Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sweden's Greetings, Happy Holidays

Ladies and gentlemen we have a paradigm shift!  No longer do Bourbon and Whiskey rule the oak infused liquor shelf- heavyweight Absolut has stepped into the ring! That's right, vodka is stepping up its game and giving our winter cocktails a run for their money with Oak by Absolut.

But it’s only in a few select markets – and Boston is one of the lucky ones.

Utilizing a quick aging on a combination of American and Swedish oak as well as former bourbon barrels, the vodka takes on subtle flavor. Notes of chocolate, caramel and toasted oak make Oak by Absolut incredibly malleable.  Paired with almost anything or served on its own, versatility is its knockout punch. Below are some inspirations for everyone in Boston looking to enjoy some festive and delicious cocktails at home.

Fall Harvest

I'm never quite ready to abandon the light crispness of summer white wines when the temperature begins its descent, so I created this fall inspired sangria, utilizing a robust rose wine to help ease the transition.

o   1 bottle rose wine (I suggest one made from Garnacha or Sangiovese)
o   1 cup Oak by Absolut
o   1 tbsp honey
o   1 Macintosh Apple, cored and then cubed
o   1 Bartlett Pear, cored and then cubed
o   1 orange, sliced, halved and cut into quarters

Instructions: Combine wine, Oak by Absolut and honey in a large pitcher, stir well.  Add the fruit, and serve over ice.  If a little fizz is appealing, top with seltzer water (local favorite Spindrift in the lemon flavor is perfect).

The Mighty Oak

The advent of the Fall season is always welcomed with warn sweaters, comfy boots and all things apple. A base of good apple cider, combined with the oak flavor of Oak by Absolut and the nuttiness of Amaretto makes this cocktail king of the fall.

o   1 cup good apple cider
o   1 shot Oak by Absolut
o   1 shot Amaretto

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake well, pour into glass, serve.

Flannel and Cords

While the fashion this time of year might be oh so "basic", this cocktail is anything but.  Nutrients burst out of this one to help ward off the common cold, and it pairs perfectly with your perfectly trimmed beard, and of course the standard flannel.

o   1 cup pure carrot juice
o   1 shot Oak by Absolut
o   1 tsp turmeric 
o   1 tsp cayenne pepper
o   2 tbsp pepperoncini juice
o   1 pepperoncini (for garnish)

Instructions: Combine all ingredients except for the garnish in a shaker over ice.  Shake well.  Serve over ice in a mason jar, garnish with the pepperoncini and a handlebar mustache.  Basic.

The Snow Shovel

It's coming...we all know it is.  Soon enough our days will be spent shoveling- sidewalks, parking spaces, driveways, outdoor bars...shoveling will be done.  It's a task that desperately needs a cocktail to fix that inevitable throbbing back.  Enter, The Snow Shovel.

o   1 cup Oak by Absolut
o   2 tsp good maple syrup
o   1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a shaker over ice.  Shake well.  Serve straight up.  Shake off the chill.

Comm Ave

Winter brings ice, snow, and the obligation to shop.  The obligation to shop with thousands of your favorite Bostonians, all jamming into stores and creating crazy traffic at every turn.  The Comm Ave is an ode to all those brake lights that line our favorite "mall" during the winter, and it's sure to calm your nerves from a stressful drive.

o   1 cup cranberry juice
o   1 shot Oak by Absolut
o   1 shot Cointreau 
o   Orange zest

Combine all liquids in a shaker over ice.  Shake well.  Strain into a martini glass, squeeze the zest of an orange peel into the glass and add as a floater.  Be glad your drinking and not driving.

Noche Nevada

Once the winter settles in, we're all looking for ways to escape the doldrums, and start cashing in those miles to get to the nearest tropical location.  For those of us whose points don't add up enough, fear not: Noche Nevada is your ticket to island time
    • 1 cup pure coconut milk
    • 1 tsp grated cinnamon
    • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
    • 1 tbsp good maple syrup (optional)

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake very well.  Serve in a martini glass and picture the sand between your toes.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Is There Bacon In My Wine?

