Archive for December, 2009

What are cooking wines?

December 21st, 2009

open_bottlesThere are several types of “cooking wines” available on the market today. I thought it would be interesting to go through each with a little bit of a flavor description. The last section is a review of our wines, ACADÉMIE: Quality Wines For Cooking. I discuss the qualities of our wines and why I believe they are such a better option for cooking (and drinkinga glass while you cook).

Round 1: Traditional Cooking Wines

The first class is traditional “cooking wine”. These are low-quality wines with salt added. Cooking wine manufacturers do this so that they don’t have to deal with the regulation and taxes that go with selling real wine.

There are only a few brands available in the US and we tasted one of the major ones – but they are all pretty much the same.

Tasting notes:

The flavor is pretty bad. It tastes a bit like the San Francisco bay smells at low tide – a very briny sea-creature-like funk that assaults your palate as you take a sip. I actually get no wine flavors in the flavor profile for the white wine. Just salt. And the red wine doesn’t taste much different from the white wine – except for slight hints of wine poking through.

Thoughts:

Wow…I really wouldn’t cook with this stuff. Unless, of course, your recipe calls for “Sea creature funk”. This is how the term “cooking wine” became a bad thing and it really is a shame. Wine is an ingredient and we want to cook with quality ingredients. I encourage you to get a bottle of this stuff and try it. People actually buy this stuff??


Round 2: Winesyouwouldneverdrink Cooking Wines

These are all those wines you never really drink but loads of recipes say you should cook with them. By this I mean wines like Sherry, Cream Sherry, Dry Sherry, Madiera, and Marsala. They usually live on the lower shelf in the wine section of your supermarket.

So what do these wines actually taste like? Let’s find out!

Tasting Notes:

Madiera – Distinct green apple notes, sweet and cidery. Medium body. No acidity. No aftertaste (amazing how it just kind of drops off!).

Marsala – Super thick and viscous. Smells like cough syrup and alcohol. In flavor, I get red apple with a cloying sweetness. I also get a bit of the medicinal cough syrup quality in the aftertaste. Wow…I can’t imagine how this would be if you boiled it and reduced it!

Dry Sherry – Nutty notes but otherwise thin and bland. Very watered down tasting.

Cream Sherry – Lots of sweetness with hints of cherries. Not much else.

Thoughts:

You aren’t adding much to your food that you can’t get from adding 1) Apple juice, 2) cane sugar, 3) cough syrup, 4) peanut oil to your food.

You aren’t adding any flavors related to quality wine when you add these “wines”. Seriously. Buy a few of these wines and pour yourself a glass. What are they adding to your meal? Cooking with wine should add complexity to your meal. Do these do that?

Round 3: “Off the shelf” wines

I’m not going to go into too much depth on this because it would fill a book. But in general, this is tough work. If you don’t know all about what each varietal of wine has to offer, you’re going to have a tough time figuring out what each wine will add to your cooking.

Even more difficult is knowing how those flavors will change once you cook with them. As you cook, you “reduce” wine and boil off the alcohol – and this causes the flavors to concentrate and change.

People often say that you should cook with a wine you would drink.

But there are three problems with this:

1) Sometimes we like wines that are fairly mild. Take a Chardonnay, for example. It’s not offering too much in the way of flavor aside from perhaps a slight buttery quality. Well…you might as well just cook with butter!

2) Some of the wines we like to drink most, like those huge Cabs with the very pronounced oak and tannins, can actually throw a meal out of balance. The flavors become more pronounced as you cook, and this might be too much for your meal or throw the flavors out of balance.

3) Each wine is different – even if it is the same varietal. The same varietal of wine can vary dramatically depending on the winery. So you can’t just go with “a Sauvignon Blanc” and expect to get the same flavors when you go to cook the meal again with another Sauvignon Blanc. Factors like acidity, aromatics, residual sweetness, etc…all impact the flavors and make each wine different.

Conclusion:

Cooking with “off the shelf” wine is hard work!

Round 4: ACADÉMIE: Quality Wines For Cooking

Full disclosure: I may be a bit biased when I compare our wines to others. I started ACADÉMIE because I was frustrated at the lack of *easy* options for those of us who want to cook with a good wine. So I’m just going to share with you how each wine behaves when you cook with it. We do tastings with our wines at events and people get very excited about the flavors. A blog post can partly convey the idea, but it’s best to actually taste them in person. I encourage you to find out when our next tasting is and come see for yourself.

academiecloseupBlend #1: Red Sauces & Meat Dishes (dry red wine): This guy has Pinot Noir as a large component of the blend. With Pinots you get lots of earthy, rustic notes (think truffle, mushroom, black olive). There is also a nice French oak component to the flavor profile that comes through nicely. In the background you’ll get a little bit of red fruit that shines through – think cherries or maybe some strawberries. The aroma kicks off watermelon juice notes and oak with all that other Pinot goodness in there too.

