Archive for the ‘Education’ category

When beginning to plan a meal – why not start with the wine first?

July 8th, 2011

Wine with the mealWhen beginning to plan a meal – why not start with the wine first? I find that picking the wine first wholly simplifies the process of picking the food you want to eat. Certainly, the task of picking a wine off of a shelf of 300 other bottles that look nearly the same can be daunting… but the possibilities with food are nearly infinite. Let’s say there are 100 ingredients at the grocery store that you’re likely to use. If you use 5 of these ingredients in each dish, you have over 75 million ways to put them together… Amazing huh?

While choosing a wine can be complex and confusing, the decisions that we make at the grocery store every day seem to be way more complex! Wine will only have a couple of flavors listed on every bottle – and that provides the framework to match things up to it. Walking through the vegetable aisle at the store probably offers about 100 different products right there – if not significantly more.

That’s why it can be such a help to choose wine first for an important meal – be it a romantic evening with your better half, a dinner party for friends, or heck – whenever you want to be serious about cooking.

Let’s do a little brainstorm off of a sample bottle, to get the wheels turning.

The flavor terms listed on the bottle are:

Dark Cherry
Licorice
Tobacco
Tannin

So – the first thing to notice here is that these are all relatively “dark” flavors – often an indicator of a wine that is darker in color, and heavier in body. This type of wine will work amazingly in winter, when we’re looking for that extra bit of “stick to our ribs” flavor. It requires fairly intense flavors to live up to it. With a wine this powerful, your favorite white fish isn’t going to cut it.

Let’s delve into the nuts and bolts of these flavor notes

Any mention of a darker colored fruit (dark cherry) is pretty much the “go ahead” to use any meat that isn’t chicken or fish. Right off the bat, Pork seems like a great choice – it takes fruit flavors so well. And really, it is. However, it’s not going to match up as well with the tobacco and tannin flavors as well as beef or lamb will be able to. Unless you’re not going to be barbequing or smoking pork, beef or lamb will tend to work better with bitter and smokier flavors.

Basically, you’re probably going with lamb or beef – or whatever other darker meat you may have. Venison/hare will work well, but I’d probably prefer beef/lamb for being a bit more substantial in general.

Licorice is always an interesting flavor in terms of paring to it. Most conventional kitchen spices will work great – Allspice, cinnamon, cardamom. You do want to be careful not to overdo it. It’s very easy to overpower your dish matching to this type of flavor, so just a hint of whatever spice you choose. Tobacco can be a tough one as well – it has a very sweet flavor, but in a particularly complex way. Darker fruits match well, so the dark cherry described in the wine is already a point in you direction. All smoked foods will work well – but that’s often a pain or an expense we’re not quite prepared to take. Basically, it can function somewhat the same way licorice does – works well with spices, but use them sparingly

Tannin almost sounds ugly to begin with – typically bitter and astringent tastes, without much else to add. However, tannins provide the balance that your delicious wine rests on – fruit flavors often taste sweet to us, regardless of how sweet our wine may be. Without something to balance these flavors, our pairing dishes would nearly always require some sort of sweetness, just so they’d link up in some way. A slightly more tannic wine begs for a side dish that incorporates some bitterness. Dark greens are always a great choice – kale, chard.

Given all of these elements – here are some dish ideas to work off of:

Ribeye Steak – Steamed Swiss Chard, Sweet polenta

Use lemon to accentuate the chard – it’ll cut the fat of the steak and make the wine more refreshing. Polenta offers a nice compliment – the sweetness/relatively neutral flavor will temper the bitterness of the chard, while the smooth texture will match well with the chewiness of steak.

Lamb – Blackberry/Allspice Pan sauce

After cooking the lamb, toss a pat of butter, some wine into the pan to deglaze. Add the allspice/blackberries (blueberries would also work well) into the pan, and simmer for 8 minutes, or until you can easily smash the berries into the sauce. Use the back of a spoon to crush the berries into the sauce. This would work great with a sweet potato mash, or possibly a squash puree – sweeter elements to link up to the blackberry is the key.

