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Fall Back in Love with Red Wine

Tis the season for red wine!Autumn is coming again, even if it still feels like the heat will never subside here in the Bay Area! With the endless Back to School and Labor Day sales, we're all getting ready for the leaves to change, the wind to pick up, and the cold-weather clothes to come out of storage.

As I look forward to the brisk days of fall (even as I get sunburnt while wearing shorts and tank tops to walk the dog), my taste in wine shifts away from the crisp white and rose that kept me refreshed through the dry summer days and I get excited to break out those full and complex reds that pair perfectly with fall breezes and autumn dinner parties.

For early fall pairing, you have several routes to take. Football season and weekend cookouts need the bold fruit and spice of Livermore, Lodi, and Paso Robles Zin, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Red blends are always welcome, too! They don't have to be anything fancy, since you don't generally keep crystal stemware next to your outdoor grill. Just get something that has a big enough body and tannic grip to stand up to the smoky flavors of the burgers, sausages, and ribs with which the wines are served. Daytime wines are all about power.

 

For the cooler evenings, focus on grapes that show more finesse.

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Wine and Cheese Party Dos and Don'ts

Whether you’re a guest at a friend’s event or planning your own, there are a few tricks to pulling off a successful wine and cheese party:

Don’t skimp on the cheese!

     Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a subtle art picking out the proper cheeses to serve at a wine-and-cheese party. Just make sure you have at least three different options; one soft (like an aged triple-cream brie), one medium (Like Manchego or chevre), and one hard (like parmigiano reggiano). You’re going to have a range of different wines to taste, so don’t worry too much about which wines pair best with which cheeses. Let your guests experiment!

      It’s also helpful to have labels for the cheese you pick, in case attendees are not a fan of bleu cheese or goat cheese. Though in either of these cases, these people are not your friends. Bleu cheese and goat cheese are delicious, and perfect for wine-pairing.

      Also, keep plenty of cheese-knives ready! Disposable plastic knives and forks are not helpful when trying to grab a reasonable portion off a wedge of cheddar. Dinner knives are better, just as long as the blades are sharp and strong enough to handle the hardest of the cheese you have selected.

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Don't Be *That* Guy

We all have things we get irrationally angry about, and there are a few practices that are pretty widely looked down upon by wine professionals. Here are some tips to avoid making your sommelier, tasting room host, or overly-snobby-wine-friend (yeah... that's me) cringe:

1. Dress for the occasion. If you know you're going to be wine-tasting at a couple upscale or well-known high-end wineries, or you're visiting a more formal restaurant, get the spiffy jacket and shoes out! Ladies, that means cocktail or sundresses and nice shoes! It's completely awkward when someone walks into a fancier venue wearing cargo shorts, oversized t-shirts with screenprinted "clever" sayings on the front, flip-flops, or Daisy Duke cutoff shorts. Yes, this is the Bay Area, and that means you can dress it down a little bit. But please, be respectful of the people around you trying to have a nice, classy time.

This goes the other way, too. If the winery you are visiting has a tasting room in a barn with a wooden or dirt floor, or is hosted in the backyard of the winemaker or vineyard owner, jeans and sneakers are fine. I'm still not crazy about cargo shorts (ever) or flip-flops, but this is not the time women want to be wearing stilettos that will get stuck in the dirt or between boards! The best approach is to just do your research before going to these venues. You don't want to stick out like a sore thumb because you're too over- or under-dressed.

2. When tasting wines at a new winery, don't tell the host or hostess that you only drink "x wine." It's great to have your particular tastes in mind as you try new wines, but if you aren't actually going to taste wine, why would you go to a wine tasting room? This is your chance to try new things!

3. Don't show up drunk. Don't leave drunk. Don't let your friends get sloppy drunk either. I know I've talked about this before, but it's so important not to lose your composure in public. Knowing your limits and being responsible for maintaining a measure of sobriety means that no one gets to tell the story of that time you vomited into the spit-bucket or climbed up to dance on the bar. Fun as it may be to tell those stories when they happen to other people, you don't want to be the main subject!

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How to Enjoy a Wine Tour

How to Enjoy a Wine Tour

When you decide to go wine-tasting, it's easy enough to just grab your significant other, a couple friends, hop in the designated driver's car, and go! You'll head out, stop at a couple favorite vineyards, maybe be adventurous and hit another new one on the way.

Oops, the first one is closed for a private event. And the second one has a bachelorette party running around asking everyone if they wear boxers or briefs and screaming "Woooo!" every few seconds. The last one closes in twenty minutes... Think we can make it? And I haven't eaten all day, where's the closest fast food place? We can make it there in five minutes, right? Oh wait, this is a single lane highway and everyone's heading home now, there's no way we can get that last stop in.

I've dealt with that scenario (and other logistics issues) more times than necessary. It doesn't seem like going on a wine tour should take that much forethought and planning, right? Now I'm well-versed in planning out a wine tour, whether it's for me and my boyfriend or me and twenty of my closest friends on a charter bus, but it takes some practice in order to have the best time on your day of wine tasting.

First, call every winery you plan to visit ahead of time! Let them know how many people you will have in your party, and ask if there's anything special going on that particular day. I try to call a week ahead of time if I'm going with a group of four or fewer, but I'll call a month ahead to schedule a tasting for a group larger than that. Not all tasting rooms can accommodate a group of more than eight or ten people, and they need to know if a big group is coming so they can have adequate staff, samples, and seating for the group. Nothing will turn the tasting room staff against you faster than showing up with a large group unannounced. The day of your trip, call the tasting room again if anything has changed--number of guests or time you will arrive, in particular--so they have time to properly accommodate your party.

It's also a good idea to inquire if there are any special tours or experiences you should take advantage of when at the winery. Is there a barrel tasting or blend-your-own-wine workshop? What about a tour of the vineyards, facility, or wine caves? Will you be able to meet the wine maker? It's not necessary at every winery, but it's an easy way to break up the tastings and make the stop special.

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Explain Like I'm Five: Antioxidants!

Explain Like I'm Five: Antioxidants!

When I hear about the "health benefits of wine," there are a lot of words that get thrown around that just make me start nodding, glassy-eyed, pretending to know what they mean. Sure, "antioxidant" means something goes... against... oxidants? And that's good?

I felt like I should investigate all these science-y terms so I can actually understand that sort of conversation--and maybe even add to it in a way that doesn't just parrot general health claims. Let's start with a couple widely-discussed elements of wine: antioxidants and polyphenols. We're going to go down a rabbit-hole for a second, so please bear with me.

Antioxidants, per Helmut Seis's 1997 article "Oxidative Stress: Oxidants and Antioxidants" in Experimental Physiology, are "molecules that inhibit the oxdation of other molecules."

Oxdation, in turn, is a chemical reaction that transfers single electrons or hydrogen atoms from one compound (the reducing agent) to another (the oxidizing agent, or oxidant). They are called "oxidants" because their atomic makeup always contains oxygen, which in its natural state has two "open slots" for electrons. This theft of electrons can create free radicals.

Free radicals are molecular compounds that have unbalanced electron pairs (remember in chemistry how two atoms like to share at least two electrons?) and are therefore highly reactive to surrounding compounds. They can cause chain reactions when they start interacting with neighboring molecules, which is damaging or even fatal to cells if not kept in check.

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