How to make a homemade mulled wine

Ingredients >
350ml Port wine
750ml red wine
¼ cup (60ml) lemon juice
½ cup white cane sugar
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Orange slices/cinnamon sticks to serve

Method >
First pour red wine in a large pot. Then add the port and stir. Stir in all listed spices. Add the sugar and lemon juice. Place pot on low heat, stirring occasionally, so as not to allow the mixture to boil. Bringing the mixture to boil will ruin the final pleasant taste of the mulled wine. The mulled wine has to simmer for at least 25-30 minutes. When this time has elapsed, pass mixture through a fine strainer, so as to filter any amount of residue left by the spices. This should be repeated two to three times. Store in clean empty bottles of wine in a cool dry place.

Serving suggestion > homemade Mulled Wine

Serving suggestion >
Serve warm in a small glass, adding an orange slice or cinnamon stick, according to one’s taste.

Bubbly personality

Posted On December 17, 2009

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Small-batch Champagnes from the source.

The Champagne world has long been dominated by a handful of big-name négociants, who buy grapes from hundreds of small growers and blend them to achieve a consistent house style.

There’s nothing wrong with this practice, of course. But lately, many independent grape growers have begun producing their own bubbly.

Champagnes with a Bubbly Personality

Because the grapes come from their own estates and the wine is made in small batches, “grower” Champagne is often more distinctive and terroir-driven and a great pour for impressing your friends around the festive holidays.

You can identify a grower Champagne by the tiny “RM” on its label (versus “NM” for négociants). Here are a few good ones to try >

Egly-Ouriet Vignes de Vrigny ($53) Pinot Meunier, typically a supporting grape, is the star in this crazy-flavorful gem made solely from the variety (

L. Aubry Fils Rosé ($51) The Aubrey brothers have gained a reputation for their unique and nervy wines, including this seriously sophisticated rosé Champagne (

Marc Hebrart Cuvee de Reserve Brut ($43) The village of Mareuil is noted for its distinctive Pinot Noir, the grape that dominates this ripe-yet-racy cuvée (

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Premier Cru Brut ($42) A Chardonnay specialist, Gimonnet takes advantage of its old vines to produce this blanc de blancs. The nonvintage brut is creamy, full and polished (

If your dinner sparkles, why not your wine?

Posted On December 31, 2006

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While it may look and taste as though this holiday pork roast dinner is labor-intensive, you’ll be surprised to find that it takes little time to prepare, and a good part of it can be made in advance.

So with the time you’ve saved, pop open a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate the season. Some things to know:

• Sparkling white wines are often referred to as Champagne. But only those produced in the Champagne region in northeast France are authorized to use the name spelled with a capital C. Sparkling wines made with similar methods are called spumante in Italy, cava in Spain and vin mousseux in France when coming from any region besides Champagne. Those wines that are made according to the same process as true Champagne indicate “methode champenoise” on the label.

• Sparkling wines can cost less than $10 a bottle and as much as hundreds of dollars. The sweetest are labeled doux; for a less sugary taste, look for demi-sec (drier), sec (dry), extra sec (extra dry) or brut (bone dry).

• You can sip sparkling white wine on its own, or pair it with salty appetizers, seafood or spicy food. These wines should always be served cold preferably in tall, narrow glasses to preserve the bubbles.

Wine Q & A for holiday parties

Third generation winemaker Gina Gallo of award-winning Gallo of Sonoma Winery in Healdsburg, California, offers these answers to questions regarding wine for holiday parties:

Q. Which are the trendy wines for holiday entertaining?

A. Particularly festive wines this time of year are California sparkling wines, which are a nice alternative to Champagnes, and rose wines that are beautiful shades of pink and always look great on a holiday table. And it’s hard to go wrong with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to start a meal.

Q. How much wine should be ordered per guest?

A. Generally a bottle of wine is equivalent to four glasses of wine. For a dinner party, where wine is the only alcoholic beverage being served, you can estimate that each guest will consume about 2-1/2 glasses of wine.

