On the morning my mother passed away in my arms, I drove from Vista in San Diego County to Los Angeles. The two hours of driving north gave me time to reflect on how lucky I had been to hold my mother during her last twenty-four hours, massaging her head and arms as she took her personal journey.
Instead of driving straight home, I made two stops: Santa Monica Seafood, where I purchased some plump scallops, and The Wine House, where I procured a bottle of white wine from Sardinia. This night, August 6, 2019, I would make a fine meal of pasta with scallops and sun-dried tomatoes accompanied by a white wine worthy of celebrating my mother’s life: a 2018 Vermentino by Antonella Corda.
When you spot a glass of Vermentino on a wine list or reach for a bottle at your local shop, the producer is most often located on the island of Sardinia, an ancient land mass that is one of over four-hundred-and-fifty islands under the Italian flag. Sardinia, second in size only to Sicily, is known by locals as Sardegna, and you will often see this place name on the wine label. Sardinia is responsible for the production of about half of all Vermentino worldwide. Vermentino Di Gallura is Sardinia’s only DOCG (Italy’s highest designation of quality), and it is located in the northeast area of the island. Gallura is prized for its breathtaking beauty, granite soils, and famous Emerald Coast. While Sardinia was once regarded as Italy’s wild west, today it is the darling of nearly ten million tourists who visit annually.
If you are an ambitious swimmer with a penchant for chasing Vermentino, you can make your way seven miles north from Sardinia to French Corsica. There, Vermentino goes by the name of Vermentinu in accordance with local naming traditions. In fact, this grape goes by several names, depending on where you are drinking at the moment. On Italy’s mainland, Vermentino is prominent in Liguria, home of the ritzy Italian Riviera. Here, the wine known as Pigato, a name that means “spotted,” because the grapes have freckles on their skin. In northwest Italy’s Piedmont region, the grape is called Favorita. A quick flight over to Southern France’s Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon wine regions will further acquaint you with this popular variety, which they call Rolle. The French there use Rolle in their production of rosé to lighten the color and to provide intriguing aromas and mouthfeel.
Come to think of it, I hope that this thin-skinned grape won’t be offended as I notice that it runs with a monied, sun-seeking Mediterranean crowd. Vermentino shines at its best when planted close to the sea and you know that real estate isn’t cheap. You can also find Vermentino produced in California’s Paso Robles, Sierra Foothills, and Lodi regions, where it is appreciated for its resistance to drought and disease. There has always been confusion as to the origin of the grape, but DNA testing has most people convinced that Vermentino is native to Italy.
When a server approaches you on a hot summer day with a glass of Vermentino, the aromas from the pale gold nectar will reach your nose before the wineglass, wet with condensation, hits the table. Vermentino discharges a heady mix of that may include grapefruit, lemon peel, lime, pineapple, green apple, white peach, pear, and white flowers. These fragrances are couched in savory accents of sage or scrub-brush, depending upon the vineyard location and the hand of the winemaker. Don’t be surprised by the presence of almond on the nose: this is a defining aroma of the wine.
Vermentino is known for having an almost salty minerality redolent of the vineyards located along the western Mediterranean. The grapevines located on beachfront properties are natural recipients of the saltwater elements that shower their soils, grape skins and leaves. Gusty winds along the coast cool the grapes and dry them out, helping them retain their medium- to medium-high acidity. A medium alcohol level of eleven point five to thirteen point five ABV contributes to Vermentino’s refreshing quality.
Vermentino is the Gemini of wine grapes, presenting you with two vastly different style possibilities. Light-bodied, easy-drinking Vermentino wines are an inviting alternative to a Sauvignon Blanc or a bone-dry Muscadet. Producers of this light style seldom use oak, instead favoring stainless steel and other neutral vessels to preserve this variety’s mix of aromas. The moment you meet the rich, opulent and sometimes creamy expression of Vermentino, you will know why I chose this style for a night of importance and reflection. This weightier style might greet you with bruised pear, sage, wet earth, brioche and almonds with a nice hit of acidity keeping everything on balance.
A 2018 bottle of Vermentino Di Gallura by Piero Mancini that I am enjoying at the moment hits all of these notes, along with a generous, oily texture in the mouth. This round mouthfeel often indicates time on lees (resting time in the vessel with the yeast that fermented the wine). Creamy or dairy aromas and flavors might be introduced by the winemaker, who employs the malolactic fermentation technique to convert tart malic acid into creamy lactic acid. This bottle by Mancini, a one-hundred percent Vermentino, has a satisfying aromatic intensity and is typical of Vermentino’s medium level of alcohol at twelve point five ABV.
In Tuscany’s Bolgheri village (home of Super Tuscans), Vermentino sees some of its very richest expressions, where producers rely on the interplay of skin contact, time on lees, and barrel aging to create wines of weight and extraordinary complexity. If you enjoy a rich Viognier or a Napa Valley Chardonnay, this form of Vermentino may just hit the spot. While some Vermentino wines can be aged, most should be enjoyed within three to seven years following the vintage.
The Vermentino tasting experience holds yet another twist: a slightly bitter finish that reminds you of the sensation you get in the mouth from a grapefruit pith or a young almond. This counterpoint to the citrus and flower notes refreshes your palate in preparation for the next sip. Think about this sensation like you would the tannins in a red wine — a balancing component to fruity and juicy elements. What causes this unusual aftereffect? The Vermentino grape has a high level of phenolic compounds that produce a sophisticated, bitter finale. (Phenolic compounds naturally occur in plants and are valued for their antioxidant properties which are thought to reduce the risk of disease.) Considering that Italy is fond of including bitter elements in its cuisine, such as radicchio, it is fitting that this wine is not shy about rewarding us with a light kiss of bitterness.
Which foods pair well with Vermentino? My first thought for pairing food with a particular wine is to take a look at where the wine comes from and match it with foods from the same area. Ergo, why not cook up some Mediterranean food to go with your Vermentino? Your first course could be a tip of the hat to Vermentino’s citrusy character featuring an arugula salad bathed in olive oil, lemon and parmesan cheese. The arugula’s herbaceous and somewhat bitter elements are also a nifty match to the wine’s characteristics. Celebrate Vermentino’s oily mouthfeel by grilling up some sea bass, red snapper, octopus, squid, or sardines.
