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Getting Cozy with Mulled Wine

I think most would agree that a crisp, refreshing, chilled white wine just isn’t what we’re looking for on a cold winter’s day. Those big, bold red wines are more suitable for this time of year, and there are plenty to choose from for all the different occasions.

But what happens if you’re just relaxing by the fire, wrapped in a blanket, binge-watching your favorite Netflix show, and you want something to warm you up? Enter Mulled Wine.

What? You’ve never heard of Mulled Wine? Or you only think of Mulled Wine as something they drank in Dickens’ time? Well, it’s time to re-think this tasty winter’s drink. (Hey, I rhymed!) Mulled Wine is essentially warmed, spiced wine, often revved up with some type of spirit; brandy, rum, etc.

You can often find pre-made bottles at your wine shop. I found this bottle, and it’s ready to go; just warm it up and start sipping, or add some addtional spices, fresh fruit, or spirit to suit your taste.

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If you have a more time, and are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can gather up the ingredients, and make your own Mulled Wine. Our friends at I Love Wine prepared this informative post on Mulled Wine, (scroll down to read it) complete with history, and several delcious recipes your can make at home for family and friends this holiday season. Check it out, and if you make any of the recipes, let us know how you liked them!

Happy Holidays, and Cheers!

Tis the Season to be Jolly: Fa-La-Fall in Love with Mulled Wine

Not that we ever need a reason (or a season!) to sample delicious new wines, but the holidays are particularly a treat when it comes to trying different traditional vinos from around the world. While wine is typically best served room temperature red or perfectly chilled white, hot wine is also a “thing.” Yes, HOT WINE! If you have never tried mulled wine, do yourself a favor and put that on your list of holiday season must-do’s.

What is Mulled Wine?

Mulled wine is a spice-infused red wine served warm and best enjoyed in the colder months. It goes by different names in various regions; such as Glogg in Sweden, Glühwein in Germany or Vin Chaud in France. Ingredients for this comforting beverage depend on the region, but typically consist of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anise, vanilla and allspice. Bitter orange, figs, apples, raisins or ginger can be added as well for additional sweetness. Other liquors are often added to the mix; with vodka, rum, brandy, sherry and cognac popular choices for an extra kick. The ingredients for mulled wine are simmered, allowing flavors to infuse, and then strained and served immediately. The wine can also be refrigerated for 24 hours to allow for further infusion then reheated before serving.

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History of Mulled Wine

The origin of mulled wine came about in pre-refrigeration days, where the purpose was to use wine on the verge of spoilage and not let it go to waste. The addition of other liquor, spices, fruit and sugar made it more pleasant to drink.

The history of mulled wine dates all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. Said to be invented by Greek scientist and Father of Medicine, Hippocrates; the wine (red or white) was spiced and sweetened with honey and not always served hot. The drink gained its name from the Old English word meaning “muddled” and has been popular throughout Europe for centuries.

The oldest recipe dates back to 1834 and was found in a recipe collection in the State Archives in Dresden, Germany. The collection belonged to Count of Wackerbarth, Augustus Christopher. However, wine was first recorded as spiced and heated in Rome during the 2nd century. The Romans traveled all across Europe, bringing wine and their recipes with them to the Rhine and Danube rivers, and to the Scottish border.

While it can be served throughout the winter months, mulled wine is more traditionally a Christmas beverage. Charles Dickens is credited with making mulled wine synonymous with the holidays, thanks in part to his mention of the beverage (a mulled wine punch known as the Smoking Bishop) in his timeless classic, A Christmas Carol.

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

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Recipes for Mulled Wine

There are quite a few recipes for mulled wine floating about. We will list a few of the traditional favorites here, should you wish to whip up a batch of this delicious winter treat:

Smoking Bishop:

Ingredients:

  • 2 bottles of strong red wine
  • 1 bottle of port wine
  • 5 sweet oranges, unpeeled
  • 1 large grapefruit, unpeeled
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 30 cloves

Directions: Wash the fruit and bake it on a foil lined baking sheet until it becomes light brown, turning once. Heat a large earthenware bowl and add the fruit. Stud each fruit with five cloves. Add the sugar and the red wine, and store covered in a warm place for about a day.

