This excerpt from Wine Cocktails, the latest volume of Planet of the Grapes, is all about port. For over 40 innovative recipes using everything from Spanish reds to sherry to sparkling wine, check out Planet of the Grapes: Wine Cocktails today.
When I think about port, I think of my earliest, clumsy attempts at seeming — with requisite air quotes — “sophisticated,” or at least “fancy.” Back then, in my 20s, port seemed like the fast track to connoisseurship. “I’ll take a glass of the ’85 Fonseca,” I’d say to a waiter as everyone else was simply ordering dessert.
I admit I was kind of insufferable. But I did grow fond of port, and it did end up being the first wine I truly came to know, from drinking a lot of it as well as making several visits to the famed port lodges in Porto, the Portuguese city from which the wine takes its name. Yet over time, my love for port waned. Like everyone else’s, it seemed.
“Do y’all have good food up there?” That is the question I most often get asked when I go back to my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. They don’t know how I survive in the North without barbeque, fried veggies, or a million different kinds of cornbread. And because it’s often the case that Southerners stay right where they are — in the South — surviving without these and many other foods just seems impossible.
Ah, the holidays. They’re a special time for giving thanks, giving gifts, and enjoying the company of loved ones. Oh, and they’re also a time for spiked egg nog, champagne, mulled cider, punch bowls, Manischewitz, and birthday shots for Jesus. There’s nothing quite like alcohol to keep your bones warm, your disposition cheery, and your get-togethers enjoyable. And when it comes to holiday drinking options, nobody has you covered like the beer industry. At this time of year, beer stores are packed with rows and rows of bottles with seasonably corny labels representing a broad spectrum of different styles. You’ll see anything from pitch black imperial stouts to mahogany-hued abbey-style quadrupels to bright golden IPAs. At first glance, it’s hard to find any common ground among these beers, but in fact, they are all variations on a tradition that’s deeply rooted in the holiday spirit.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Greatness in food and wine this year. Mostly about how overrated and irrelevant the idea of Greatness usually is when it comes to what we eat and drink. Take Thanksgiving dinner. If we look at the actual dishes served, Thanksgiving would rarely be considered a five-star meal. And who really cares?
The truth, in most families, is this: Thanksgiving is a team effort, prepared by cooks of varying abilities, and which appeals to a common denominator of taste. No matter how far in a foodie direction you want to push the meal, some relative is going to bring a green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup, or the sweet potatoes with the marshmallows, or the canned cranberry sauce. Deal with it. Thanksgiving is big and inclusive enough for everyone. With the Thanksgiving meal, as with so many other things in life, it is simply better to be good than great.
I’ve always felt a little sorry for Beaujolais and the gamay grape from which it was made. Beaujolais sits just south of Burgundy, where the oh-so-popular pinot noir is king. If I think of gamay as a person, I picture someone who’s got the worst frenemy — the popular cheerleader, the star quarterback, the supermodel mom, the successful Internet billionaire — living right next door.
I mean, everyone loves their pinot noir, don’t they? Pinot noir is, like, the greatest wine ever! Remember that movie Sideways? If we’re being super honest, it was a pretty lame movie, but remember how much everyone started loving pinot noir after that? Boy, suddenly that pinot noir started to get really expensive, didn’t it? And there’s no better pinot noir than what comes from Burgundy, right? Growing Burgundy pinot noir must be like printing money! I picture gamay sighing heavily and her shoulders slumping when she thinks about pinot noir.
“I don’t order IPAs anymore because I never know what I’m going to get.” This sentiment from one newcomer to the craft beer scene is becoming an issue for others in a similar position. Fueled by the American public’s thirst for hoppiness, the classic English style known as India Pale Ale has spawned dozens of variations but very little consistency. Just within the American IPA subcategory, a vast multitude of flavor profiles can be found. To make things even more complicated, dozens of new subdivisions have sprouted up. English, American, Belgian, red, white, black; modern takes on this historical beer have thrown plenty of adjectives before its name. By pushing the boundaries, craft brewers have sent the true historical IPA into extinction. Here’s how it happened.
Of all the Madrid cafes that I could have been standing in, I somehow ended up at Starbucks.
Study abroad kept me away from home for a few months, and I was craving familiarity in the form of a warm, comforting drink. I wanted chai, the Indian take on tea. Masala chai is a daily Indian ritual – one cup in the morning and one following the afternoon nap. This variation on black tea is enhanced by spices and sometimes ginger. At first sip, the masala provides a kick that is accompanied by a rich black tea flavor. It has become comfortably settled in Indian culture, an inherent routine that simply exists without question. And so, because my parents drank chai twice daily, it had been incorporated into my routine back home in the States.
There are many garish bottles on liquor store shelves, but none do more peacocking than Spanish brandies.
You’ve surely noticed the bottles I’m talking about — even if, like most Americans, you’ve never bought one. Most Spanish brandies wear crimson or canary yellow or glittery gold upon their labels. One dons a pretty ribbon, while a rival sports an intricate faux-gilded pattern. Some are affixed with regal wax seals, while others announce their presence in fancy Renaissance faire-style fonts. Then there are the courtly names themselves: Carlos I; Cardenal Mendoza; Gran Duque d’Alba.
Since I, perhaps sadly, am not a courtier of Philip IV in a ruffled collar, for years I pretty much ignored the advances of these brandy grandees.
