Tag Archives: wine

Two Drink Recipes, for a Nice Summer Afternoon Spritz

Enjoy an afternoon wine spriz

Bringing you 2 fabulous spritz drinks to help you keep cool during California’s dog days of summer-early fall.

It’s not the end of summer in California until we endure those final “dog days” through early fall. It’ll be boiling here until Halloween! Sad for most kids because they’ve started school by now. Nice for us adults because we can sneak a dip into the pool with a nice spritzer before the kids get home from school!

When entertaining at home, we look for smooth, refreshing adult beverages for our guests. The easiest and most refreshing are the spritzes; a simple combination of wine (sparkling or not) and soda.  You can add liquors or bitters to alter the flavors. They’re really the easiest of cocktails to mix. You can watch me mix the Aperol Spritz here on my video.

Fun fact: Why are the last of the hottest days of the year called “dog days”?

Answer: Because at that time of the year, the constellation Canis Major (the big dog) starts appearing in the sky. The brightest star in that constellation is Sirius, which in Latin means dog – thus, the star is known as the dog star.

And I thought that it was just because dogs tend to lay about and snooze during the day when it’s hottest. I’ll figure out how to work this bit of trivia into my next cocktail patio party when I serve these simple and refreshing drinks. As always, use the largest ice cubes you can to avoid diluting the drinks.

I’ll start with the Aperol spritz I found on Epicurious.com.

If you love the taste of grapefruit and are excited about a drink that blends the taste of orange and some bubbly, then you’ll really enjoy this drink. It’s become one of my most favorite—especially during those hot “dog days.”

Pour into a large wine glass filled with large rocks of ice, and stir:

  • 2 ounces of Aperol (an Italian apéritif with a complex orange flavor).
  • 2 ounces of sparkling white wine (I use Valdo Prosecco, extra dry in my video)
  • 1 ounce of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (prefer “ruby red” variety).
  • A “splash” of soda water to taste.
  • ½ Grapefruit wheel as garnish (also “ruby red”).

Maybe citrus isn’t your flavor. That’s okay. Here’s another recipe from Epicurious that’s a bit sweeter. The base is the French liqueur St. Germain, made from elderflower. So, prepare for some floral brightness from this spritz.

Pour into a large wine glass filled with large rocks of ice, stir gently:

  • 4 ounces of sparkling white wine (again, I suggest Valdo Prosecco, extra dry)
  • 1½ ounces St. Germain liqueur
  • Splash of club soda to taste
  • A sprig of fresh cut lavender to garnish

Serving tip: I prefer serving these drinks in large stemless wine glasses. There’s a lot of liquid and ice here, and the drink might be a little top heavy if you try to mix and serve these spritzes in stemware. Either drink goes well with cold cut fruit to fight off the heat of the afternoon. Makes me think of sitting back on a balcony, enjoying a sunset overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice with friends.

Enjoy!

Enjoy frozen grapes marinated in wine

Frozen grapes marinated in wine

If you love frozen grapes, you’re going to absolutely swoon when you try this idea.

One of my favorite summer treats is frozen grapes. I love them, don’t you? They’re so easy to do – clean them, dry them, place them on a dish or pan, stick them into a freezer and then once frozen just store in a Ziploc! They’re really a great snack on hot days like the ones we’ve been having lately here in Beverly Hills.

Moms all over the world freeze grapes for their families. You can take them on camping trips, to the beach, to a game, or just have them around the house for whenever. My mom experimented with other fruits you can freeze, like watermelons, bananas, and applesauce. Freezing fruits is a fabulous snack for the kids, but how about a frozen treat just for the adults?

I found an answer on JulieBlanner.com, which is a great site to go for fun recipes and gift ideas.

I tried it out on my latest video. It’s very easy, and you can have fun sipping wine and snacking on grapes while you’re preparing them.

  1. Pick your grapes and wash them (common sense, right?).
  2. Damp dry and de-stem the grapes; place the destemmed grapes into a bowl.
  3. Pick a wine that you love and pour it over the grapes. In my video, I used red seedless grapes with Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from the Hess Collection. But you can try this with white grapes and your favorite champagne or Prosecco, which is Italian white sparkling wine (spumante, frizzante, or tranquillo).
  4. Allow the grapes to marinate in the refrigerator for about 12 hours, or longer if you like.
  5. Drain the grapes and roll them in sugar while still damp with wine
  6. Set the sugared grapes out in a single layer on a tray or pan.
  7. Place the prepped grapes into your freezer for at least 2 hours.
  8. Serve them in a beautiful serving bowl for your guests as a snack.

