Wine Cocktail: Sparkling Spiced Apple Cider

It's finally starting to feel like fall in North Carolina, and I could NOT be happier. Leaves are changing, pumpkins are everywhere, and the air is starting to feel crisp. What else is so popular in fall? Apples! Apple cider, apple pie, apple cinnamon candles. I love it all. To be honest with you, I am not a fan of pumpkin flavored things (GASP! I know) so I am happy to have another flavor option during this time of year.

In honor of the season, I thought I should create a wine cocktail using some fresh apple cider. I was inspired by this recipe over at Dishing Up the Dirt but made a few tweaks as I did some trial runs. The recipe is so simple and is basically fall in a glass. 

Sparkling Spiced Apple Cider Recipe:

Serving Size: 1 cocktail

  • 1 oz. Apple Brandy
  • 1 to 2 oz. Cider & Spice
  • Top off your glass with Dry Sparkling Wine

It is really THAT easy! A few notes on the ingredients above...

  • My ABC Store didn't have a normal sized bottle of apple brandy, and I was too lazy to go check other stores. Luckily, they had airplane bottle sizes and it worked great! I found that each bottle had enough to make two cocktails.
  • I first made the recipe with fresh apple cider, and I thought it tasted too much like a jolly rancher. I wanted some spice in there! That's when I went with the Cider & Spice that I found at Whole Foods (also saw it at my local chain grocery store). You could always mull your own spiced cider if you want to be fancy. I was lazy (again) and just bought the jarred stuff. Delicious! I liked 2 oz of it, but Kevin preferred 1 oz. Depends if you want the primary flavor to be the spiced cider or the bubbly! 
  • Any dry bubbly will work, so get what's on sale! I went with my go-to... Rondel Brut Cava from Total Wine. Can't be the price!

In all seriousness, this cocktail is the epitome of fall in my opinion. Enjoy this cocktail while carving pumpkins (be careful with those mini-saws!) or while you're snuggled up near the first fire of season! 



How to Host Your Own Blind Tasting Dinner

If you remember a while back, I wrote this post on our blind tasting class at Corkbuzz. It was so much fun to learn about the process of blind tasting and the typical characteristics of six "classic" wines.  At the end of that post, I said to stay tuned for tips for hosting your own blind tasting dinner. Well, alas, here are the pointers! 

1. Figure out how you're going to select the wines.

I put this first because it's most important if you want the tasting to be blind. You really have two options for selecting wine:

  • Have your local wine shop or restaurant you frequent (assuming they sell retail prices) select the wines for you
  • Have each guest or couple bring a bottle (or two!) of wine fitting the theme 

 For our dinner, we were lucky enough to have Shawn, the manager of Corkbuzz, select AND wrap the wines for us. This allowed us to keep dinner small, ourselves and one other couple, but still have the tasting be completely blind to all of us involved. If this is an option for you, I HIGHLY recommend it. If this is not an option to you, have no fear! The second option is great as well, but you may want to increase your numbers to have more wines to try that you don't know what they are. Just food for thought.

2. Determine a theme.

For the theme, let your imagination run wild! We are still wanting learn the basic grape varieties and their characteristics, so we told Shawn these parameters:

  • Single grape varieties, or rather no blends
  • Have the wine be a classic example of that grape variety
  • One Old World and one New World of each color

Other ideas could be focusing on a grape variety, region of the world or price range. You could also suggest everyone bring their favorite "x" -- every day wine, wine from Trader Joe's, whatever floats your boat. The sky is really the limit when it comes to deciding the theme!

3. Decide how you want to taste.

Do you want to simply rate the wines to decide a winner? Or would you rather fill out the full blind tasting grid? Or do you want something in between? This will help you decide how the evening will flow and decide if you want to have any paper on the table!

For our dinner, I wanted something in between. I didn't want to do the full blown grid, but also wanted us to practice our identification skills. Because of this, I created my own testing sheet to use. It had primary aroma, primary flavor, the guess as to if it's Old World or New World, and a spot to take a stab at the grape variety. You can create a document for whatever points you want to hit, or scour the internet for one that's already made.

See the bottom of this post for a few resources I think could be helpful for your table.

4. Plan the menu.

This can be tough since you don't know what others are bringing. Kevin and I decided to have mild flavored foods that would seem to pair with many wines so we wouldn't risk a horrible pairing. Our guests prepared a delicious appetizer plate with a variety of charcuterie, cheeses, and crackers, and we made an easy, roasted pork tenderloin as the main dish. Overall, it worked out pretty well!