Squeeze the fruit to extract the juice, and strain into a saucepan. Add the port and warm thoroughly, but don’t boil.

Serve in heated glasses.

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(NOTE: Download our Free Wine & Food Pairing Guide. Enhance the Enjoyment of Your Meals!CLICK HERE) 

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Clarence’s Mulled Wine:

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 glass of brandy
  • 1 lemon, peeled
  • 1 lime, peeled
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Sugar, to taste

Directions: In a saucepan, gently heat the wine and spirit. Using a speed peeler, remove large parts of rind of the lemon and the lime. Be careful not to remove the pith. Toss peels into the saucepan.

Add the cinnamon, cloves, orange slices and sugar.

Simmer for 15 minutes then ladle into glasses and enjoy.

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A Modern British Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 bottles of fruity, unoaked wine
  • 150ml ginger wine
  • 2 un-waxed oranges
  • 1 lemon, peel only
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 5 cloves, plus extra for garnish
  • 5 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Directions: Peel and juice 1 orange, and add to a large saucepan along with the lemon peel, sugar and spices. Add enough wine to just cover the sugar, and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 – 8 minutes until it turns into a thick syrup.

If you are serving the mulled wine immediately, stud the second orange with 6 vertical lines of cloves, and then cut into segments to use as a garnish.

Turn the heat down, and pour the rest of the wine into the saucepan, along with the ginger wine. Gently heat through and serve with the orange segments as a garnish.

Alternatively, there are several good options available for purchase in your local store if you don’t feel up to the task of mulling your own. A notable, tasty and affordable option is Mrs. Beachley’s Mulled Wine, at a cost of about $10.

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Enjoy Après-ski after a day out on the slopes, warm up while strolling Christmas markets on a chilly night, or heck…indulge to make those holiday family gatherings a bit more bearable. Mulled wine is sure to comfort and warm you from the inside-out during this festive season!

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Review: Toccata Classico 2015

I first learned about Toccata wines several years ago, when one of their sales reps was hosting a tasting at a wine bar near my home. I happened in, by happy coincidence, and was immediately impressed by the quality, complexity, and character of the wines. Alas, the wines are not widely distributed, so Toccata was difficult to find and enjoy regularly.

The Toccata label is owned by Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, a family owned estate in Santa Barbara County. I’m fairly certain the Toccata tasting all those years ago was the first Santa Barbara wine I had experienced. Lucas & Lewellen is fairly well known to travellers along Highway 101 south of Paso Robles, as their large estate vineyards are adjacent to the highway, and are well marked with signs identifying ownership and often the variety of grape.

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Photo Credit: llwine.com

Years after that original Toccata tasting, my son started college at U.C. Santa Barbara; another happy coincidence. During the hours-long drives from Northern California to visit, as I passed the Lucas & Lewellen vineyards, I was reminded of the Toccata wines I had enjoyed. When I discovered that Toccata has a tasting room, just a few miles off Highway 101 in the quaint village of Solvang, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy these wines again while also enjoying time with my son, and the beauty of Santa Barbara. Still, once he graduated, and my regular trips to Santa Barbara came to an end, so did my ready access to Toccata.

To my sheer delight, I was recently offered a sample of the Toccata Classico 2015. There was no hesitation in my affirmative response to the offer!  

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Toccata wines are all Italian varieties and styles. Toccata Classico is a red blend made in the Super Tuscan style. The fruit comes from two estate vineyards; Los Alamos Vineyard in the Santa Barbara AVA and Valley View Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The 2015 is composed of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Freisa, and Petit Verdot. Here’s what we thought of it:

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Rich, deep purple with ruby rim. Initial nose is vanilla, with ripe red berry. On the palate, flavors of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and cassis, with baking spice, vanilla, tobacco, white pepper, and toasty oak. Firm, chewy tannins, with medium acidity. Rich and full bodied. The finish is long with red and black fruit, oak, and black pepper.