One more cool little tip! You can add your grapes to a glass of wine to keep it cool. I’d serve them with the same wine that you used for the marinade. This idea is lots of fun with white frozen grapes and a glass of champagne!

Have fun!

Home Entertaining Tip – How to speed-chill a bottle of white wine

Fran Berger speed-chill wine

Guests on the way? Forgot to chill the wine? Here’s an old restaurant trick that will get you chilled wine in 15 minutes FLAT.

A restaurant – an excellent restaurant – will never have a shortage of good wine chilled to the correct temperature dictated by decades of tradition and agreement among experts. The sommelier (someone educated in all things “wine” and the person in charge of the wine ‘vault’) will know that red wine should be chilled to 55°F (12°C) and white chilled to 45°F (7°C). Unofficially, the sommelier knows a bottle must be chilled to the customer’s taste. On rare occasions, a customer may say, “I’d like this bottle chilled more.” As we say in the restaurant business, the customer is always right.

But, let’s pause here.

There are several calculations we keep in the back of our minds when we open a restaurant for business. One of them is that it takes about 2 hours for a bottle of wine to reach its ideal temperature in a standard restaurant refrigerator. You can shave off about an hour in the freezer. That’s it – no way to change the laws of thermodynamics when chilling a bottle in ambient air temperature. Given that the average customer is usually done with their meal in about 1.5 hours, sticking a bottle into a refrigerator or freezer won’t work. Worse yet, bottles that have already been chilled will get cooler, but at a significantly slower rate. I’m told that also has something to do with thermodynamics.

So, what do you do?

This is such a simple trick, it’s amazing. On those rare moments when a bottle has to be chilled more – or let’s say that you have guests coming and you forgot to put that bottle in the fridge! What do you do?

Just add salt to your bucket of ice water!

You think I’m joking, right? I’m not! You probably already know that putting wine in a bucket of ice and cold water, rather than just ice, will chill the bottle faster. But did you know that adding salt to the mix further speeds up the cooling time? Salt reduces the freezing point of water and allows the water to get to a lower temperature or colder without turning into ice, which in turn chills your wine more quickly.

Next, be sure to spin the bottle!

Maybe you didn’t expect that one either, but spinning the bottle occasionally will help the water/ice/salt method work more efficiently. Place your precious Sauv Blanc into the water so that you cover most of the ‘shoulder’ (where the bottle narrows to the ‘neck’) of the bottle. Keep the bucket nearby and gently spin the bottle in the ice water mixture every couple of minutes.

Why does this work? First, the cold water/ice is far more efficient than cold air. Direct contact with the entire surface of the glass bottle helps the wine chill. Also, by turning the bottle, you move around the contents inside, allowing more wine to come into contact with the cold glass, chilling it faster. From room temp to a good “chill” – this method takes about 15 minutes to work. See? I told you this was simple.

Keep in mind that this method works best for non-sparkling wines. If you try this method with a bottle of Champagne, don’t spin the bottle (you can GENTLY turn it) or you and your guests will be in for a little shock when you pop open the bottle!

Enjoy!

Healthier drinks for the holidays?

healthy choices for drinks

Two KEYS for healthier choices from your holiday libations.

I’ve been a home entertainer all my adult life. My friends have always thought of me as an expert at entertaining guests and throwing good parties – just ask any of them about my annual New Year’s Eve parties (when they reached over 100 guests I moved them to a restaurant!). It’s why I loved owning my restaurants for 20-plus years. Entertaining is in my DNA.

That’s why many people turn to me with their questions about how to set their home for a really elegant party. They want to know my “secrets,” like what to serve at a party: food, snacks, and drink. And pretty frequently, I get asked about “healthier” choices for alcoholic drinks at a party (whether you’re hosting or not). I have two keys that I think about, whether I’m a guest at a party or hosting my own.

The first KEY is to look at what and how you drink. It’s all about picking the kinds of drink you want and planning around your health goals, which naturally brings us to calories and carbohydrates.

Straight liquor is ‘healthiest’ if served “neat” (alone and meant to be sipped) or “on the rocks” over a little ice.  Clearer types of alcohol can be a bit easier on your body but oddly, the calorie count is very similar no matter if you drink vodka, tequila or bourbon.  Lucky for me they’re all about the same, for instance, one serving (typically about 1.5 ounces – a shot) contains about 97 calories and NO carbohydrates.

