Friday, October 10, 2014

Holidays, Sweet Treats and Wine - OH MY!

What do holidays, sweet treats, and some of your favorite wines have in common? It's a quality that may not pop into your mind immediately, or at least until I mention it - it’s the cozy, rich, toasty aromas of warm baking spices.
Just like you, when pumpkins become ubiquitous and the Halloween decorations appear in the stores, I begin thinking about the holidays. Thus, this post about the spicy goodness in some red wines.

Have you ever participated in a wine tasting, and as soon as certain red wines are poured and passed, a collective "mmmmm" arises from the group? That involuntary sound of pleasure is exactly what we’re talking about here. The smell of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg are all included in this collection of spices that evoke comfort and sweetness, cool weather, sweaters, family and friends.

Another name for these holiday pantry staples? Oh yeah - SUPER SPICES. Each of them brings their own nutrient goodies to the table, but among them are Vitamin K, fiber, manganese, iron, calcium, fiber and more! A perfect tiny package: aromatherapy, spicy flavors and good-for-you too!

To make these spices even more interesting, warm baking spices smell sweet as well as spicy. Don’t believe me? Try adding a quarter teaspoon to your oatmeal tomorrow morning without the sugar. The oatmeal will still be full of spicy sweetness we crave.

Humans crave sugar. As an article by Harvard Professor Daniel E. Lieberman, puts it, “Humans are designed to crave sugar, store it and then use it!” So, it’s not surprising that we love the smell of warm baking spices on a cool morning, cookies and cakes filled with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg and a glass of wine full of spicy, juicy, fruitiness!
I get SO excited about things we can add to our food that make it taste better and be better-for-us. But, back to the wine… There are many different varietals that are rock with the aroma and the taste of the holidays.

Not wines that are artificially flavored – I’m talking about the natural smells and flavors that develop when wine is made.
Here’s a really good wine word to learn: one that explains why wine smells and tastes like spices, fruit, wood, etc. Stereoisomers are the different configurations of the same chemical compound – that is created by yeasts, fermentation, or influenced by oak or the lack of oak used in making a wine.

Hey! The best news is that you don’t have to wait for the holidays – you can enjoy these wines year round.  Two of my favorite varietals, (grapes are called varietals instead of variety), and a couple of examples are listed below, along with a recipe for one of my favorite seasoning mixes – incorporating holiday spices in a savory-sweet way!

Syrah or Shiraz – Yes, it's the same grape, grown the world over, but wines from the Northern Rhone and wines from Australia especially seem to capture the red spicy goodness.

Grenache or Garnacha – Native to Spain, this red wine smells and tastes like candied fruit, with a dash of warm baking spices. What could be better? Both France and Spain make yummy examples of a spicy Grenache wine.

Want to enjoy some warm baking spices in a glass? Try these winners:

Evodia Garnacha about $13 from World Market
Spicy, intense rich blackberries appear when you smell this wine. A perfect Spanish pairing for a black pepper sauced Portabella mushrrom

Perrin Reserve Rouge about $11 from Total Wine
Fresh Fruit with jam and spices make a blend worth trying with any bold flavored veggie dish like this awesome stuffed pepper from the Friday Four. This one is a blend of Grenache, a little Syrah and Mourvedre – another grape from Spain.

Peter Lehmann Portrait Shiraz about $14 from Total Wine If you like big, bold jammy reds this is your wine. Full of spice, pepper and smoke, this Shiraz can stand up to any holiday roast you throw at it. For veggie lovers, try this incredibly good Spanish AlmondCaper Sauce on roasted veggies.

2012 Bridlewood Red Blend 175 about $10 from Costco
Need something to serve at the summer barbeque? How about when everyone heads to your house over the holidays? This wine provides your answer. What’s wrong with a super taste of spices, berries and cherries and a great price point? This is one to try now, and buy for later in the year.

African Spice Dip - Dukkah 

1/2 cup salted peanuts
 (almonds or macadamia nuts may be used as well)

1/4 Tsp ground ginger

1/4 Tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 Tsp ground cloves
¼ Tsp ground cardamom 

1/4 Tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tsp chili powder
Sea Salt to taste

Grind the nuts to a coarse powder in a mortar, blender or food processor, then add the ground mixed spices, chili powder and a little salt to taste.

Serve with Goat Cheese topped Apple Slices. Use for a rub on Chicken, pork or fish, use as a "dip" for fresh fruit like Apples or Pears, or serve it with Crusty Bread and Olive Oil.