SRP $29.00 per bottle

Perfect for Italian cuisine, and also fantastic with other genres of food, too. We loved it with Pan Seared Filet Steaks with Gorgonzola and Caramelized Onions. Sheer delight! img_2349

If you are in the Santa Barbara area, be sure to take a detour out to Solvang and visit the Toccata tasting room. It’s well worth the trip!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit, except where noted, and inspiration by Robyn Raphael

Review: Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut

Just in time for the holidays, bubbles! Who doesn’t love to celebrate with sparkling wine? From Champagne, to Cava, Prosecco, or California Sparkling Wine, a bottle of bubbles is at home on every holiday table. And with such variety as we have today, bubbles don’t have to break the bank. Take, for example, this Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut. It is rich, creamy, and delicious, and retails for just $23 per bottle.

Crémant refers to a French sparkling wine, made in the same way as Champagne, but from other parts of the country. In case you didn’t know, because of an 1891 law, “Champagne” can only come from the Champagne region of France. (Yes, there are a few California sparklers that, thanks to loopholes and lawsuits, can still use the name on their labels.) Anyway, as I was saying, Crémant is made using the méthode tranditionalle, in which the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, producing those fine bubbles we all know and love. Though made in the same way, Crémant does not have the panache, the swagger, the reputation, or the price tag as Champagne. That doesn’t mean it is any lower in quality, in my humble opinion. Call it marketing prowess.

Lucien Albrecht is one of the preeminent wine producers in the Alsace region, located in northeast France. Dating back to 1698, when Balthazar Albrecht settled in the area, the family has been making high quality wines, widely renown and recognized. Predominantly a still-wine producer, with the familiar slender bottles with the yellow labels, Lucien Albrecht makes Alsatian standards like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Gewurztraminer. In 1971, Lucien Albrecht, the 8th generation of this wine growing family, became one of the pioneers of Crémant d’Alsace, when he introduced this sparkling wine. Available in both Brut and Rosé, Lucien ALbrecht Crémant d’Alsace is sure to please.

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Terrific! Golden straw color. Vigorous tiny bubbles as the wine fills the glass, and the bubbles continue throughout. Aromas of apricot and pear. On the palate, luscious flavors of brioche, almond, pear, apple, and a hint of pineapple. Bone dry, with a rich, creamy mouthfeel, and a long clean finish.

With Thanksgiving approaching, and more holidays on the way, consider a bottle of Lucien ALbrecht Crémant d’Alsace to grace your table and accompany your meal. Heck, at just $23 per bottle, grab two. You don’t want to run out mid-celebration, do you?

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo Credit: Robyn Raphael

Down Home with Farmhouse Wines

More and more wine producers are embracing environmental consciousness. Whether out of concern for conserving our planet and its resources, or reacting to consumer and market demands, there is no doubt that organic, sustainable, natural, and biodynamic wines are on the rise and here to stay.

It’s not just the small, boutique, dare I say “hippie” or “hipster” wineries that are turning toward Earth-friendly farming practices. Many well known, large production producers are getting on board, and at converting at least a small percentage of production to sustainable farming, most with an eye toward long-range growth and conversion.

Recently, we received an invitation to sample two natural wines, Farmhouse Wines, produced by Cline Family Cellars. If you don’t know Cline, you really ought to get out more. Fred Cline founded Cline Family Cellars in 1982. He started in Oakley, California, in the Delta region, east of San Francisco. In 1989, he moved the winery to Sonoma County. One of the original Rhone Rangers, Fred Cline helped establish Northern California as a serious producer of Rhone varieties like Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. Cline Family Cellars has gone on to expand their portfolio to include a plethora of grape varieties, and produces some stellar wines.

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Photo Credit: Cline Family Cellars

Fred Cline and his Soil Manager, Bobby Cannard (aka The Soil Whisperer) have developed biodynamic practices they dubbed the Green String method. A significantly environmentally friendly farming process, it minimizes pollution of the air, soil, and water, and minimizes the overall environmental footprint. Utilizing natural weed control (sheep and goats), cover crops, aviary pest control (owls and hawks), and ar power, they have made big inroads in sustainable farming. They established a farm, the Green String Farm, in Petaluma, CA, to foster these practices, producing a variety of crops for consumers. They even established an internship program to expose farming students to these practices.

There are two Farmhouse wines; a white blend and a red blend. Both are natural, sustainably produced wines. They are unpretentious, user-friendly, sealed with screwcap, and easy drinking. Oh, and they retail for just $10.99! That’s wallet friendly, too!

