Monthly Archives: August 2012

Today’s Wine Word: Refractometer


photo courtesy of lyzadanger on Flickr

 Refractometer? Yup. It plays a very important role, now, as harvest approaches because it measures the sugar in the grapes.

The refractometer is a really nifty little instrument because it gives the winemaker an instant sugar reading. It’s kind of like a prism and measures the soluble solids in the grape juice. All you have to do is squeeze a little juice onto the lens of the refractometer. When you hold it up to the light it measures how much the light bends as it passes through the liquid. The denser the liquid, the more the light bends and the higher the reading will be (about 90% of the soluble solids is sugar). 

Why is the sugar so important? It determines the alcohol. The winemaker can assume that a little over half of the sugar measured at harvest will result in alcohol in the finished, dry wine. So, if the grape sample measures 25% sugar the wine will be in the ballpark of 13.5 – 14% alcohol.

Incidentally, the degrees Brix, another wine word, translates to the percentage of sugar. 25 degrees brix = 25% sugar. So, you got a two-fer! 

Other important components?  Continue reading


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Recipe & Pairing: Rosemary-Scented Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Potatoes, Spring Onions and Stone Fruits


photo courtesy of Sherry Page

Enjoy this delicious and easy to make recipe for Rosemary-Scented Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Potatoes, Spring Onions and Stone Fruits from Sherry Page of Culinary Getaways. As Sherry says, “A meal in a baking dish!”  

Sherry: “We love this dish in the summertime when the stone fruits are ripe.  It is a nice blend of sweet and savory.  We serve it with either a fruity Chiarello Family Giana (Zinfandel) or with a spicy Hill Family Syrah.  The dish brings out the stone fruit, berry and spice notes in these delicious wines.”

Pairing tip: If you feel like having a chilled wine with a pork dish this time of year, the natural sweetness of pork makes it a good partner for fruit-driven wines such as Viognier, Riesling or a dry or off-dry rosé.

About Sherry: My good friend, Sherry Page, has been cooking since age five and has vivid memories of standing on a big, heavy chair at her Grandma’s stove, stirring away!

She has, since, deepened and polished the cooking skills she gained as a child by taking cooking classes all over the world, including Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons near Oxford, Le Cordon Bleu in London, and culinary weeks with Patricia Wells in both Paris and Provence. She has also taken classes in Japan and Italy and has completed a number of professional wine classes at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Napa Valley.

Her day job? She’s the owner and very gracious host of Culinary Getaways, a travel company that focuses on introducing her guests to the riches of the Napa Valley, Paris, Provence and Tuscany through unique, carefully-crafted, food and wine experiences. 

I had the pleasure of going on her Provence getaway a few years ago, so I can attest, first hand, that she’s the hostess with the mostest! She makes it a point to know the special secrets that each region has to offer and the getaway is filled with exquisite tastings, intimate meals, really fun cooking classes and lots of laughter.

Sherry has generously agreed to share a special recipe and wine pairing with us from time to time. Enjoy, and bon appétit! Learn more about Sherry

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Is Petite Sirah the Same as Syrah?

This is a such a common question. They’re related, but not the same. And, how about Shiraz? Very brief video explanation: 

Producers are doing everything they can to promote Petite Sirah. They’ve formed an organization called PS I Love You. Have you ever tried it? What do you think of this robust, inky-black wine? 

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What is The Tasting Group?


“Authors waiting for their books to be agented”       courtesy of author Judith Land, on Pinterest

Question from Andre: Hi! I enjoy your blog. Why is it called The Tasting Group?

Reply: Hi, Andre. Thanks so much for writing! The Tasting Group is the name of a book I’m working on. The idea is to learn about wine by tasting it in an organized way with your friends. The photo and caption above feel quite literally true. One of the first rude awakenings for an aspiring author is that it’s almost impossible to get a literary agent to represent you. It took me forever to find mine, but I believe I have a good one. 

The story, below, is the introduction to my book and tells you why I believe so strongly in the concept: 

When I moved to Napa Valley, fresh out of school, and took an entry-level job at Robert Mondavi Winery my boss handed me a copy of Maynard Amerine’s Wine and was only half joking when he said “Commit this to memory.” This textbook was far too technical for the novice I was at the time so I bought a copy of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course to begin educating myself.

