November 30, 2012

Wine Recipe: Mulled Wine

It's rainy today in Los Angeles. For a city that doesn't get true seasons, this is what this in-between fall-winter holiday season is all about for me: it's an excuse to curl up and read a book (which, let's face it: I do anyway), with the dog and a blanket and holiday music and a hot beverage.

Sometimes that beverage is a cup of morning coffee or evening tea.  Sometimes, if I'm feeling like crap, I make a hot toddy with bourbon or brandy, a healthy squeeze of lemon and/or orange, honey and hot water.  If I skipped dessert, sometimes I will make a hot buttered rum that satisfies my sweet tooth.

But when I really want to be cozy, I make mulled wine.

I don't have a hard and fast mulled wine recipe.  It often has to do with what I have on hand. I'm inspired by all of the British, German and Scandinavian traditions that can be found with a quick search for glögg, glühwein, or mulled wine online.  (The image below is courtesy of David Loftus on Jamie Oliver's website.  His recipe for mulled wine is divine, and I've used it as an inspiration more than once.)

Here's what I do:
Start with an inexpensive wine.  I like my mulled wine to have a bit of a kick, so I use one that has a spicy kick to begin with, or I make sure to add extra spices.  Use a wine with a good fruit punch--I love Italian wines and Spanish wines for this, but would stay away from a Cabernet, for example.

Choose your spices (and if they are small, make a little sachet).  A lot of recipes call for star anise, which I don't always have on hand.  That's okay.  My favorite spices for mulled wine are lots of cinnamon, a few cloves, and ginger.  Add a little sugar--I like about 1/3 cup for every bottle of wine.  I also love vanilla, but if I don't want to use a whole pod--expensive!--I will add in a few drops at the end of the extract.  I also love adding a bay leaf, for a savory herbal flair, to the boiling pot--but it's not essential.

I sometimes will add some unfiltered apple cider or juice, and I particularly love squeezing an orange into the mix as well.  I generally add a bit of port or brandy, too, to give it some oomph...and because I love the flavor profile it creates.  But if the wine is enough booze for you, that's okay!

Heat it all in a good pot until boiling, let it cool for a few minutes, pour into a mug, and ENJOY!

Happy Friday, everyone!

November 29, 2012

Review: 2009 Do Vale Meao Douro Meandro

Well, friends.  Here's my first wine review.

I'm going to do things a little differently than most wine reviewers, which is to say:  I won't be ranking wines.  Chances are, if I feature a wine on this blog, it will have mostly redeeming qualities.  If it's a real dud, maybe I'll mention it, but I'd rather spend my time describing the good ones.  

Right now, I'm in rehearsals for a wonderful concert with my amazing choir, the Angel City Chorale, here in Los Angeles.  Rehearsals are fun, but have been going late in anticipation for this weekend's two performances.  Last night, I didn't have rehearsal, and I found myself really in need of a glass of red wine.  (This is also the reason for the lack of a Wednesday post.  Exhaustion and the need to relax took over.  Never again!) A few weeks ago, I had a Spanish-themed, tapas-style dinner party for a few good friends, and went a little crazy at Costco picking up some bottles for the evening.  This is one I sort of saved, because it's actually Portuguese, but I'd also been dying to really try a wine from the Douro region.  I was ready to relax with this puppy. 

November 27, 2012

My Wine Philosophy

In my first post, I had mentioned that I wanted to talk about my own wine "philosophy." I've had people sheepishly admit to me at dinner parties that they think they like what they are drinking, but honestly have no idea what makes a bottle of wine good.  Here's my response to that comment, and that generally forms the bulk of how I feel about wine, and the role it should play in people's lives.

First of all: we all have our own approach to the way we appreciate the things that we like.  Two people who are good friends may have wildly different preferences in music, for example, or may even like the same artist or musical group for entirely different reasons.  It simply is a matter of taste.

Unsuprisingly, wine is a beverage and therefore also subject to personal taste.  However, there is another stumbling block that tends to affect someone's impression of a bottle of wine: cost.  Wine has long been associated with a splurge of the wealthy.  In restaurants, bottles of wine are generally marked way up, to the point where they seem inaccessible.  In response, stores have become overrun with cheap wine, saturating the market with reasonably priced, but awfully made, product.  If your first taste of wine is the cheap kind, with a slice of microwaved pizza in a poorly lit restaurant, or out of a slimy box at a college kegger--your gut reaction will probably be:  this wine is awful.  Because it probably was.