These rustic components concentrate as you cook and become more amplified. Great in anything where you want to emphasize these qualities – steak, red sauces of all sorts, get creative and add it into a dish you like with these components. Or check out the recipe section of our website – www.academiewines.com.

Blend #2: Seafood, Poultry, Pork (dry white wine): This wine is very nice, with lots of lemon/lime and lemongrass qualities. Very dry with a super bright and clean acidity and just a tad of residual sweetness. Although you can’t taste it because everything is in balance, the alcohol is a little higher to act as a tenderizing effect on the meats you may marinate in this wine. The flavor profile is in the Sauvignon Blanc / Pinot Grigio direction – very crisp with a little bit of green apple coming through in the flavor as well.

As you cook with this wine and reduce it, the flavors become more concentrated. The lemon/lime notes get stronger and more tart. A reduction with this wine breathes life into your seafood or any white meat that could use a little brightness. Veal works well with this blend too.

Blend #3: Beef & Poultry Marinades (dry red wine): Ahhh yes, strawberry jam notes with nice sweetness coming through along with a subtle background of acidity and brightness. This is another red wine (Zin is a main component), but is completely different from our Blend #1. Use this in beef and poultry marinades, or anything where you want to emphasize or complement these jammy fruit notes. It works nicely with chicken dishes – I especially think garlic or paprika work really well with it.

Blend #4: Game Bird, Fish & Lamb (dry white wine): Woa, woa, woa! Huge aromatics in this guy. Think white peach, pear, apricot – all naturally forming from the wine itself. People actually ask me if we’ve added flavorings to this wine because it is so aromatic! (which of course we don’t). Very nice light sweetness without being too much or cloying, nice brightness, fantastic aromatics. When you cook with this, you create a sauce that brings an amazing palate of flavors as it concentrates. Everything gets stronger and the aromatics become explosive. Think salmon fillet, lamb (if you want that sweet aromatic dimension instead of a red wine dimension) and game. Or, of course, pour yourself a glass. It’s very nice!

Conclusion:

We source our wines from throughout California’s premier wine regions and blend them according to profiles we’ve developed with gourmet chefs. So it’s no wonder that they do so nicely in different types of cooking.

And it’s important to us that our wines taste great, too. They may not be the prototypical varietal blend of any particular style – and to us this isn’t important. What matters are the flavors in the bottle. What qualities will this wine lend to your cooking?

We believe that it’s time to get away from thinking of “cooking wine” as something that is bad. We all spend so much time crafting our family meals from quality ingredients – why would we use anything less than a wine that will make our food taste better?

Help us in our battle! Start cooking with quality wine today!

Health Benefits of Cooking With Wine

December 18th, 2009

woman_cooking_wine_webWe’ve all heard various studies announce the health benefits of wine from time to time. It’s hard to keep track of these claims because there are so many – and oftentimes they even contradict each other.

To make it easy, I’d like to outline in a quick post a few of the basic health benefits of wine that have been proven in study after study.

First off, the health benefits of wine come from two aspects of wine: the grape part and the alcohol part.

Let’s explore the alcohol part first:

Although there are benefits associated with alcohol, there are also health risks. We all know that anything consumed in excess can lead to health problems. Moderate consumption of alcohol has been linked to a reduction in the rate of coronary heart disease and also a lower instance of all-cause mortality. But we also know that alcohol has lots of calories and can lead to obesity and liver problems.

But when you cook with wine, you boil off most of the alcohol so these benefits become marginal (as does the calorie content).

And that brings us to the benefits of the wine itself:

Women wine drinkers have fewer kidney stones

Studies have shown that wine won out in a study of the effects of 17 different beverages in reducing kidney stones. Wine’s effect was a 39% reduction – the highest of all beverages tested. Because this comparison was done with non-alcoholic beverages (tea, coffee, etc…) which also conferred benefits, we can probably assume that these benefits would extend to cooking with wine too.

Health benefits of wine phenolics

In addition to alcohol, wine has compounds called phenolics which confer flavor and health benefits. Studies have shown that wine phenolics can lead to a reduction in the “risk of dying from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease”. Over three dozen studies have shown this effect. So in addition to making wine taste good, these compounds are also good for your body!

