Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Wine is Awesome Reason #10 - Travel

In the spirit of my Uses for Cheap Wine series that is evolving through this blog, I’ve decided I should start another series, because just as there are indeed many good uses for cheap wine, there are many reasons why wine is awesome.

As President of the NYC Chapter of Women for WineSense, it is a privilege and duty to make my annual pilgrimage west to Napa Valley, land of our founders. Each spring for the last 3 years, I have travelled to California to celebrate and collaborate with many lovely, successful and fabulous members and officers from Women for WineSense chapters nationwide. Two out of those three years were Grand Events, most spectacular occasions, the second of which I dutifully attended and thoroughly enjoyed even though I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter Ché Elizabeth. Last year, during the height of the economic revolution, although we decided not to have a Grand Event, there was still a congregation, a very important annual summit took place as usual. While many important and serious discussions ensued, wine was poured and vineyards were toured.

The truth is you can travel just by trying wines from different parts of the world. While wine’s character is largely determined by the grape varieties it is made of, there is an undeniable sense of place in almost every bottle - not just in the packaging but in the character of the wine itself. For example, you can take a mini tour of the world by trying a selection of Sauvignon Blancs from different places - visit Northern France, the South Island of New Zealand, South Africa and the North Fork of Long Island all in one week on your tour.

Nonetheless, there’s nothing like the being there in person. Voyaging to the places where wine is grown offers such a unique look at a place you often go to for other reasons, as perhaps in Spain, Chile or California or it can take you to places you wouldn’t otherwise go to at all, such as the Upper Loire Valley and the aforementioned North Fork of Long Island (a sleepy farm area that still pales in comparison to the Hamptons in summer appeal, but is now a fantastic destination for wine touring!). Add the experience of drinking the region’s wines and enjoying the foods that they do best - MAGIC!

Wine has given me both many reasons to travel and the opportunity to enhance my travel experiences by adding in winery and vineyard visits and tasting through otherwise unbeaten paths all over the world as well as very close to home. The great thing is that you can always recapture a little of that by enjoying those wines again later, and the pictures tend to be really awesome when you get back home.

Photos from Previous Women for WineSense Grand Events, Enjoy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Uses for Cheap Wine #3 - Cooking

I must preface this by clarifying that cheap wine doesn’t necessarily mean bad wine, and it is my firm belief that one should never put any wine in their food that they would not drink. To quote the comedian WC Fields “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food!”

Here are some tips on cooking with wine at a discount:
When you want to create a perfect pairing of wine with a dish that you are cooking that has wine in the recipe, use the same wine you are drinking in the dish. Now, I’m not saying that you should deglaze* your pan with your Kistler Chardonnay! At $100.00+ per bottle, that would make for one expensive pan jus! Instead, get a Chardonnay that is $8-10 a bottle, something that is similarly oaky, but make sure that it is something you would happily drink on a more casual evening.
To make a fabulous herb butter, add white wine to your recipe for herb butter. The wine will provide balancing acidity - use a $6-8 crisp white such as torrontes, or sauvignon blanc.
Use an $8-12 shiraz or cabernet to marinate tougher meats such as beef cheeks, ox tails, veal shanks or brisket. The acid helps to break down the meat and add wonderful flavor. As always, the wine should at least be drinkable.

This should get you off to a good start cooking with wine! Bon appetit!

*Deglaze - after cooking a meat, poultry or fish on a frying pan, add wine to the hot pan. The wine will collect all the pan residue. Reduce this over a low flame, then add cream or butter to make a great sauce!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why Champagne?

Not that anyone has ever actually asked me this question, but I thought perhaps it is something we could delve into, what with my upcoming True Champagne tasting at wineLIFE. (hope you are registered already!)

Just to clarify, at the risk of sounding cliché, all champagne is sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is champagne. Champagne is a place, a region defined by three towns that form sort of an acute triangular slice a mere 100k east of Paris. The towns, cathedral-and-cobblestone-clad Reims, the even smaller Epernay, and the southern satelite of Aÿ create a triad that contains some of the most valuable Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards in the world. The other triumvirate of Champagne is the trio of featured grapes - the two aforementioned, joined by a much more obscure Pinot Meunier in a blended bubbly that varies in style from house to house depending on its recipe.

