Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wine and the Outdoors

I’m one of those people who hates camping.  I mean I loathe it!  Yes, I’ve tried it…no, a nice camper doesn’t make it better.  In fact, it makes it worse.  (Being lined up next to a hundred of my closest strangers in a campground makes me cringe.)  The idea of no flushing toilets and no hot shower frightens me a bit.  (And no, I’m no city slicker; I’m a ranch kid from Wyoming.)  I just don’t like experiencing the outdoors in this fashion.  However, I do LOVE the outdoors.  Yes, I know this seems a little counterintuitive, but I could spend all day outside on a lake, on a trail, or on a mountain, but I want to come inside to shower and go to bed!   When I do spend this time with Mother Nature, I prefer to have wine be a part of it. 
Mother Nature and wine...the perfect pairing! 

Wine and the outdoors tip one:  invest in a wine carrier.  There are multiple ways to carry wine outside.  The industry has expanded beyond the regular glass bottle as a wine receptacle.  Some wineries are using lighter wine containers for environmental and weight purposes.  Plastic wine bottles, wine bags, single-serving portions, and wine boxes all weigh less and take up less space for hiking, biking, swimming, camping, or boating getaways.  However, if outdoors people go with one of these options, like Copa Divino or Bota Box wines, they are at the mercy of the varietal, type, and style of wines those producers make.  However, I like more flexibility in my wine choices than just having to drink the wines a few producers make and put in lighter weight containers.  The answer to this problem is the Platypus brand PlatyPreserve.  This is my favorite weapon in my wine and hiking arsenal.  I pull the wine of my choice, pour it into my PlatyPreseve, put it in my backpack, and head to the hills!  It holds exactly one 750 ml (milliliter) bottle of wine, is light weight, and is easy to carry.   
The Platypus brand PlatyPreserve.

Wine and the outdoors tip two:  invest in portable wine glasses.  Just like there are differing ways to carry wine outside, there are several options for drinking wine outside.  Again, some producers like Copa and Bota Box create individual serving sizes of wine making it so no actual glass is needed.  However, the same negative issue happens again—the wines to choose from are then quite limited to what a few producers make.  Thankfully, light weight and unbreakable “glasses” have come a long way.  GSI Outdoors produces nesting glasses where the stem unscrews from the bowl of the glass and then snaps inside the bowl for easy traveling.  GSI also makes stemless glasses out of strong plastic and both stemmed and stemless glasses out of stainless steel.  The GoVino stemless glasses come in white, red, and sparkling styles and are made with appropriate bowl sizes and shapes for each style of wine.  The plastic is thin yet durable, mimicking the thinness of crystal stemware.  The newest outdoor drinkware option is the wine tumbler (made by numerous companies).  This drinkware has a wine glass shape inside the outside tumbler with the sippy, travel coffee mug style lid.  I have all of these kinds of glasses.  My favorite is the GoVino because out of these glasses, wines taste and smell closer to how they would in actual glass stemware.  Outdoor glassware is essential to enjoying wine in nature!

The GoVino red (top) and the GSI Outdoors nesting glass (bottom).
Wine and the outdoors tip three:  keep food simple.  Let nature and the wine do most of the work to create an elaborate experience for your hike or picnic.  The food needs to be simple and easy to carry.  Fresh cut fruit, aged cheeses, and flavored crackers are enough to nibble on while sitting in a picturesque setting.  If a more elaborate meal is the goal, make sandwiches on focaccia bread with garlic-basil aioli, lunch meat, tomato, and fresh mozzarella.  Dessert can be as simple as homemade cookies, ‘smores bars, or chocolate chunks.  These simple yet flavorful items are not only easy to prepare, but, more importantly, are also easy and lightweight to pack, making them the perfect outdoor cuisine. 
Simple and flavorful foods.
Wine and the outdoors final tips:  Don’t forget to think about the temperature of the wine at the time it will be consumed.  If I’m hiking on a warm day, I usually chill red wines until they are quite cold, pour in my Platypus, and put in my pack.  That way, the wine warms while hiking and is proper temperature when ready to sip.  For white wines, I chill until extremely cold, sometimes putting the wine in the freezer for a period of time before pouring in the Platypus, and then I even put a freezer pack around the outside of the PlatyPreserve during the hike so the wine stays cold the entire time.  Yes, this is some extra weight to carry, but it is very worth it for a chilled white wine.  These steps would not necessarily be needed if the weather was chilly.  Finally, I like to keep all of my hiking and outdoor wine supplies together so I don’t forget anything during an outdoor excursion.  It really is a bummer to pack wine four miles only to find there are no glasses for drinking!  (Yes, this has happened to me before; yes, I found a way to overcome that obstacle…haha!)
Don't forget your outdoor glasses!  (It causes desperate measures.)
The number of summer days is waning, and winter is just around the corner.   Though you won’t find me scurrying to get in my last days of camping as I feel fall’s nip in the air, you will find me trying to get into nature as many times as possible before Old Man Winter steals Mother Nature’s welcoming weather.  Whether you prefer to hike a beautiful trail, bike through the hills, or camp on a lake, now is the time to enjoy the outdoors!  Make wine a part of your nature experience—it makes all aspects of the outdoors that much more pleasant. 

Cheers to Mother Nature!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bring on the Bubbly!