Q. How many varieties should the host offer?

A. You should offer at least one red wine and one white wine at parties. But if you are serving many different courses, you may wish to highlight a specific wine to complement each course.

Q. What stemware is best for serving wine?

A. The best is a standard long-stemmed 12-ounce glass with a clear bowl and thin rim. The bowl makes it easy to swirl the wine, capturing its aroma.

Q. What are the best corkscrews?

A. A “deluxe” corkscrew that comes with a foil cutter is a great tool because it makes opening wine fast and easy. If you don’t have a deluxe version, the standard corkscrew works just fine as well.

Champagne and Mussels > Recipes

The night they invented champagne lasted a long time, about four years. The French would like to take full credit for the creation of sparkling wine, but in fact, they had help from Spain and England.

According to some historians, climate played a role, too, in the creation of champagne. In the 1490s a climate shift brought colder weather into France. The northern Champagne region had competed well with the southern Burgundy area, until cold winters began to affect their vineyards. The late harvested wine stopped fermenting in the casks in the cold weather. Fermentation began again in the warming spring. This double fermentation produced carbon dioxide or bubbles. Thin sparkling wine was not appealing to wine merchants supplying the bustling markets of Paris. Some of the wine was exported to England.

At the same time vineyards in Champagne began to convert from red wine to white wine. The Champagne growers planted vin gris, a red wine grape that produced a pale wine with a grayish tinge. In the late 1660s Dom Pierre Perignon, a Benedictine monk was sent to the Champagne region to be the new cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers, near Rheims. His superiors directed him to eliminate the bubbles from the wine, and to find ways to increase revenue.

As Dom Perignon struggled with his task of subduing effervescence, the English added sugar to white wine and regarded the bubbles as festive. Sparkling wine became a hit at the decadent court of Charles II. Seizing upon this fashionable trend, Dom Perignon reversed himself and began to experiment with making more bubbles. He had problems controlling fermentation. Perignon bottled the wine, allowing it to ferment a second time in the bottle, instead of the cask. Much later the French patented the technique, calling it methode champenoise.

Advanced knowledge of science allowed succeeding wine makers to exert control over the fermentation. Don Perignon’s champagne batches were hit and miss. Some years he lost up to 90 percent of his production due to exploding casks and bottles. This added to the rarity and expense of the wine.
While he could not completely control the process, Perignon realized that changing the bottles in use at the time might help reduce breakage. The thin-walled, apple shaped bottles with long narrow necks could not withstand the pressure of the fizzing champagne at ninety pounds per square inch. Don Pernignon convinced the growing glass-manufacturing business in the area to make thicker bottles in the classic pear shape we recognize today. The old stoppers made of chestnut wood, dipped in tallow, could not stand up to the pressure either, so Don Perignon turned to Spain to provide him with corks.

Don Perignon is also credited with being one of the first wine makers to blend wines. A fellow Benedictine cellar master at a nearby abbey adopted his blends emphasizing clarity and complexity, along with his methods of fermentation. He continued Perignon’s custom of adding a liqueur de tirage just before bottling to insure a second fermentation. Today wine makers’ liqueur de tirage includes sugar, wine and yeast.

In a book published in 1718, Canon Jean Godinot claimed he’d obtained Dom Perignon’s liqueur de tirage recipe, a bottle of wine, a pound of sugar, 5-6 pitted peaches, powdered nutmeg and cinnamon and a half bottle of good brandy. The mixture was boiled, strained and boiled again.

Many recipes using champagne were published around the same time. Francois Massialot suggested a fish dish, browning fillets in butter and mushrooms, adding a half bottle of champagne and then thickening with a crayfish coulis. Sounds delicious.

The champagne craze drove prices up wildly. In Paris a bottle might sell for nearly $400. King Louis XIV’s court insisted on champagne for their elaborate parties and the English court also continued their infatuation with the bubbly beverage. Champagne became known as the wine of kings. Even today champagne continues to be the drink in demand for festive occasions. Almost half of all champagne sold is purchased between Thanksgiving and New Years’ according to wine maven Lisa Shea.

