Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Zinfandels The Real American Red Wine!

And I’m not Talking About That Pink Stuff!!

I love Zinfandel Wines, in fact Zins may be my favorite wine. It’s a tossup between them and cabernets. And I’m not talking about White Zinfandel like the ones that my brother-in-law, Joe "Pinky” Koch drinks. 

White Zins called pinky by Joe are Blush wines, which unfortunately give Zinfandel a bad name!

The Zins I love are powerful red wines, they’re big and bold. The ones with strong tannins that will slap a Cabernet on the butt and tell it to move over.   While Cabs may be the King of wines, a big bold Zin is the first knight of wines…the one that’s not so sure he shouldn’t be king! 

Zinfandel is a uniquely American grape that is genetically the same as an obscure Croatian grape and the Primitivo of Southern Italy.   

But California is where Zinfandels are grown and where they shine and for that reason it’s planted in over 10% of California vineyards.  I particularly love the ones from the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma where it is the most planted grape in that area.

Dry Creek Valley is also loaded with old Vine Zins that don’t produce as much 
fruit but what they do make are big intense jammy wines that burst with dark fruit flavors of black cherry, plum and blueberry. And they have hints of pepper, clove, chocolate, coffee and tobacco with aromas of pepper, cinnamon and flowers.  So there’s a lot going on with these wines!

The Zinfandels of Dry Creek may be considered the best Zins but each area in California has its own unique styles and taste.

Even in Sonoma each region in the county offers an array of flavors that set their zins apart from the other areas. But in general Zinfandels are earthy wines that include both Black and red fruits and are known for their spice and pepper.

While I like big bold powerful Zins, fruit bombs according to my friend John, they’re basically three distinct styles of Zins produced.

One is young, fresh and fruity, well balanced with very light tannins. These Zins are easy to drink and a great every day wine. They’re the ones that you most often find and go well with food.

The next up the food chain are medium-bodied Zins that are fuller with a longer finish. These medium-bodied wines have more fruit flavors than the lighter ones with more noticeable tannins, spice and pepper flavors. These Zins go well with meats, especially BBQ.

And finally my favorite, the full-bodied Zinfandels, they’re big and powerful with intense concentrated fruit with flavors of black cherry, plum, blackberries, blueberries and at times even raspberries. These wonderful wines have underlying spices and peppers as well as other earth flavors and strong tannins.

A full-bodied Zin can easily be aged. But I for one like them just the way they are, rich deeply hued wines that can stand up to any Cabernet!


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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Wine Pairings With My Guide For Smoking Meat The Texas Way!

Summer Smoke Deserves Great Wine!

For many, if not most Americans, Memorial Day is the beginning of summer. The sun is shining, people are planning vacations and the grills are lit! And in some cases the smokers are fired up and ready to bring meat to barbeque heaven!

Let’s be clear on what I’m talking about; cooking meat on a smoker is very different from grilling. When you grill you’re using flames to sear your meat while cooking it to your taste!! Smoking is harder than grilling. You’re cooking the meat with an indirect fire at low temperatures between 200 and 225 for a long time. But the effort is well worth the time and you really are the pit master!!!

Now I know many of you may think that if you love barbequing on your smoker you can’t possibly be into wine. Wine drinkers don’t follow the smoke to every barbeque joint they pass. Barbeque is beer country! 

You are WRONG!

Great barbeque is like wine, it takes time and patience and it’s as much about the aroma as the taste. Truly great barbeque, like wine, needs to be savored!

Now you can smoke any type of meat, but since I don’t want this blog to take as long as it does to cook a brisket I’m going to limit my wine pairing to the big three…brisket, pulled pork and ribs. And since I’m in Texas these will all be cooked Texas style which means I’m pairing them with the meat and not the sauce!

And when picking wine for your smoked masterpiece remember big, well balanced red wine goes best with most smoked meats and if you like a wine then give it a try. However if you want some guidance follow this rule.

If you’re going to spend all day, and sometimes all night, you need a really good wine. And like a good sauce, your wine needs to compliment the meat and not overpower it and its great smoke flavor!

Beef Brisket is a terrible piece of meat which is why it needs to be cooked low and slow to an internal temperature of 185 to 190. The finished product should have a great bark and smoke ring, be tender and juicy and easily pull apart. And when done correctly it is barbeque brilliance! So the wine for brisket also needs to be special.

While Texas brisket is not cooked with a sauce it is cooked using a dry rub which can contain salts, peppers various spices and herbs in any combination.  The rub may very well overpower the acidity of the wine which will result in some wines tasting flat and uninteresting. The smoke flavor which is so looked for in great brisket can also dominate.

So for brisket I would go with a big spicy wine with some oak such as a Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache or even a Petite Sirah.

Pulled Pork comes from the Boston Butt/ Pork Shoulder. Like a brisket it’s also a terrible piece of meat. However because it has so much fat running through it it’s also hard to mess-up.

Now being from Texas I’m never going to put a mustard vinegar sauce on my pulled pork. But we do use a spice rub and most contain some sugar and some cooks spray their pork with apple juice while cooking. The finished Boston Butt should also have an internal temperature of 185 to 190 and the bone will easily slide out. The meat should have a golden bark and good spice ring. Remember the pork needs be pulled when it’s still hot.

A very high end Pinot Noir with medium tannins and crisp acidity would go well with your Pulled Pork as would a Cote Du Rhome or a full-bodied Tempranillo, especially one from Texas.

Pork Ribs, whether Baby Back, Spare or St. Louis Style, ribs need to be tender and juicy with a bit of crusty bark and a good smoke ring. The meat should pull easily off the bone, but not fall off.

Good ribs are not easy; they’re often overcooked and at times undercooked.  You can’t rush them and using a meat thermometer is difficult because of the bones. You’ll know it’s time to start checking them when the meat pulls back from the bones by about ¼”. And the best way to know they’re done is to pick the slab up and if the meat starts to break then they’re probably ready. The final check is to grab a bone near the middle of the slab and twist. If they’re done it should start to break free of the meat.

Texas pork ribs are usually covered with a good dry rub that contains some sugar. Thus the rub, smoke and the natural flavors of pork ribs makes picking the right wine difficult, especially since the flavors of ribs are surprisingly subtle. The wine can mask the wonderful flavors you spent so much time developing. Your best bet is to choose wines that are fruity with moderate tannins. And most dry rubs have spices that respond well to earthy wines.

I'd go with a rich and fruity red wine that will enhance the juicy flavors of your ribs. And Pork Ribs have no better companion than a light fruity Zinfandel. However also try a Cote Du Rhome or a nice Pinot Noir.

Now that we discussed the meats we have to look at how wines pair with Barbeque Sauces, which changes everything. But that’s for another time!


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