Here in Champagne exists the greatest anomaly of the wine world: vintage wines are the exception, not the rule. Not only are the wines a blend of grapes, the traditional practice in champagne is to reserve wine in stainless steel tanks every vintage, usually over about 5 years, so as to blend across vintages to achieve the house style. Most champagne sold in the US is non-vintage brut, at around $30.00-$40.00 a bottle - Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label, Taittinger, Laurent Perrier and Pol Roger are some more recognizable ones.

Vintage champagne is only made when the conditions are perfect - not a common occurance in this cool, northerly region. They are given the lofty title Tête de Cuvée, the top pop (tête = head) and fabulous names like Veuve Cliquot’s La Grande Dame, Moët’s Dom Perignon, Laurent Perrier Le Grand Siecle (literally “the great century”) and Louis Roederer’s now highly unpopular but still astronomically priced Crystal. Their price tags and packaging always match their status - a Tête de Cuvée starts at around $100.00 and soars upwards of $250.00 from there.

Champagne comes in a small but intriguing variety of styles that you could have fun exploring. If you like pink, try some brut rosés, the best of which is made by Billecart Salmon and is quite tough to come by! The anomalies continue - champagne is the only rosé that is actually made by blending red and white wines, not by the saignée method (literally bleeding, referring to the steeping of the skins of red grapes in the vat with the juice so they will impart color), and here again, the non-vintage version is less expensive than the vintage version. You can also try creamy Blancs de Blanc (translates literally as white of white) champagnes that are 100% Chardonnay or Blancs de Noir, romantically fragrant wines that are made of 100% Pinot Noir, but are indeed, as their name suggests, white bubblies.

You’ll also notice that sometimes I spell champagne with a lower case c and sometimes with a capital C. Capital C refers to the region, lower case c refers to the wine. But I still haven’t really answered the question have I? Why champagne? Because while there are many great substitutes that are much less costly - I’m a huge fan of Prosecco, I don’t balk at Cava, and I enjoy tasting sparkling wines from a around the world that are made in the traditional method - champagne is the originator of the style - sparkling wine was invented here! As an American wine drinker, who’s market is bursting with cases and cases of fabulous high end champagne (in contrast to England, where cheap champagne lines the shelves of supermarkets nationwide) I can’t help but quote Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Aint nothin’ like the real thing, baby, aint nothin’ like the REAL THING!

Stay tuned for Why Champagne? Part Deux - Growers

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Uses for Cheap Wine #17 - Wine Rack Filler

You LOVE wine! You’re the kind of collector who never has a full rack or wine fridge - you just can’t not drink it! Well, here’s my advice for how to keep your wine indulgence satisfied and still maintain a full rack, because let’s face it, an empty wine rack or wine fridge is NOT acceptable.

On a $500.00 budget:

Take some of your allocations from your favorite California mailing list wineries, perhaps wait until you get your tax refund, and buy:

2 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir @ $54.00 each (or you can split this up into a Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel for more variety, although you would get variety if you got two different Pinot Noirs from WS - the cuvées from different vineyards offer different flavor profiles)

1 Vie Les Amours Syrah @$42.00

1 Anomaly Cabernet Sauvignon $89.00

Treat yourself to a couple of special bottles from the Old World:

1 Chateau Calon Ségur St. Estephe 2005 $90.00

1 Guiseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella $100.00

And then...

you could pick up 4-6 more bottles at your favorite local wine retailer for $45.00 or less TOTAL COST, because the market is abundant with cheap wine, and a lot of it is surprisingly decent!

2 Mia Prosecco, (dry sparkling wine from Italy) $6.99

1 Mil Piedras Malbec, Argentina $8.99

1 OCD Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand $9.99

1 Amour Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, France $4.99

1 Falkensteiner Rieden Zweigelt (dry red wine from Austria) $8.99 for a 1 liter bottle

Total expenditure to fill your rack: $468.95 + tax. And you didn’t even have to buy Yellow Tail!