Alright- so you’ve picked out some scents.  You sniffed the wine, you pushed past the “Wine” smell, and you recognized some fruits or flowers or savory scents in your glass.  The next thing to look at is are those smells fresh or manipulated?   How the scents present themselves will tell you if the wine is aging.  So let’s take a closer look. 

If you smelled lemon- is it a fresh lemon that you’d use to squeeze into your tea, or is it a lemon curd or jam?  Is it candied zest?  If you smelled apples- is it the smell of a fresh apple you just bit into as a healthy snack to keep that doctor away?  Or is it a baked apple or a bruised apple?  If you smelled flowers- are those flowers in a bouquet or dried? Are you getting baking spices?  Smoked wood?  Cedar box?  The more mature the scents are, the older the wine is getting.  

So earlier we talked about how when wines age we talked about how their colors change- the vibrant blues or the fresh greens fade and are replaced with ruby or straw yellow, as that is happening, at the very same time, their scents are also changing.  When wines are young, their scents are ripe and smell young.  You’ll get those awesome lemon or green apple- fresh fruits .  However as those wines start to develop in the bottle, and get a little older, those scents change too.  This is where you might start smelling things like candied lemon peel, or apple butter, bruised apple, peach jam, raisins, dried flowers, or even more savory scents like cedar box, or smoked meats.  

My general rule of thumb is if the fruits or flowers smell like they have been manipulated in some way (baked, candied, jammed) the aging process has begun.  The older the wine gets, the more those fruit scents will lessen and the more savory scents will appear.  Its a fascinating process to observe.    

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Introduction to Smelling Wine- What ARE We Looking For?

OK!  We’ve swirled our wine, we’ve watched the pretty rhythm of the rotating liquid, and we did so without spilling it on ourselves, our neighbor or the table!  Or….not- either way- that wine has gotten some fresh air in it and that means we start smelling.  The color of wine tells us so much, but the real personality of the wine comes out through the nose.  The scents that rise out of the glass alert you to what is waiting for you- is it a simple or complex wine?  Savory or sweet palette, showing age or maintaining freshness?  Smelling a wine always starts to open my mind up to the possibilities- what to pair it with, how will it develop the longer it sits out, should I be looking for another bottle?  

Here’s the deal- smelling wine is like the Tinder of wine tasting- it lets you know just enough to let you know if you want to know more.  

Here’s the first note- when you’re starting to smell wine, start sniffing as soon as you stop swirling and start to lift the glass towards your nose.  How close does that glass get to your nose when you start to smell the aromas?  Is it shy or extroverted?  Does it jump out of the glass and rush to meet you, or do you need to coax it out of the bottom of the glass, asking it to share it’s story?  Every varietal has it’s own DNA, and that make up will allow it to either be unreserved in its scent, rising out of the glass powerfully, and some have low intensity, and you need to really work to get the smell.  

Every wine has it’s own personality.  

Then concentrate on what scents are present.  “Wine” is the most common answer here- yup I get that.  Take another smell though.  Every wine is comprised of a variety of other scents- fruits, flowers, herbs, vegetables, savory things like cedar box or smoked meats, general smells like earth, or wet rocks, or damp forest…all of these scents appear in wine and we just need to use our noses to narrow them down.  

This may be one of the most interesting facets of wine though- so I urge you not to breeze past it.  You know how I waxed on about how every wine tells a story?  Every wine tells you all about where it came from, what the soil and the climate was like there, what the weather did in that particular year, and the efforts of the farmer.  Every single scent that you can smell in that glass contributes to the story.  Dig in- do you smell citrus fruits?  What about apples- green or red?  Plums?  Blackberries?  Strawberries?  Maybe white flowers or lavender?  Dried fruits? Black pepper?  