So, that said:  here are my pointers for enjoying wine in a way you may not have previously thought:

1.  The wine that you are drinking should TASTE GOOD.
I don't care what it is.  Are you drinking a fancy pants Châteauneuf-du-Pape from before you were born, or are you drinking a bottle on sale at your Trader Joe's that was $4?  Because whatever it is, it should taste delicious!  If you don't like the fancy bottle of wine--save it for a friend.  If you don't like the sale wine--hey, use it in cooking.  Wine is GREAT for cooking. 

2.  Good wine does NOT have to be expensive.
This, honestly, is everything.  One of the main reasons I am writing this blog is that in my vast attempt to find a wine blog that really spoke to me, I realized:  all of the wines that people were writing about were limited release, imported wines that on my limited budget as a twenty-something, were just not feasible for me to buy!  I want to go into my local Total Wine or BevMo, my Costco, my supermarket, and pick up a bottle.  Trust:  I love boutiquey labels and fancy Bordeaux blends as much as the next wine lover, but if that was my prerequisite--I'd never drink wine.  

3. Be open-minded, but true to yourself about what wine you like to drink.
Yeah, this sounds a little hippy-dippy. But here's what I mean:
Some of you who are new to wine may think:  I know I like red wine, but hate white wine.  I, Katie, view that as a personal challenge:  what white wines have you tried?  have you ever tried (insert varietal here)?  what qualities do you like in wine?  etc.  I encourage all of you with strong opinions about wine style, varietal, region, what have you, to go outside your comfort zone occasionally, because it may surprise you.  I similarly find myself often encouraging wine aficionados to stop turning their noses up at things they think they know, for the same reason.

That said:  start to learn what it is you like about wine, and be true to that instinct.  Do you like wines that taste like jam?  Stick to big, bold, fruit-forward reds when you are looking to expand your own wine collection!  Knowing what you like is a good thing-- you will enjoy wine more that way.

4.  Wine does not have to be intimidating.
This is also a big one.  And this is where I come in: in this blog, I'm going to (try) to demystify the world of wine for those of you who do find it overwhelming--because it can be.  But really, it's fermented grape juice that has been around since the earliest civilizations--we make it complicated because it can be.  It doesn't have to be.

And....that's really it, friends.

Wine is really, really exciting and wonderful and delicious.  It should be paired with dinners and enjoyed with friends.  I have amassed quite a collection, but not because I see them as an investment.  It's because I like to drink them all!

My point through all of this is:  Sometimes, the most enjoyable glass of wine is drunk on a Tuesday night, from a $5 bottle, after a long day, in sweatpants while watching television with a frozen pizza. I encourage that behavior.

November 26, 2012


Ah, wine.  Poets and playwrights have extolled its virtues.  It is a part of ancient rituals worldwide.  Both an art form and a beverage, wine means something different to everyone.  Wine can elevate an already elegant meal to otherworldly heights, or add class to a simple homemade pasta dinner.

Wine is simultaneously a drink of the everyman (talk to any Italian who says they began drinking from rustic jugs of wine as young children) and a mark of money(see: the exorbitant prices of wine on any wine menu, ever).

I am not a wine snob--I'd rather call myself a wine lover.  I am discerning in the wine I choose to imbibe and purchase, but I do so from a place of passion.  I love wine that has been made with at least little heart and soul, but will relish a bottle of wine that was $7.99 from Costco as much as the $100 bottle purchased directly from the winery.

I will dive into my wine philosophy in subsequent posts, but I hope for this blog inspire you guys to share the same passion I do for wine. I want to share with you all how to appreciate a bottle of wine without feeling like a pretentious snob.  I want to tell you all about my adventures in tasting rare and hard to find varietals.  As an unabashed lover of food, I may even share with you some of my favorite recipes that pair beautifully with wine.  And I will most certainly share in my search for finding the best deals in wine--because above all, wine should be drunk with abandon, and not hoarded because it was too darn expensive to enjoy.

I hope you will all enjoy me on this little adventure of mine!  Welcome--and, of course: Cheers!