5. Have fun!

It's so cheesy to have this be the last tip, but I always like to emphasize it. People take wine way too seriously, so while you may be practicing how to blind taste, it should still be fun! Be confident in what you smell or taste and talk it out among your guests. After all, you're ultimately having food and wine with friends. Can it get any better?!

In case you're curious what our wines ended up being, here's the reveal! We didn't expect it, but Shawn gave us the same grape variety for the Old World vs New World. It was great to see how the grapes can express themselves so differently depending on location. Terroir in action! 

La Dolce Vita

First, let me say that I can't believe it's been over a month since I last posted. Second, let me say that I can't believe it's already been ALMOST a MONTH since we returned home from our glorious jaunt through the northern half of Italy. WHY DOES TIME MOVE SO FAST?! Can I hear an amen?

Not a day has gone by since we returned that I haven't reminisced and day dreamed about our Roman Holiday (...see what I did there? But really, we weren't just in Rome). It was fifteen wonderful days of sight seeing, relaxing, eating handmade pasta and gelato, and drinking all the wine we could. The biggest thing we learned from our trip? Old World wines are where it's at! Everyone's got their preferences, and I still enjoy New World, but man, has my love for Old World styles grown.

While we were in Siena, we went on two wine tours: a half day tour through Chianti and a full day Brunello tour. Both were great in their own ways, but the thing I liked best was learning about the bio-dynamic wineries in Montalcino. It was so fascinating!

As a little background, Montalcino is a picturesque hill town in Tuscany. Brunello is their super star wine (and many consider it to be king in Italy), and Montalcino was the first town to be awarded their "DOCG" designation, or Denomination of Controlled Guarantee in rough English,  by the Italian government. All this means is that there are very strict laws and regulations about the wine in regards to grape varieties, methods of production, additives, aging, etc. If you want to see the full laundry list of rules, check out this website by the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino. So needless to say, the people in Montalcino care about their wine.

Now for a little background on Brunello, the wine is made from the Sangiovese grape. Its primary flavor tends to be red fruit and cherry, but it can also have flavors of leather and tobacco. It's definitely more savory in flavor than fruity. The wine must be aged for 5 years prior to release with at least 2 of those years in oak by law, but many say that this wine should be aged in the bottle for at least 10 years after release for the flavors to develop and soften. It's a wine collector's dream! Finally, like most Italian wines, Brunello pairs best with food (hello bruschetta and pasta!) because it's high in acidity. 

Sangiovese grapes.jpg

We went to two bio-dynamic wineries while on our Brunello tour, but the first, Podere le Ripi, was my favorite. I feel a little bad saying that because the owner has an "unfair" advantage over the other wineries we visited... he is the son of the man who started Illy Coffee so he has a large fortune to work with. Regardless, his wines were tasty and his cellar was spectacular.

The tour began with his vineyards. They only have a few hectares that are designated for the DOCG wines, so they grow some other varieties as well. Our guide indicated that this winery puts more vines per hectare in order to have the vines work harder for water and nutrients. They believe that vines that "suffer" produce better fruit, so they planted more than quadruple the number of vines per hectare compared to other wineries. 

Additionally, they are bio-dynamic, which is most easily described as a more intense version of organic. They do not use pesticides and chemicals in their vineyards or production, but it is also the mindset of working with the earth and the environment to help improve the winery. They plant other crops and pay attention to the position of the moon and constellations for their work in their vineyard. If this interests you, you can read more about bio-dynamic wines in this post by Wine Folly.

They then took us to the owner's cellar. The owner believes that metal creates a magnetic field and damages the wine, so they built the cellar without reinforced cement. The entire building was built from clay bricks and limestone mortar all by hand. It was very impressive! The winery also does not use steel tanks to ferment, but uses cement tanks and oak barrels. The cellar is a corkscrew shape so the winery can only use gravity to move wines from phase to the next.

The tasting was great, and we ended up purchasing one of their wines that was 100% Syrah. We wish we had bought more, but we had to hedge our purchases since it was our first stop of the day! I hope you enjoyed hearing about our favorite winery stop on our trip to Italy, and if you're ever headed over there, let me know! I love sharing my itinerary. 

