Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Five Ways to Expand Your Wine Horizons

Look to new (to you) growing regions for exciting new wine frontiers
We have all experienced major growing regions around the world: California, Australia and Italy to name a few.  Try a wine that pushes those boundaries a bit.  Riesling from Alsace is bright and crisp, perfect for early fall sipping.  The Finger Lakes region of New York is growing into a powerhouse region for Eiswein and other dense, perfumed dessert wines.  Right here in South Dakota, hybrid grapes are sticking through our tough winters to create everything from delicate whites to dense port-style reds.  It doesn’t have to be a new growing area to be new to you! 

Explore new grape varietals and interesting blends
Single varietal wines made from classic varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.) can be tough to produce and expensive to procure.  Try a blend or a grape varietal that is new to your repertoire.  Blends are a great choice for easy sipping as the grapes can help each other to create a well-balanced wine.  Maybe the Cabernet crop suffered with too much sun.  Instead of making a flabby wine, the producer can blend in some cool climate Merlot and add some much needed acidity.  The same applies for lesser known grape varietals.  Grapes have been developed to survive in tough climates without needing “perfect” weather to make great wine.  Try a hybrid grape wine that can shine even in the toughest circumstances.

Find a buddy at your favorite wine store or winery
Do you have a wine retailer that you enjoy talking to and trust for suggestions?  This relationship can be a great asset to expanding your palate.  Make sure your wine store contact knows the flavors you like, knows what kind of food you like to eat and knows your price point.  This is a perfect example of a Gen5 Wine Club perk.  Our staff is always here to answer questions about Prairie Berry wines and beyond! 

Consider your food
What kind of food do you like to cook at home or order when you go out?  Do you head straight for traditional Italian flavors like tomato and basil?  Look for an Italian wine you HAVEN’T tried.  Skip the Chianti and try a Montepulciano from the same region.  Let the food you love guide you to different wine pairings for a completely new experience!

Find flavors you love
Learn how to describe the flavors and sensations you like in wine.  Do you enjoy sipping a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc on a hot summer day?  Understanding and being able to describe what you like is 90% of the battle.  Once you know some general styles that tickle your taste buds, you can find new wines to try.  If you enjoy that bright, fruity white to cool you down, why not try an Albarino from Spain or Brianna from South Dakota?  Your description will help guide restaurant servers, tasting room associates and wine retailers wherever you visit and will help open doors to new tasting experiences!  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Common Sense Wine Tasting

Several senses--well, all of them really--come into play when you’re tasting wine. Okay, so you don’t actually taste with your ears, but the sound of the wine hitting the glass, the clink of a glass during a toast--these are part of the experience. The color and clarity of the wine are important and the temperature of the wine can make a difference. So, there are three of the five senses that you’ve used before you’ve even tasted the wine. But the big two are taste and smell.

The condition of your mouth can greatly affect how you taste wine. If you’ve eaten cheese, spicy foods or nearly anything else with a moderately strong flavor (including gum), there’s a strong possibility it will skew your perception of the taste of the wine. Fats and oils can coat the tongue, rendering your tastebuds ineffective at detecting the subtle flavor nuances that are so enjoyable in a glass of wine. Get around this by avoiding food until after the tasting or eating a few mild crackers or a piece of bread between the food and the wine. In our tasting room we encourage guests to have a few oyster crackers before switching wines, and also suggest they wait until after the tasting to have lunch. Rinsing your mouth with plain water can also help. Of course, the right food paired with the right wine can bring out the best of both elements, but if you're tasting wine just to taste the wine, it's best for the wine to be solo.

And now, the nose.  Since a great deal of tasting is actually smelling, keeping your nose in tip-top shape is as important as cleaning your mouth. But cleaning your nose? Yeah. Gross. We’ll assume you know how to clean your nose. We won’t go there. But keep in mind that your nose’s ability to pick up the intricacies of a wine bouquet can be hampered by distracting aromas. If you know you are going to be tasting wine, skip the perfume and move away from the man with the aftershave aura. Other scents, like coffee and barbecue smoke, can be equally effective at keeping your nose from focusing on the wine. In some cases, if there’s nothing you can do about a strong aroma, you may want to postpone your tasting and try again sometime when you can focus on the wine.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chill Out! Summer Wine Care

