Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dinner and A Show: "Ratatouille"

For those who have never seen Disney Pixar's Ratatouille - I highly recommend it!  Not only is it family friendly (made, of course, for those little ones), but like most computer animated movies, it has content that is entertaining for adults.  Ratatouille also features some pretty interesting wines... and some interesting ways to make or serve ratatouille!

If you have never seen the movie - here's a scene that highlights a wine moment (note, this scene is near the end of the movie):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDK2azVSE5Q

It was brought to my attention, by a very dear wine friend of mine, that there was a wine error in the original Ratatouille, as shown in theaters:
At the end of the movie, one of the main characters asks for a 1947 Cheval Blanc (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch√Ęteau_Cheval_Blanc). Chateau Cheval Blanc is a winery in France, and in 1947 it apparently produced a wine that put the estate on the map.  (Today, one bottle is worth about $5000.)  Anyway, in the original movie, the label was wrong - it wasn't a 1947 Cheval Blanc, it was some other estate.  So many viewers caught the mistake and contacted Pixar that the label was changed for the DVD edition.


Another fun wine fact about Ratatouille (as found on IMDB):
"Disney and Pixar were planning to bring a French produced Ratatouille branded wine to Costco stores. That was until the California Wine Institute complained, suggesting that a wine sporting cartoon characters would only encourage under-age drinking." 


Anyway, the point is - here's a budget friendly family night (or date night if no kids are involved!):
1) Rent or purchase Ratatouille
2) Make up your own version of ratatouille (my edited recipe follows at the end of this post - it's gotten some rave reviews in my house recently)
3) Grab a bottle of budget friendly wine (perhaps a Pinot Grigio or even a nice Cotes du Rhone if you prefer reds - you can often find some $10-12 Cotes du Rhones in most wine stores/grocery stores) and enjoy your ratatouille while watching Ratatouille!


There you go!  Wine entertainment that makes the whole family happy.  Plus, it encourages kids to eat some veggies in that fun sort of way!  Super bonus - the only "time consuming" part of making ratatouille is cutting the veggies:


Denise's Ratatouille (edited from Emeril's recipe on foodnetwork.com)
Ingredients
1 yellow onion
2-3 large cloves of garlic
~1/4 cup of olive oil
1 egg plant, cut into small cubes (with skin)
~1 tsp. of fresh cut thyme
1 zucchini, cut into small cubes (with skin)
1 bell pepper, cut into small pieces
2 cups of small heirloom tomatoes, cut into halves with the skin
salt to taste
pepper to taste
~1/4 cup of fresh cut basil and parsley


Instructions
1) Heat oil in pan or large skillet.  I prefer a large pan.
2) Add garlic and onions.  Allow onions to slightly caramelize by cooking for about 5 minutes.
3) Add egg plant and thyme.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
4) Add zucchini and bell pepper.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
5) Add salt and pepper.  Then add the halved tomatoes.  Cook for an additional 3 minutes.
6) Add basil and parsley.  Cook for remaining 2 minutes.  Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Secrets that make this recipe superb:  Adding the small (grape-sized) heirloom tomatoes (they are in season right now!) adds a whole different dimension to this recipe as each tomato tastes different.  We get 3 little pint-sized baskets of little heirloom tomatoes, halve each wine and add to the ratatouille with the skins (which usually isn't suggested).  Also, I use all fresh-cut herbs from my herbal garden.  You can create your own or buy fresh herbs from the grocery store (all they are better if you cut them and cook them right away).  For the basil, I used 4 types and mixed them all into the ratatouille: Italian (regular) basil, sweet basil, Thai basil, and purple-leafed basil.  Yum...  If you want to add some meat, I suggest heart-healthy sea scallops!  We love that combination.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wine Buzz: "Autumn Blush" by Manatawny Creek Winery

It seems only appropriate to highlight a wine from one of my favorite wineries (and my introductory winery into the wine industry) of all times...

As this is our last weekend in August, September reminds us that Autumn is quickly approaching.  So, let's kick off our ratings with a wine to end summer and open the door to Autumn!  I give you Manatawny Creek Winery's Autumn Blush!