And you don’t have to stop there while at the grill. Vermentino is a great dancing partner for grilled chicken or even lean red meats such as pork and lamb. Play on Vermentino’s savory notes by roasting artichokes, onions, peppers, sweet potatoes or eggplant. If you are in the mood for pasta, bathe it in pesto sauce to boost Vermentino’s herbal aspects. The next time you visit a local bistro for lunch, order up a spinach quiche to go with your Vermentino. The rich, creamy mouthfeel of the quiche, along with the bitter green flavors of the spinach make this meal an ideal fit for your wine.
Don’t hesitate to pair Vermentino with chicken or fish tacos on a Taco Tuesday. Vermentino is a wine with personality plus, and a lot of nuance, so have fun matching and contrasting the aromas and flavors that she has to offer. I look for Mediterranean offerings along the lines of bitter salads, nuts, citrus, fish, stone fruit, oils, and cheeses with a creamy mouthfeel like Mozzarella. For additional food and wine pairing ideas, see my new book, Your Love Affair with Wine, available on Amazon.
I saved the best news for last: your awareness of Vermentino as a white-wine option is good for the pocketbook. Many wine drinkers are unaware of the existence of this grape, so you may find yourself paying less than you might for a Sauvignon Blanc (light style) or a Chardonnay (rich style) of similar quality. While we’re thinking about it, let’s look at wines with similar profiles to Vermentino. When you run into these wines at the bottle shop, consider whether Vermentino is a better value.
If you are shopping for fresh, light-bodied whites, you might be looking at a Sauvignon Blanc with its green apple, citrus and white peach aromas like Vermentino. How do the two wines differ? For one thing, the Sauv Blanc is likely to have higher acidity. Perhaps you could tell these wines apart in a blind tasting on that one feature alone. Or, you could be looking to pick up a bottle of Muscadet. This wine, produced in France’s Loire Valley, is dry and saline with citrus characteristics like a Vermentino. However, Muscadet wines are generally dryer and more acidic. If I was blind tasting between the two, I would identify the wine that is bone dry (Muscadet) and sniff like a bloodhound for almonds (Vermentino). Like Vermentino, Muscadet thrives near the water, but it lives in a cool climate whereas the Vermentino longs to bask like a sunbather in a warm or hot climate.
Let’s say you want to pick up a Manzanilla Sherry. Like a Vermentino, you would anticipate almond aromas, salinity and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Yes, both wines share these refreshing attributes, but with Manzanilla’s ABV of fifteen to seventeen percent, you would immediately know the difference. Manzanilla has low acidity whereas a Vermentino has medium to medium-high acidity.
If you are shopping for a rich, opulent white, you might be looking at a warm-climate Chardonnay, such as one from Napa Valley. This wine can offer Vermentino’s round mouthfeel and creaminess, along with nuttiness and tropical fruit notes. Chardonnay can be made in a variety of styles, like Vermentino, and may also undergo malolactic fermentation. However, an oaky, warm-climate Chardonnay is predisposed to having a lower acidity level than Vermentino.
A Viognier might be on your shopping list, with its almond, citrus and peach aromas as well as an oily mouthfeel. How would you possibly tell it apart from a Vermentino? Viognier is usually lower in acidity and higher in alcohol. Or, you might be reaching for a golden Semillon wine from South Australia, with its tropical, nutty qualities balanced by a chalky minerality and an oily mouthfeel. The way to identify which is which in a blind tasting: Semillon customarily has a higher alcohol level.
Our memory of a wine is brought into focus when we pair it with life events, connection with family and friends, and meaningful experiences. For me, the Vermentino grape will be inextricably tied to my mother and her loving and nurturing role in my life. When I drink Vermentino, I will think of her. When I think about my mother, I will remember the pasta dinner, the Vermentino and the conversation with my husband.
Peter and I had a quiet dinner at home that night of August sixth. We discussed everything that had happened with my mother over the past several days and hours. At eighty-six, my mother had lived a generous time on earth, but it was still difficult to say goodbye. The next day, I called my daughter, Nicolette, and asked her to make the same meal and to pair it with Vermentino should she find herself in the position of celebrating my life. Ever the chef, Nicolette reminded me that scallops may not be in season at the end of my days. We struck a deal, however: a glass of Vermentino from Sardinia would be raised in my honor, as I had done for my mother. The seafood: Chef’s choice.
Vermentino: General Characteristics
Flavors: citrus, green apple, pineapple, white flowers, almond
Acidity: medium to medium-high
Phenolics: attractive bitterness on the finish
Texture: fresh and light to lush and oily
Body: light to full
Key regions: Italy: Sardinia, Liguria, Tuscany, Piedmont; France: Corsica, Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon; US: Paso Robles, Sierra Foothills, Lodi.
Origin: Likely Italy
Also known as: Rolle, Favorita, Favorita Bianca, Favorita d’Alba, Pigato, Vermentini, Vermentinu, and Malvoisie de Corse.
Does the thought of ordering wine at a restaurant make you nervous? The bigger the wine list, the easier it is to feel intimidated by the number of choices, the staggering prices and the embarrassment of “getting it wrong.” For this reason, many people pass the list over to the person at the table who is the most willing to take on the daunting challenge or perceived to be a wine connoisseur. Should a list the size of a bible drop into your hands, don’t break into a cold sweat.
At best, this is your opportunity to explore beautiful choices from wine regions around the world. Your pulse will be racing not from the fear blooming in your chest but from the excitement of choosing from a tasty lineup of Pinot Grigios or Merlots, for instance. Taking command of the situation also saves you from enduring someone else’s dull choice of an overpriced label available at the supermarket around the corner. After all, dinner out should present you with new culinary and beverage experiences, not the same old safe choices.
While ordering wine at a restaurant may seem fraught with obstacles and wrong turns, it is also an opportunity to personally grow in your understanding of wine and have fun doing it. No, do not fret, dear wine lover. Instead, embrace these tips to order wine like a boss and up your game with increasingly savvy selections at any restaurant, anywhere.
Take your time. As you look through a restaurant’s wine list, it is all too common to feel pressured into making a quick choice as the server taps her foot expectantly, waiting for your order and your thirsty dinner companions look on with anticipation. The more you know about wine, the more your companions will expect you to dazzle them with something unique and first rate. If you pick too quickly, however, you may miss finding a bottle that would be the night’s star. At worst, you may be told that the bottle you selected is unavailable and find yourself paying twice the price for a poor substitute, much to the chagrin of those also paying.