The beautiful bride has walked down the aisle.  The handsome groom has said his vows.  The newly married couple has shared their first kiss.  Now the celebration begins!  And it wouldn’t be a true wedding celebration without breaking out the bubbles to toast the Mr. and Mrs.  Sparkling wines are a must at wedding celebrations.  Though bubbles come in many different kinds and styles, a great celebratory wine must be refreshing and graceful, just like the happy couple.
Colby and Ashley on their special day. 
(Photo courtesy of Colby Ankeney.)
            When most people think of sparkling wine, they think of Champagne.  However, true Champagne is the sparkling wine made in the French wine-making region called Champagne.  Champagne is made from a blend of red and white grapes that actually go through a second fermentation process while in the bottle.  This fermentation creates carbon dioxide that is reabsorbed into the wine, thus creating the bubbles.  This is called “Methode Champenoise” or “Methode Traditionnelle,” so even though only wines from this particular region of France are true Champagnes, many other wines around the world go through this same process.  Drinking real Champagne at a wedding is a wonderful gesture, but when most Champagnes cost $35 a bottle or more, it may not always fit into a wedding budget for all the guests to toast the newlyweds with Champagne.  If Champagne is on the menu, there are some amazing producers that make breath-taking wines.  Of course, everyone has heard of Dom Perignon and Cristal, both retailing for just under or well over $200 per bottle.  Other Champagnes with fewer zeros in the price are produced by Moet and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot.  Of course, if producer is not an issue, just look for the word “Champagne” on a bottle, and you will be enjoying one of the world’s most renowned sparkling wines.
            If Champagne is not in the budget or on the wish list of the wedding planners, there are other sparklers from around the world that are equally amazing for a wedding toast…and most are a bit more budget-friendly.  Cava is the sparkling wine made in the northeast region of Spain near Catalonia.  Cavas are produced using the same classic method of Champagne, so these wines make a great alternative for toasting at less than half the price per bottle.  Producers to look for if choosing Cava are Codorniu and Freixenet (in the black bottle). 
Justin and Krishna celebrate their nuptials.
(Photo courtesy of Tim Thompson.)
        Yet another option for a sparkling wine toast is to purchase Prosecco from Italy.  These wines are known for having slightly larger bubbles and being less crisp than Champagnes or Cavas, yet make for a great wine for wedding receptions.  Again, the price is going to be less than half the cost of Champagnes while still drinking a quality product.  Look for Prosecco on the bottle or these reputable producers:  Bisol and Masottina.

            Though Europe has been producing sparkling wines for centuries, you can also find wonderful bubbly in the United States.  If you are looking for a higher-quality sparkling from the U.S., make sure to look for the terms “Methode Champenoise” or “Methode Traditionnelle” on the bottle.  Due to American wine laws, these are the only terms to tell how the wine was made.  Of course, California makes some amazing sparklers.  Look for the producers Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, Schramsberg, and Roederer.  New York State is also moving toward making quality sparkling wines; Dr. Konstantin Frank is leading the way.  Gruet, from New Mexico, is also a great bet. 
Chancie and Aaron say "Cheers"!
(Photo courtesy of Deb Smith.)

            These are not the only sparkling wines made around the world.  All countries make some sort of bubbly.  Other terms to look for on wine bottles that may help find a sparkler include cremant, sekt, frizzante, spumante, Blanquette de Limoux, and Franciacorta.  These words either mean the wines are a sparkling style or are produced in a region that, by law, are required to make sparkling wines.  Bubbles also come in many dryness/sweetness levels, anywhere from very dry to very sweet.  However, these levels can be confusing; when the term “dry” is used, it does not actually refer to the driest wines.  The driest sparklers are called Brut Zero (though these are not as common in the U.S.).  Brut means dry.  Extra Dry actually means not as dry as a Brut but off-dry.  Sec is semi-sweet, Demi-Sec is sweet, and Doux is very sweet.  Though these are the French terms, they are used fairly universally for other European and American sparklers.  Of course some bubbly wines, like Moscato d’ Asti, will always be sweet, even if they don’t have any of the above terms on the label. 

            With so many options, it can be hard to decide.  However, like most wedding decisions, budget might play a part in the celebratory toast.  If budget is no issue, treat your guests to true Champagne or a quality sparkling from one of the great producers mentioned earlier. When trying to stay within a budget, wedding planners can have a special (more expensive) bottle of sparkling for the bride, groom, and bridal party to toast with, and then have a quality—yet less expensive—option for all of the guests.  Of course, like with any product, cheap options can be found.  These might be wines that are made from a method other than the classic method to make them sparkling…and that’s okay.  The most important part of this special day is not the brand of sparkling wine, but the bride and groom that are being toasted with that wine! 
Jeff and Jaimee enjoy their first sip as husband and wife.
(Photo courtesy of Jaimee Johnson.)

The final, and absolutely most important, note on sparkling wines, however, is the serving temperature of these wines.  Sparkling wines MUST be served COLD, as cold as the wine can get!  Even the most expensive bubbly will not taste its best if it is served at room temperature or warm.  In fact, for many years, I believed I didn’t like sparkling wines because of too many wedding receptions where I had hot bubbly.  Make sure to keep the sparklers in a restaurant-grade, very cold refrigerator just until it is time to pop the top.  Ask for volunteers or have the event-location staff help to open and pour the bottles just before time to toast.  If there are still bottles with wine in them, make sure to put these bottles on ice so they can be consumed cold during the remainder of the wedding reception. 

After the bride has lifted her veil and the groom has professed his love, it is time to celebrate this beautiful new union!  These celebrations include special speeches, loving dances, and festive toasts.  Sparkling wine is an important part of this tradition.  No wedding day is complete without the pop of a cork followed by a joyful “Cheers” to the newlyweds!  Congratulations!