Wine and Eggs

If you listen to the ads on television, eggs are no longer just for breakfast and thus could be enjoyed with a glass of wine beyond the traditional mimosa, which is champagne and orange juice.

There’s a reason why mimosas are a brunch mainstay. Dry sparkling white wines like Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco are the number-one pick for any egg-based dish. Eggs, particularly the yolks, are rich and coat your palate with their savory flavor, which means their flavour lingers when you take a sip of wine. That makes the wine taste a little funny; maybe bitter or metallic or it’s difficult to taste at all. Sparkling wines, however, have that effervescence that actually cleans out your palate. They also tend to have high acidity, which does the same thing, as well as cuts through the natural richness of eggs. So that lingering egg yolk washes away and you can taste the wine again.

Below is an assortment of egg dishes that have been paired with a complimentary wine for enjoyment as a lunch or dinner entree.

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine is the original form of quiche, from the French region of Lorraine. It is an open savory pie, filled with a cream and egg custard, and usually containing pork in one form or another, often bacon.  Quiche pairs well with Riesling.

Classic Rancher’s Meal

The Classic Rancher’s Meal consists of eggs, potatoes, pork (ham, sausage or bacon), and toast.  The combination, with the exception of the toast, is fried in a skillet.  Due to the nature of this fried meal, it is best paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.

French Toast

Chenin Blanc is a White wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France. It is high in acidity to help cut the sweetness of French Toast with maple syrup.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs can be poached on the stovetop or in the microwave, and then set on English muffin halves topped with a slice of back bacon and a spoonful of creamy Hollandaise sauce. Chardonnay or Rosé will pair well with this rich delicacy.

Breakfast Sandwich

This ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on toasted bread or an English muffin pairs well with Lambrusco which is one of the oldest wines of Italy.  It dates all the way back to the Bronze Age. 

Huevos Ranchero

Huevos rancheros, or “ranchers’ eggs”, is a classic Mexican breakfast. Fried eggs are nested in a bed of refried beans, sour cream and salsa and served atop a warm tortilla. Try adding a bit of your favourite hot sauce for a touch of heat.  Pair with a Gamay.

Whatever egg dish you choose, there will be a wine that will pair well with it.

Sláinte mhaith

Common Wine Faults

When you take your first taste from a bottle of wine are you experiencing the vintner’s intentional style or some sort of accident?  The degree to which wine faults are considered problematic often lies in the nose (or palate) of the beholder and it’s often hard to tell the difference.

Here’s a guide to seven common wine faults, plus two situations you can happily ignore.

Brett

If the smell of the wine reminds you of a barnyard, horse stable or a band-aid, the wine may contain Brettanomyces yeast.  Many wines, including really good ones, have small amounts of brett.

Brett is most prevalent in red wines.  At lower concentrations, it can add a spicy, leathery note to a wine. People’s thresholds of perception of brett vary.  Some people don’t notice it while others are more sensitive. Brett does not pose a health concern.

Brett can develop in wine at any point during production. The yeast can be on the grapes or can be in barrels. There are lots of opportunities for brett to occur.

Corked Wine

About 5% of the world’s wines are corked, which leads to a less than pleasant wine-drinking experience.  If you smell the wine before drinking it will help determine whether or not it is corked.  If it smells okay, taste it to make sure that it has the strong, fresh flavors you expected when you bought it.   If wine is corked, it will have an odor that you wouldn’t expect from a good wine. It may smell musty, or like a dank towel, wet dog, wet cardboard or newspaper.  Your first sniff is more reliable than later sniffs. Trust your first whiff.

Wine becomes corked when it is exposed to  “2,4,6-Trichloroanisole” (TCA), a naturally occurring compound that may be found in the cork of the wine bottle.  TCA forms when natural fungi present in corks comes into contact with certain chemicals found in sanitation and sterilization products used in wineries.