So here’s how we are going to get started. On your next date night, keep in mind that making the wine selection is not a race. In fact, take all the time you want. You’re in charge here. You own the room. Breathe in and relax as though you are in your own living room, but please be sure to wear your pants and not just underwear. Don’t forget your shoes.
Don’t worry about the size of the list. For sure, a small wine list is comfortable, especially if the labels have been thoughtfully selected. In the case of a small list, I look for unusual offerings and place my order posthaste. Maybe it is a wine grape I have never heard of or a producer that piques my interest. Some people just look for the second least expensive glass or bottle on the list and place an order. A large wine list can be initially alarming, but it also means you are likely to find gems at a price point that suits your budget.
Start with a bubbly. If you fear you will crack under the pressure of having to make a timely decision, order a fun, inexpensive sparkling wine by the glass for you and your drinking partner right away. Something like a Cava from Spain or a Prosecco from Italy. Sparkling wine is a merry way to start a meal and it lends an air of celebration. Life is good when you can celebrate, even if it is on a Monday night. While drinking the bubbly, ask your partner about what he would like to drink so you can factor in his preferences.
Approach a huge list like you would a coffee table book. Don’t you just love coffee table books? Instead of big pictures, you are looking at big countries. Big deal. You’re a citizen of the world. If you need reading glasses, put them on now. Please don’t be that person who uses a phone flashlight to read the list; it is distracting to others. If the room is too dark for reading, ask the server to put a candle on the table or leave the room to find better lighting. Review the wine list and see what’s on offer as you sip your bubbly. So far as everybody in the restaurant knows, you do this every night of the week.
Pair your wine selections with the food. Traditional food and wine pairing guidelines will help you get some ideas going. Highlights of pairing include selecting food and wines from the same geographic area. A Chianti Classico is a good match for pasta dishes with red sauce from central Italy. You can also match key flavors in your food and wine. Salads with citrus dressings offer a clear invitation to match wines with aromas of lemons or limes such as a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
Bring together contrasting but complementary flavors. Carne asada tacos can be paired with a light-bodied, crisp German Riesling to create an entirely new taste sensation. Pair acidic or spicy food with light-bodied, fresh and crisp whites or reds. Match the intensity of the dish and the beverage. When we talk about the intensity of a dish, we are usually thinking about the amount of fat and/or boldness of flavor. For instance, ribeye steaks, with their juicy fat, can be paired with a Nebbiolo or a Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are unsure about how to pair your wine with the food, do a quick internet search on your phone such as “wine pairings for salad with balsamic vinegar dressing or wine pairings for steak au poivre."
Consider a few candidates. Do you want a red, a white or a rosé? Another sparkling wine? The list will likely be organized by region, grape variety or by wine characteristics. Take a mental trip through the list, noting prices. After you have calmed down and spotted two or three choices that look promising, do one of two things: pick one and place your order, or ask for a second opinion from the server. My vote: second opinion, unless you come to realize during the conversation that you know more about wine than he does.
When speaking with the sommelier or server, point to two or three wines that have caught your attention. This helps the somm understand your desired flavor profile and, just as importantly, the price range that is in your comfort zone. A good somm will know about the hidden treasures on the list. Go for what is suggested, unless the price is above the price range you have indicated. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Nobody knows everything about wine and you will learn much more quickly if you ask questions and keep an open mind. Even wine “experts” tend to specialize in certain wine regions because it is impossible to know it all. That’s the charm of wine: it is a lifelong learning experience.
Should you go by the glass or invest in a bottle? That is up to you. Generally, you will pay more by the glass if you have more than two or three glasses. However, it can be a lot of fun to have a new glass of wine with each course and this approach allows for more exploration. When ordering by the glass, some restaurants allow you to select small, medium or large pours, usually described in ounces. I love this option because I can order the smallest pours of multiple wines to experience a number of varieties, makers, wine regions, and winemaking techniques. One downside of ordering by the glass: once a bottle is opened, the wine begins to spoil. Some opened bottles sit for several days before being poured out. If your wine tastes off, ask the server for a second opinion. She will likely open a fresh bottle for your pour.
Stay alert: not all advice is good advice. As you know, there are good advisors and there are bad advisors, in life and in wine. Most of the advisors you will encounter are good to great. A bad advisor will suggest wines that are well above the price point you have indicated. In that case, go with one of your original choices. Watch out too for the bait-and-switch. “Oh, we don’t have the wine in stock, can I bring you out a blah-blah-blah?” In answer, ask to see the substitute on the wine list so you can furtively review the price before you agree.
Bad advisors thrive in venues that count on tourists. I had a server in such a place tell me that there was a bug in my glass of Chenin Blanc; he offered to help. “How nice is that?” I said to my guest as we enjoyed our seafood dishes on the patio. The server brought out an empty glass, then picked up the bottle from the table and poured. He then added wine to the original glass with the bug in it and took it away for his own consumption, much to our surprise. I suppose that was a bug and switch. The location was New Orleans, a town that I treasure and visit each year.
But you never know. The same server had earlier suggested an eighty dollar wine bottle when the original forty dollar bottle I requested was out of stock. I had told him to offer something more in line with my original price selection. Luckily, such experiences are unusual, but it does not hurt to be aware and in charge of your dealings in wine. The more you get over your fear of wine lists and build your confidence and experience, the more skillfully you will react in any situation. Places that count on locals for repeat business can be more of a sure thing, especially if you make an effort to frequent their establishments. Even in touristy areas I do my research to find the best restaurants and wine bars and visit them repeatedly if they meet my expectations. Most restaurants and bars live or die on repeat business and they want to build a longstanding relationship with their customers.
Consider this final tip. If you plan to invite an important person or crowd to a restaurant soon, why not get a leg up on your wine selection? In other words, do your homework. Here is what I did recently: a few days before an important evening of guiding a wine tasting, I sat down at the restaurant’s bar and asked the server to take me through a few wines by the glass that I thought were good candidates for the tasting. I was excited to try a Mencía from the Bierzo region of Spain because I had enjoyed that variety in the past and not many people know about it.
The server suggested I try a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from Anthill Farms Winery. I had initially missed seeing this offering. The Pinot Noir was by far more exciting than the Mencía and I offered it with excitement on the night of the wine tasting. While it can be stimulating to introduce a new variety to wine lovers, my pre-tasting brought home the fact that a well made wine of any variety can win the day.
