Monday, December 24, 2007

Avoiding the White Death -- Snowed-In Wines

One of our great winter amusements is watching the inevitable freak-out at the first sign of anything resembling snowy weather. Every local news scrambles "full team coverage," which amounts to second-string reporters bundled up at interstate rest areas and weathermen standing by snowbanks with rulers, all speaking in earnest, serious tones.

Lines at grocery stores run out the door as everyone stocks up on necessary supplies -- bread, milk, eggs -- in case the weather gets so nasty that we're stranded for nine or ten hours. As one friend of mine put it, "What is it about snow forecasts that gives people a craving for French toast?"

Nine times out of ten, the "storm" ends up being a whimper rather than a bang -- slush and a couple of inches of powder you can hardly make an honest snowball with. Even so, be prepared. Here are a couple of suggestions for getting yourself through those interminable minutes of imprisoning by Mother Nature.

Hardy's "Whiskers Blake" Classic Tawny Port -- In many winter tales, a narrator sits down with a glass of port to warm up on a long, cold night. Port is fortified wine. Fortified wines are fermented normally. A neutral brandy is then added to boost the alcohol content. Ports tend to be sweet, heavy wines -- often over 18% alcohol. There are two major port types. Ruby port is the most common. This is the least expensive, sweetest, and youngest type. Tawny port is aged at least seven years in barrels, is much more mellow and complex, and is usually golden brown in color instead of…well…ruby. Port originated in Portugal (big surprise!), but this one is Australian. While sweet, it's not as tooth-achingly sugary as many ports of similar price. Whiskers has a nice fruitiness along with a tasty caramel flavor. The finish has just a hint of sweetness and cozy warmth. With dark chocolate truffles, this is an absolutely divine winter drink. Curl up with a thick blanket, a huggable dog, and a fire and watch the snow fall. Around $12.

Santa Ema 2004 Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve-- If you're looking for a "standard" wine to warm you up, I find cabernet sauvignon to be the most satisfying. This Chilean cabernet is wonderful for keeping the winter chill at bay. The nose has thick plum and cherry scents, bordering on zinfandel-strong. The flavor is much more balanced than most zinfandels. The Santa Ema medium bodied with more plums and a little bit of licorice on the finish to go with the pleasant dryness. Also, since it's summertime in Chile while we're suffering through winter, simply imagine you're chasing the sun. $8-10.

Some traditional beverages at this time of year are wine-based. In the name of research and emergency preparedness, I managed to come up with a couple of these recipes that turned out pretty well:

Mike's Wassail

  • One fifth dry sherry
  • One cup brandy
  • 4-5 cups apple cider
  • Couple of cinnamon sticks
  • Nutmeg, ginger, coriander, allspice -- 1-2 tsp. each
  • One orange, cut in half and studded with a dozen cloves
  • 1 c. brown sugar

If you were reading the Vine last New Year's, you'll know that we didn't have a great sherry experience. Here's one tasty use. Put all the ingredients into slow cooker, reserving half the orange. Put slow cooker on high for 2-3 hours. Leave on low or warm. (If you don't have a slow cooker, put in a big pot on the stove, put on low, and stir occasionally for a couple of hours.) Serve hot with orange slices and firmly baked apples. If you don't drink it all (ha!), it keeps well.

Mike's Mulled Wine

  • One bottle really cheap dry red wine
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. Ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. Crystallized ginger
  • ½ tsp. Nutmeg, allspice, & cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Orange, cut, half studded with cloves, other half peeled and sectioned
  • 1 lemon, juiced and rind cut into thin strips
  • ½ c. brandy

To "mull" something is to grind or mix thoroughly. Mulled wine is wine well-mixed with spices and such to create a scrumptious delivery system for winter warmth. To make mulled wine (called Glögg in Swedish or Glühwein in German), combine all ingredients except brandy in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 3 hours. Stir in brandy. Strain and serve hot.

So, let it snow! As long as you've got a few bottles stashed away, that is…

Happy Festivus! See you in 2008!

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