The truth is there is a lot of flexibility in what you can fill your rack with. Personally, if I didn’t have a toddler running rampant in my apartment, I would do the above, and put all those fabulous pricey bottles on top, reserving the bottom spaces for a revolving supply of good, cheap vino. And no, I don’t let my higher end stuff sit around too long either, because let’s face it, a special occasion can be the evening I come home to a my warm apartment and I’m feeling extra thankful, and then I’m popping the cork on my $89.00 Anomaly Cab to enjoy with leftover Truffle Risotto with Pork and I’m pouring some into my daughter’s sippy cup and mixing it with a little water.

Also, based on the above, you could actually fill the whole rack for $100.00 or less!

My final piece of advice: Always leave one or two spaces open for those unexpected bottles you get as gifts. Whoever said it’s better to give than to received obviously never got anything, and unlike in France, we are happy to accept a bottle from a friend around here!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Uses for Cheap Wine #12 - Mulled Wine

Published Yesterday at

Picture it: December 2009. You are young, beautiful, wealthy and wise, and want to stay that way. You decide that wine’s the thing to maintain at least two out of four - not bad! You enter a fabulous wine shop - one of your city’s finest - on the hunt for a few good bottles. Your wine rack sits uncharacteristically empty at home, awaiting your fantastic finds.

In the shop, the first thing you see: Prosecco $6.99. You think to yourself “Grab a cart, dude, the pickins are plenty!” Six bottles later, you are lookin at an $8.00 Malbec, an $8.00 liter of Austrian Zweigelt, a $6.00 Torrontes and a Vin de Pays de Vaucluse for a crazy $4.99! Add two bottles of that cheap Prosecco, and you have a mixed 6 for a very smart $46.75!

Later on, while he’s putting the little one to bed, you decide on the Malbec and choose your most fabulous wine glass, thinking that just as they had made the $15.00 bottle of Nero d’Avola taste much more expensive, perhaps there’s hope for the $8.00 Malbec. You pull the synthetic cork (I cant’ stand those things!) and pour for you and a visiting friend.

You swirl. You sniff. The only descriptor either of you can muster is “grapes” for the smell of it, and then the fleeting fruit dissipates and all you smell is alcohol - a whopping 14% for that tail!! You both take a few sips while you catch up on family stories, but neither of you savors the wine, just looking to achieve a quick buzz while chatting

You have almost 2/3 of the bottle left the next morning, and you DON’T FEEL LIKE DRINKING IT ANYMORE - it was that bad.

What do you do?

To me, since the wine was in the condition it was supposed to be (it didn’t smell like basements or funky shoes, just bad wine) it is uneconomical to simply throw the wine down the drain. If it’s in a 750 ml glass bottle decently packaged, chances are it’s at least drinkable.

Uses for Cheap Wine #12 - Mulled Wine: Mulled wine is a warm version of sangria, in which the wine is heated up, usually sweetened and seasoned with whole baking spices such as clove, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks and star anise, and kept on a low heat so that each cup is warm. Often served at ski areas, it is a great way to warm yourself up inside on a cold day!


2/3 of a 750ml bottle of cheap dry red wine

2 Tablespoons Raw Sugar

3 Cinnamon Sticks, broken into small pieces

1 Whole Nutmeg, cracked and shaved to release flavor

1 Star Anise

1 Snowy Day (optional)


In a saucepan, put the wine on a high flame. Add the Sugar, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Star Anise into the wine. Add fresh, cold water to achieve a ratio of 1 part water to 2 parts wine. When the wine is just below boiling, lower the flame all the way down just to keep it warm, letting it steep for at least thirty minutes. Mulled Wine tastes better as the spices continue to release flavors into it and the sugar integrates.

Serve in Irish Coffee Mugs, garnish with a Cinnamon Stick. If it starts to reduce as it sits, add a little more water.

Serves 3-4

Next on Uses for Cheap Wine - #17 - Wine Rack Filler

Let no wine go to waste!

Happy New Year!


Vee Fitzgerald