Pair these tips with a fearless attitude and you can look forward to meeting the challenge of the very largest and most elaborate wine list any restauranteur places into your hands. And remember, it’s just wine, not an exam that will affect your future earnings. I would further postulate that being willing to experiment in your wine selection makes you a more attractive date. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of spice and adventure in a relationship? Have fun with selecting wine and forgive yourself for the occasional misstep . . . as does every seasoned wine lover.
This article is partially excerpted from my new book, Your Love Affair with Wine: How to Meet and Fall in Love with a Bottle of Wine, available on Amazon.
The Gamay grape has suffered terrible indignities through the ages. Can you imagine being being labeled “evil and disloyal,” then banished from your homeland? Yes, this happens to people and to grapes. In 1395, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, declared that wines made from the Gamay grape had a “great and terrible bitterness” and were “injurious to the human creature.” Which is really funny since bitterness is often equated to tannins in wine. Gamay has next to no tannins in comparison with a showboat like Cabernet Sauvignon. In any case, the Duke demanded that the offensive Gamay grapevines be “destroyed and reduced to nothing” throughout Burgundy. As a result, almost all red wine in Burgundy’s most prestigious region, the Côte d’Or, is made from Pinot Noir and not Gamay.
Now, some would say that the Duke wasn’t really a bad guy. He just wanted to protect his star, the Pinot Noir, from being upstaged by the rough-and-ready-to-please Gamay. In Philip’s mind, it was an issue of quality control. Others see the Duke as a demon, hellbent on ripping out the vigorous Gamay vines in favor of the more lucrative though hard-to-grow Pinot Noir. Armed with these facts, maybe you want to begin thinking about where you sit on the issue, if you have nothing better to do than debate such quandaries with the drinking buddies in your parlor.
Luckily for the persecuted and humble Gamay grape variety, there was a region in the very south of the Duke’s purview that escaped his notice: Beaujolais. This region, compared to Burgundy’s celebrated Côte d’Or, was primitive, a boondocks in which wine was made for local consumption. Gamay had been grown in the nearby Lyon area since the rule of the Caesars and became increasingly popular throughout Beaujolais. The region’s granite soils and hilly terroir were ideally suited to the Gamay variety, which has thrived there since. Gamay’s legitimacy was sealed in 1937 when Beaujolais was awarded an AOC designation (as part of France’s wine classification system). The grape’s official name is Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, but nobody calls it that unless they want to show off. Some people like to call it Gamay Noir. I think we’ll let them get away with that, don’t you?
The Beaujolais region has always been upstaged by Burgundy’s showy and expensive Côte d’Or, and in fact, by all of Burgundy. This means, to you and me, that there are many lovely examples of Gamay-based wines, some of which share the characteristics of a Pinot Noir, available at a price we are happy to pay. The Gamay grape is known for its fruity red, tart flavors of cherries and raspberries. At its best, the grape is additionally capable of producing a well-structured wine with mushroom, smoke, wet earth, tea and other exotic aromas typical of a well-made Pinot Noir. Gamay wines are usually light in body and in color with almost no perceptible tannins and refreshing acidity, traits that can also be found in Pinot Noir wines. Both Gamay and Pinot Noir wines pair well with meat and cheese plates, salads, fish, and roasted chicken. Lighter fare is ideal for these light-bodied wines that can take on multiple personalities.
Gamay is, in fact, a relation of Pinot Noir. Gamay’s parents are Pinot Noir and the less well known grape, Gouais Blanc. These are the same parents of Chardonnay, a grape that has enjoyed much more fame and prestige than Gamay. The ancient Pinot Noir grape is highly prone to mutation, so it is not beyond the stretch of the imagination that it can father both red-skinned (Gamay) and white-skinned (Chardonnay) grapes with the same mate. Rather versatile, don’t you think?
You may have enjoyed the quaffable wines known as Beaujolais Nouveau. These are fruity, easy-drinking reds that are released on the third Thursday in November immediately following the harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau Day was launched by wine merchant Georges Duboeuf, also known as the “Pope of Beaujolais.” Throughout the eighties, Duboeuf held Beaujolais Nouveau festivals and the tradition was soon celebrated by vintners and wine lovers around the globe.
These young rustic wines did little to boost Gamay’s reputation as a serious wine grape, however. Nouveau wines are made quickly and in abundance. When I initially learned about these wines, which are available from several producers, they were described to me as the “Kool-aid of wines.” Critics are quick to disparage Beaujolais Nouveau wines, once again humiliating and shaming the unlucky Gamay grape. The world of wine lost a tremendous showman when Duboeuf died in January of this year at the age of eighty-six.
Today, Nouveau wines have lost much of their attraction to the buying public. You are likely better off enjoying a more ambitious example of the Gamay grape unless you are looking for a simple, fruity tart wine to drink without giving it a second thought. Chill your Nouveau for about thirty minutes in the fridge before consuming it to accentuate its fresh and lively nature. Drink your Nouveau as soon as possible as it is meant to be drunk within a few months of release.
Gamay’s most exciting expression is generally found in the ten named Crus in Beaujolais, each one exhibiting a distinct flavor profile of this terroir-expressive grape. The most famous Crus are Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie and Morgon. The Cru labels indicate the named region rather than the grape, and all are located in northern Beaujolais. The other Crus are Juliénas, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Chénas, Chiroubles and Saint-Amour. Crus are forbidden from producing Nouveau wines. Some Crus are delicious upon release, but most need a few years in the bottle to develop fully.
I opened a 2018 Morgon by Jean-Marc Burgaud recently that was not as good as other Morgons I had experienced in the past. Of course the wine was rather young to be drunk, but lately I can’t help myself from reaching for wines made from the Gamay grape. I capped the unfinished bottle and threw it in the refrigerator feeling rather disappointed, then I left for a quick trip to Coronado Island with Peter. I sampled the Morgon upon my return a week later and it tasted better than I remembered. Ten days into its “incubation” in the fridge it tasted great. This tightly wound wine needed the help of oxygen to tame it, apparently. Most wines taste worse, once opened, being stored in the fridge. This Morgon was the exception. Ten days of “relaxation” made this wine absolutely generous in its flavor and nuance. Clearly, I should have taken the time to decant this Morgon in the first place. Just when I think I understand wine, a bottle surprises and rewards me. This makes me want to give everyone I meet a second chance!