Depending on my mood and what I’m serving, I may reach for Chopin Vodka (I like potato) or Ciroc Vodka (made from grapes!). If it’s “taco night” with my girlfriends, I may look to Don Julio 1942 Tequila or Herradura Tequila (I like their Reposado; very smooth). But if I’m in the mood for a whiskey, it’ll be Maker’s Mark.  All no carbs and under 100 calories!   That’s the easy way.

The whole point is to drink as close to neat or on the rocks as possible, and sip and enjoy.  If you add mixers – even just ginger ale or juice – you’re adding not just a bunch of calories but also carbs and, depending on what you mix with it, it could be a significant addition.

If you prefer wine, a five ounce pour (a typical wine glass) will give you about 100-150 calories and about 5 grams of carbs. But maybe you’ve heard that red wine has some proven health benefits. It’s true. Various health studies have shown the healthy properties of antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol that are naturally found in reds (my favorites – the Cabernet Franc from Long Meadow Ranch or Zephyr from Davis Estates). Studies have shown that these antioxidants help lower the bad cholesterol and boost the good one.

However, if beer is your adult beverage of choice – you need to know that beer is NOT your friend. One bottle of your favorite IPA may have more than 130 calories and as many as 24 grams of carbs!  I guess you could go with a light beer, but you’re still consuming about 110 calories with a minimum of 5 grams of carbs. Plus, people tend to drink more than one bottle of light beer because they think “Oh, it’s only light so I can have another” so in the end you’ll consume way more calories and carbs than you planned.

The second KEY is pretty simple and it involves not only what you drink with your adult beverage of choice but also what else you put in your stomach during the evening.

Try to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink: one for one. It’s a good rule to keep. This can help you gauge how much you’ve had, if you’ve had “enough” and when you should stop!

This key also means never ever drink on an empty stomach. Drinking on an empty stomach will not only will enable you to get drunk faster and you’ll also drink more than you normally would as the night goes on.  Eat something before you go out or snack on something while you’re drinking, but not salty fried things – they will only make you want to drink more. Think about it – bar snacks are ALWAYS salty and fried – the bar will sell you more alcohol!  Stick to nuts, cheese, veggies, or even eat dinner before you go.

Having said all of that, moderation in all things is always the best way to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. And, personally, I think it’s more fun that way because then I can have “some” of everything I want.  So, enjoy those holiday parties – just be aware!

The Reset Diet

Fran's Reset Diet

A diet that helps you think about more than just your weight.

Truth be told, I’m not a good “diet” person. I’m no good at constantly saying “no” to something I want to eat.  Who is? What I mean by “diet” is any kind of program that’s designed specifically to help you lose weight.  Most of them are fads that doctors and nutritionists tell me don’t do any good anyway because they usually involve completely removing items from your daily intake and never allowing them back – even on “cheat days”.  And, then when you try to do that you eventually quit the “diet” and regain everything you might have lost by abstinence.  But, there are useful ideas that are not necessarily “dieting” but are just good ideas that can help your overall health.

For instance, drinking plenty of plain water is always a good idea, especially on hot days.  This is a tough one for me (I’m not a good water drinker) but it’s important to put effort into this one. Eating lots of fruits is also a good idea, and they taste good. I work out, I stay active, and I eat reasonably healthy (and balanced) full meals with a few “slips” now and then – it’s moderation for me and it’s always worked reasonably well.

Now and then though, it’s good to reassess what you’re actually putting in your body. For instance, a girlfriend of mine has a “diet” that she calls her “reset.” It’s something that she does once per year for one month – only 30 days – sometimes it’s just before the holidays (like now) and sometimes it’s just after all those holiday parties. It’s not a lot to do, I’ve tried it, and it really works. The best part is that it’s a diet that I think everyone can get into.

The whole concept is based on moderation – so lose the idea of some strict schedule where you live like a monk for a month (remember, this is me we’re talking about). Think of this as an opportunity to ‘detox’ away from some bad habits that have formed over the year. You know how it gets – too much of this or that, and you feel fat and tired! Through the moderation of the “Reset Diet,” I think we regain understanding what moderation actually means. My testimony is the big gain I got in the end: a big difference in my energy levels, clearer skin, and I lost that bloat I always complain about.

