Wine and Drinks rss

Our favorite products, gadgets, restaurants, bars, wine, beer, and food websites and blogs.

Homemade Pear and Verjus Soda

During a wine and food pairing at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, I tried a tiny cup of homemade soda made from pear and verjus, the unfermented juice from wine grapes that are picked and pressed when slightly underripe. It was served as a palate cleanser between the savory food and dessert, but it was so nicely balanced—tart from the verjus, sweet from the pear, with a hint of honey aftertaste—that it would be nice on its own. It has a fairly substantial amount of body, so I can also see it served as a very light dessert instead of a beverage.

If you’ve got a seltzer bottle, you can make it at home. They obviously use Kendall-Jackson verjus at the winery, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be made with whatever brand of verjus you can locate, so long as it’s made from Chardonnay grapes. (I’ve bought Navarro Vineyards’ version in the past and liked it for cooking.) I’m looking forward to experimenting with other fruit as more stuff comes into season and maybe trying to work this idea into a cocktail at some point—I wonder what would happen if I substituted booze for the water?

Pear and Verjus Soda
By Ryan Pollnow, pastry chef, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates
1 1/4 cups pear purée
1 cup Chardonnay verjus
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup water

Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and pour into a seltzer charger. Charge with one carbon dioxide cartridge. Allow the soda to rest in the charger for at least one hour before dispensing. Serve in a chilled glass and enjoy.

Look Out, Taster’s Choice

Is instant coffee the answer to Starbucks’ economic woes? Apparently the company thinks so. Word is next week it will be unveiling its new product, which it’s been working on for 20 years and will “absolutely replicate the taste of Starbucks coffee in an instant form,” according to a company spokesman. Hm, think it’ll be able to give Chowhounds’ favorite instant coffee a run for its money?

Beer Weeks Begin

Unlike restaurant weeks, the idea of a beer week hasn’t caught on in many cities. But there are some really interesting events going on for beer-lovers in a handful of locales. San Francisco’s Beer Week is in full swing, and Philadelphia’s is coming up next month with more than 350 events scheduled, from beer dinners to brewer talks to “extreme home brewing.” Here’s a chronological list of 2009 beer weeks; please add yours if you don’t see it!

SF Beer Week
February 6-15

Philly Beer Week
March 6-15

Seattle Beer Week
May 7-17

Ohio Brew Week Festival
July 12-18

NY Craft Beer Week
September 11-20

And if you forget your beer opener, you can always use a piece of paper:

I Drink with My iPhone

My husband and I both love those iPhone “there’s an app for that” commercials, to the point where we’ve started saying things like, “Can’t get the garlic out of the garlic press? There’s an app for that!” The Wall Street Journal went us one better, hooch style, with a nicely opinionated review on a couple of different iPhone cocktail apps by the reliably hilarious Eric Felten.

For casual mixers, Felten says the $2.99 cheapie called Cocktails Made Easy is your best bet. It has some sweet features, including one that allows you to input exactly what you have in your liquor cabinet and click to find drinks that can be made without heading to the store.
Still, Felten says he turns to Cocktails+ the most often (despite calling it short on photos and handy features) because of its quality recipes sourced from classic cocktail guides instead of trendy, crappy recipes for watermelon shooters.

However, he warns, don’t confuse Cocktails+ (by developer Skorpiostech) for the similarly named app Cocktails (from Swiss-Development):

“Based on a German-language cocktail Web site, Cocktails is only nominally in English, and a testament to the limitations of automated computer translation. Take the recipe for a fruity, creamy Saint-Tropez. The directions are a triumph of bone-crushing German syntax: ‘Carefully Grenadinesirup the glasses back down on the run. Now the Blue Curacao aufschichten above. Now the milk foam and the air masses as a hood to give the cocktail.’ Don’t forget the garnish —cherries, orange slices ‘then add decorative Minzblätter.’ And what drink isn’t better with a little decorative Minzblätter?”

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Drink Beer, Save the Planet

You probably don’t need another excuse to be thinking about beer on a Friday afternoon, but over at Salon, friend of CHOW Andrew Leonard reports on the fabulous news that Sierra Nevada Brewing Company has partnered with the inventor of a home-ethanol-making system to turn waste from the beer-making process into ethanol fuel for cars:

“I’ve had a lot to be thankful for in 2009, but the notion that draining a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale could help deliver the United States from its parlous state of foreign oil dependence is a bounteous gift so great that I might have to consider whether, perhaps, just maybe, there is a God.”

Proof of the Almighty? Not quite. For that, we’d need to discover some way for the bacon-producing industry to do the same thing.