In France’s wine classification system, the next desirable level below Cru is Beaujolais-Villages, and these villages are located on lands surrounding the Crus. There are many tasty bottles to be had at the village level, especially in vintages that are known to be good. Examples include 2006, 2010 and 2014, but there are many more good vintages, each offering something that reflects that year’s growing and harvest conditions. The easy way to identify a good vintage is with an internet search on your phone as you shop or by observing price differences between bottles. A higher price by the same maker for a different year can be an indication of a better vintage.
The last and largest appellation is known simply as Beaujolais. This region produces fruity, easy-drinking reds mostly in the villages of the south. You may run across a Beaujolais labeled “Supérior.” This indicates a wine with a higher concentration of flavors, darker in color and with a higher level of alcohol, so it may be worth the few extra bucks. If you are looking to find yet another expression of the Gamay grape, keep an eye out for the growing number of rosés from the Beaujolais region.
Most Beaujolais undergo a winemaking process that differs from traditional methods. This widely accepted approach is known as semi-carbonic maceration, a technique that accelerates fermentation and gives freshness and energy to the wine. Most interestingly, aromas such as bubblegum, bananas and candy develop right along with Gamay’s traditional red fruit flavors. The banana, bubblegum and candy aromas are so unique that, once you identify them in your Beaujolais, you will be able to find them in any wine made using this process. Some producers of Pinot Noir also use this method, especially those known for producing “natural” wines. Winemakers occasionally experiment with semi-carbonic maceration to bring out entirely new expressions of fresh fruit character from other types of grapes as well.
The winemaker starts by throwing whole bunches of grapes into a vat, which is then sealed. The grapes on the top crush the ones below, causing the grapes on the bottom to release their juice. The ambient yeast on the grapes feast on the juice and kickstart the process of fermentation, producing not only alcohol but carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide works its way up to the grapes on top and fills the vat. Meanwhile, berries toward the middle and top of the vat stay intact, where fermentation happens at the intracellular level. Most Beaujolais producers employ the semi-carbonic maceration technique, though the Crus either abstain from it all together (such as Moulin-à-Vent) or use some variation of this method along with traditional winemaking techniques.
Beaujolais is the first wine region that comes to mind when discussing Gamay, but in France’s Loire Valley, Gamay is the region’s second most planted grape, producing pleasingly fruity wines meant to drink now. You will also find plenty of Gamay plantings in France’s Mâconnais wine region, located directly above Beaujolais. Gamay is a robust grower and early to ripen on the vine. It is certainly a picnic to cultivate and vinify compared to the finicky yet intriguing Pinot Noir. Both grapes reveal their finest expressions in France’s cool Burgundy region, so look for other delicious examples in the cooler wine regions of the world.
For example, Gamay is fashionable in the western, French-speaking area of Switzerland, where it is often blended with Pinot Noir. Oregon hosts and annual I Love Gamay festival, where some in the industry insist the wines rival those of the French Crus. Look for examples from California in the Sierra Foothills and Santa Barbara County. You can also find Gamay in New York State, Italy, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and beyond. Gamay is a performer with a big heart, but it needs the right director to stay focused.
When people ask, “What’s the most surprising thing you have learned about wine?” I like to pull from the quote at the beginning of my book, Your Love Affair with Wine: How to Meet and Fall in Love with a Bottle of Wine:
“Each wine grape (or person), when treated with kindness, flourishes.”
Yes, this happens to people and to grapes, including the humble and sometimes surprising Gamay. The next time you reach for a bottle of Pinot Noir, why not also pick up a Gamay for a fun compare-and-contrast tasting? Then you can decide whether the Duke of Burgundy was completely crazy or a shrewd businessman prone to theatrics.
The Gamay Grape: General Characteristics
Flavors: red cherries, raspberries, violets, wet earth, candy, bananas
Acidity: medium high
Tannins: medium low
Alcohol: medium low
Body: medium low
Key regions: Beaujolais, Loire Valley, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, California
Parents: Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc
The crunch of breadcrumbs atop your pasta, along with a wave of flavors delivered by anchovies, piñon nuts, white wine and golden raisins, will have you cooking like a Southern Italian any night of the week. Pair this dish, which takes about 30-40 minutes to make, with a white wine from Italy's Campania region, such as Fiano di Avellino or Greco di Tufo. Serves four.
1/3 cup raw piñon (pine) nuts (buy them toasted if you want a shortcut)
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs (if you need a substitute, panko breadcrumbs work)
8 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained, plus 8-10 additional for topping the pasta
2 large shallots, minced
1 small fennel bulb, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup white wine, such as Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo or Chardonnay
1 pound linguini
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed by hand
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1) Warm a large skillet to medium heat and add the raw pine nuts. Constantly stir the nuts until they turn golden, about two minutes, then set them aside on a paper towel to cool.
2) Using the same skillet, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, then add the breadcrumbs. Toast the breadcrumbs, stirring constantly, until they are golden brown, about three minutes, then set them aside in a bowl to cool.
3) Meanwhile, set a large pot of salted water to boil in preparation for cooking the pasta.
4) Returning to your skillet, warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add 8 anchovy fillets, crushing them with your spoon as you stir, until the fillets dissolve, about two minutes. Add the shallots and fennel and stir until they are lightly caramelized, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
5) Turn up the heat on the skillet to high, then add the white wine, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the wine has reduced by half. Lower the heat to medium.
6) Add the linguini to your pot of boiling water and cook until al dente, about 7-8 minutes.
7) Meanwhile, return to your skillet and add the golden raisins; crush the saffron threads into the mixture and stir.
8) Once the linguini is cooked, use a pair of tongs to carefully remove the pasta from the pot and add it directly into the mixture in the skillet, stirring as you go. It's fine to allow some of the pasta water into the skillet as you make the transfer.
9) Remove the skillet from the heat, then add the fresh dill, continuing to stir. Add salt to taste.
10 ) Place the pasta mixture into bowls. Top each bowl with 2-3 anchovy fillets, toasted pine nuts and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil. Enjoy with your favorite dry white wine.
"Your Love Affair with Wine: How to Meet and Fall in Love with a Bottle of Wine," is now available in print and digital formats on Amazon.