Rule One for the Reset Diet is banishing all alcoholic drinks for five days of every week for a full month. If I know that I have something planned that I want to have a glass of wine or drink at then that is one of my two “free” days. And since this diet is all about moderation, your ‘no alcohol’ days do not have to be consecutive. But I recommend that you try to put several days in a row together – it just has a better effect if you can.

Rule Two is to put yourself into a mindset of questioning everything that you eat. Do your best to ask yourself if whatever the meal you are planning is your healthiest choice. For instance, instead of trying to fill myself for every meal, I go for ‘leaner’ meals. Don’t starve, but don’t stuff yourself either. During this diet, I also cut back on snacks – especially stuff that comes out of a bag or a box. Fresh fruits are good, though. Always.

Rule Three may be the easiest of all. Take a short walk after every meal, or one longer walk after lunch or dinner. If you’re already doing the 10,000 steps per day thing, good. Just keep with the program. If not, maybe this is the time to start with 2,000 steps? Just sayin.

We can all do something for one month! The goal is to reset our bodies, not change everything about us. It’s a “diet” that may actually change other parts of your life, but the best part is that you get two “free” days per week.  I can do anything if I know that I only have to do it for 5 days out of 7 and it’s my choice which 5!  It’s an easy “reset” before or after the holidays.  I’m on it!

Entertaining at home with Magnums

magnums as tabletop centerpiece

How to use Magnums as a centerpiece for your dinner table.

Entertaining at home presents a fun challenge for me because I’m always looking for a way to do something a bit more extraordinary than before. I find the small touches that make a big statement, something that adds sophistication and makes the event more memorable.

“Magnums” contain 1.5 liters of wine or champagne, or the equivalent of two regular 750ml bottles. Two bottles in one! When you use magnums of wine on the table you get to enjoy the party more because you don’t have to keep jumping up and opening wine bottles as often.  But, there’s more than just the convenience of having to open fewer bottles for your gathering.

No matter how you look at it, magnums create a great party atmosphere.  Whatever the size of your gathering – large or small – when you have magnums as part of your centerpiece, the extra-large bottles immediately become fabulous additions to the tabletop and great conversation starters.

I went to a party in San Diego where the host served a double magnum of Champagne, equivalent to two magnums or four standard 750ml bottles. Just to get the cork out was a tremendous feat but, it took two guys to tip the bottle carefully to serve all the guests. That was not only a constant topic of conversation, it was also so much fun and the source of a whole lot of laughter all night long!  It really added to the party atmosphere.

There’s also a practical perspective for magnums. Winemakers prefer larger bottle size because wine ages more slowly and gracefully in larger format bottles than in standard bottles. There are several reasons for this.  One reason is that even though there is a greater volume of wine in the bottle, the amount of oxygen or “ullage” between the cork and the wine is the same as in a regular sized bottle. Corks are porous so tiny amounts of oxygen are let in (very, very slowly!) and that oxygen modifies the wine over time – aging the wine.  Too much oxygen will eventually damage the wine but if there is a lot more wine in the bottle and still the same ullage and cork size then there is less risk of damage to the wine over the same amount of time.  And, the bigger the bottle the more your wine is protected from other things that can damage it (larger bottles have thicker glass) – light, heat, changes in temperature and vibration from travel.

This is particularly true for Champagne where experts note that magnums help the wine retain a more youthful taste than when served from standard bottles. Also, due to the increased content volume, magnums tend to have slightly higher pressure which enhances the bubbles a bit – always a good thing in my opinion!

Either way, imagine one or two magnums sitting on your tabletop at your next party. You’ll enjoy the party with fewer interruptions to open more bottles and your guests will have a lot of fun passing the large bottles around the table to refill glasses. And think of all conversations that will start. But, the biggest benefit? You will be serving and enjoying wine that is closer to what the winemaker intended.

A simple way to save “leftover” wine

Coravin Wine Preserver

Wine Ice Cubes: The best thing for “leftover” wine.

Good wine is a terrible thing to waste.

Being a lover of wine, I’m always offering a glass or two to friends when they stop by.  I take great care in the wine I select. It’s important only to drink the wines you like (that doesn’t mean they aren’t new ones to you – just don’t waste those calories on bad wine!).  I always like to discover new wines and learn as much about them (the grape, the blend, the winemaker) as I can.  Every label has a story.