Taste the wine. If the wine has only been exposed to a small amount of TCA, it may be difficult to decide for sure whether or not it is corked by just smelling it. The taste of the wine will be dull and will not exhibit any fruit characteristics.  A wine that is only slightly corked may lack aroma and have very little taste. It may even taste like paint thinner.

It may not be the cork in the bottle that caused the contamination. You may come across a bottle of wine with a screw top that tastes as though it is corked. In this case, the wine may have become contaminated in the barrel before it was bottled.

Many people mistakenly believe that corked wine is just wine that has little bits of cork floating in the wine. This is not the case. Although pieces of cork in your wine may be annoying, the wine itself is perfectly fine, unlike corked wine, which is generally undrinkable

Cooked / Manderized

Cooked or manderized wine is not mulled wine but is wine that has been exposed to heat levels that cause the wine to spoil. If you have ever bought a case of wine while on a summertime trip to wine country and stored it in your car’s trunk you may have been surprised to find it tasted completely different than when you bought it. A temperature of a mere 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) can be sufficient to spoil the taste.

White wine affected by temperature will appear brownish in colour and will have the flavour of flat baked fruit or nutty flavours.  Red wine will taste roasted, stewed or jammy with a raisin flavour.

Other indications of a cooked wine include finding that the cork is very difficult to remove. Essentially when the wine is exposed to high temperatures the cork expands. The cork might be extremely hard to pull out or may even be visibly forcing itself out of the bottle.

If the wine bottle is not cool to touch then you’re probably not storing it properly. A common misnomer is that room temperature is adequate for wine storage. It’s actually advised that wine should be stored at cellar temperature, which can be 10 degrees Celsius cooler than standard room temperature. To keep it cool during the summer months, either get a small wine fridge or keep it in a cool dry place like your basement.  For additional information on cellaring wine see my August 24, 2019 blog, “Drink or lay down and how to cellar those you keep”.

Over-The-Hill

Over-the-hill wine is wine that has been stored too long.  The colour of the wine will appear faded and less vibrant and the taste will be rather flat, having lost its freshness and structure.  Only about 10% of all wine produced is suitable for long term retention.  Most wines are ready for consumption the day you bring them home from the store. 

Oxidization

As soon as wine encounters oxygen it begins to break down, or “open up,” as some people say. Oxygen allows the aromas in wine to become more present, making it easier to identify the aroma. Oxygen also softens the mouthfeel of wine which occurs due to the breaking down of tannins, the cause of that harsh, dry sensation you may feel along your cheeks and tongue. Decanting is extremely beneficial in young reds, whose bright acidity and gripping tannins can seem austere and unpleasant at first. See my November 9, 2019 post, “To Breathe or not to Breathe” for additional information.

However, too much oxygen can lead to oxidation and  the degradation of the wine. This can happen during wine production or even after the wine has been bottled. Basically all oxygen needs is a simple catalyst for the reaction to occur. Think of an apple that’s been sliced and left out too long; the abundance of oxygen causes the flesh to brown, the aromas to dissipate and the flavors to disappear. The same thing occurs in the oxidation of wine.

If there is too much oxygen in white wine it will be ruddy or brownish in colour and will have the smell of spoiled cider, nuts or dried leaves.  Red wine will take on an orange brick colour and will taste lifeless and flat.

Reduction

Reduction is the opposite of oxidization.  It occurs when there is too little exposure to oxygen.  In this case the wine will take on a sulfuric smell like that of a struck match or the smell of garlic, rubber or rotten eggs.

Reduction occurs during the wine making process and can often be cured simply by introducing oxygen during the fermentation process. However, if reduction appears in a finished bottled wine, it is a clear flaw and while decanting will usually clear it up, some wines are permanently reduced and about all that can be done is to put a penny (if you still have one) in the wine.

Slight reduction is not something to worry about because the basic characteristics of the wine are still evident. Heavy reduction that extends to the flavours makes a wine almost impossible to accurately judge and if the condition is left untreated it can permanently mark a wine.