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Photo Credit: Cline Family Cellars

Winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos wants the grapes to take center stage in these wines. He uses minimal oak, and incorporates blending to bring out the best of each variety and vintage.

The following wines were provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The 2017 Farmhouse White is a blend of Palomino (41%), Muscat Calelli (25%), Rousanne (22%), Marsanne (6%), Viognier (5%), and Riesling (1%). Cold fermented in stainless steel tanks, the resulting wine is light and fruity, with balance and finesse. Here’s what we thought of it:

A very interesting white blend. Don’t serve too cold or the bouquet and flavors will be muted. Pale peach color. Aromas of peach, honeysuckle, mango, and tangerine. On the palate, there are flavors lemon curd, guava, mango, and peach, with a touch of honey on the finish. That’d be the Muscat! Medium body and acidity. Fruity, mildly sweet. Pleasant for sipping, structured enough of fish, chicken, or spicy Thai.

The 2017 Farmhouse Red leads with a punch of Zinfandel (59%), followed by Syran (15%), Carignane (9%), Mourvèdre (6%), Petite Sirah (5%), and the remaining 6%, splashes of other red varieties. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, the wine is racked into 40% new French oak to enhance the flavors as it ages. Here’s what we thought:

Inky purple color. On the palate, aromas of raspberry, fresh blackberry, clove, and spice. On the palate, boldly fruit forward; bordering on jammy but there is enough complexity to bring some balance. Flavors of ripe blackberry, black cherry, cassis, and black plum, with licorice, baking spice, black pepper, and caramel. Rich and full bodied with round mouthfeel and bright acidity. The finish is very long with black fruit, ripe plum, and black pepper.

For more on the Farmhouse line, check out their video from the Farmhouse Wines website:  

Both Farmhouse wines would be at home on your Thanksgiving or other holiday table, and equally comfortable snuggled up on the couch in front of a warming fire, binge-watching your favorite Netflix show.

Let us know, in the comments, what you paired it with, and what you’re binging on Netflix!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Size Does Matter!

Anybody who has purchased a bottle of wine is familiar with the standard, 750 ml bottle. The vast majority of wine is sold in these bottles. Some may be familar with the Magnum bottle; at 1.5 liters, it is equivalent to two standard bottles. These are great for parties and other group gatherings, but what if you are alone and don’t want to drink a whole 750 ml bottle? You could grab a half-bottle, 375 ml, which is about 2 glasses. All fine options, depending on your circumstaces.

But did you know there are at least 17 different size bottles for wine? Yes, seventeen! From the “split” – about 1/4 bottle at 187 ml, to the massive “Midas”, holding 30 liters – about 40 standard bottles!

To read more about these various bottle sizes, and the stories behind them, check out this article from our new friends at I Love Wine: Understanding Wine Bottle Sizes. We hope you enjoy the article! Let us know what you think in the comments.

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Dow’s 2012 Late Bottled Vintage Porto

Our exploration and appreciate of Port wines continues. Recently we reviewed a Reserve Port, that we enjoyed as the late summer evenings started to cool. That one was a non-vintage, as most Ports are. Yet many Port makers also produce a Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV Port. As luck would have it, not long ago, we received a sample bottle of Dow’s 2012 LBV Porto for tasting and review.

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When I posted a picture of the bottle on Instagram, one of the most common questions I received is: “what does it mean to be ‘Late Bottled?’” Frankly, I wasn’t sure myself, so I consulted my trusty wine research expert…Google. According to Wine Enthusiast magazine, the official definition is “a ruby Port from a single year, chosen for its high quality and bottled after aging for four to six years in wood.” So LBV is a high quality Port, vinted from a single year’s harvest, and aged prior to release. As such, they are ready to drink upon release and do not require additional aging to be enjoyed.

Dow’s Port house has been in operation since 1798. Unlike most Port merchants, who exported their products to the thirsty masses, founder Bruno da Silva emigrated to England and set up shop importing his wines from Portugal. He assimilated into London society, marrying an Englishwoman, and established a thriving business. During the Napoleonic wars, da Silva was granted permission to arm his merchant ships, and thus became the first and only Port producer to ship its wines under their own armed protection.

da Silva’s son, John, took over the business, and through several partnerships and mergers – including one with George Acheson Warre, of Warre’s Port, built the success and reputation of the company. In 1877, John and his partners merged with Dow & Co. Although Dow & Co. was smaller they had built a strong reputation with quality vintage ports, so the decision was made to use the Dow name, and Dow’s Port brand was established. Since 1961, Dow’s has been a part of the Symingtons Family of Port producers.