I found some of the details on the invention of champagne in a book by Joan De Jane, “The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication and Glamour.” It was the best history book I read in 2005, full of fun facts, serious scholarship and beautifully written. A must for fashionistas and Francophiles.

I also recommend Lisa Shea’s website, Lisa has compiled an amazing collection of champagne recipes. I liked Carol Channing’s champagne cocktail and the Chambord raspberry-flavored champagne, a twist on the Bellini with a fresh raspberry in the bottom of the glass.

King Louis XIV served his champagne in flutes. About 20 years ago, the old-fashioned flute finally eclipsed the wide, low coupe glasses that came into fashion in the 1800s. If you stay in on New Year’s Eve, rent “Gigi”, sip from your flute, and let Maurice Chevalier remind you “the night they invented champagne… no man or woman has ever been as happy as we are tonight.” Happy New Year!

In “Everyday Dining With Wine”, master sommelier Andrea Immer suggests a one-plate meal or a festive first course of mussels and champagne. She writes, “The crispness of the wine brings out the briny-sweet taste of the shellfish” Andrea Immer’s complete wine course on DVD is available on her web site at

Champagne-steamed Mussels

Ingredients >
2 pounds mussels
2 tablespoons unsalted mussels
1/2 cup sourdough pretzel crumbs, crushed in a blender or food processor
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 cup champagne
1/2 cup fish stock or bottled clam juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil or tarragon

Method >
* Clean the mussels by scrubbing their shells with a brush while rinsing under cold running water. If necessary, use a paring knife to tug and cut out the weedy beards coming out of the bottom of the shells. Pick through the mussels and discard any with broken or open shells that won’t close when you tap them.
* Heat l tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides and the butter just begins to brown add the crushed pretzels and toss to coat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring until the crumbs are crisped, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
* Heat a large dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mussels, shallot, garlic, and tomatoes and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes and then add the champagne and the fish stock. Continue cooking until the shells open, about another 4 minutes. Transfer the mussels to serving bowls with a slotted spoon and continue to simmer the liquid to reduce it slightly, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
* Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir in the chervil. Pour the broth over the mussels, sprinkle pretzel crumbs over each portion and serve immediately. Serves six as a first course.

Recommended champagne to pair with steamed mussels: Friexenet Carta Nevada or Paul Cheaneau Brut

Important note on storage: Do not store mussels in airtight containers or in water. They must breathe. Cover lightly with wet towel, stored in mesh type bag. Purchase mussels the same day you plan to cook them or store overnight in refrigerator.


Toasting wines > some choices

Posted On December 30, 2006

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Here’s a round of stellar wine choices to toast the New Year. The focus is on sparkling wines, ranging from the reigning Champagne champions and standouts to smaller, lesser known growers like Chartogne-Taillet.

Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne NV > A big, full-bodied bubbly, featuring graphite, toast, lemon and nut aromas and flavors. Balanced, with an assertive finish. Will improve with a few months of cellaring. Drink now through 2009. 35,000 cases made.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Champagne Reserve NV > Plenty of graphite and honey flavors mark this well-structured, effusive Champagne. Lemon, dough and vanilla accents are also present. Finishes with a tactile sensation around the gums. Drink now through 2010.

Domaine Carneros Brut Carneros 2003 > Graceful and complex, with fresh cherry, spice and citrus aromas and impeccably balanced and well-structured flavors that emphasize creamy toastiness. The finish fans out and lingers, turning delicate and fleshy. Drink now through 2009. 30,000 cases made.

Moet & Chandon Brut Champagne Blanc 1999 > Fragrant, delivering plenty of toast, butter, vanilla and citrus aromas and flavors, backed by a gossamer frame and a supple mousse. Fine length. Not for the long haul but delicious now. Drink now through 2010.