Volatile Acidity

If the wine contains extremely high levels of acetic acid it will have the smell of nail polish or vinegar. Small amounts are generally not noticeable by most people as the human threshold for detecting it is about 600 to 900 mg/L. It is likely to be present anytime you see “high-toned” fruit flavors in a tasting note. It can offer a tangy edge that works well with food that could use a little pizazz.

Volatile acidity occurs during the wine making process and is often associated with oxidation problems in a wine due to overexposure to oxygen and/or a lack of sulfur dioxide management. Acetic acid bacteria require oxygen to grow and proliferate.

Decanting will often help the sharp aromas disappear.

Perceived Faults

Though often mistaken for wine faults, wine diamonds and sediment are common phenomenon that are perfectly normal, and won’t harm the flavour of your wine.

Wine Diamonds

These are crystals that appear in the bottom of the bottle or glass.  They are a tartrate deposit that form when naturally occurring potassium and tartaric acid combine and sink. While winery techniques mostly prevent it from happening, they are harmless.

Sediment

Sediment is dark, grainy material that can accumulate in the bottom or side of a red wine bottle.  Sediment occurs for a couple of reasons.

Wine producers may elect not to filter their wines.  They do this to preserve flavour and texture. This leaves particles that with time settle to the bottom.

The second reason relates to aging. Research indicates a combination of acid, tannin and color compounds bond and separate from the wine. Fortunately, sediment is innocuous and is easily removed by decanting the wine before serving.

Final Thoughts

Although any of these situations may impede your enjoyment of wine, none of them are detrimental.  It several of the cases these flaws are part of the personality of the wine.  Many times I have read wine reviews that contain “hints of leather”, “earthy”, “nutty”, as part of their description.  As they say, “Beauty (or taste in this case) lies in the eyes of the beholder”.

Sláinte mhaith

The Wines of Croatia

Croatian wine has a history dating back to the Ancient Greeks. Like other old world wine producers, many traditional grape varieties are still cultivated. Modern wine production methods are now prevalent in the larger wineries and European Union style wine regulations have been adopted, guaranteeing the quality of the wine.

Croatia is located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.  It has many indigenous grape varieties that are not very well-known internationally, partly due to their complicated names. The names may contain a long row of consonants as well as have some special characters like č, ž or dž. This can make it difficult to remember or pronounce any given name.

If you are keen to understand the correct pronunciation of the names of the wines this may help.

č – sounds like the “ch” in “chalk”

ž – pronounced like the “s” in “sure.”

dž – pronounced like “j” in “jump”

š – sounds like “sh” in “shoe”

There are two distinct wine-producing regions. The continental region in the north-east of the country produces rich fruity white wines, similar in style to the neighbouring areas of Slovenia, Austria and Hungary. On the north coast, wines are similar to those produced in Italy, while further south production is more towards big Mediterranean-style reds. On the islands and the Dalmatian coast, local grape varieties, microclimates and the rather harsh nature of the vineyards leads to some highly individual wines, and some of Croatia’s best known.

Almost 70% of wine produced is white and produced in the interior, with the remaining 30% being red, which is mainly produced along the coast. Rosé is relatively rare. Some special wines, such as sparkling wine (pjenušavo vino or pjenušac) and dessert wine, are also produced.

There are indeed many foreign “international” grape varieties grown in Croatia but its long history of wine production has left it with a rich tradition of indigenous varieties, especially in the more out-lying areas and the more extreme growing conditions. 

The Croatian Institute of Viticulture and Enology was created in 1996 to oversee the country’s wine industry, and be responsible for regulating winegrowing and wine production. Standards similar to the European Union wine regulations were set up to ensure the consistent quality in their wine. Croatian wines are classified by quality, which is included on the label.

Classifications

Vrhunsko Vino: Premium Quality Wine

Kvalitetno Vino: Quality Wine

Stolno Vino: Table Wine

Types

Suho: Dry

Polusuho: Semi-dry

Slatko: Sweet

Bijelo: White

Crno: Red (literally Black)

Rosa: Rosé

Prošek: Dalmatian dessert wine made from dried grapes, similar to Italian Vin Santo

Even though a classification system is used, Croatian wines don’t have a DO or AOC system like Spain, Italy, or France which can make it confusing to understand a wine’s grade or origin.