Tasting Notes: Palmaz Cabernet

Happy Favorite Friday! I don't think I will ever NOT be amazed at how quickly a month goes by. August's Favorite Friday is particularly special to me and I can't wait to share why with you!

First, Palmaz is a splurge. No way around it. I started Favorite Fridays as a way to showcase my go to bargains, but also some wines that are on the pricier end for special occasions. This is definitely one of the latter. Palmaz has a lot of sentimental value because it's where Kevin and I got engaged in August 2014. Well, it actually was the winery we visited right before we got engaged, but semantics. 

Because we felt it played an important role in our engagement story, we also had it featured in our wedding. The Palmaz family was generous enough to send me corks for placecard holders, and we also borrowed some wine boxes from the local wine shop in Highlands.

Finally, Palmaz is just a cool place. I will tell anyone and everyone going to Napa that they MUST do a tour here. Nice people, awesome wines, and a winery unlike any other I've visited because there's so much science behind it. You can read a little bit about it in this WIRED article. Anyway, long story short, we love this winery and its wine. For this tasting, I actually used my Coravin so we could save the bottle for our actual anniversary!

The Facts

  • Producer: Palmaz Vineyards
  • Region: Napa Valley, California
  • Vintage: 2010
  • Variety: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot
  • Where I purchased: Palmaz. You can find it at small wine shops, too.
  • Price: $100+

I'm not going to do my traditional tasting notes setup because, to be honest, I was enjoying my small pour too much to focus on taking extensive notes. The wine is definitely what you'd expect for a Napa Valley Cab color-wise. It's a deep reddish purple color and much more opaque than what we've been drinking lately! The primary aroma was raspberry, and that came through in the first sip too. It's velvety with very smooth tannins. Kevin mentioned it was less spicy or had less pepper flavor than other Cabs we've had from there, and I'd agree. I think this wine is so well balanced with the alcohol, tannin, flavor, and body all being in proper proportion to each other. I would say it's less bold than what some might expect from a Napa Cab, but I think that also adds to its charm. I highly recommend as a splurge, and DEFINITELY check out the winery if you're ever in Napa!


Wine Cocktail: Frosé Forever

I guess you can say summer is basically over if you look at a calendar. Kids are back in school and Labor Day is quickly approaching. Despite this, it definitely still feels like summer outside. I don't know about where you live, but here in Charlotte, it feels like 100 degrees every day. Because of that, it's still fun to make it seem like summer! Grill those hamburgers, eat that corn on the cob, wear those white jeans, and drink summery drinks! This frozen rosé drink, aka frosé, that I came across on Basil and Bubbly seemed like the perfect way to toast to the "end" of summer! The best part? It couldn't be any easier to make!

This frozen glass of goodness has four components: rosé (obviously), strawberry simple syrup, lemon juice, and water. Yep, that's it! Here's how you go about making it:

1. Freeze the wine in advance.

The first, and most important step, is to freeze the wine. I chose the Les Vignes des Precheurs 2015 rosé  I had on hand from Total Wine. If possible, choose a darker rosé. I froze my wine for about 5 hours and it was good, but if you have the time, I highly suggest more. Say 6 or 7 hours. I poured the whole bottle wine into a 9x13" Pyrex dish and stuck it straight in the freezer.

2. Make your strawberry simple syrup.

I taught you how to make simple syrup originally in this post, but in case you forgot, boil 1/2 cup of water with 1/2 cup of sugar until sugar is completely dissolved. It won't take but a second for that to happen once the water is boiling! I hulled and quartered half a container of strawberries and plopped them in after the sugar had dissolved. Remove from heat. Let the strawberries impart their heavenly flavor on the syrup for a while. I ran some errands while this was happening, so I let it sit for about an hour. I'd say wait at least 30 minutes for good flavor. Note: you will NOT use the whole amount you made, so save the leftovers for Round 2!

3. Squeeze 2.5 oz of fresh lemon juice and get 1 cup of ice.

Simple enough.

4. Put everything into a blender and blend until smooth.

Frozen wine, 3 oz. simple syrup, 2.5 oz. of lemon juice, and 1 cup of ice. Blend. 

5. Drink and enjoy while jamming out to this gem by Ben Rector.

There you have it. The perfect addition to your next weekend. For better photos of the end product (the glass unfortunately fogged and I didn't like the light inside), be sure to check out my inspiration -- Marianne over at Basil and Bubbly (and Bon Appetit).