Wine can reduce risk of upper digestive tract and prostate cancer

We’ve all probably heard the buzz about compounds such as resveratrol. Although heavy drinkers reported an increase in the risk of cancer, moderate drinkers showed a slight decrease in the risk for digestive tract cancers. It is believed that the compounds in wine are able to counter the negative effects of alcohol for moderate drinkers. But when you cook with wine, you don’t have any alcohol and so the benefits of these compounds can come out in full force.

In addition, studies have shown that countries that on average consume lots of polyphenol-containing foods and beverages (like wine) report a lower-risk of prostate cancer. The jury is still out as to the cause of this, but more studies are currently in the works.

No alcohol in red wine can be good for the heart

A study at UC Davis found that people who drank alcohol-free wine showed an increase in (+)-catechin in their blood. Catechin is the compound associated with heart benefits after consumption.  Because the alcohol evaporates from wine as you cook with it, you may be left with the benefits of catechin in your meal.

A study in the UK found that compounds in red wine called polyphenols (derived from grape skins) can lead to a decrease in the production of a protein which can cause blood vessels to constrict resulting in a decrease of oxygen flow to the heart.

Conclusion:

There is fairly conclusive evidence that wine consumption can lead to many health benefits. There have been no studies about cooking with wine, but we can make some logical assumptions that because only alcohol and water evaporate when cooking, you’re left with the essence of the wine itself; namely polyphenols and anti-oxidants.

The best thing though is that cooking with wine is a great way to add a unique flavor to your cooking. Health benefits aside, food tastes great with it – and if anything else, it’s healthy for the soul!

Sources:

http://www.beekmanwine.com/prevtopab.htm
http://nutrition.about.com/od/askyournutritionist/f/redorwhite.htm?p=1
http://www.healthcastle.com/redwine0heart.shtml

Flavors abound – tasting in our winery!

December 17th, 2009

Preparing Food

We had an awesome experience pouring our wines at our winery on Saturday and we thought we’d share.

It’s always a challenge to illustrate how much better cooking with the appropriate wine can be, and sometimes people are even skeptical that dry red wines or dry white wines (when compared to each other) are really all that different at all!

And so, we try very hard to illustrate how different our wines are from each other – and especially how different they are from the two-month old Riesling or Chardonnay you may have tucked away in your fridge since your last party (which has since gone stale and lifeless).

Our hands are usually tied by government restrictions on serving alcohol. We can only allow people to taste our wines at licensed facilities – which are a rarity.

But at our winery, when we have events like this, the response from people is overwhelmingly positive. When people go down the line and taste each wine, they first note how *different* each wine is. They then start thinking about flavor and recipe possibilities and usually buy a four-pack on the spot. When they leave, they usually remark something like, “I can’t wait to get home and cook something!”, which is exactly the idea!

Here’s the thing:

  • There are sooooo many wines out there – how would you know where to start when choosing *the* wine for your recipe. ACADÉMIE has four (dry red and dry white) wines that have very different applications in your cooking and very different flavors. Each is unique. When you get familiar with them, you know exactly which wine will lend something special to your meal. This is much easier than choosing from the 10,000 at the supermarket wine section!
  • Wine quality matters. When you cook with quality ingredients, you get quality food. This is a no-brainer. You don’t need a $30 bottle of wine to create great food – you just need wine that has the qualities you want to introduce into your recipe. In this sense, your choice of wines becomes like a palate of flavors in your final culinary creation.
  • Stale wine simply doesn’t cut it. You have a window of 1-2 weeks before your wine has *lost it* in the fridge. When you have a big bottle of wine, it will sit in the fridge longer. Or, worse yet, it may not fit in the fridge at all – and so it sits on the counter-top or in the cabinet (where you have a window of about 2-3 days before you lose flavor).You want to cook with fresh wine when at all possible. ACADÉMIE are smaller than a traditional wine bottle. You use the wine more quickly and so your wine is always fresher than it would otherwise be.

It’s always great when we have a chance to share these ideas with people in-person – and in our winery as they taste our wines.

ACADÉMIE was founded on these principles and we are dedicated to helping people learn about the flavor benefits of cooking with the right wine. If you’d like to see what everyone’s raving about, you may want to give ACADÉMIE a try. You’ll find a complete list of retailers on our website.

Tasting in winery<br>

<br>

<br>

We had an awesome experience pouring our wines at our winery on Saturday and we thought we’d share.<br>

<br>

It’s always a challenge to illustrate how much better cooking with the appropriate wine can be, and sometimes people are even skeptical that dry red wines or dry white wines (when compared to each other) are really all that different at all! <br>

<br>

And so, we try very hard to illustrate how different our wines are from each other – and especially how different they are from the two-month old Riesling or Chardonnay you may have tucked away in your fridge since your last party (which has since gone stale and lifeless).<br>

<br>

Our hands are usually tied by government restrictions on serving alcohol. We can only allow people to taste our wines at licensed facilities – which are a rarity.<br>

<br>

But at our winery, when we have events like this, the response from people is overwhelmingly positive. When people go down the line and taste each wine, they first note how *different* each wine is. They then start thinking about flavor and recipe possibilities and usually buy a four-pack on the spot. When they leave, they usually remark something like, “I can’t wait to get home and cook something!”, which is exactly the idea!<br>

<br>

<b>Here’s the thing:<br>

</b><br>

<ul><li>There are sooooo many wines out there – how would you know where to

start when choosing *the* wine for your recipe. <br>

<br>

ACADÉMIE has four (dry red and dry white) wines

that have very different applications in your cooking and very different flavors. Each is unique.

When you get familiar with them, you know exactly which wine will lend

something special to your meal. This is much easier than choosing from

the 10,000 at the supermarket wine section!<br>

<br>

</li>

<li>Wine quality matters. When you cook with quality ingredients, you get quality food. This is a no-brainer. You don’t need a $30 bottle of wine to create great food – you just need wine that has the qualities you want to introduce into your recipe. In this sense, your choice of wines becomes like a palate of flavors in your final culinary creation.<br>

<br>

</li>

<li>Stale wine simply doesn’t cut it. You have a window of 1-2 weeks before your wine has *lost it* in the fridge. When you have a big bottle of wine, it will sit in the fridge longer. Or, worse yet, it may not fit in the fridge at all – and so it sits on the counter-top or in the cabinet (where you have a window of about 2-3 days before you lose flavor). <br>

<br>

You want to cook with fresh wine when at all possible. ACADÉMIE are smaller than a traditional wine bottle. You use the wine more quickly and so your wine is always fresher than it would otherwise be. <br>

</li></ul>

<br>

<br>

It’s always great when we have a chance to share these ideas with people in-person – and in our winery as they taste our wines. <br>

<br>

ACADÉMIE was founded on these principles and we are dedicated to helping people learn about the flavor benefits of cooking with the right wine. If you’d like to see what everyone’s raving about, you may want to <a title=”give ACADÉMIE a try” href=”http://www.academiewines.com/content/products” id=”ogog”>give ACADÉMIE a try</a>. You’ll find a complete <a title=”list of retailers” href=”http://www.academiewines.com/content/retailers” id=”e0t8″>list of retailers</a> on our website. <br>

<br>

<br>

<br>

Fresh Fig & Red Wine Preserves

December 14th, 2009

figjam_webClick here to view the recipe!

November in California means a second bumper crop of delicious, sticky, fresh-from-the-tree figs! When I saw the sidewalk in front of our house becoming littered with a few of these overripe beauties, I knew it was time to pull out the ladder, get picking, and get cooking. Once picked, ripe figs won’t keep more than a day or two, so eat your fill, then try out this simple, no-canning-skills-needed recipe for preserves!

To celebrate our mild (even at the end of November!) Mediterranean climate, I decided to pair the figs with a few decidedly Italian ingredients. Made with ACADÉMIE’s berry-rich Blend #3 and a smattering of licorice-y anise seeds, walnuts and citrus zest, this lightly sweet spread is easy to make and a wonderful way to put extra fruit to good use!

Click here to view the recipe!

Ragout of Mushrooms & Onions…a quick and tasty treat!

December 7th, 2009

Woa, that's a lot of mushrooms!

Click here to view the recipe!

The vegetarians are coming, the vegetarians are coming!

Just when I thought I had an easy meal of comfort foods planned for a Friday night get-together (roasted chicken, potatoes au gratin, apple tart), my plans were thrown askew by those four words. It’s not difficult (and certainly not unpleasant) to make a main course out of vegetables (heck, I was vegetarian for several years) but the news threw me for a momentary loop. I wanted a dish that wouldn’t have me hovering over the stove while everyone else was enjoying the cheese and wine, and I also didn’t want to spend hours in the kitchen peeling and preparing veggies beforehand.

Thumbing through one of several vegetarian cookbooks on my shelf, inspiration hit when I came across a recipe for mushroom ragout. As usual, I’ve taken the gist of it and added ingredients that I personally love, like slowly caramelized onions and a pinch of nutmeg. However, I can’t take credit for the idea of serving it over toast — I have fond memories of my mom’s Welsh rarebit, a decadently cheesy sauce served over thick slices of oven-warmed bread — so this serving suggestion struck a deep chord with me. Pick up an artisan loaf from your favorite local bakery (mine is the Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley, CA) and enjoy the rustic simplicity of this comforting melange of flavors.

Click here to view the recipe!