It’s very little surprise then that I try never to waste wine once the bottle is opened. If I think that only one or two glasses will be poured, I will reach for my Coravin – a device that allows you to pour a glass or two without pulling the cork!  It inserts a long needle through the cork, displaces the wine poured with Argon gas, and when the needle is removed, the cork seals over itself, and no air touches the wine in the bottle thereby there’s no chance of unplanned oxidization of the wine.  It’s a truly genius system.  So, when I open a bottle, I want to make sure that every drop is enjoyed!  But sometimes, I might not realize we only have time for one glass, and I’ve opened the bottle only to have half of the bottle left.

Leftovers are great, some foods like soups, stews, and sauces are even better the second day, but that is not the case with wine.  When air meets wine – oxidization of the wine begins.  This is a great thing for a few hours as it allows the wine to “open” and change the taste and bouquet of the wine for the better.  The wine becomes what the winemaker intended for you to be drinking.  But, when too much air comes in contact with the wine – like by the next day – then the change isn’t so great.  I can taste the changes, so I don’t drink leftover wine – and the problem remains.  What to do with that leftover wine before it changes into something no one wants to drink?

This is what I do with that “leftover” wine – I make ice cubes!  Whenever a recipe calls for wine, you should always be using something that you’d actually drink. You wouldn’t believe how this improves the dish.  If you’ve ever just reached for that jug of red when the recipe calls for dry red wine and then another time (with the same recipe) you’ve used wine that you would be happy to drink you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Your dish will always taste better when it’s made with wine you enjoy.

I have very clever OXO Good Grip “no spill ice-trays” made by OXO that I buy at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  They have a flexible top that seals over the liquid so that there are no spills in your freezer.  Simply fill the tray with your leftover wine, lay the top on the tray and freeze.  Frozen cubes slide easily out of the tray.  Keep the frozen wine cubes in a Ziploc bag that you’ve written what the wine is and the date it went into your freezer.  Whenever you’re cooking and the recipe calls for wine – simply pull out your frozen wine cubes and you never have to open a new bottle again.  Of course, if you need a couple of cups of wine for the recipe then, by all means, open the fresh bottle and enjoy a glass of the “leftover” wine while your recipe is cooking away!

Let’s talk about serving wine.

wine glasses on a tabletop

You’re hosting a party. How much wine do you serve?

How much wine should you pour in a glass? It all depends on what you want to do. Like, it’s been a bad day and you’ve come home for a little relaxation, then who’s going to comment if you fill your favorite wine glass to the top with your favorite red?

It’s something else though when you have guests, isn’t it? Filling a wine glass to the brim is just way too much when you’ve just invited some friends over for a quiet evening. Besides, do you want your friends sloshing red wine all over your carpets and chairs? Not anything I want in my house, right?

Over twenty years of owning restaurants has taught me a thing or two about serving sizes especially for events that you might host, like a party. Serving full glasses of wine is way too much not just for a party but really for anytime you’re having a glass of your favorite grape. You’re not taking full advantage of every experience the winemaker was hoping you’d have when drinking their wine. Worse yet, you’re cutting short the real enjoyment you get from drinking good wine. Especially at your party where you can make the experience that much more memorable for everyone.

When I serve wine at a gathering of good friends, I want to love the wine. I want to enjoy everything that the winemaker worked so hard to create. I want to taste the flavor. I want to enjoy the color. And I want to smell the full bouquet and I want my guests to do the same.

To encourage my guests to take part in the enjoyment, I fill their glasses to just below what we call the “waist” of the glass. For most wine glasses, that’s the point where the bowl is widest.  Filling the glass to that point gives you plenty of room to swirl the wine around in the glass, look at the color, and let the bouquet fill the glass. Then you can dip your nose into the glass and smell that wonderful aroma as you take a sip.

If you do a little research, you’ll find that there are all types of wine glasses. Riedel is a glass manufacturer that was the first to create wines glasses where form follows function.  In 1961 Claus Riedel was the first designer to understand that the shape of a wine glass affected the bouquet, taste, balance and finish and so created an entire line based on what grape you are drinking.  When it comes down to theory and mechanics of wine glass-making, Riedel is truly a unique company.  It’s the glasses that I reach for most often at home whether I’m having a party or just enjoying a glass of my favorite wine with dinner.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t always pay attention to what the book says about what kind of wine should go into what kind of glass. Bottom line, I buy the glass that I like. If it has a nice shape and it has a nice feel in my hand, I bring it home.