Taittinger Brut Champagne La Francaise NV > Shows elegance and finesse but also an understated power as the initial richness gives way to the firm structure, setting the stage for biscuit, honey and ginger notes. Fine length. Drink now through 2010.

Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvee NV > Compact and yeasty, this bubbly evokes bread dough and grapefruit flavors backed by verve and a chalky texture. It has a fine mousse and a lingering finish. Drink now through 2010. 20,000 cases imported.

Chartogne-Taillet Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV > Crisp, light and airy, yet with everything in the right proportion. Vibrant and focused, showing ginger, lemon and mineral elements. Perhaps a tad on the sweet side but balanced overall. Drink now.

Gloria Ferrer Brut Sonoma County Sonoma NV > A delicious mouthful of bubbly. Smooth, rich and creamy, revealing layers of black cherry, vanilla and ginger, with a hint of lemon drop. Finishes with a long, refreshing aftertaste of mineral and fruit. Drink now. 93,500 cases made.

Mumm Napa Brut Napa Valley Prestige NV > Enticing vanilla, floral and fresh bread dough aromas. Lean, firm, intense and focused on the palate, with a beam of citrus, apple and pear notes. Cleansing aftertaste. Drink now through 2009. 180,000 cases made.

Lucien Albrecht Brut Blanc de Blancs Cremant d’Alsace NV > A hint of pencil shavings and citrus flavors mark this appealing cremant. Light- to medium-bodied, with good intensity and length. Drink now. 3,000 cases imported.

The ever-effervescent Champagne

Posted On December 30, 2006

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Make it your resolution to try more champagnes throughout the year. Champagne is perfectly married to special occasions, including New Year’s, weddings, engagement parties, birthdays and dinner parties.

“It’s relatively expensive, which is why champagne is reserved for celebrations,” explains Jamie Wolff, owner of Chambers Street Wines in Manhattan. “However, prices for champagne are near the same as a good bottle of wine. Champagne is great with food, as the tart aspect goes well with rich dishes.”

Le Method Champenois > While the French monk Dom Perignon certainly contributed to advances in champagne’s production, he is mistakenly credited with inventing the beverage. No one is quite sure who first discovered the drink, some uphold that it was created by accident, though its first appearance was around 1535 in Languedoc, a former province of France.

The name Champagne was legally protected under the Treaty of Madrid in 1891 to signify only sparkling wine produced in its namesake region, a mild northern province in France. This right was even reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles following World War I.

Other bubbly wines not from the Champagne region sometimes use the term “sparkling wine” on their label. Some producers even use the term methode champenois, meaning “champagne method.” But regardless of whether they use Chardonnay, Meunier or Pinot Noir grapes, these wines cannot be called champagne unless those grapes were grown in the Champagne region and processed in the traditional method.

Only this region can produce the wine because the grapes used for Champagne need to be grown in an area where climate conditions favor a short growing season. The grapes can therefore be picked earlier, when sugar levels are lower and acid levels higher, yielding the unique flavor profile.

The fermentation of the grapes follows the same path as any other wine. First, carbon dioxide resulting from the transformation of sugar into alcohol is allowed to escape. This is when the blend, or cuvee, is assembled, using wines from various years to create a consistent product.

“A blend of different years is necessary because it permits the producer to maintain a consistent style,” Wolff says. “If you buy a bottle tomorrow, it will taste the same as one you tasted two years ago.”

The blended wine is then put in bottles along with yeast and a small amount of sugar and finally, corked.

Champagne’s effervescent quality is born out of the secondary fermentation, during which the bottles are stored horizontally in a wine cellar. The carbon dioxide formed in this process becomes trapped inside the bottle, keeping it dissolved in the wine. The amount of added sugar will determine the amount of pressure inside the bottle.

The champagne is then aged for a span of a year and a half to three years, after which the bottles are rotated a small amount each day and gradually moved toward a vertical position in a process called riddling.

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