It appears that summer is here with a vengeance. One of the best witticisms I've seen regarding the recent heat wave is, "Satan called. He wants his weather back."
While there are a lot of things to consider when the temperatures are forecasted to be in the "lower hundreds" as I heard on the radio the other day, wine may not be at the forefront of your mind. Unless it's chilled and served in air conditioning.
When temperatures start climbing, give a little thought to how you transport and store wine, or you may be sorry.
1. Wine should always be kept in a cool, dark place--55 degrees is perfect. I have an ideal wine cellar, but people refer to it more colloquially as a basement. You might try a closet, which would offer protection from light and temperature fluctuations.
If you have your wine in a decorative wine rack, consider where you put it and make sure it's out of direct sunlight and away from other heat sources. The top of the refrigerator may seem like a good idea, but the motor produces heat and vibration that can damage your wine.
2. In the summer, the deadliest place for any living thing--and wine is a living thing--is in a car. If you know you will be buying wine, plan to make that your last stop. If you aren't going to be stopping, put the wine in the front of the car where it is air conditioned, rather than the trunk. If you're stopping with the windows rolled up for more than 15-20 minutes, the trunk actually stays cooler.
3. Pack a cooler. A few reusable ice packs in a cooler can make the difference between "mmm" and "blech." I keep a collapsible cooler under the seat in my car so I've always got it when I need it, whether for wine or ice cream.
Wine can stand heat up to 120 degrees for several hours without being noticeably affected (the temperature in a car can quickly reach 140 degrees and higher), but it's best to keep it cool.
So, when you grab a bottle of wine on a hot day and get distracted by the Farmer’s Market, a garage sale and the Little League car wash, there’s only one way to tell if your wine survived the trip home--taste it.
The heat speeds up the aging process, so the wine quickly begins to deteriorate. If you know it's been too warm, chill and drink it as soon as possible. A wine that's gotten too warm may taste "cooked," like stewed fruit, but won’t hurt you.
Keep in mind that most red wines should be served at about 55 degrees, MUCH cooler than the “room temperature” you may encounter in late July.
The single most important rule when dealing with wine is this: If it tastes good, drink it. If it tastes bad, don't.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What's in the Bottle?

What's in the bottle? Usually, wine. But even more simply, there's glass in the bottle. And in the bottles we use at Prairie Berry, there's a lot of thought, consideration and research.

At Prairie Berry one of our values is sustainability. We view ourselves as stewards of the environment. Our building and grounds were designed with that in mind and now this commitment to sustainability and environmental friendliness extends even to our bottles.

We have started using the ECO Series™ sold by Caliber WinePak and manufactured by Saint-Gobain Containers because they fit with our values.

These bottles are slightly smaller than standard wine bottles, so use less glass, but hold the same amount of wine. Magic! They require less energy to manufacture. Because the bottles are smaller, the cases can be smaller. Less cardboard. More cases will fit on a truck. Less fuel. And they are made in plants in Seattle, Wash., and Madera, Calif. Yeah, that’s in the U.S.A.

You probably couldn’t tell these bottles from the standard ones if you put them in a line-up. They look very similar and are manufactured with both cork and Stelvin closure options. As for durability, well, when we were bottling one of our latest wines in the ECO bottles, one of our staff (who shall remain nameless), dropped an empty bottle on the concrete floor. Steeling ourselves for the crash and dash for the broom, we were impressed to see it bounce. It was recovered without a chip.

So, you may have already bought Prairie Berry wine in ECO bottles and didn’t know it. We’re just telling you because we hope you, like us, want to do what you can to help the environment bounce, not break.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What to Sip with Salads

“What’s for supper?”
The phrase has become the bane of my existence, especially in the summer. I don’t feel like cooking and I don’t feel like eating something that’s been cooked. The solution? Salad.

Pasta salad (yes, there is some cooking involved). Tossed salad. Steak salad. Chicken salad. Seafood salad. The term “salad” is so vague it can refer to anything from vegetables to gelatin. But generally, salads are cold, crisp and crunchy. Wines paired with salad should be the same-well, almost the same. Crunchy wine?

Pairing a wine with a salad can be tricky. Most salads are dressed with an acidic dressing, so a wine needs to complement that, not get bulldozed by it.

For those salads, you’ll want to choose a wine with a fairly high acid level. Dry roses are pretty safe bets for most salads, like a romaine and arugula salad tossed with herb-marinated grilled chicken. Top it with grilled salmon or lemon shrimp and you’re still safe with a dry rose. One dry rose to check out that is fairly inexpensive and widely available in South Dakota is LaVielle Ferme. All the wines from this French winery are great dry, summer wines. If you’re looking for a local wine, try Prairie Berry’s Pink Slip or Crab Apple.

If you switch to steak to top your greens you’ll want to stick with conventional wisdom and serve it with a red wine. Italian wines are good served with steak salad because they are created to stand up to hearty, acidic tomato sauces and work well with both the beefy flavor and the high acid of the dressing.
If you go lighter and leave off the meat, try pairing a tossed salad with Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.