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Bathe in Coffee, Tea, Wine, or Sake

Don’t ask me how I ended up on the site, because I couldn’t even tell you, but apparently there is an amusement park/spa in Hakone, Japan, where you can soak in an enormous pool of coffee, or green tea, or wine, or sake. All of the pools are decorated with giant utensils (teapot, wine bottle, coffee and sake barrels) that “serve” your bathing liquid to you. If anyone happens to have been to this spa, please comment on this post! I am so curious about the effects of bathing in coffee. Cost is around 3,500 yen, or 40 bucks at the time of this writing.

Rough and Ready Zinfandel

The Zinfandel grape (formerly believed native, now revealed to be an immigrant) has long been made into rustic, bombastic wine suitable for Gold Country pioneers, where it was often grown. Now, of course, Zinfandel is more refined, with robust but elegant wines from producers like Grgich Hills, Ridge, Brown, Turley, and Saxon Brown, some going for as much as $100 a bottle. Still, there’s always a certain rowdiness (could it be the 16 percent alcohol?) at the annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers Festival that makes it one of the most fun, if breathtakingly crowded, wine events in the San Francisco bay area. Come to Fort Mason in San Francisco on Saturday, January 31 to taste wines from around 275 producers, all neatly arranged in alphabetical order.

ZAP Festival’s Grand Tasting, January 31, 2009, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. Open to the public 2–5 p.m. Tickets at the door are $69; early bird tickets are $59.

’Tis the Season to Light Your Drink on Fire

I was reading the blog that Jordan Mackay (our Juice columnist) writes for 7×7 Magazine and ran across a post about a delicious-sounding drink called the Spanish Coffee made at San Francisco’s Absinthe. To make one, the bartender apparently lights some rum on fire in a wineglass, which caramelizes sugar around the rim. It looks like a festive winter-y alternative to a traditionally sugared glass. The drink also has cinnamon, coffee, Kahlúa, and brandy.

It got me wondering what other drinks involve open flames, because nothing seems smarter than playing with fire while drinking.

A well-known trick is flaming a citrus peel over a cocktail. This is a crucial component of a drink called the Flame of Love that the New York Times wrote about a while back. It’s a martini made with six parts vodka to one part sherry, and poured into a glass that has had several peels flamed over it to coat the glass with the essential oils. A final piece of peel is flamed over the drink, and “the spray of orange oil falls over the martini, giving that first sip a pronounced citrus zing.”

Over at the blog Cook & Eat, there is a recipe for a crème brûlée cocktail that sounds like a good alternative for eggnog-haters. It’s a warm drink made with cream, vanilla bean, vanilla vodka, and Frangelico. The kicker is serving it in a glass that has a caramelized-sugar rim. I imagine you probably want to do this on cheap tempered glassware, and not touch your glass for a while after you’ve taken a torch to it.

I also learned that there are hundreds of videos posted on YouTube of people lighting themselves, bars, friends, etc., on fire. Here’s a taste of what happens if you don’t leave this to a professional:

America’s Greatest Pubs

The September/October issue of Imbibe featured an article on the 100 best places to drink beer in the nation.

Since then, one helpful reader has entered all of the picks into Google Maps. He also noted the category they fell into from the magazine’s original story, like best beer shops, best bottle lists, best Irish pubs, etc. If you’re heading out of town for the holidays, it’s worth taking a look on the map to see if there’s good beer around your destination.

Herb-Infused Hydration for the Holidays

In the interest of my health (or at least my paranoia about getting a beer gut), I’ve been trying to cut back on my boozing around. Not the best-timed abstinent period, given that the holidays are here, with their accompanying festive, liquor-soaked parties. Conveniently, some marketing info showed up on my desk for an upcoming book called Cool Waters, a recipe book for infused waters. I’m not one to buy stupid “enhanced” water at the store, but a recipe for a Green Herb Infusion caught my eye and sounded good. I whizzed up a batch in the blender and it was completely refreshing. It’s no Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA, but the blend of herbs, lime juice, and mustard seed will do for an after-work refresher. Here’s the simple recipe if you want to give it a try and avoid holiday hangovers:

Green Herb Infusion

Juice of 1/2 lime
4 cups still water
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves
4 to 6 fresh peppermint leaves
2 fresh basil leaves
5 mustard seeds

1. Add the lime juice and 3 cups of the water to a large pitcher.
2. Place the parsley, peppermint, basil, and mustard seeds in a blender.
3. Strain the puréed mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into the pitcher. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Excerpted from Cool Waters, by Brian Preston-Campbell. © 2009, used by permission from The Harvard Common Press.

Photo © 2009, by Jerry Errico from the book Cool Waters.