisch would pair better with medium-rare lamb chops and a mint and red pepper vinaigrette with roasted potatoes.

What’s the deal with…Retsina?

Posted in Sommelier, What's the Deal With...?, Wine Review on January 26, 2009 by winechef

retsina-boutariAh, we revisit the “What’s the deal with…” section of the blog with the long awaited Retsina tasting. I’ve had these hidden in my fridge for about a year consuming the attention of a personal dare with anticipation centered on fear and not much else. I selected 2 bottles to compare (these are kind of hard to find in my part of the world) and I believe both were under $10 a bottle, so who knows if they are “typical” showcases of the varietal, but I’m not going to go any further out of my way to investigate a sommeliers’ inside joke, which associates Retsina with pine and turpentine. Let’s see if my palate is indeed on par with these CMC’s and the people that actually grew up drinking this legendary wine, (when and where did that take place by the way?). Read on.

So I expertly remove the cork of the first wine and I am overcome with adrenaline, I’m here and I am going to go through with this! It can’t possibly be as ridiculous as Blue Nun or Cold Duck


It reminds me of the time when I was six, hiding under the Christmas tree finishing off every ones left over wine and chasing it with laps of water from the metal tree base holder! The amount of purple children’s Tylenol it took to get rid of that hangover bordered on an overdose.  Just kidding. But seriously, maybe it happened in a past life because I swear that it must have happened to and inspired the early makers of this mythical Greek wine. 

The labels of both of the wines are borderline cryptic, (but I’m sure if I drank enough of this I’d be fluent in Greek) until they are turned to the back where they profess the love that the Greeks feel for their traditional wine, boast the harmonious blend, and the characteristic “Retsina” taste. Hmmm, where does it come from and is there any chance that it would compliment any food? Doubt it, but try me.

Apparently the pine, I’m not even going to call it a scent because it is most certainly a FLAVOR, comes from the addition of pine resin to the grape must. What?! According to Wikipedia pine resin was used 2000 years ago to seal the container the wine was stored in and masked any spoilage in the wine, then became a popular taste component, and was thus added to the wine once they started using barrels which made the resin unnecessary. Here is a historian Liutprand’s account of being served Retsina:

According to Liutprand, he was treated very rudely and undignified by the court of Nikephoros II being served goat stuffed with onion and served in fish sauce and “undrinkable” wine mixed with resin, pitch and gypsum-very offensive to his western tastes.

Nailed it. 

I had to stop drinking the infamous Boutari that I started with because I was starting to associate it with what Santa’s urine probably tastes like. The second bottle, the Achaia, was much more subtle, but I don’t think I am going to make myself finish the pour. 

Key things to know about Retsina:

  • It is not a varietal but a style of wine that was recently protected under the European Union. (who knew that would be necessary?!)
  • The primary varietal used is savatiano
  • Modern Retsina is made following the same wine making techniques of white wine or rosé with the exception of small pieces of Aleppo Pine resin added to the must during fermentation. The pieces stay mixed with the must, and elute an oily resin film on the liquid surface; at racking the wine is clarified and the solids and surface film are removed from the finished wine.
  • Vintage Retsinas are rare (though I couldn’t find any explanation for the reason). 


Now that I know what Retsina is maybe I should find out what turpentine is…

Gelatin Conversion

Posted in Cooking at Home, Pastry Chefs, Product Review, What's the Deal With...? on October 20, 2008 by winechef

Since this is what helped to bring Marisa down from season 2 of Top Chef, I knew I had to find the right information before attempting a French pear mousse recipe that used leaf gelatin AKA sheet gelatin as one of its ingredients. Having only powdered gelatin at home I needed to figure out, hopefully once and for all, what the exact conversion is when dealing with most professional pastry chef’s recipes. For an article on the difference and the best to use click here.

3 teaspoons of powdered =4 leaves

3-4 leaves = 1 envelope

and just for kicks…

Agar Agar = same amount of powdered gelatin

Maybe the best blog ever…Cake Wrecks

Posted in What's the Deal With...? on September 24, 2008 by winechef

I just spent the last hour looking through all of the cakes, these are some of my favorites. This blog is pure genius in its collection of horrors. This needs to become a book, if No Regrets can do it, so can Cake Wrecks.

What’s the deal with…Cold Duck?

Posted in No! No! No!, Product Review, Sommelier, What's the Deal With...? on October 29, 2007 by winechef


The second instalment of, “why do sommeliers think this is so funny?” is…

Andre Cold Duck! 

This one took some real searching to find. The illusive bottle was finally unearthed at the Smart and Final off of the Central Freeway in San Francisco for under 4 dollars. Boy was I excited. I was anticipating something like a sparkling Shiraz when I was told it was a red wine with bubbles. Never in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated what came to be a cross between grape Fanta, Cranberry Juice Cocktail, and one of those “Champagnes” that you need to swallow Advil with in order to circumvent the inevitable immediate headache. The syrupy sweet elixir wasn’t even worth a second glass.

But what is Cold Duck? The dredges of spit buckets with a heavy dossage?

Here are some snippets from Wikipedia: Cold Duck is the name of a sparkling wine made in the United States that was at one stage the best-selling “champagne” in America.The wine was invented by Harold Borgman, the owner of Pontchartrain Wine Cellars in Detroit, in 1937. The recipe was based on a traditional German custom of mixing all the dregs of unfinished wine bottles with champagne.Baskin-Robbins had an ice cream called Cold Duck Ice in the 1970s. The cultural trivia section explains almost all you ever need to know about Cold Duck’s place in society. Meanwhile…

This mixture was called kalte ende (“cold end”); over the years, ende transliterated to ente (“duck”). The wines used to make cold duck are often of inferior quality. The resulting potation is quite sweet with few other distinguishable characteristics.–Copyright (c) 1995 by Barron’s Educational Series, from The New Food Lover’s Companion, Second Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst

In doing research for this article I came across other obscure wines that may warrent some type of further investigation. Apparently I missed a lot in wine in the years prior to 1980 such as: Ripple (?) Bali Hai (?) Thunderbird (?) Matues (?) Spanada (?)

Until those treasures are found Retsina is next on the list. I leave you with my favorite thing about Cold Duck:

What’s the deal with…Blue Nun?

Posted in Product Review, Sommelier, What's the Deal With...? on October 9, 2007 by winechef

blue-nun-cauliflower-etc-001.jpgSince my move to Napa Valley when I was 18 I have been in love with wine. I have studied it, appreciated it, analyzed it, and consumed my fair share of it. So why are certain wines looked at as an inside joke that I have never been a part of? These specific wines found their way into multiple lectures where everyone would laugh in unison and I was always left confused and out of the loop.

Well no more! It took a lot of searching and inquiring but I have landed some of the society’s premiere laughable wines! After the sommelier exam I decided to start a journey to explore these wines, I too wanted to be able to laugh among the wine snobs, even if it cost me valuable palate time.

We’re going to start the journey with Blue Nun, a Riesling from Germany that is thin and sweet, and one dimensional. Oh, and about 6.99 at your local BevMo. According to someone in their early 50’s, now an avid Merlot drinker, it was the bottle you bought to impress a lady. About 30 years ago. LPR? Not with an alcohol content of around 10%, but I’d love to hear stories of how a lifetime of happiness began over a bottle of this and whether or not glasses were bothered with!