Riedel makes excellent simple wine glasses that are right for really just about anyone. The great thing is that they can easily be found at Williams-Sonoma – one of my favorite places to go for things for the tabletop.

Back at the party, no matter what kind of glass you end up with, encourage your guests to take their time with their wine.  Fill it short, and enjoy the experience.

Bring Napa Home and Let the Bottles Do the Talking

Fran's Wine

Bring stories home about the wine you love, #Napa #Winechat

I love wine from all over the world, but Napa is closest to my heart. Well, living in California is part of the reason, but back when I owned my restaurants, I visited there with friends and family as often as I could. I’ve collected so many wonderful memories from there.

You don’t have to go all the way to Napa to snag a beautiful bottle of cab. Go to your favorite store – I recommend one that specializes in wine like Wally’s Wine and Spirits in Beverly Hills, CA – and ask for a tour of the store’s favorite Napa selections. Listen to all of the great stories; every good vineyard has one. If only bottles could speak, right? But in a way, they do!

You wouldn’t believe how many great conversation starters there are in wine. I think that the stories make drinking wine so much more enjoyable. I’ll give you some examples.

Cabernet Sauvignon from winemaker Cathy Corison

What’s so cool about Corison.  To begin with, Cathy Corison, owner and winemaker, was one of only a handful of women winemakers when she began in the late 1970’s and only about 10% still are women. Cathy Corison calls herself “the gypsy winemaker” because she worked at several wineries, including Long Meadow Ranch, prior to finding the perfect “dirt” for her cabernet. She likes to keep her total production small, generally under 3,500 cases, because she can “stay close” to her wines.

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc

Long Meadow Ranch has some very long roots in Napa. Back in the late 1800s, the property was used to make wine, and they also grew apples, olives, and operated a goat milk dairy. Then Prohibition came, and the previous owners abandoned the farm.  The Hall family bought the property in 1989 and have been making wine there ever since. I actually keep their Sauvignon Blanc in my refrigerator as my “go to” white in the summer and I have several vintages of their Napa Valley Cabernet that I love to open when I’m looking for a big red.

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc from the Quintessa Vineyard

Agustin and Valeria Huneeus, both with long successful careers in the wine business, founded the Quintessa Estate in 1990.  Their philosophy is that their wine should be known for the terroir (dirt) and not the grape varietal.  Valeria has guided the estate from sustainable farming to organic farming and now to biodynamic farming.  I have visited this winery several times and I have to say it’s one of my very favorite places in the area.  Several years ago I was one of the lucky ones who tasted their Illumination (Sauignon Blanc) very early on and love this wine and personally – I LOVE their Quintessa Red.

Estate Proprietary Red, a Bordeaux blend from Continuum Estate

The winery was founded by Tim Mondavi, his father Robert Mondavi and sister Marcia Mondavi after the sale of Robert Mondavi Winery to Constellation Brands. It’s a real family-owned winery with family members sitting in key positions. Their focus for each vintage is on a single red blend premium wine based on Cabernet Sauvignon with a very limited production – typically around 1,300 cases per year.  Tim, one of the founders and the winemaker for Continuum was involved in the winemaking for Opus One.

Cabernet Sauvignon from the Behrens Family Winery

Les Behrens (from New Jersey) and Lisa Drinkward (a California native) started making wine in 1993 with Bob and Lily Hitchcock as their business partners under the Behrens & Hitchcock label.  Les, with absolutely no formal training has been the sole winemaker since its inception and Lisa, involved in every part of the winemaking, really takes over the vineyard management during harvest.  The Hitchcocks retired in 2005 and Les and Lisa became the sole owners – and the name changed to Behrens Family Winery.  The drawing on their distinctive gold label is of Les’ mother’s vintage KitchenAid. Owen Smith, a good friend of Les Behrens who shares his love of wine and art creates the beautiful labels on their bottles.  They produce only small lots of 6-7 wines per year – unfined and unfiltered – each a very hands on labor of love.

See? You don’t have to be a wine encyclopedia to get a conversation started. It can be a whole lot of fun just having a little information in your back pocket. And this is one of the best ways I know to bring a little of the vineyard home to your guests.

Cheers!

 

Champagne Is NOT Just for Holidays

photo-anthony-delanoix_champagne-1b

Spread the cheer any day – Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec

New Year’s has come and gone. Time to pack up the champagne glasses for another year (or the next wedding)? Are you kidding me? I hope you are!