If my memory serves me correctly, this pink rose/blush wine is made from Steuben grapes.  Steuben is a hybrid variety (a cross between Wayne and Sheridan) created at Cornell's Experimental Station in Geneva, NY.  It's quite popular throughout PA, IN, and NY.  I like this grape!  Although it is not your traditional Vitis vinifera (typically of French origin) wine grape, it has some very redeeming qualities, which are especially highlighted in this rose.

I rate my wines on a 50 to 100 point scale.  (Every wine deserves 50 points for trying!)  A wine in the 90s is unbelievably good with lots of redeeming qualities (unlike Robert Parker's or the Spectator's scales...), a wine in the 80s is a good wine that may have some sort of component that is out of balance or missing, a wine in the 70s is probably a 1 time purchase (if you catch my drift)... and anything below 70 should probably never be bought again!  Each component (appearance, aroma/bouquet/flavor, taste, balance, and length of the finish) has a scale that I follow to rate my wines and at the end, I add up each component to get a grand total. I will always give you the grand total when I rate each wine posted on "The Vine to Wine."

Autumn Blush by Manatawny Creek Winery
Appearance (10 points possible): slightly pink hue, clear (probably filtered) - 10 points
Aroma/Bouquet (20 points possible): fresh fruit which is very forward in the nose, hints of passionfruit, grapefruit, melon, and strawberries - 15 points
Taste (10 points possible): sweet entry (but not overly sweet), medium acid (preferable for a rose), light in tannin, a simple wine with light body - 7 points
Balance (5 points possible): all parts run together harmoniously, although the acidity is quite noticeable; I would give this wine a middle of the scale selection - 3 points
Finish (5 points possible): the length of the finish is there, lasting about 1 minute. Strawberry flavors linger in the finish. - 4 points 
Total Points: 89
Overall Thought: A pleasant semi-sweet rose with an alluring nose that reminds of me a summer, tropical fruit salad.  The wine is rather simple, but easy-to-drink.  Perfect to drink on its own during those cooler end-of-summer nights.  I see this wine going rather well with grilled vegetables, while sitting out on the patio wondering where the summer went.  Also a local favorite for those who have only ever drank White Zin or a girls-night-out kind of gathering when some of the girls don't know if they like wine.  :)  *Bonus* This wine has a cool, classy name!*
Food Pairings: grilled veggies, soft cheese, ice cream, nuts, and puddings
Cost: $10.95
Splurge Factor (out of 4): 2 - definitely a good deal and a purchase well worth making
Where to buy: Manatawny Creek Winery (on site or online purchases for select states) http://www.manatawnycreekwinery.com/index.aspx

What can I say?  As the cooler weather approaches for most of the U.S., I'm sure I can find some wines to warm the heart!  But for now - here's to the semi-sweet blush wines, the end of summer, and to Pennsylvania wineries!  Bottoms up!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thrifty Wine Gear: The Word Wine Wheel

LOVE this new budget-friendly, fun trinket I picked up today:

World Wine Wheel:

How it works: It lists 14 common wine varieties (also known as wine varietals) - Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Muscat Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Gewurxtraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir, and Syrah/Shiraz.  For each wine variety, there is a list of descriptors (attributes that make up the variety's taste and flavor), points of interest, where the grape is grown, the origin of the grape, and the grape color.  Each variety is designated a number, and then on the "outside" portion of the wheel is a list of general foods, seafood, meat, desserts, and cheeses that pair well with a distinctive wine style (dry whites, sweet whites, and dry reds).  If the number associated with the variety pairs with that style, it is listed for a given food group.  

I mean... it doesn't get much easier than this to find a wine variety, know where it came from, what it should taste like, and what you should eat with it!  (Study it before your friends arrive and you'll sound like a real wine connoisseur for dinner!  Oooh yeah!)  

Post it on your fridge clips and you'll never have to wonder what kind of wine to buy for dinner again!