Tempranillo, garnacha and albariño. You’ve heard these bargain buzzwords whispered before. They’re the Spanish wines already synonymous with good value. But as their popularity continues to rise, they’re slowly disappearing from the bargain category. And finding an enjoyable one priced under $10 has become nearly impossible.
Luckily, there are still a few corners of Spain where you can easily discover pockets of great deals — like the places that grow monastrell. Although not exactly a household name like tempranilllo or garnacha, monastrell is quickly redefining what value means in Spain. Forget the Spanish wines you already know — it’s time for you and your wallet to get acquainted with this native grape.
You probably don’t even need a full introduction to monastrell. In countries outside of Spain, it wears another hat and goes by the better-known alias, mourvèdre. It’s with this different name that monastrell has achieved its greatest fame. The grape is most famously grown in France, where it’s used to make pretty rosés in Provence and powerful Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines in the Rhône Valley, home to the esteemed “GSM” blend. The prominent “M” part of the blend, winemakers in regions all over the world blend mourvèdre with grenache and syrah to make wines that are both juicy and savory.
While largely unspoken, it’s a widespread truth that just because a beer is “craft,” doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will taste good.
As the American brewing industry continues to grow, the topic du jour for many media outlets is saturation. When will the craft beer bubble burst? How many IPAs can consumers stomach? Is there room for new players in the community when microbreweries are competing against their peers and not the multinational beer conglomerates? Who gets the tap handles?
I personally believe one can’t have too many local beer options at one’s fingertips, but the discourse has aroused a nagging question in my head. For me, it’s not “how many breweries can one city handle,” but at what point do the quality operations rise to the forefront of the movement and the ones producing lackluster beer start to falter because their products are inferior? When do people start acknowledging that just because it’s “craft,” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good?
I am hopeful that Portuguese wines will take off in the United States one day and I eagerly await the meteoric rise of Portugal’s great-value reds, either from a famed region like the Douro Valley or from lesser-known regions such as the Alentejo or Dão or Setúbal. My wait has been very much in the vein of Waiting for Godot, and it has been going on two decades now. I remain patiently optimistic.
I’m always speaking with people who are fixated on a quixotic quest to find that “great bottle under $10.” I often get frustrated with this mythical idea of the under-$10 bottle, because it’s actually so rare to find one that offers quality and drinkability, let alone complexity. I’m almost always advocating that people bump up at least a few bucks into the $12 to $15 range. A $9.99 wine can just as easily offer bad value as a $29.99 wine can.
Portugal, however, is one big exception, one country that actually produces wines under $10 that offer honest-to-goodness value. Which is why their lack of presence in the U.S. continues to surprise me. MORE
I’m tired of all these pumpkin beers and their silly names. When did it become a requirement to brew liquid pumpkin pie two months before fall even starts? Sure, the first few you drink when they hit the stores way too early in September are great and heighten your anticipation of the upcoming autumn, but there’s only so much pumpkin and allspice a person can take. Although I could easily rant about pumpkin beer for hours, I won’t waste your time. Instead, I’d like to be constructive and suggest an alternative.
I can’t figure out where to get a lump of coal in September. In Los Angeles. In 2013. Not activated charcoal, which is sometimes used by present-day hospitals to help suck up ingested poison. But a plain ol’ lump of dirty coal, like you would use in the 1800s to fuel your stove and give your home that lovely soot smell. This is a problem, because according to a woman with too many names — Lady Mary Anne Boode Cust – in her 1853 title The Invalid’s Own Book, boiling a walnut-sized lump of coal in an pint of milk until it gets thick is “a very nutrative* food, and easily obtained.”
Well, at least for me, that second part is a lie. And sweet jeebus – coal milk? As if it didn’t already suck to get sick in the 1800s and early 1900s. MORE
Sweet wines. Just hearing those two words being uttered is enough to prompt an obligatory eye roll from almost any wine drinker. Sweet wines? What kind of unsophisticated person drinks those?
Certainly not me. Well…I never used to, at least.
It wasn’t even that long ago that I rejected the idea of sipping on anything remotely sweet. One night my friend brought over a bottle of her new favorite wine, moscato, for me to try. I wasn’t too surprised. Almost every twenty-something I knew desired a glass of the sweet wine. But I was used to drinking the big, bold reds of Spain and affordable sparklers like prosecco, and sweet wines like moscato remained far off my radar.
“It’ll soon be one of your favorites, too,” she told me. I wasn’t so sure.
Now, I’m not one to ever turn down anything complimentary, especially if it’s wine, but I was disappointed in her latest obsession. At the time, we were in the middle of a moscato boom, the result of influential hip hop artists like Kanye West, Drake, and Lil’ Kim endorsing the slightly fizzy sweet wine. References of it in lyrics like “still over in Brazil sippin’ moscato,” and “lobster and shrimp and a glass of moscato,” caused its popularity to surge. According to a Nielson study, sales of moscato rose 73 percent in 2011. And that’s on top of the 100 percent spike the category saw in the year before.
Beer and food have always been natural bedfellows.
While everyone can benefit from knowing which style of beer best complements a good blue cheese, or the best crafty recipes for integrating stouts into your holiday dinner, there’s an emerging school of beermakers who are looking beyond the obvious ways beer and food intersect to craft their house ales and lagers.
Brewers across the country are taking notes from the kitchen, approaching recipe development and production techniques as a chef might, by cultivating relationships with local farmers, sourcing seasonal produce, and finding ways to make sure ingredients are manifested in the beer in simple, honest ways.