Yet wonderful as that book is, after a full day of work, hitting the grocery store and getting dinner on the table I found my eyes drooping and my attention wandering as I tried to absorb the information in Zraly’s book. How was I ever going to learn and retain what I needed to know to forward my career? And, what could he possibly mean by describing a Sauvignon Blanc as “flinty?” Continue reading

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Wine-Related Wedding Gift


Question from Sheila: My sister is getting married in September. She and her fiance have really gotten into wine recently. They go wine tasting on weekends and are beginning to collect it. What would be a nice wine gift for them as a wedding present that wouldn’t cost too much?

Reply: Thanks for writing, Sheila. I always love to hear about new converts! Maybe they can work on you…

My go-to wedding gift for wine lovers is wine glasses. Whether serious collectors or budding enthusiasts everyone needs wine glasses because they break. And, sometimes they just want a change.

The good news is that you can find very nice stemware in all price ranges.

Unless you know their habits – for instance a preference for Champagne – I’d stick with buying all-purpose glasses. The classic all-purpose glass became a classic because it’s functional (and beautiful!)

It should be between 10 and 18 ounces and, as you see above, the bowl is always bigger than the opening. The bowl provides the surface to air contact that helps the wine to release its aroma, and also gives you room to swirl without spilling. The narrowing at the top is to help capture the aroma so that when you pop your nose in the glass you get the full impact!

For those of you who are going to write back and say “What about those Riedel glasses that hold over 20 ounces?” I’d say those can be beautiful and very good for quality red wine. The intensity of a red can want more room to breathe than a white. But, we’re buying all-purpose glasses and a glass over 20 ounces might kind of eat up a lot of whites and low-end reds. Perhaps they won’t show well. 

Even though it’s called a red wine glass, for all-purpose use, Riedel “Overture red wine glass” is a great choice. It’s the right shape and it’s just under 13 ounces and $12.00/stem. The Riedel name carries panache and shows that you were thoughtful about the gift – you did your homework. If you decide to shop for Riedel, do a search because many websites carry Riedel at a discount, which you won’t often find on the Riedel site.  

But, I know that can $12/each can add up, assuming you don’t want to buy just two. I have had very good luck at Crate and Barrel and World Market for every-day glasses. Look for thin glass and no lip on the rim. Please don’t buy the colored ones. Wine lovers like to enjoy the wine’s color.

Awhile back, I found some very nice Riedel knock-offs at World Market. They’re very much like the Riedel Vinum Bordeaux (large, Cabernet/Merlot wine glass) but it’s no tragedy if I break one because it was only $6/stem. They don’t always have them. You should really go to these places in person because the online photo won’t always show that the glass is thick and clumsy or that it has a lip. 

If you decide you want to give them a specific type of glass – for sparkling wine or a Pinot Noir glass, for instance – go to the Riedel website. Not, necessarily, to buy their glasses but for a quick education on the “proper” shape. Then, you’ll know what to look for when you go to Crate and Barrel or wherever. 

Happy shopping! I’m sure you’ll find something that gets big smiles form the newly weds that also matches your budget. Cheers! 

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Is it Okay to Bring Your Own Wine into a Restaurant?

This is a followup on the last post on what to do when the server brings your wine to the table. Some people like to bring their own wine into a restaurant and it’s very common here in the San Francisco Bay Area. But it’s always best to call ahead and ask about the policy: 

Do you feel comfortable bringing wine into a restaurant? Do any of you restaurateurs want to weigh in on the subject? 

Send me your wine question

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Restaurant Wine Service


Question from Mike: What am I supposed to do when the wine comes at a restaurant? I’m okay ordering it but I get really embarrassed when the waiter gives me the cork and all that.

Reply: Hi, Mike. I’ll be a lot of people will be really glad you wrote to ask. It can be a little intimidating.  

The most important thing to remember is that you’re the customer and the server really wants you to be happy so don’t worry about any potential faux pas. Here’s how it goes:

The server brings the wine to the person who ordered it and shows it to him/her. Go ahead and check the label to double check that you got what you ordered. 

The most common mistake is that the wrong vintage comes to the table. If so, you might ask your server if there’s a significant difference between the vintages. For myself, if the wine is from California or some other warm climate situation, I don’t worry too much about the vintage. If it’s European, the vintage can play a bigger role. Ask the server. If the restaurant’s any good at all, he’ll probably offer you a taste. If you do a lot of dining out you might download a vintage chart. Here’s one from Robert Parker. And one from Wine Spectator. Continue reading

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