Splurge Factor (out of 4): 1 - this thing is a real bargain!  (Berks County Friendly!)
Price: $8 (about)
Where to buy: If in Napa - buy at your local Napa Fermentation Supply store for $8.37 (including tax) or check it out on Amazon.com or buy.com.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Travel Tip: Getting to Napa Valley

As I have yet to choose my "opening wine" to rate and post for my blog, I decided today I will focus on traveling to our current residence in Napa Valley.  I know Napa Valley is a highly traveled to area: filled with wines, marvelous food, hiking trails, antiques, boutique shops, and spas!  I've had the pleasure of putting together several travel itineraries and recommendations for our friends back East when they visit.  Therefore, if you are planning a trip to the Napa Valley, I hope I can make your stay much more budget-friendly while maintaining that "Napa Valley" feel.

The Game Plan: Get to Napa Valley
The most traveled time of the year is harvest season, which is (*tada!*) right now - August through November.  People want to get here to "experience" harvest.  The second most traveled time of the year is May through July.  So, incidentally, this is when all the rates for everything go up.  My budget-friendly, thrifty suggestion: visit during the off-season - November through April.  Now I know all the locals are cringing in their seats (as this is the rainy season), but there are some real pluses to coming to Napa during the off-season.

1) Lower rates, and in a down economy, this is quite important.  You can save 40-50% more money on hotels, rental cars, even air fare (which may not be a 40% savings, but still... cheaper!).  This gives you more money to buy wine or splurge on restaurants and activities.

2) It's the rainy season meaning that there is a lot of greenness.  It's true that some days can be rainfall after rainfall after rainfall.  But it's not always like that.  There are breaks of sun.  And one of the coolest things about the rainy season is that everything is green except the grapevines (which are in their dormant season).  What is also beautiful during this season is the annual mustard growth.  Yellows fill up the green valley and rolling hills.  The fog settles in the valley throughout most of the morning, making the scenery quite romantic and enjoyable.  Plus, there is no deathly hot temperatures to escape from on a daily basis, which you would encounter during the summer.

(Photo taken by Denise in February 2010 right outside of Yountville)


3) Napa is known for its Cabs (Cabernet Sauvignon blends, mostly), and what better time of the year to enjoy a deep, dark red than during the cooler months?  Trust me, you'll enjoy them more in the cooler weather...

4) Most of the wineries keep up their outdoor holiday light displays through March.  I found this weird at first, but after awhile, I kind of grew to like it.  Why not enjoy the festivities and decoration during the months when the sun sets earlier?  It gives the valley a bit more romance during an otherwise "gray" season.  (It's still California - not like we're living under 10 feet of snow for 6 months!)

5) Most tasting rooms less foot traffic during the off-season, meaning you're more likely to have a personable experience if you are going wine tasting.  This could be a plus all the way around!

6) San Francisco is only about an hour away from Napa, and actually, the best time of the year to see the city  (I think) is when there is less fog in April and May.  So if you're planning an additional city trip, thing about this time of the year as well!

If I haven't convinced you yet to come during the off-season, then come during the heavy travel times.  Be aware that there will be more crowds, more traffic, usually hotter temperatures, and higher hotel rates, especially on the weekends.  But at least you'll get to enjoy a piece of sunny California.

Where to Stay: My Favorite Budget Friendly Hotel
Sure, you could stay in luxury at Auberge de Soleil (http://www.aubergedusoleil.com/) - side note: I'm still trying to convince my Berks Countian father to splurge on a wedding here some day!  Hahahaha...) - where you can spend well over $1500 a night (but it is luxury)... OR you could check out my favorite thrifty (yet classy) hotel: El Bonita (http://www.elbonita.com/Index2.html).  During the off-season, rates are as low as $79 to $99 dollars a night!  That is a STEAL in Napa Valley... no seriously, a steal!  Busy season rates run from $119 to $279 a night depending on the room location.  The plus side to El Bonita - it's right in the middle of Napa Valley on Highway 29, below St. Helena.  This puts you in the perfect location if you are just planning a visit throughout the valley.  Plus, they serve a very charming, Californian continental breakfast every morning.  It's a cozy, magical little nook and cranny right in the heart of wine country.