Time spent with a good bottle of wine can, in fact, be the start of a lifetime romance. This is the first of a three book series on how to meet and fall in love with a bottle of wine. Each individual’s love affair with wine is unique. Each bottle is a date with intrigue, a conversation waiting to be had. Our relationship with wine, like many a good story, involves a journey. When we start the trip, we are not sure about the who, what, where, when, why and how, but we know we want an experience. A great one. Another thing is for sure: We, as the protagonist in our own story, will evolve and grow as we experience the pleasures that wine has to offer.
Like finding the right coach for your favorite sport or the right person to cut your hair, this book involves getting started or, if you are an experienced wine taster, getting another point of view. This book addresses how to approach wine, how to find and buy wine, how to pair wine with food, how to taste wine and how to party with wine. You will also learn how much wine to buy for any given event and how to buy inexpensive wines that taste fabulous. If you decide to buy an expensive bottle of wine, you can use the knowledge you pick up from this book to help make educated choices at the bottle shop. We will explore wine faults, why they occur, and what to do about them.
You will also understand what goes into making fine wine and why the price you pay may be a fair one. You will gain comfort in speaking with sommeliers, wine retailers and others looking to sell you the perfect bottle for any occasion. And you will know what it takes to find a bottle that takes you to the moon with pleasure. You will receive practical advice on how to build a mental library of aromas and flavors so you can identify them in your wine, which is at the heart of wine tasting. Here’s what’s going to happen on our journey together through the world of wine:
1) You will experience a philosophy that gives you comfort in exploring, choosing, drinking and enjoying wine.
2) You will be able to size up any wine. Then you can discuss your impressions of the wine with others. If you want to.
3) You will have a game plan for connecting with other wine lovers to fabricate a life that is rich in enjoyment and punctuated by insights, surprises and delights. When it comes to wine, nobody knows it all and we’ve got a lot of exploring to do. Let’s get started.
Find this book on Amazon in print and digital formats.
Let’s get one thing straight: Nobody can say you’re wrong about what you like and what you don’t like in a wine. Your palate, or your appreciation of taste and flavor, is your own. You are entitled to your entire range of tastes, feelings and perceptions of every wine that meets your lips: red, white, rosé, still or sparkling.
When I engage in a conversation with friends about wine, they sometimes take a step back and say, “I don’t know a thing about wine.” That’s when I come back with, “You know what you like and what you don’t like, right?” Yessiree, we all do. And that’s what gives us all the courage to take a thrilling worldwide tour that connects us with winemakers, cultures, cuisines, vineyards, mad scientists and, best of all, friends.
To join me on an exciting wine tour (or conversation), I have only two requirements: Pay attention to what you are drinking and form your own opinion. Paying attention is essentially exploring a wine with your senses and a curious, open mind. Oh sure, you may know something about the wine you are drinking, such as the country of origin, the grapes, the style, the price, or the winemaker. Or you may know nothing at all. It’s fine either way.
In many cases, it’s actually better not to know a thing about a wine prior to meeting it. Or should I say tasting it. This is known as “tasting blind” or “blind tasting.” When tasting blind, you can approach the wine on its own merits and with no preconceived notions. And it can be thrilling. Or a misadventure. No matter the outcome, you will learn something. Blind tasting is akin to going to a movie without having read a review.
Let’s say it’s a Saturday night and you are out with a friend at a movie theater sharing popcorn. Somebody dims the lights and your movie starts. Perhaps you look forward to experiencing a range of emotions. If you’re like me, you secretly hope there will be tears involved as you gain insight on the human condition. In the darkness of the movie theater, you check your jacket pocket and squeeze the pack of tissues in anticipation.
Or your goal is to watch the movie just for fun, expecting no more than satisfying entertainment and some belly laughs with your friend. If it’s an American film, the movie will typically open with a dramatic scene and the main characters will be introduced within the first few minutes. You will whisper a few thoughts about the movie to your friend as the story unfolds. The plot will graduate to a climax, then wind down to what you hope will be a satisfying ending. This theater scenario is like wine tasting in that:
1) When tasting wine, we are hoping for a good or even great experience. We may or may not know about the wine prior to bringing the glass to our lips. If we haven’t had the wine before, there is an element of anticipation. What will the wine be like? We begin gathering information visually as we inspect the bottle. Our investigation continues as the wine is poured out of the bottle and into the glass.
2) Enjoying wine is often done with family and/or friends and there is often food involved. It doesn’t have to be popcorn, like in a theater, but that could be fun too. You might go out to enjoy the glass of wine (like you would watch a movie in a theater), or you might open a bottle at home (more like the movie streaming experience). Either way, you are in for the good life.
3) The enjoyment of wine, like a movie, involves a beginning, middle and end. You bring the wine to your lips. The aroma wafts to your nose. Suddenly your mouth is awash with flavor. As your tongue and nose get acquainted with the wine, you experience the equivalent of a movie’s storyline. The plot thickens. Secrets are revealed. Think of the main characters of the wine as the grapes that have been grown, fermented and bottled. Or the characters can be the individuals working in the vineyard and the winemakers in the cellar. The peak of the wine’s flavor in your mouth is like a movie’s climax. Then you swallow the wine, the taste subsides and the experience is over. The end.
The second part of my requirement for our wine tour together, forming your own opinion, means asking yourself how you feel about the encounter with the beverage that’s in your mouth. That equates to coming out of the theater with a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It should also involve something we all love to do, whether it’s a movie or a glass of wine: Talk about it. As we explore wine together, you will gain insights on the human, elemental, and market conditions of wine. Enjoying and talking about the experience of wine is the sweet outcome of understanding that you are entitled to an opinion about this form of entertainment and that nobody can say you are wrong about what tastes good, in your humble opinion.
This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book on how to get to know and fall in love with a bottle of wine. Stay tuned for updates on the book, which will be published this fall. -- Lyne Noella
When you look at a bottle of wine, forget about the price. Think of it this way: Are people who went to Harvard University smarter than those who graduated from a state university? Harvard University grads have more opportunities because of their perceived value. In reality, a state university graduate may be just as smart or smarter. Simply having money behind you does not guarantee anyone’s intelligence or success. It is the same with wine: A bottle of wine that sends you to the moon can be financed by a multi-national conglomerate or a small producer whose survival depends on your purchase of the next bottle.
You might have read in Wine Spectator magazine that the ratings are done blind and without knowledge of the bottle’s price. This gives each bottle the opportunity to speak for itself and to be evaluated on its own merits. You owe that to people and you owe that to wine.