Now that you know the story, let’s find out about the wine. Many Port houses release LBV every year, but Dow’s only produces LBV Porto in the best vintages. With the bar set with high expectations, what did we think

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All review, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Deep, inky purple. Aromas of bramble, blackberry, vanilla, and smoke. Flavors of ripe blackberry, black cherry, mocha, caramel, vanilla, and smoke. Mellow, smooth, and soft, with a luscious, round mouthfeel. Long, dry, smoky finish with black fruit. Less chocolate than many ports, and distinctive in its drier profile. Definitely a dessert wine, but not as sweet as others. Elegance in a bottle.

With an SRP of $24.00, and available at major retailers for less, you owe it to yourself to grab a bottle, settle into your favorite, comfortable chair, and enjoy a glass.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Artistic and content inspiration by Robyn Raphael

Loder Vineyards

In Western Placer County, near where the suburban housing tracts meet the rural farms and ranches, the Loder family has a small parcel of wine grapes. Ron and Kathy Loder are long-time wine lovers. When they were raising their children, they had grassy fields for the kids to play and practice football. Once the kids were grown, Ron and Kathy decided to plant grapes and make their own wine.

Getting started wasn’t as simple as just planting some vines and waiting for them to produce fruit. Ron was serious about wanting to make good wine, so he contacted U.C. Davis; renown for their viticulture program; and asked for help. Ron and Kathy really, really wanted to grow Cabernet Sauvignon – their favorite varietal wines. However, the experts told them that their microclimate and soil were not suitable. Instead, they were advised to grow grapes more suited to the Mediterranean climate here – Barbera and Tempranillo, and interestingly, Cab Sauv’s parent, Cabernet Franc. In all they have about ¾ of an acre of Estate vines, and they also source other varieties from vineyards around Northern California.

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to visit and experience Ron and Kathy’s production. The group started with appetizers and wine in the Loder family home, and then Ron escorted us out to the vineyard for an educational tour. One of first things I noticed about Ron is his passion for wine growing and winemaking. Ron enthusiastically talked us through the process, from initial plantings, to waiting the three years before the vines produce wine-quality grapes, to harvest, crush, and production. While in the vineyard, he brought out his refractometer, the instrument used to determine the brix (sugar level) in the grape juice, and allowed each of us to have a look.

Ron is also a humble man, relating the story of his efforts to cheat the process and make wine with grapes from two years old vines. It was a complete failure, and they marked the bottles with an “F”. They still have a few bottles, just as a reminder.

After the vineyard tour, we moved on to the fermentation room and cellar. Robyn even had the chance to punch down some recently harvested grapes that were in the fermentation tank! Then, of course, we got to sample more wine.

Loder Vineyards is not a commercial production, but with the quality of their wines, they should be. Touted as “no headache wine”, Ron uses a minimalist approach, with microscopic amounts of sulfites used, and little other intervention. All of the wines spend nearly two years in oak before bottling. Just a few weekends before our visit, they had just bottled their 2016 vintage.

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A true “friends and family” production, the Saturday following our visit, they would host their annual harvest and crush party. We were invited, but already had plans to be out of town.

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Ron’s vocational background is in commercial building construction. As such, when they first started bottling wine, they used blue painter’s tape as labels; having an ample supply on hand. This tradition continues today, and Ron says if he ever does enter commercial production, his labels will be designed in similar fashion.   

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All of the wines we tasted were well made and complex. Fruit forward without being jammy, with smooth tannins and balanced acidity and oak influences. We tasted Estate Barbera and Tempranillo, some interesting blends such as Tempranillo-Cabernet Franc (Kent’s favorite) and a Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, Ron and Kathy have made connections in the wine world, and source Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, so they can make and drink their beloved favorite. We barrel tasted the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is already coming along, with promise to be a fantastic wine!

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We were honored to be invited to this event, and consider Ron and Kathy, and all of the other’s there that evening, to be new wine friends.

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael