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“Why Can’t I Drink Wine Like I Used To?”

I’ve heard this question literally hundreds of times. I’ve even asked it myself.

There are many variations, such as “I seem to get drunk on less,” or “In the morning I can’t remember the night before.” Rest assured that if you’ve had anything like these experiences, you are not alone.

So why does it happen, and more important, what can we do about it?

The science behind this phenomenon is all too simple: as we age (yes, sadly it’s all about aging) our systems, our organs, and every cell in our body start to slow down. According to nutritionist Tina Nunziato CHNC of Dr. Liz Cruz Partners in Digestive Healthour organs don’t process things as quickly or as completely as they used to. Our liver, for example, may not fully metabolize all the alcohol in the wine we consumed last night. The next day, we may feel slightly fuzzy-headed, nauseous, or headache-y.

To compound the problem, our gut and colon don’t eliminate all the toxins the way they used to, so over time we experience a build-up of toxicity throughout our body. It’s no wonder that we “Can’t drink like we used to.”

The picture, however, needn’t be so bleak. We can change our habits so that we can imbibe and enjoy.

We need to understand, first, that ill effects will increase with the amount of alcohol ingested, and all wines are not created equal when it comes to alcohol content. Red wines from warm climate regions, such as Australia and many parts of California, may have an alcohol content as high as 15.5 percent (think Shiraz, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and many Red Blends). A cool climate white or red, on the other hand, such as one from northern France or northern Italy, might weigh in at only 12.5 or 13 percent (such as Sancerre or Chianti). Your body feels the difference, and you may find that simply switching to lower alcohol wines will resolve your issues.

Hydration is also a significant part of the solution. Drinking lots of water alongside your wine dilutes the alcohol, so make sure there’s a glass of water beside your glass of wine, and that you drink both throughout the evening.

Book-ending your wine consumption with lots of water will also help your system perform better. Drink one or two eight-ounce glasses before you start drinking wine, and do the same before bed and first thing in the morning.

Finally, “go European.” Many visitors to Europe say they can drink wine all day and never feel drunk, and that’s partly due to the generally lower alcohol content of European wines. But more important, in Europe they use wine as a meal-time beverage, not a cocktail. If you have a glass in one hand, you should have a fork in the other. When you enjoy wine alongside food, whether it’s a light appetizer of almonds and cheese, or
a full-blown five-course meal, your body will process the alcohol much more efficiently.

It’s as simple as that. You can still enjoy the pleasure of a glass of wine (or two), as long as you adjust and adapt to your new, more mature reality. I know I will. Cheers!

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Sparkling Wine — the Anytime Drink!

Thanks to SmartFem Magazine, who originally published this story…

Online Magazine for Women – Informative, Entertaining, Intelligent!

 ENJOY SPARKLING WINE — THE ANYTIME DRINK!

By  in Dining & EntertainmentSmartFem

So when was the last time you drank a glass of bubbly? Was it last New Year’s Eve, after the ball dropped? Was it at your cousin’s wedding, when the best man made a sloppy speech and raised a toast to the bride and groom?

If your answer is “Yes,” then you’re missing out on a lot of fun. Here’s why.

Sparkling wine is crisp, refreshing and delicious, anytime and anywhere. You don’t have to spend a fortune, and there are plenty of great choices if you know what to look for.

Sparkling wine is, quite simply, any wine with bubbles. Champagne is the most famous (and the priciest) of them all, and to be called Champagne it must be made in the Champagne region of France. It will set you back at least $40, but whether it’s dry and citrusy or rich and creamy, Champagne is always tres elegant.

You can also get into the bubbly game for a lot less.

  • If the label says “Cremant” or “Cava,” it’s a sparkling wine that’s made in exactly the same method as Champagne, so it’s good quality and delicious, and is priced from $10 to $20. Look for any Cremant de Bourgogne from France or Cristalino Cava from Spain.
  • We make great “Champagne Method” sparklers here in America, too. Look for Gruet in the $15-$20 range (their Brut Rose is awesome) or Domaine Carneros for around $35.
  • You can go Italian with Prosecco, a lighter-bodied bubbly that can be dry (try Zonin or Zardetto) or not-so-dry (LaMarca).
  • If you have a really sweet tooth, you’ll love any Moscato d’Asti. This lightly-effervescent wine from Italy is naturally sweet and tastes like peaches and honey (really!).

So when should you drink Sparkling wine?