Generally, steer clear of sweet wines with salads. And pick a wine you can chill. It is summer, after all.

Summer Sangria

Now that temperatures have actually hit summer levels and it’s almost the Fourth of July, your thirsty thoughts may be turning toward icy drinks. (Read: Not wine.)

Don’t abandon that bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon just because the thermometer happens to read 95. When the sweltering temperatures have you sipping in the shade, an iced pitcher of sangria on the table beside your lawn chair may be just the refreshment you seek. It’s light, fruity and cold—everything you want in a hot-weather drink.

Sangria originated in Spain and there are as many variations of the recipe as there are people who make it—and probably more. Sangria is essentially wine mixed with fruit and some other ingredients. That’s about all the parameters there are for sangria.

Here’s a basic, traditional sangria recipe courtesy of www.spain-recipes.com
•       3 1/4 cups ( 26 fl. oz) dry red wine
•       1 tablespoon sugar
•       Juice of 1 large orange
•       Juice of 1 large lemon
•       1 large orange, sliced thin crosswise
•       1 large lemon, sliced thin crosswise
•       2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
•       1 cup (8 fl. oz) club soda
Combine all the ingredients except the club soda in a large punch bowl or serving pitcher. Mix well. Refrigerate overnight. Immediately before serving, mix in the club soda for added fizz. Ladle into cups with ice cubes.
(Yes, you will be putting ice cubes in wine. RED wine. It’s really okay, just relax!)

Here’s a Prairie Berry recipe:

Black Currant Sangria
  • 1 bottle Lawrence Elk black currant wine
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1/8 cup simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water heated until sugar dissolves)
  • Sliced limes, lemons and oranges
Fresh fruit of your choice (we use red grapes, oranges, blueberries, blackberries, limes and lemons)
Orange zest
Mix first four ingredients and chill for a few hours. It gets better the longer you let it sit! Rim a wine glass with orange zest and sugar, add ice, fresh fruit and sangria. You can also add the simple syrup to your taste.

Pink Slip SangriaWe also make sangria with our Pink Slip, a white zinfandel and Steuben grape wine. Just add a splash of Lawrence Elk and some fresh fruit. But don’t let our ideas limit yours.

Like summer, sangria is all about making the most of what’s on hand, being creative and making the situation fit your mood. “Season to taste,” so to speak. So lighten up and get creative with your wine. It’s okay. Really.

Savoring Summer

A summer evening isn’t complete without the smell of barbecue smoke in the air. When it’s time to break out the charcoal and marinate that special cut of meat or skewer the vegetables, think beyond beverages in boxes and allow a bottle of wine to turn that regular backyard barbecue into a special occasion. But before you venture out onto that patio, nervously clutching the grill tongs and a bottle of wine, let’s set a few ground rules.

A glass of wine goes great with a grill.Saying white wines are best for summer is like saying you should wear white shoes only between Memorial Day and Labor Day—it’s outdated and bossy. Consider whites the lemonade and reds the iced tea of wines. Both are acceptable in the summer, it’s just a matter of finding out what you like and what you’re in the mood for.

Barbecue naturally provides a smoky flavor. A lighter red wine can enhance this while adding a touch of sweetness and spice. A Beaujolais wine, made from Gamay grapes, would be perfect for a summer evening with a cricket serenade. This French wine is light and fruity and—bonus—served lightly chilled. Who wants to end a hot summer day with a warm drink? For grilling beef, buffalo or Portobello, or meats that are basted in a sweet barbecue sauce, a heavier-bodied red wine may be more appropriate. Some red wines to try this summer—Zinfandel, Shiraz, Barbera, Chianti or Syrah.
Even if a red wine is supposed to be served at room temperature, keep in mind that South Dakota’s summer temperatures will probably be between 20 and 40 degrees warmer than that ideal temperature. 
Most red wines should be served at around 50 degrees, which you can achieve by putting it in the fridge for about 20 minutes before serving. Since you may want a wine that is enjoyable at a cooler temperature, don’t crack open that wine you’ve been aging for years, or a very complex wine. The flavors you most want to savor may end up being overwhelmed by the flavorful food and the bouquet will lose to the chill.

If you’re still nervous about serving a red when the temperature starts climbing, head for the old standbys. Chilled white wines and blushes can be more appealing in the summer because of their temperature and lighter flavors. Try a high-acid white wine, maybe a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc, but steer clear of the Chardonnays for a grill-centered meal.

If you can’t decide whether to go with red or white, split the difference and pick a blush. These wines, with their flavors of red fruits with notes of tea, citrus or even watermelon, may be just the summer sippers you’re looking for.