Lamb – Oregano/Lemon Juice

A very classic combination – it does the double duty of linking to the wine by spicing the lamb, and also cutting through the fat of the meat with the acid from the lemon. I might pair this with an artichoke that’s been squirted with a bit of lemon/olive oil, just for fun.

Braised Short Ribs – Carrot, Onion, Celery, Allspice, Bread

You can’t go wrong with a classic French mire poix for a beef stew. The allspice really makes this combination amazing, and links everything perfectly to the wine. I like to toast the allspice and put it into some cheesecloth and then into the stew for easy removal. That way, you’re not fishing it out later, but still deriving all of the flavor from the spices. A bit of simple bread and some salad is all you need with this dish. The basic method is sear the beef, add wine/stock, and simmer for an hour(depending on the cut, this timing can vary greatly). Add your vegetables, and simmer for another hour. You can easily thicken the stew at the end of the cooking time by making a slurry of arrowroot or cornstarch in very cold water, and then stirring it into the boiling stew

Next time you’re in the wine aisle – try and find a flavor you relate to that you can use somewhere in the meal! Even slightly linking your cooking to your wine will open you to a whole new world of flavor and fun.

Risotto, anyone? Check out our newest cooking video!

July 30th, 2010

View the recipe here!

Strategies for “fixing” your dish

May 14th, 2010

chefToo sour? Too sweet? Or perhaps your dish is just a bit too bitter?

Well fear not, friend. It can be fixed! In this blog post, we’ll outline a few strategies for “fixing” flavors that may be a bit out of balance in your dish.

It’s too sour or tart

Sour and tart qualities can be very nice, especially in balance. However, when cooking with wine, the acidity can be a challenge because as the liquid evaporates with heat, the acidity will concentrate and become stronger. Couple this with other “sour” ingredients like citrus or vinegar, and it might make the sour component too much in your dish.

You can solve this by adding sweet or protein laden ingredients. Sweetness will balance sour, regardless of whether you have wine in your dish. Think sugar or honey. A famous example of this is “Sweet & Sour Pork”, which uses vinegar and sugary flavors to balance the dish.

If your sourness is coming from wine, keep in mind that proteins will also neutralize lots of the sourness and acidity without adding the sweet (but you’ll get other flavors depending on the source of the proteins). You can get proteins from glaces, stocks, creme or butter (a huge component of buerre blanc sauces). Keep in mind that proteins will add other flavors as well, so make sure you keep the big picture in mind.

Yikes! It’s too sweet

This is the opposite problem of above, but with the same solution. If you’re dish is too sweet, add sour! A spritz of lemon juice, vinegar or wine will help balance the sweetness (but be careful when adding wine – as you probably don’t want the alcohol with it. A quick reduction in a sauce pan will solve this problem as you will boil out the alcohol). Saltiness can also balance sweetness by adding a savory component to the mix (which can be very pleasant, but don’t over-do it. Too much salt can destroy a dish, and it’s a nearly impossible problem to fix).

Borrrring! This dish is too bland!

Experiment with a pinch of salt, sugar or sour (vinegar, wine, citrus). These can sometimes add the little extra your dish needs to make it more interesting.

It’s too bitter

Fats and/or a bit of sweetness can help smooth bitter components in a dish. Think sugar and cream in bitter black coffee, for example. Salt can also help with bitterness (but again, use in moderation).

Conclusion:

Making great food is a personal thing…you have the final say on your culinary creation and you have the ability to take the flavors in whichever direction you choose. Have fun. Experiment. If the flavors get off track, use the tips above to get back on the main path.

Bon appetit!

Divisione di Gioia reviews our wines!

May 2nd, 2010

We love it when this happens – yet another blog post about our wines! Divisione di Gioia writes about our wines. Click here to see what they had to say!

If flavor matters, then the flavor *matters*

April 15th, 2010

Everyone has heard the adage, “never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink”. The logic is that you shouldn’t add poor quality ingredients into your food because the flavors of that wine will affect the flavor of your meal.