Training your nose to pick out these scents isn’t easy- believe me.  Here’s the big trick though- ready for it?  Next time you’re in your local grocery store, or at a farmers market- smell the produce.  Smell the herbs.  Smell the flowers.  Smelling is free- you may look a little weird- but do it anyway.  Then when you smell your next glass of wine- try to narrow in on the different sections of the store.  It’ll help you to narrow down the flavors.

As you get more comfortable with smelling wine, you’ll start to recognize more and more about the wine from the nose, and next time we’ll talk more about what some of those scents mean.  However, for now, smell your wine and allow it to introduce itself to you- swipe left or right but at least you’ll have a little more information to help with the decision.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Give That Glass a Swirl! Why We Swirl Wine

Ahhhh the swirl. Gently rotating your glass with a modest pour of wine in it so it rises and falls around the sides of the's a little hypnotizing to watch.  I won't lie to you- I love the swirl.  Yes it looks rather pretentious when you're out, but man it does an important job, fast.  And, lets face it, it's fun.  

So the main reason we swirl wine is to aerate it.  If you really think about it your wine has been a little cooped up.  Let's assume that you have a recent vintage- perhaps even just a year or two old.  In the grand scheme of things, that would be deemed a young wine.  However, that means though that for a year or two, at least, that wine has been contained in that bottle.  It's been sealed in, trapped.  So when you free it from the confines of its enclosure- well, its gotta stretch its legs.  Think about when you get off an airplane after a long flight and standing has never felt as good as those first few steps. Swirling your glass, letting air in, it mimics that sensation.  It gives your wine a chance to breathe.  That air you add to the glass is allowing the wine to open, and letting its flavors shine.  

   Swirling doesn't need to be done with too much gusto, a simple rotation will get the wine going.  The big secret is that this can easily be done in two ways- either holding the glass in the air, watching the wine catch the light, or doing so with the base firmly planted on the table.   Sometimes, with red wine, that's the safer choice unless you're feeling like your dry cleaning bill has been a bit low lately.

No matter which way you choose to swirl - always do so.  Allow that wine to breathe, stretch its legs, and makes it ready for your consumption.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Check Out Those Legs!

Ok so you know how earlier I was making fun of that guy for staring at his wine in the light of the chandelier in that fancy restaurant?  I may have been a bit to judge…maybe.

He may have been looking at the legs, also known as tears.  When you swirl wine, which is done to aerate the wine and we’ll discuss in more depth later, you’ll note that some of the liquid clings to the glass and slowly falls down the sides.  To a total wine nerd- this is beautiful.  There is something almost enchanting about watching the liquid slowly move down the glass and join the pool below.  

There’s a secret to be found in those tears though (I guess there always is in tears isn’t there?)- this is a good secret though.  They hold the key to the level of alcohol in the wine.  The slower the tears, the higher the concentration of alcohol.  So if you see the liquid almost suspended, stuck to the sides, you can bet that the alcohol content is pretty high, if it falls naturally to its resting place, it’s lighter.

On that note- another tip- by law the percentage of alcohol has to be within one point of what is stated on the label- it doesn’t need to be exact.  So if it says 13.5% it could be up to 14.3%, or as low as 12.6%.  

Neither of these is integral to the tasting of wine of course- but they are fun facts, you know, party trivia and the like.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Secrets in the Color

I’m not going to lie to you- looking at the color of wine isn’t exactly the sexiest topic.  Normally, when I start to cover this in my tours people glaze over.  I can’t lie - it amuses me a bit.  I ask everyone to start examining the color of their wine and I get a few looks that tell me that they all think I have 20 heads, and that they are now dreading the next two hours.  It’s cool- I win them back later on.

The color of wine will tell you a lot.  I like to think that the color of the wine is the secret holder of the wine.  The nose is extremely important and of course so is the palate, both of which we’ll talk about, but the color is the best lead in.  It gives subtle clues to the type of grape, and even the age of the wine.  Every grape varietal (or, you know, type) has it’s own DNA.  That DNA will affect multiple facets, such as the climate it’s happiest growing in or the thickness of the skin.  This DNA affects multiple aspects of the wine, but the first, of course, is the color.  So let’s get to it. 

