Review: A Toast to Bargain Wines
In this holiday season, many will be giving (and receiving) bottles of wine. They are the perfect hostess gift when you're attending parties. Buying wine can also be an expensive proposition, and for those of us who are not sommeliers, finding an inexpensive but tasty wine can be a chore. According to author George Taber, though, even the Queen of England serves inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc and basic Bordeaux to the majority of her guests.
Taber gives a fascinating history of the wine business in this book, including some Embarrassing Moments in Wine History (the title of the first chapter), and a look at the ups and downs of the global wine business. The wine business has shifted dramatically in recent years, refocusing away from the its traditional home in France and moving into new territories across the U.S. and in Chile, New Zealand, and Argentina, with a lot of booms and busts along the way.
He also describes the movers and shakers who have changed the wine industry, including Tim Hanni, one of the first two Americans to be recognized as a Master of Wine. Included in this book is Hanni's Taste Sensitivity Assessment that helps determine the types of wine that you may like. According to the test, I am "Sensitive," and therefore more adventurous with my choices. True.
A Toast also describes how historic and traditional vineyards are faring today, and examines the newer upstart companies like Australia's Yellow Tail. Rumor has it that owner John Casella based the taste of his wine on Coke so the American drinker would take to it. He says he actually just wanted to create a "friendly wine."
Now that's just the first half of the book. The second half gets to the heart of the matter, with Taber's guide to the very best buys in wine. He offers the advice to experiment and find the wine that best suits your tastes, rather than fretting over whether you're drinking the "right" wine.
His easy-to-use lists are classified by varietal, and then are separated into his favorite bargains and his splurges. Even the splurges come in under $25, though, so there's nothing here that should break the bank. Taber also offers suggestions of food pairings to help even the most novice wine drinker.
When I finish reading most books, they go onto my shelves in the living room. This book, however, is now stored with my cookbooks, ready to be referenced at a moment's notice. I've already used its handy guide to stock up for the holidays. Salut! (2011 - Scribner)
Recipe: Red Wine Cake
Years ago, the office where I worked had spectacular pot-lucks for the holidays, and a friend brought this cake. Within seconds, every crumb was gone and she was passing around the recipe. It's incredibly moist, with just a hint of the taste of wine. I love the taste of chocolate with a glass of red wine, so this recipe makes a perfect pairing.
2 sticks of softened butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups red wine
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and then butter and flour a bundt pan. In a large bowl, use a mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in between. Add the vanilla and beat for another minute or two. Add the cocoa, baking soda and salt, mixing them well into the batter. Then alternate the red wine and the flour, adding half of each at a time and mixing well in between additions. Spoon into the bundt pan, being sure to distribute the batter evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out of the cake cleanly. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a plate. You can serve it warm with ice cream, or allow it to cool and serve it with whipped cream.