So…if the flavor of your wine matters, then the flavor of your wine *matters*, right? Pinot Noir tastes very different from Cabernet, which tastes very different from Merlot. And when you cook with wine, the water and alcohol evaporate, concentrating these differences and making them more pronounced. Even if you knew the varietal you like, the problem isn’t solved. Take Chardonnay, for example. It can be oaky, or buttery, or green apple-like, or acidic. And each of these Chardonnay “types” will have a different flavor in your meal.

You can’t simply cook with a generic “dry red wine” or “dry white wine” for your meal (or rather, you probably shouldn’t) any more than you can add “spice” to your recipe. As with any ingredient, you want consistency and appropriateness of flavor.

ACADÉMIE wines are authentic dry wines perfectly blended and balanced for your cooking. We source wines from Napa, Lodi & Sonoma and blend them according to profiles we’ve developed with chefs. Each wine is unique and distinct, and does very targeted things in your everyday gourmet cooking.

Don’t forget to taste our wines before you cook with them (Buyer beware: they are very tasty. Try not to drink the whole bottle). Think about the flavors they will impart to your cooking.

Because after all, if flavor matters, then flavor matters, right?

Make time with thyme: The fastest sauce

April 10th, 2010

Grilled chicken breastWe’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again: In the age of XYZ Corp’s Plastic Bottle Sauce (with loads of sodium), it’s easy to forget that you don’t have to be a master chef to create a sauce that is healthy and *very* fast to make (around 5-10 minutes).

The following sauce is an all time favorite of mine – and it’s one of the easiest things I’ve ever cooked: Wine reduction + butter + thyme.

First: What’s a wine reduction?

A reduction is the result of simmering your wine and letting the water and alcohol evaporate – which amplifies the flavors in your final “reduction” (all the goodness left in the sauce pan).

Second: Which wine?

For this reduction, we’ve chosen our Blend #1, a dry red wine blend (with a large Pinot Noir component) because it’s earthy, oaky nature is very complimentary to the only spice we use in the sauce: Thyme. As the sauce reduces, the spice notes of the wine itself get stronger and sharper. This harmonizes perfectly with the earthy and grassy components of the Thyme.

Lastly: Let’s get cooking!

  • Pour 1/3 cup of our Blend #1 into a sauce pan and crank up the heat.
  • Throw your chicken breast fillets on the grill (I love the George Foreman Grill because it’s so darned fast and easy to clean up).
  • You may want to start some rice too, to serve as a side.
  • The wine should be simmering now. You’ll want it to simmer until about half of it has evaporated. If in doubt, you can *carefully* pour the liquid into a measuring cup to see how much has evaporated so far.
  • Once there, toss in 3-4 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Most butter sticks have a little measuring guide on the wrapper. Simply cut according to the measured out lines. Add to wine. Stir until thoroughly melted.
  • Now sprinkle in some thyme to taste and you’re there, baby!

Your chicken breasts should be done now. Pop them on a plate, spoon over your wine sauce and BAM!

So easy, yeah?

Seriously, it doesn’t get much easier than this for a gourmet meal. And you get all the health benefits of wine (and the flavor benefits of *right* wine, at that). Also, you boiled out the alcohol in the wine as you simmered it, so there’s no problems there (alcohol boils at around 175F and water boils at 212F).

There you have it, chef. Nice work. Bon appetit!

Five classic ‘tastes’ in your cooking

April 1st, 2010

Tasting soupGenerally, the qualities of your individual dishes will have a predominant taste and will fall into one of the five main taste categories: sour, salty, bitter, sweet, and umami. You may find that some ingredients have qualities from more than one category (mustard, for instance, can be sour and salty). Occasionally you can find a synergy between two categories that you wouldn’t think might go together (a great example is salted taffy).

Here are a few ingredients from each category to illustrate the four categories:

Sour:

vinegar, dry wine, sour cream, yogurt, tamarind, mustard, pickles, lemon juice, lemongrass, mustard

Great butter/beurre blanc sauce:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #2 + lemon juice + butter + salt. Butter balances out the sourness of the sauce and adds volume and body.