  • It’s never too early for bubbly. For breakfast or brunch try a Mimosa made with a Cava and orange juice, or move up to Italy’s breakfast drink, a Bellini. Just thaw and then purée a bag of frozen peaches, add a little sugar to taste, and pour in some Prosecco. It’s delish with French Toast!
  • There are lots of before-dinner choices. Try Cremant or a domestic sparkler, straight up and ice cold, and pair it with Crostini topped with Boursin Cheese and Smoked salmon. This aperitif is easy, elegant, lip-smacking good, and a staple in my house.
  • Pretend you’re lounging in an Italian bistro by mixing a “Spritz” with Prosecco and Aperol. This drink is refreshing, not sweet, with hints of bitter orange peel. Add a tray of cheese and nuts and relax till dinner time.
  • Serve Champagne as a salad course wine. Believe it or not, the high acidity makes it a great complement to vinaigrette dressings.
  • And my personal favorite was recommended by a chic and well-dressed French woman. Sip true Champagne with…potato chips! The combination of crisp and dry with salty and greasy is a true gastronomic pleasure.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Santa Ynez Valley: “A little paradise for wine grapes.”

Main Street, Los Olivos

“Toto, we’re not in Napa anymore…”

I felt as disoriented as Dorothy and her little dog when I landed in the middle of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. I was supposed to be in Wine Country, but where were the sights so familiar in the Napa Valley? Where were the gigantic Tuscan tasting rooms crowded together along the roadway? Where were the high-end restaurants grudgingly serving $200 a plate lunches? Where were the traffic jams?

Instead, I saw the brick-front Lompoc Chamber of Commerce, Circa 1892. It sits across from Sissy’s Cafe, where they make a mean lentil soup.  I saw the Los Olivos General Store, and further up the street was Jedlicka’s Saddlery, where working ranch hands still buy bridles and belt buckles. I saw the pseudo-Dutch village of Solvang, which was, well, weird — but features an antique dealers showroom with one of the country’s finest collections of clocks.

And I tasted some very, VERY good wine.

The Santa Ynez Valley is south of San Francisco, just a few hours north of Los Angeles, and  close enough to Santa Barbara for a nice day trip. It’s blessed with wonderfully moderate temperatures, and if you’re a wine geek like me, you know that the valley runs east-west, splitting the coastal hills and allowing morning fog and cool afternoon breezes to blow in from the ocean. This creates the longest and coolest growing season in California, and when you add endless summer sunshine, low rainfall and well-drained soils, you’ve got a little paradise for wine grapes.

Cool-climate Santa Rita Hills

Our first taste of paradise came at Melville Winery, which nestles in the cool Santa Rita Hills appellation on the west side of the valley. This is where the Melville family and winemaker Greg Brewer craft some amazing estate wines. They’ll tell you it’s all about their vineyard practices, using techniques such as these:

  • High density planting creates really intense flavors in the fruit. Vines must compete for nutrients from the soil and yields are very, very low.
  • Leaves are pulled to expose the stems to the sun. The stems become dry and brown so they can be included in whole-cluster fermentation without adding green flavors to the wine.
  • Their Pinot Noirs see no new oak, which seemed like sacrilege: what’s red wine without oak? But the crafty folks at Melville let the dried wood from the stems act as their “oak.” It imparts that soft vanilla undertone without overpowering the fruit.

Alvin is a great host at the Melville tasting room.

I loved several of their Pinot Noirs, including the Estate Pinot which I’ve reviewed in the past (read about the Melville 2009). My first love was Melville Sandy’s Pinot Noir 2010. It’s made with fruit from a four-acre block planted on very sandy soil, and named after a woman named, you guessed it, Sandy. The nose hit me with sweet raspberry notes, and the palate offered intense dark cherry/berry fruit without weight or jamminess. Yumm…

Melville Carrie’s Pinot Noir 2010 uses fruit from a five-acre block that sits atop an exposed mesa, where the roots have to reach deep into the soil in search of nutrients. This creates the “darkest and most powerful” of their Pinots. I loved the luscious berry compote on the nose, and the rich, textured body of this Pinot. Again, there was plenty of lush fruit and layers of spice, but it was all balanced by good natural acidity.

Sister wineries Dierberg and Star Lane

A few miles further up the road, we found what looked like a big old Midwestern cattle barn plopped down in wine country. It houses sister wineries Dierberg and Star Lane. Between the two of them, they capture the diversity of the Santa Ynez Valley:

  • Dierberg makes Chard and Pinot Noir from vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, which sits further north and eight miles closer to the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Star Lane grows Syrah and Bordeaux varietals in Happy Canyon, otherwise known as the Banana Belt of Santa Barbara County. The owners were so impressed with this warm-climate region that they bought a whopping 8,000 acres — about one third the total area of the Canyon.

Dierberg’s Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2009 was an absolute stunner. Delicate and rich at the same time, I loved the bright pear and tropical fruit with notes of pineapple and butterscotch. The palate was lush but the finish was tangy and crisp, showing the great natural acidity that balances this wine. Thanks to aging in large oak vessels that impart just a hint of toast, and minimal secondary fermentation that maintains the natural acidity, this Chard will actually age like a White Burgundy. If you can wait that long to drink it…

Besides plenty of high ratings, Dierberg has the distinction of being served to a bevy of international dignitaries at the 2012 NATO Summit (that was the 2007 Syrah). That’s high praise, indeed.

Star Lane is like the big, bad-ass sister next to refined Dierberg. Their vineyards in Happy Canyon are unexpectedly warm for Santa Barbara County,

The beautiful Happy Canyon

with more degree days and less rain than almost all of the Napa Valley. They’re also among the highest elevation, with grapevines climbing up the lower slopes of the San Rafael Mountains. They can make big reds here, like Star Lane Estate Happy Canyon 2007. Five years after vintage date this beauty is bold, rich and soft. A blend of Bordeaux varietals plus Syrah, it opens with rich creme de cassis and vanilla, following with dark berries, mocha, and a little exotic spice. The mouthfeel is juicy and the tannins are beautifully supple. A few bottles left the winery in the back of my car, and I can’t wait to revisit them with an appropriate meal to match.

There’s more to tell but I’m out of space and out of time. Stay tuned for the final installment of our adventures in the Santa Ynez Valley. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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China Spawns A Million Millionaire Wine Lovers

chneseHere’s a mind-boggling statistic:

The number of Chinese millionaires increased fivefold in just six years. (It’s now just shy of the million mark.)

Holy cow! This country just emerging from decades of anti-capitalist rule has seen millionaires multiply like rabbits.

Except that rabbits don’t drink wine. Here’s another amazing statistic:

The country’s consumption of imported wine quadrupled between 2005 and 2009, and is expected to climb another 56 percent by 2014.

Wow! So this is what happens when an entire demographic (upwardly mobile, young- to middle-aged Chinese businesspeople) decides they want to share all the perks and signs of conspicuous wealth that are enjoyed by millionaires everywhere.

And I’m all for it. There have been many stories about the growing pains the nascent Chinese wine industry has experienced (see these recent stories in my blog).

At first, Bordeaux was the wine in favor, and some French winemakers stepped up to take their share of the market (read Decanter.com’s good story about Lafite-Rothschide’s wooing of Chinese wine drinkers).

Now it seems that Australian wineries stand to make out like crazy from China’s craze for imported wine. Read this story from Alder Yarrow’s great wine blog, Vinography, about Australian wine giant Penfold’s. They recently unveiled Australia’s most expensive wine ever, and they did it, not on their home turf, but in Shanghai. I guess the Chinese thirst for vino promises such huge rewards that Aussie winemakers will go to great lengths to win their favor.

Who knows what’s next? I’ll be on the look-out for the latest developments, so stay tuned… Cheers!

 

 

 

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Signaterra Pinot Noir

rrI’ve written before about Benziger Winery in northern California’s  Sonoma Valley. The Benzigers have been industry leaders in sustainable, organic and bio-dynamic farming, and they’ve used those grapes to produce literally dozens of wines. Today I’m writing about one of their upper tiers, the Signaterra single-vineyard line, which uses fruit from premium vineyard sites across California.

The first wine I tasted is Signaterra Bella Luna Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009. Bella Luna is a tiny parcel in the Russian River appellation of Sonoma County, which is much cooler and much more suited to Pinot Noir than the land the Benzigers own in Sonoma Valley.

Just about any Pinot lover will tell you that Russian River fruit has a distinct footprint (or nose- and palate-print). Benziger’s Signaterra Pinot is true to form. The nose is very aromatic, with pretty black cheery and wild strawberry notes and a hint, no, make that lots of smoke.

The palate is also classic Pinot, with bright fruit that’s flavorful but not too lush. I tasted the black cherry and strawberry I’d expected, with an herbal/toasty background. The body was bang-on — delicate and velvety, with some minerality on the backside. The only thing that seemed a little shy was the finish, but this wine may take a few hours to develop and we finished it off in as much time as it takes to eat a tray of smoked salmon and capers.

 

 

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When Italy Meets Argentina, Who Wins?: Finca El Reposo Bonarda

argYou’d think that every North American wine drinker would be very familiar with the fifth-largest wine producing country in the world. That would be Argentina, by the way, where people consume boatloads of red meat, red meat, wine, bread, red meat and wine.

Argentina is a resource-rich country south of the Equator that used to produce oceans of inexpensive, “rustic” wine but has recently earned a reputation for producing world-class reds from the spectacular Mendoza region. I’ve written lots of posts about Argentine wines that I’ve loved, and you can click here to read them. Most of them are made from the Malbec grape, which originated in France but has found its best expression in Mendoza.

Today I’m writing about another European grape that’s taken root in South America. In fact until recently, it was the most widely planted grape variety in Argentina. I’m talking about Bonarda, which came to Argentina with immigrants from the Piedmont region of Italy.

If you know anything about Italy, you know that Piemonte is in the northwest of the country at the foot of the Alps, and has a relatively cool Continental climate. Mendoza sits in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, but the warmer temperatures allow the grape to ripen way past their Italian cousins.

So when I tasted Finca El Reposo Bonarda 2009, I didn’t know what to expect. When I uncorked and poured out this wine, I saw intense and opaque purple color. I thought, “This thing isn’t messing around.” Then I smelled it, and got what I can only describe as a Petite Sirah nose. I got a sense of fleshy dark berries and wet wood.

The palate even started out like a Petite Sirah, with deep cranberry notes and a grippy, chewy texture. But it seemed like something was missing. After the initial burst of dense fruit, there was a hole where…something should have been. It left me thinking that this Bonarda grape may be a wonderful thing to include in a blend (as it no doubt was in Italy) but can’t “go it alone” as a varietal wine.

So I grabbed an open bottle of California Cabernet that was sitting on my counter, and poured some in a glass with my Argentine Bonarda. And it was great! The more austere Cab toned down the fleshy Bonarda and gave me a great wine to drink with my dinner. I hate to tell a whole country how to make their wine, but I’d vote for using Bonarda as a blending grape

 

 

 

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Paul Hobbs Crossbarn 2009

paulSome winemakers are easy to spot. I don’t mean on the street, or in a Napa Valley watering hole.

I’m talking about their wines. Some winemakers have a style that speaks so loudly, and is expressed so consistently throughout their wines, that you can easily pick their wines out of a crowd.

I tasted a wine recently at Red Fish (an amazing, and amazingly wine-friendly restaurant in Hilton Head, South Carolina) that might as well have stood up and shouted, “Paul Hobbs!” We were drinking Pinot Noir with our fabulous seafood meals, which in my case was Seared Jumbo Scallops with Lobster Mac and Cheese. Yes, Lobster Mac and Cheese — imagine!  On the label of this Pinot Noir I saw the name Crossbarn Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2009, which was a new name to me.crossbarn

But when I tasted it (stay tuned for details), I thought — “I know this style. This is the style of Paul Hobbs.” And sure enough, Crossbarn is Hobbs second label.

Except there isn’t anything second-rate about it.

Let’s talk first about Paul Hobbs. He came to California from the East (upstate New York and then Notre Dame) after he was bitten by the wine bug. Not content with ripping out part of his father’s apple orchard to plant grape vines, he decided to follow his muse to northern California. After UC Davis he ended up at Simi in Sonoma County, and created the style of wine he’s known for today. He used extended maceration (soaking the juice with the skins) and gentle handling (such as letting gravity do the racking instead of pumping) to produce wines that were rich in flavor but soft and supple in their tannins.

He eventually created his own label, after years of consulting for other premium California wineries, and that style is still his hallmark. Under the Paul Hobbs label, the wines are single-vineyard bottlings dedicated to expressing  terrior , the unique sense of that place. He’s done this well enough to have earned boatloads of awards from every respected wine magazine and critic. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Wine Lady: Hundred Degree Wines

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The Wine Lady says Drink it Now!!

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An Update on Vinopic and Wine Health Ratings

grapesYesterday I wrote a post about a new online wine store called Vinopic.com and their method of scoring wines for health and quality factors (“Giving Wines a Health Score: Sense or Nonsense?“). Today I got a comment from Santiago Navarro, Vinopic’s Chief Executive, that provides more detail on the rating system I referred to. Here is Mr. Navarro’s comment:

Our focus is not on the health properties of wine, but on having an objective approach to quality. Our wine scientist, Roger Corder, analyses for key quality indicators that reveal the quality of the grapes, the skill of the winemaker and how well-made the wine is. Polyphenols (both skin and pip) are key to the sensory pleasures we enjoy from wine; namely its colour, flavour and character. As a whole, they have the single largest positive impact on our experience from wine. It is for this reason we measure their presence and strength. In addition to this, our Master of Wine, Rosemary George, tastes the wines to ensure they are well-structured, representative of their type and generally taste great. As an example, it is important to note that Bordeaux’s success over generations has been the ability to make polyphenol-rich wines that develop in character. I believe it is only a matter of time before wine drinkers realise the value of our analyses.

Please note, we do not measure resveratrol as it is not an indicator of quality. It is a minor polyphenol in wine and anybody who thinks otherwise had been misled.

I read this to mean that what causes us to enjoy the taste of a  bottle of wine can be expressed in the numbers Vinopic gives us. Those numbers are also an indication of that wine’s ability to provide health benefits.

The  Vinopic website is up today, so go to www.vinopic.com and read for yourself. There’s a ton of useful information on grape physiology (if you’re interested in that sort of thing) and its connection to flavor and healthfulness. See for yourself and decide what you think. Cheers!

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