When I reach for a new bottle, I mentally submerge what I know to be the price and instead look for the winemaker’s quality aspiration. Couched another way, What is the intent of the winemaker behind the bottle? Is it a mass-produced wine with pencil-pushing corporate types at the helm? Is it a small, multi-generational producer working in a well-loved vineyard looking to express himself? Is it common plonk offering a ticket to quick inebriation? The bottle itself and the label provide clues but few definitive answers.
Most bottles are sized at 750 ml. The shape, weight and the color of the glass represent choices made by the winemaker. Don’t rush to judgment: A bottle that looks like most others can represent either a high-volume producer with economics in mind or a small producer who is buying what’s affordable on the market. A unique bottle, one that is heavier or has a different shape or color is making a quality statement that will be confirmed or debunked as you taste the wine and learn about the producer. Is the bottle presentation an artistic expression of what’s inside or a cunning ploy to attract the purchase of a wine you will ultimately use for cooking rather than drinking? All of these elements communicate the intent and quality aspiration of the producer. But your investigation of a wine and its bottle has just begun.
Over time, you will find that certain wine bottle shapes provide a clue to the style of the wine or the region of origin. A bottle’s shape often reflects a region’s history and tradition, especially in the Old World. By that I mean countries that are considered the birthplaces of wine such as Europe and the Middle East. For instance, the Burgundy bottle was invented in the nineteenth century as a vessel for producers to package their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s probably the shape was the most convenient for the glassmakers at the time. Thereafter, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers around the world got in line for the same shape. Even now, producers who make wines with similar characteristics to Pinot Noir, such as Nebbiolo, Etna Rosso and Gamay, also choose this classic bottle.
To the southwest of Burgundy in France lies Bordeaux. It’s thought that the Bordeaux bottle, with its high shoulders, was developed soon after the Burgundian bottle by producers who wanted a distinctive shape for their world-class blends. Some historians offer a more practical reason: to capture the sediment of aged Bordeaux blends featuring Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There’s probably some truth to both theories. If you threaten to pull out my fingernails unless I make a choice, I’m going to say that the winemakers of Bordeaux probably wanted to go to the party sporting something unique to their area. Wouldn’t you?
You might have noticed that wines such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer from the Mozel region of Germany have a unique tall, thin bottle shape. Distribution of these bottles involved a leisurely ride along the Rhine river, in contrast to the swashbuckling high seas travel of Burgundy and Bordeaux exports. The comparatively easy ride down the Rhine of the German wines meant that it was possible to cram as many bottles as possible in the hull of the ship. Hence a tall, delicate bottle was designed to enable capacity.
Now let’s take a closer look at the label on your bottle. Information usually includes the vintage, grapes and/or region, alcohol by volume, the producer, and other facts. Look beyond the words to the presentation. Does the art look like it was done by your next door neighbor or a professional graphic artist? Is the printing muddy or crisp? Incidentally, I perk up when I see a label that looks like it was produced by an amateur. The person producing that iffy label may in fact be a sole-proprietor winemaker tasked with every aspect of getting the wine to market. And what’s inside the bottle may cause you to sweat with excitement. Or wish you had never been born.
I was once given a mysterious bottle. On the label was an illustration of a woman. The type of woman who would slash your throat in the middle of the night while howling with laughter. What’s more, the bottle was from Temecula, California. Temecula is known for tasty sparkling wines but it is not a major wine region. I had yet to taste a good still wine from the area. To be fair, I had not tasted many wines from Temecula. I had no idea who gave me the bottle; it was a Secret Santa gift. The giver remains anonymous to this day. I threw the bottle into the wine fridge and there it sat for months.
Then one night I was cooking dinner and the unimaginable happened: I had no wine in the house. Except for the scary mystery bottle. I took a deep breath, popped the cork, and hoped that killer woman on the label would not pop out like a genie. I wanted wine so I figured it was worth the risk. I’m telling you the story, so you know I lived through it. By now I trust you enough to admit the following: I make mistakes in wine due to preconceived notions. Everyone does. That’s how I know you will make them too. I had to scold myself (again) for having a mindset that the wine with the scary label would taste like gasoline. Au contraire, I enjoyed it. Nobody got killed either, so the dinner got made and my husband did not have to go hungry. Thanks, Secret Santa.
This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book on how to get to know and fall in love with a bottle of wine. Stay tuned for updates on the book, which will be published this fall. -- Lyne Noella
What is drinkability? My explanation is as follows: You bring the glass of wine to your lips. Your nose breathes in a kaleidoscope of fruity and earthy aromas. You take a drink and the beverage winds its way around your tongue like a river. You blink a few times in rapid succession. By this time, the pleasure center in your brain has lit up and is waving a flag that says, Hey, there’s something interesting going on here, pay attention.
You sit up straight and take a second look at what’s in the glass. Your mind dims the sights, sounds and cares of your everyday life, giving the wine center stage. Your nose, tongue and mouth further explore the wine and you take a trip through a field of aromas and an ocean of flavors and sensations. This wine can be bold or shy or showy or mysterious, like some people you know. Provocative even. The point is, It’s delicious!
Over the next hour or two or three, new layers of flavor, aroma and mouthfeel make themselves known as you and a friend consume the bottle. Your body relaxes and you just give in to the sensations. You find yourself thinking, Wow . . . I don’t want this to end. You glance over to your drinking partner’s glass. What is her pace of consumption? Does she love the wine as much as you do? If not, maybe there’s more for you. At some point the last drop has been poured and swallowed. But the flavor lingers like the caress of a lover’s touch. And you are as happy as a gambler who has won every single poker chip in the casino.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if every bottle of wine we bought delivered this kind of drinkability? If that happened, nothing would get done. We’d all be too busy drinking and congratulating one another over our fine luck. What usually happens is that we find ourselves putting down the glass at some point before reaching the end of the bottle. Why? Because we have had enough of that particular wine. We don’t even have to have a reason. We just know. Because that’s what our palate is telling us.
Let me give you an example. You take a drink of a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley in California. Your brain is wired to appreciate some level of sweetness in any liquid, so your first drink of the wine may indeed light up the pleasure centers of your brain. However, too much of a good thing, such as the sugar level in the wine, may wear thin after a few swallows. You put down the glass and move on to something else. That particular wine has failed to pass the drinkability test. You don’t give up on wines from Napa Valley, however, because you have been informed that many wines from that region have drinkability in spades. You just have not found your special wine today.