Salty:

fish sauce, soy sauce, mustard, capers, olives, anchovies, bacon, prosciutto, aged cheeses

Awesome teriyaki sauce:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #3 + soy sauce + garlic. Saltiness of the soy sauce is balanced by savory components of reduced wine and garlic.

Bitter:

cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, grapefruit, coffee, oaked wine, watercress, radicchio, endive, mustard greens, black pepper, walnuts, dark chocolate

Excellent reduction sauce for chicken breast:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #1 + thyme + butter. Earthiness of thyme is balanced by bitter oak and fruit components of the wine. Butter adds volume and melds flavors together.

Sweet:

sugar, chocolate, ketchup, roasted bell peppers, caramelized onions, molasses, melon, fruit juice, sweet wine, honey

Great fish or pork marinade:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #4 + cane sugar + coriander + ginger + dill weed. Sweetness of wine/sugar balanced by fruited aromatics and fresh summer spices.

Umami:

portabello, shiitake, porcini, and morel mushrooms, corn, smoked or cured fish, shellfish, soy sauce, miso

Tasty mushroom finishing sauce:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #3 + brown sugar + paprika + portabello mushrooms. Sticky sweet components balanced by umami from mushrooms.

Conclusion:

By keeping in mind like flavors, you can craft recipes (or build upon existing recipes) in a harmonious way.

One of the interesting things about cooking with wine is that it can easily support and add something special to ingredients in each of these different categories. Experiment. Have fun. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with your loved ones!

Sources:
Cooking Light, March 2008

Where do the different flavors in wine come from?

March 17th, 2010

grape_vineWe all know that dry wines and sweet wines alike have different characteristics, qualities and tastes. And we know that as you cook with wine, you boil away the alcohol and water, amplifying the flavors and making the differences more pronounced. This makes it important to understand how these flavors will affect your cooking.

But where do these flavors come from? How do different wines end up having different flavors?

Essentially, wine gets its flavors from three different areas: Terroir, Grape Varietal and Winemaking Decisions.

Let’s explore each of these in a bit more depth.

Terroir

This is everything about where the grapes grow, including soil, climate and farming practices. You’ll find wines from certain regions end up having distinct flavors. A famous example of this are qualities such as “minerality” in a wine.


Varietal

Unlike terroir, however, the grape varietal of your wine will have a big impact on the flavors in your meal. Different grapes have different flavors/qualities and they also behave differently in fermentation. For example, Muscat grapes can be sweet, low acid, intensely aromatic and hearty. Cabernet grapes can be thick, drying and rich. Sauvingnon Blanc grapes can be lemony, acidic, crisp and sharp. And these differences will have a direct impact on the flavors wine imparts in your cooking.

Winemaking Decisions

The decisions made when making the wine also have a huge impact on the flavors imparted when cooking with a wine. Here, the winemaker decides things like which yeast or which malolactic strain she will choose to ferment her wine (the yeast is what turns the sugar into alcohol and the malolactic strain is what gives Chardonnay its “buttery” qualities). She also decides things like how long to leave the grape skins in contact with the fermenting juice (determining flavor intensity and color), how much sweetness the wine will have, whether she will age the wine in oak barrels (another huge flavor changer) and a whole host of other decisions about the wine’s final flavors.

This is why you can’t just simply choose a “Cabernet” or a “Chardonnay” to cook with. Each winemaker’s take on how a wine should be can be dramatically different. Chardonnays can be oaky, or crisp and acidic, or fat and buttery. Cabernets can be heavily oaked, or tannic/drying, or acidic – or they can be restrained and soft, sweet and round.

Conclusion:

You just never know how an individual wine will taste. And this is why ACADEMIE wines are such a great choice for your cooking. Unless you’ve tasted every dry red wine on the shelf, it’s hard to know which will have the most complementary flavors for your meal. Our wines are blended and balanced with quality wines sourced from California’s premier wine regions specifically for your cooking. As you cook with our wines, pour yourself a glass and think of the flavors our wines lend to your cooking. After all, you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. And with ACADEMIE, it’s never been easier to do just that!

How long will wine last?

March 10th, 2010

cork_openedThe most common question we get about our wines is, “How long will the wine last before it goes bad?”.

It’s a tricky question because the meaning of “bad” is different for different people.

In this blog post, we’ll break the answer down into a few easily understandable components which should make the answer more clear.

Bad generally means three things, 1) Loss of aromatics/flavor, 2) Oxidation or staling, 3) Wine spoilage.

Let’s dig into each of these one by one:

1) Loss of aromatics/flavor

Once you open a bottle of wine, you expose it to oxygen – wine’s mortal enemy. Of course, in moderation, oxygen is a good thing. Corks actually let oxygen into your wine at a *very* slow rate, allowing your wine to mature and develop complexity over time. But once you pop the cork, your wine is subjected to an onslaught of oxygen.

Check the label on your wine bottle. You’ll see a big notice that says “contains sulfites”. All wine labels have to say this by law because all wine has sulfites naturally. When this sulfite level is at a “healthy” level, your wine is in a sense insured against oxidation and spoilage. Not only does a correct sulfite level prevent bacteria from living in your wine, it also prevents oxidation. Every time oxygen comes in contact with your wine, it “binds up” a bit of the sulfites, dropping the level slightly. Within a short time of your wine being open, all sulfites will be bound up, which means that your wine is no longer “protected”. This can happen within an hour or less.

At this point, the oxygen starts to oxidize your wine and the wine’s aromatics and flavor start to reduce dramatically. This is the first step of your wine “going bad”. All these flavors and aromatics are what make your wine so nice to begin with. If you leave a wine out for a day or two exposed to oxygen, you’ll come back to it and notice that it’s a shell of its former glorious self. But the wine may not be considered stale yet. That will take a few more days.

2) Oxidation or staling

Oxidation has arrived when your wine has lost the majority of aromatics and now starts to develop “stale” flavors. These are noted by sherry or raisin-like qualities, or even squash or pumpkin notes. They are generally not all that pleasant.

At this point, you’re going down the path of truly “bad” wine. The next stop is spoilage.

3) Wine Spoilage

Because your sulfite level is no longer protecting your wine, anything floating around in the air can “infect” your wine. You really can’t prevent it. If your wine is left out and exposed to oxygen, at some point it will start to spoil. It will start to develop very harsh and unpleasant flavors. This is the process vinegar goes through, but vinegar is made by injecting certain strains of bacteria into wine to get certain qualities. You probably won’t do this though, so you’re stuck with wild yeasts and bacteria from the air, so generally your spoiled wine won’t be too pleasant.

This is the last stop in your wine spoilage and will happen within a few weeks at room temperature.


How to avoid this:

1) One of the best ways to keep your wine from going bad is to use it quickly. ACADÉMIE wine bottles are smaller than a normal wine bottle (375ml instead of 750ml like a traditional wine bottle). This means two things: First, you’ll use the wine more quickly. You can generally get between 2-6 meals out of one of our wine bottles, depending on how much you use at a time. At this rate, your wine won’t have time to go stale because you’ll have already used it all.

Next, less air can “live” in the headspace of a smaller wine bottle. If you use half of a full size wine bottle, you’ve doubled the amount of oxygen in the headspace. ACADÉMIE’s smaller bottles lessen the staling potential of your wine.

2) Another great way to prevent staling of wine is to get it in the fridge ASAP. As soon as you open your wine, use it and get it cold. This dramatically reduces the rate at which wine goes bad. One common problem with regular wine bottles is that they are too big to fit into your fridge, especially with the cork poking out. ACADÉMIE’s smaller wine bottles are much shorter than a normal wine bottle and usually fit in the fridge door.

3) There are tools out there that can prevent staling and are pretty darn cheap when you consider how much wine they “save”. Vacuvin creates a hand-pump vacuum that sucks out air in a bottle’s head space with a special stopper.

You can check it out here: Vacu Vin Concerto 3-Piece Wine Saver Set with 4 Stoppers

Conclusion:

And there you have it folks. Wine will go “bad” within hours or days, but will truly taste “bad” within weeks. You can slow this process down by getting your wine in the fridge as soon as it’s opened.