Common Red Wines

Plavac Mali

Plavac Mali is the primary red wine of Croatia.  It is a wine that is rich and full of flavour, high in both alcohol and tannin, with lower acidity, and has flavours of blackberry, dark cherry, pepper, carob, dry figs, and spice. Plavac Mali translates to “small blue”.

Teran

This is a red grape that has bold flavours of forest berries and violets with smoky meat and game-like notes. Teran generally has high tannins, and should evolve over a few years. In Italy it is known as Terrano.

Common White Wines

Graševina

The everyday wine of Central Europe, Graševina is also known as Welschriesling. It is one of the most popular white wine grapes in Croatia. Graševina is a dry, fresh, aromatic white wine with apple-like notes.

Grk

To pronounce Grk just pronounce the three letters in a row. Grk produces dry white wines with notes of white pepper, melon, herbs, and sliced pear. The variety is indigenous to Croatia and is only found close to Korčula, on an island within the Srednja-Juzna Dalmacija.

Malvazija Istarska

Malvazija Istarska is one of the main white wines of Istria and the northern Dalmatian coast. It is sometimes referred to as Malvasia Istriana, although it’s not actually the same grape as Italian Malvasia. These wines are refreshing and usually dry, with lower alcohol content and aromas of fennel, quince, honey, apricot, and spice.

Pošip

This white wine is often crisp with flavors of apples, vanilla spice, citrus fruit, and a subtle almond note.

Final Thoughts

Croatian wines are not always available or commonplace in our local wine and liquor stores but that doesn’t mean they are inferior or overpriced.  When you come across one I think you will find it worth your while to take one home and drink it.

Sláinte mhaith

Wine Recommendations

Over the past few weeks I have been asked several times for recommendations for wines that can be obtained from the local liquor store.  The truth is I can’t really suggest any particular wine as I don’t tend to favour any particular winery.  Instead I usually select my wines from the Vintages section at the LCBO.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  First the LCBO has a rule whereby in order for a wine to appear on the regular shelves it has to be available on an ongoing basis.  This restricts the suppliers to only the largest producers; those who often purchase grapes from a wide variety of growers thus increasing the risk of producing an inconsistent product.  Also because these wineries have become so well-known, some of them over-charge for the quality of the product produced.

The challenge with the Vintages section is that many of the wines brought in are in limited supply with new releases appearing every 2 weeks.  The wines are often from estate wineries that produce smaller and limited volumes. Thus if you are seeking wine from a specific winery you may go months or even years before it reappears on the shelves.  I have found that I have been very rarely disappointed in any of my Vintage purchases.  What I focus on is the grape varietal or the region the wine comes from rather than who the vintner is.

I find the LCBO’s Vintages magazine, a bi-weekly production that identifies and provides reviewer notes and comments about the various wines being released, to be very informative.  It provides the necessary details I need to assist me with my purchasing decisions.  Helpful information includes the name of the vintner, varietal(s), tasting notes, suitability for cellaring, and of course, the price.  If you have questions or need assistance in making a decision as to which wine to buy, the staff are very informative and helpful.

The price of wine in the Vintages section is no more expensive than those found on the regular shelves but dollar for dollar I find them a better value.  Personally, I am a big fan of Italian Barolo, Valpolicella and Chianti; French wines from the Rhône and Bordeaux regions; Rieslings from Germany’s Mosel region; Spanish wine from Rioja; and a wide variety of wines from Ontario and BC. 

Due to COVID-19 there have been challenges in the liquor stores receiving many of the wines they expected; or if they have received the wines they are sometimes of a lesser quantity than anticipated.  On more than one occasion during recent months have I been unable to acquire many of the wines I was hoping for.  One week the liquor store received only two of the seven wines I was looking for and on another occasion they received none of my desired selections.

These are challenging times.

Sláinte mhaith