Here’s the thing - there’s a right way to look at wine, and a wrong way.  You know when you’re out to dinner at a nice place, and across the room you see a fellow diner hold his wine glass up to the light, critically inspect it, and immediately make a big show about swirling and sipping the wine?  We’ve all seen him, and as much as we’ve wanted to roll our eyes at him, a part of us has thought- well he must know what he’s doing.  Let me tell you for once and for all, if he’s holding that glass above his head and staring into the chandelier light- please go ahead roll your eyes.  I’m definitely rolling mine. 

The best way to look at your wine to properly view the color is to tip your glass, carefully, to a 40 to 45 degree angle, over something white.  This could be the tablecloth, a plate, napkin, a white sheet of paper you carry especially for this purpose…oh is that just me?  Moving on…Once the glass is tipped correctly, then look to what’s known as the “rim”.  The rim is the edge of the sides of the wine.  So where the wine volume is thin.  Here look at the color.  White wines that are young in age will be a light yellow, maybe like straw, and may show signs of green.   As those wines get older, that green will become less and less, and the yellow will start to turn more golden and then start showing more and more soft brown notes.  A well aged white wine will take on the color of amber.  Red wine behaves very similarly- a young red however will show bright blue in the rim which will fade as it matures.  Here, again, brown notes will creep in and we’ll hedge towards the color tawny when we have significant aging.

I realize I’m writing in generalities when it comes to how many years it takes for those colors to fade or deepen.  Unfortunately that’s on purpose.  This is not an exact science.  Every wine will age differently and on their own timeline, but typically the first year or two of the vintage will show the green or blue notes, the following stage will remain for the next couple of years after that but each year will bring more and more brown tones to the color.

The other piece that we’re looking at in that glass is the depth of pigment.  Now this is harder to see in white wine, but in red - when you’re tipping your glass can you see through the center of the liquid?  This gets a bit more advanced but the different concentrations of pigments indicates the type of grape.  Pinot Noir is easy to see through, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is much more difficult.  

You might be wondering why all of this matters.  Well it’s like seeing an old friend from down the street- when you can recognize what’s in your glass, or at least start to understand what might be there, you can get excited for what’s ahead- or you know…cross the street ;-)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Boiling Down the Facts

Ok so I got a little romantic in my last post- talking about the story that wine tells, but hey- according to Homer (no, not the lover of donuts and Duff beer, the other one- from the Eighth Century) “No poem was ever written by a drinker of water”.   I'm allowed to get a little caught up, right?

That story that wine tells though- what are the pieces?  Let’s look at some common wine terms.  I'll go into more detail on each of these in future posts:

Color: just as it sounds- we are literally looking at the color of the wine.  How much pigment is present will tell us the type of grape in the wine, and the actual color of the wine will tell us the age of the wine.  As wines age they show more and more brown in their pigment.

Legs/Tears:  Called either legs or tears, this is what people are looking at when they swirl their glass of wine and watch the liquid fall down the sides of the glass.  Simply, this is an indicator as to the level of alcohol in the wine- slow tears, high alcohol.

Nose:  Ah this where people get finicky- but this is where the story starts to reveal itself.  The presence of fruit, or flowers, the types of fruit, if there are hints of minerals, or spices…all of these start the story of the land that this wine comes from.  Each of these reveals so much about how the grapes were cared for.  

Dry/Sweet:  We’re talking about how much grape sugar is left in the wine after
fermentation.  This is pretty big deal when pairing wine with food, which we’ll get into later.  For now- just go with pairing dry wines with savory foods, and sweet wines with sweet food….um and cheese goes with either cause its cheese and cheese is awesome.