The party’s only just started!  What better way to celebrate all of those relationships you’ve gathered around the table than with a glass of bubbles.

A Schramsberg wine master explains the process of making sparkling wines during a session of Camp Schramsberg in the wine caves.

The fact is, sparkling wine or champagne can be enjoyed at ANY meal with ANY food even a big steak. You just have to have the right bottle! One that stands out for me is Schramsberg’s Crémant Demi-Sec.

First you need to know that only wines that come from the Champagne region of France can legally be called “champagne.” Schramsberg is from the Calistoga area of Napa Valley and the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard use the Methôde Champenoise (translation: the champagne method used in France) to create all of their sparkling wines.

Schramsberg has been producing their award winning sparkling wines since 1965 and has been honored to serve them in every White House administration since Richard Nixon. One of the really cool things about Schramsberg is that they offer a unique experience to learn all about their wines.

One of the perks of owning a restaurant is that you get invited to participate in some very special events. Camp Schramsberg is one of those that I’ll never forget. I had no clue it even existed. It’s a three-day experience they have twice a year (once in the Spring for “bud” or when the grapes are just beginning to grow and once in the Fall for harvest). Anyone can sign up for camp and attend-it is not restricted to only people in “the trade.”  When I went, almost half of the participants were just people who love wine.

What’s really fun about this experience is that they hold it in their winery caves, out in the vineyards and also at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort.  I learned about Schramsberg’s history, of course, but also about sparkling wines in general and how they are made, was given an opportunity to learn how to properly prune the vines (it’s harder than it looks), how to saber a bottle-cut off the top of the bottle with a saber (easier than you think), eat a lot of great food and drink their amazing wines (even with steak!).  It was at camp that my real love of sparkling wines blossomed and I learned some valuable lessons.

One of them is that you should never hold back for celebrations in your life. So, don’t hold back the champagne (or the sparkling wine) for the “big days.” Every day should be a celebration, and every day is an opportunity to show your appreciation to those people who you gather around your table.

So, don’t be stingy. Pop a cork and enjoy.

Remember That Wine We Had?

photo by Serge Esteve

Love wine, hate remembering labels? What’s a Foodie to do? 

I go out to dinner often and get to taste a lot of new wines with my friends in the process.  The ‘always trying new wines’ used to be because I couldn’t remember “that wine we had last time that we all loved.” My memory just isn’t that good.  I know the grape varietals and blends that I enjoy and the ones I don’t love so much (Merlot, anyone?) and why, the parts of the world that create the wines I do love. Sometimes if I’m lucky I even remember a favorite winemaker label!

But, I’m confessing here. I’m not that person who has a photographic memory for these things (even after all my years owning restaurants). I don’t necessarily know why enjoyed a particular bottle – just that I know for certain that I wished I could drink whatever “it” was again.

I used to tell people to just take a picture of the bottle label, especially if they were drinking was something they truly enjoyed. I admit that I have a pretty big album on my iPhone of wine bottle labels I’d like to drink again.  That was way before all the apps that now allow you to keep track of bottles you like, tell you how much they should cost, and even let you add tasting notes.

I use Vivino which works best for me.  I just have to take a picture of the label and up pops everything I want to know about what’s in the bottle.  It then saves that info in the app if I want, it even allows me to rate the wine and leave my own tasting notes in the profile.  That way I can just go back to the app and see if there’s anything in my list that is offered on the wine list wherever I am.  You can even scan the wine list and it will tell you the rating and review of each wine.  Pretty cool and it takes up a lot less space than all those photos on my phone!

Date Night Wine from Gruet Winery

I love when I’m asked my wine recommendations because there are so many wonderful options to explore! Date night wines for a romantic dinner at home have been a popular discussion recently, so here are a few of my romantic dinner-in favorites as of late.

The old adage that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach is, I’ve found, absolutely true. They are always so impressed with the effort and we get to make something that we are comfortable with so the evening is stress free. One of my current favorites is actually a sparkling wine (you can’t call it Champagne unless it is actually from Champagne, France) from New Mexico! The winery, Gruet, is owned by the Gruet family which also owns Gruet et Fils-a Champagne house in France. They have non-vintage sparklings all under $20 or vintage sparkling wines with the most expensive under $45. Both are a very good value. I would simply order a few bottles straight from the winery and just keep them chilled. You never know when you will need one; bubbles make any meal a party. Enjoy!