More often than I wish was the case, a particular wine does not hold my attention. Like a wallflower, the wine goes ignored while I enjoy the conversation with my drinking partner. I might even forget the glass is on the table. Drinkability? Nope. Have you ever had a wine that grew worse with every sip? That’s the opposite of drinkability. If the wine does not satisfy, is off-putting, or does not factor into your thought process at all, it is a signal to put down the glass. Don’t make the mistake of continuing to drink in hopes of finding satisfaction. You will only succeed in filling your body with ethyl alcohol. And that can’t end well.
There is no point in drinking a wine without a personality. It doesn’t have to be the most wonderful wine you have ever tasted. It just needs to hold your attention, like a car mechanic with a large hook nose telling a fascinating story. You are drawn in by the mechanic’s story but a bit perplexed by his odd nose. In fact, you stare at the nose but your attention soon turns to his story because it’s a good one. That’s fine. Celebrate the unusual, in people and in wines.
Drinkability means you love what you are drinking and you wish it would never end. Do not confuse drinkability with how quickly you drink. A serious Bordeaux blend from the commune of Margaux will not go down like a rosé from Provence, France. Yet, both regions offer very drinkable wines. As with people, each wine has something to say. Allow the wine to set the pace.
If it’s a big wine with a lot of body, chew on it like a meaty bone. If it’s a frilly rosé, just let it glide along your tongue like water runs through a shady creek on a crisp spring morning. One of these wines is perfect for a hot summer afternoon when you’re out grilling. The other is just the thing when you are pondering the meaning of life with your best friend over a prime rib dinner. When you identify drinkability, slow down and savor each drop. Why put a quick end to something good? Think about what the wine is telling you and live for the moment. Breathe. If you want to expand your knowledge of the world of wine, drinkability is a concept that will always be a guest at your table.
This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book on how to get to know and fall in love with a bottle of wine. Stay tuned for updates on the book, which will be published this fall. -- Lyne Noella
12 large egg yolks (freeze the egg whites for a future use)
16 ounces sugar
1.5 teaspoons grated whole nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 pint half-and-half
1 pint whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup characterful rum (I use Maraud Steelpan)
1 cup Cognac (I use Martell VSOP)
1 cup bourbon (I use Bulleit Bourbon)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup maple syrup (I'm Canadian, what do you expect?)
1) Place the egg yolks, sugar, nutmeg and vanilla paste in a mixing bowl and beat a medium speed for four minutes.
2) In a separate bowl, combine the half-and-half, milk and cream along with the liquors, maple syrup and salt; drizzle into the egg mixture at a slow speed.
3) Pour your tasty treat into well-sealed glass containers. Store for three weeks in the refrigerator. During this time, the alcohol will kill off any nasty bacteria, according to popular science.
4) Serve with freshly ground nutmeg. This treat only gets better with time. Tell your friends about this ASAP -- they need to make it now to provide a nectar to friends and family for the holidays.
I watched and waited for months with the patience of a wily cat. Each visit to the farmer's market left me empty-handed until I spotted them on 04 August: fresh hot Thai peppers. That's when I pounced. The next day, I donned some gloves and put together a ferment that included my catch along with sweet red, yellow and orange bell peppers, Hatch Valley peppers from Trader Joe's, onions, garlic and salt. It was finally time to make a hot Thai pepper sauce.
Hot pepper salsas, sauces and pastes can be yours with each summer's crop of peppers. Fermented foods are full of flavor, along with providing your body with meaningful nutrition and probiotics. If you'd like to give it a try, here's the recipe. You don't need an airlock to ferment peppers. Just place a tilted lid or plate gently on the top of the jar to allow the C02 to escape as the veggies ferment. Do not screw on the lid unless you have an airlock. For this project, you will need a one-gallon jar, a small ziplock freezer bag, and some plastic wrap and gloves, along with the ingredients. NOTE: Wear gloves to protect your hands from capsaicin heat when you work with peppers. Do not touch your eyes, face or any part of your body.
3 pounds sweet peppers of your choice (I used red, orange and yellow, along with Hatch Valley peppers), roughly chopped
1/2 pound Thai peppers, trimmed of their green tops and stems
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons salt
1. Place the sweet peppers, Thai peppers, onions, garlic and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt in a food processor. Pulse to mince. If you want your sauce thinner, pulse accordingly.
2. Place the mixture in a large bowl and taste a small portion. Is it salty to your liking? If not, add another half tablespoon of salt or to taste, mixing well.
3. Press the mixture into a one-gallon jar or crock. Pat it down well. If you have fermentation followers (these are weights that push down on the fermenting vegetables), place them atop the mixture. If you don't have followers, fill a small ziplock freezer bag with water and place it over the mixture. Your goal is to keep oxygen out. Top your followers or freezer bag with bunched up plastic wrap to further block oxygen. Place a tilted lid or a plate or an airlock atop the jar.
4. Set the jar on a baking sheet and allow the veggies to ferment, preferably in a dark, cool spot. I place mine in a fermentation fridge set to 60 degrees F. For a more casual approach, find a cool spot in your home and throw a clean bandana over your jar to shield it from light. Note: fermentation can sometimes cause a mess, even an explosion, if you don't allow the C02 to escape by tilting the lid or using an airlock. Choose your fermentation location accordingly.
5. Allow the veggies to sit/ferment for two to three weeks. Check your fermentation regularly to ensure that the veggies are submerged below the weights, adjusting if needed. Taste the mixture after two weeks. Is it tasty, or would you like a sharper, more acidic flavor? If you crave a tangier sauce, give it another week or so, then check it again.
6. When you love the taste, spoon the hot sauce into small jars, tamping down the mixture and filling the jars to the top to minimize oxygen. Tighten the lids and store your hot sauce in the fridge.
Hot sauces, salsas and pastes add zing to most any meal. Maybe it's a beautiful day and you're in the mood for a picnic. Pack your basket with hot sauce and its target: fried chicken. Place a couple of white wine glasses and a bottle of Riesling in your basket for a refreshing pairing. Next, tuck in some coleslaw and a potato salad. Peanut butter cookies complete your flavor-packed meal to enjoy with a friend on a lazy day. Or, bring your hot sauce to parties along with tortilla chips or tacos for sharing. Fun fact: fermented peppers last up to two years when refrigerated. They also make great gifts. Enjoy!