Acidity:  Ok acidity is another big one when it comes to pairing food.  What we’re talking about is literally, how much acidity is in the wine.  Sometimes this gets a little confusing if you are tasting flavors like lemon in the wine- you might anticipate that you taste a lot of acid as well.  Thats not necessarily true.  The way we tell acidity in wine is by gauging the amount of saliva that congregates under your tongue once the wine has been swallowed.  High acid wine equals a lot of saliva.  We’ll talk about this with pairing but general rule- pair an acidic food with an acidic wine.

Body:  The third biggie when it comes to pairing- body is all about mouthfeel.  If it feels like water in your mouth then it has low body, if the wine feels like it coats your teeth and your tongue it’s a full bodied wine.  Same principle applies here- pair body for body- a big dish with a lot of body (think beef stew) should be paired with a big bodied wine.  A low bodied meal (scallops) pair with a light bodied wine.

Tannins:  Oh tannins- there is so much confusion with this one.  Basically tannin is a compound that lives in the skins and the stems of grapes.  It gets imparted into wine when the juice is allowed to sit on the skins after pressing.  This is normally done only with red wine- but there are some outliers.  We’ll chat.  For now- pairing for tannin- fatty foods!  YAY!  Tannin presents as a drying sensation on the insides of your cheeks- like swiping a cotton ball down the sides.  There are varying degrees of this- and sometimes it can be unpleasant.  Eating something fatty (read cheese, burgers, cream sauces, steaks) will coat your mouth and round out the tannins.

Balance:  You see this word all the time in wine stores on those little cards that they put on their stacks- “Well balanced wine!!” - there are always multiple explanation points- always.  All this means is that all of what we talked about already is sort of in line with each other.  This will make more sense later on- but we’re looking for the levels of acidity, and body, and tannins, etc to all be in line with each other-nothing is extreme without its pals.  

Finish:  This is, quite simply, how long the tasty flavors of the wine stick around in your mouth after swallowing.  Sometimes they fade to something bitter or sour, or to just nothing at all- when we talk finish we just want to know how long the good ones are there.

Palette: Ahhhhh the palette- the flavors you taste when you drink wine- here is where the wine will really tell its story.  You got a taste of it in the nose, but here, when you taste the flavors of the wine and take into account everything else we talked about- this is where we really get the full story.  We get to know if the summer was hot, or cooler, we feel if the rain came at the wrong time, or the right time, we become aware of the effort that the farmer committed to his crop…this is what wine is all about.

It might sound overly flowery or romantic, but thats where the beauty of wine comes from.  That’s why people wax on about the flavors of the wine, thats why they train for years to be able to pick out minute aspects- because wine isn’t just a drink- wine is a representation of history.  Its a unique tool to travel the world, its a testament to hard work and dedication.  Grape juice- it does all that.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It's As Simple As Grape Juice

 Let’s start with the basics- what is wine?  Some would have you believe that its a highly complex potion.  Something brewed in rainbows and aged with fairy dust.  Let’s be frank here- wine is grape juice. Fermented grape juice, but grape juice.  Im not saying that to minimize wine, because if you know me, you know that I think that wine, its history, its present, its flavors, and all of its properties are beyond fascinating.  I am pretty obsessed.  But I want to be clear as well - this obsession is in grape juice and that it isn’t anything to be intimidated by.  

So why is there such an air of, well Ill just say it, pretentiousness to it?  

Wine has always been a hot commodity.  Greek poets included it in their prose-
raving of its sweet pleasure.  In Italy often people would mix wine into their water to make their water more drinkable.  It is well noted that wine was key in trades, country to country or family to family, throughout history. Its value was more than money.  It is frequently referenced as a motivator for England to colonize- to find a place where they would be able to grow their own wine producing grapes, and thereby be able to offer wine as a trader rather than receive it.  The British, due to proximity, most frequently traded for wine with France, and the French knew the worth of their grapes, specifically those of their Burgundy region.  Those were the choice wines of celebration for the King of France as well as the Papacy.  To follow simple economics, during the medieval ages these dignitaries placed a restriction on exporting these wines, which made their legend grow and became more desirable.  This desire hasn’t subsided yet, allowing Red Burgundy and White Burgundy to reside among the highest priced wines.