Of course there are other thrifty choices: The Bestwestern Stevenson Manor Inn in Calistoga (http://www.stevensonmanor.com/), Embassy Suites in Napa (http://embassysuites1.hilton.com/en_US/es/hotel/NAPVLES-Embassy-Suites-Napa-Valley-California/index.do), and the Meritage Resort and Spa (http://www.themeritageresort.com/) just to name a few.  For a list of more hotels, visit: http://napavalley.com/lodging/hotel_motel.html.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wine Books to Read: "A Short History of Wine"

For those needing some background info on where wine originated and what made wine what it is today... I highly recommend A Short History of Wine by Rod Phillips.  It's the perfect book to curl into as the summer months are coming to a close - autumn winds are a-brewing and soon the rains will fall in Northern CA.

http://www.amazon.com/Short-History-Wine-Rod-Phillips/dp/0060937378

(Please note that this is a budget friendly purchase!)  =)

I haven't read this book in 7 years, but it seems appropriate to kick stuff off as it was topic of conversation earlier today.  Despite the fact I'm not current on all the interesting information in this book - I have carried it with me every where I go only because it contains so much factual information and is (what I consider) a wine treasure.

The book is not short - a full 333 pages of history - but it is very much about wine.  I have found with each individual that reads it, a particular section becomes what they favor most within the book.  For instance, my favorite chapter was about phylloxera and its influence on the French wine industry.  But that is because phylloxera, a tiny insect that is most prevalent on the roots and leaves of grapevines, is what drew me into my fascination with wine (after all, I am a science geek...).  But others have very much enjoyed the chapters on democracy in relation to wine, as well as the information regarding the troubles of wine (a.k.a. Prohibition - another one of my favs).

I think the Introduction says it all (if I may quote Rod Phillips himself): "Wine has been called the gift of God and the work of Satan.  It is a sign of civility and sophistication and a threat to social order.  It is a part of a healthy diet and it kills.  It is this very complexity that makes the history of wine so compelling."

How can you not want to read it now?

Welcome to "The Vine to Wine" =)

My blog picture is deceiving - a bottle of Napa Valley Silver Oak Cab comes for a pretty penny these days.  But I wouldn't call myself a "pretty penny drinker" nor a "Napa-Valley-only-advocate."

(My first experience drinking a Napa Valley Cab as a Napa Valley resident - In the glass: Silver Oak 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon)


I actually got into wine during my high school days growing up in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  I lived in an incredibly small, middle-of-the-road town that I grew up resenting, and now I long for that North Eastern comfort as I explore the many facets of wine around the world.




(The Early Years in Berks County, PA: {from top left to bottom: Learning to prune in the middle of winter, fermenting my first batch of grapes, my first harvest year from my own vineyard, and my vines and trellis after first two years of vegetative growth}]



"Wine in Pennsylvania?" you ask.  Most definitely!  In fact, my palate (for those non-foodies... your palate is "the roof of your mouth that separates your nasal and oral cavities" - there will be more on this later...) was defined around high acid (sour) wines, "low" (~12%) alcohol... something that greatly separates cool climate wines from hot climate (Napa Valley) wines.  But I love it!  It was that industry in Pennsylvania that made me fall in love with this ancient drink, and brought me to realize that wines can be enjoyed from all regions and within every budget.

Yes, that's right, I'm a thrifty wine buyer!  My boyfriend, who chooses to remain anonymous (so for namesake purposes, I will call him "Johnny Depp").... Anyway... where was I?  Oh!  "Johnny Depp" and I are always trying to find the best "bang for the buck" when it comes to wine.  And sometimes, we find some real gems that we hold onto.

That leads me to the point... I want this blog to be fun, educational, and helpful for wine buyers of all types - from the connoisseurs to those looking for a good wine to impress their date.  I hope to make wine purchasing easier, encourage wine tasting around the world, and entertain with fun facts or new trinkets that enlighten.  I'll introduce you to what I know, treasures/wines I find, what wines I like (on a budget!), books to read, wine parties to throw, activities to enhance your palate, and gizmos that make the wine drinking experience all the better!  I welcome you to join in - if you find a recommended wine to taste, post your thoughts!  Each sensory palate is different and while I may enjoy (or hate) one thing - you may love it!  Welcome to my vine of wine...