Of course these prices aren’t purely based on lure from centuries ago, the wines of Burgundy stand on their own.  

I know- I’ve already said we’re just talking about grape juice right? So why am I willing now to say that a high price tag on a bottle of this stuff is justified?  Well here’s the the short answer- wine, true wine, once that grape juice has been fully fermented and properly aged, etc- wine takes on a life of it’s own.  See here’s the thing- the flavors of wine, the personality that wine offers to its imbiber isn’t something that’s made up by sommeliers who are looking to confuse you.  No, the fruits, flowers, savory qualities - those are all hallmarks of the land where the grapes were grown.  Those flavors are telling you a story- they’re telling you about where they grew up, where they spent their summer on the vine, and how their farmer took care of them.  Every vintage will tell you about how hot or cold the season was, how much rain was present, and what the farmers had to do to make sure that they ripened.  Every bottle will tell the secrets of the soil that their vines are rooted in, and in that the history of their land.  I think of wine in this way- when we open a bottle in our home, to share with our family in friends, the wine, in turn, is then inviting us to their home, where they were developed and tells us the story.  

The simple answer to why some wines cost more than others- is some just have a better story to tell.  The earth that grew them gave them something better, and we pay for that.  So what goes into those stories that make the wines, good or bad?  Well stay tuned- I’ve gotcha covered.

Friday, August 12, 2016

It's Time

Yeah, things have been quiet ‘round these parts lately.  Im not going to offer excuses or lame explanations.  We all live life- it gets hectic and crazy.  Sometimes those things that you love, the things that you adore, the things that make you want to jump up and down with giddiness- more often than not those are the things that take a back seat to those pesky obligations.  You focus on the HAVE to do’s rather than the WANT to do’s.  I'm sure every day all of our Facebook feeds are filled with inspirational quotes, lord knows mine is,  my favorite is the one that chirps “I don’t HAVE to work out, I GET to work out”.   Yeah…when its 5 am and my alarm is being a loud jerk, you know thats exactly what Im thinking.  I'm certainly not silently cursing the mounds of food I've eaten in the years previous that make those gym trips mandatory.  But I digress, life gets nuts and my list of amazing restaurants that I want to try gets longer and longer.  The list of incredible wines I want to share with you is getting added to almost daily yet nothing appears here, and so many recipes need to be formalized and documented.  

Here’s the thing though- today I realized an honest need.  Every week I talk to people in very real terms about wine.  I work to educate every person in how to properly taste wine, what to look for, how to pair it easily and how to tune in to what each person individually enjoys in wine.  This, before anything else- this is paramount.  

However, earlier today I spied a wine review that I read, word for word, and could not, for the life of me, determine any characteristic of the wine.  Body, tannin, acid- did the reviewer even like the wine?  I was befuddled.  And then I thought about you guys- the average wine buyer.  Someone who has some knowledge of wine, but maybe not a lot.  Someone who knows they like wine, but when asked what flavors are in the nose they respond simply “wine?” Someone who stands in their favorite wine store, and chooses the same bottle week after week because they know they like it and because lets face it- there’s a little fear there in trying something new.  I read this review with your eyes and honestly I became pretty outraged.  Every flowery word, every illogical analogy, every contradictory statement enflamed my anger more.  So here it is- Im going to teach you wine.

I'm going to make sure that when you read a review like that you can tell its complete hog wash.  We’re going to compare and contrast.  We’re going to make sure that when you walk into that wine store, you reach for a bottle a few aisles over from your safety bottle- because you can.  We’re going to travel the world through our glasses - I know it sounds like a real chore right?

So join me- here and on Instagram (@fmcoxe) and we’ll sort out this wine business once and for all!  

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...