Free French Wine Giveaway!

Win a 3-Pack of Wine for the Holidays from The Zin Diva, LLC!

Sign-up The Zin Diva Shares Her Passion for Wine at an Art Galleryfor The Zin Diva’s Email Newsletter for a chance to win a 3-pack of wine for the holidays!

I’ve selected three French wines for this drawing: a sparkling, a Saumur (Chenin Blanc), and a Cotes-du-Rhone. I especially adore this Saumur. I served it at my Loire Valley dinner party and the guests and I all wanted “some more” Saumur. 🙂

Enter for a Chance to Win 3 French Wines Here: Sign Up for Our Newsletter to Stay in Touch

The Zin Diva creates fun, passion-filled wine events that bring people together. Plan your next cocktail party, dinner party, nonprofit fundraiser, or homeowner’s association event with The Zin Diva, LLC, or consider using us at your upcoming bridal shower or wedding reception. Serving the greater DC Metro area.

Subscribe by December 18, 2012 to enter the drawing! Drawing will be held on December 19, 2012. US Residents only.

beth.taylor@zindiva.com
703-249-WINE
@Zin_Diva
www.facebook.com/TheZinDiva

Tour the World in a Basket: A Food and Wine Pairing Experience

So I created my first Zin Diva wine basket as a contribution to a charity fundraiser at work. Our office designs several baskets for sale at our silent auction open to the workforce. Word on the street is that our office makes THE best baskets out of ALL the offices, so I had to live up to the hype.

I selected food and accessory items first and then paired scrumptious, accessible wines to the selected food items, choosing wines from six different countries. This basket set has something for everyone including bubbly, dry, sweet, red, and white wines; savory foods; chocolates; service accessories; a wine journal; and wine and food pairing recommendations, below. The basket would make a great gift or be a perfect jumping off point for your own wine cocktail party.

 

Wines

Cava, a fruity sparkling Wine from Spain

Vouvray, an off-dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France

Sauvignon Blanc, a dry, mouth-watering white wine from Marlborough, New Zealand

Chianti Colli Senesi, a dry Sangiovese blend from the Tuscany region of Italy

Cabernet Sauvignon, a dry red wine from the Margaret River in Western Australia

Ruby Port, a sweet, fortified, fruity red wine from Portugal

 

Savory Foods

Artichoke Lemon Spread (Spread on Black Pepper Crostini & Pair with NZ Sauvignon Blanc)

Sundried Tomato Pesto (Spread on Garlic & Parsley Crostini & Pair with Italian Chianti Colli Senesi)

Black Pepper Crostini

Garlic and Parsley Crostini

Cheddar Cheese Twists with a Touch of Cayenne (Pair with Australian Cabernet Sauvignon)

 

Chocolates

85% Cocoa Lindt Dark Chocolate (Pair with Portugal Ruby Port & Try with Cabernet if desired)

70% Cocoa Lindt Dark Chocolate with Toasted Nuts (Pair with Portugal Ruby Port)

24 Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffles with Smooth Filling (Pair with Portugal Ruby Port)

 

Service Accessories

2 Sets of Cocktail Napkins: Noel/Joy & Holiday Star

Decorative Glass Wine Stopper

4 Stemless Wine Glasses with Fun Wine Sayings

 

To Cherish the Memories and Discover More about the World of Wine

Wine Journal by Hugh Johnson, one of the world’s preeminent wine authors

 

The Zin Diva, LLC: Sharing Passion for Food and Wine
Elizabeth Taylor, Certified Specialist of Wine & Level 1 Sommelier
www.zindiva.com  703-249-WINE (9463)
Twitter: @Zin_Diva www.facebook.com/TheZinDiva  Beth.Taylor@ZinDiva.com

Creating fun, passion-filled wine events that bring people together

Musings on Company Philosophy… and Putting the “Fun” First in The Zin Diva!

I’ve been working this week to develop my company philosophy and integrate it throughout my website. While developing a core purpose and core values sounded rather abstract to me, I’ve actually really enjoyed seeing how my website and “elevator speech” are evolving based on selling my core purpose of “fun” instead of my Sommelier and wine education services.

So, here’s The Zin Diva’s core purpose: To create fun, passion-filled wine events that bring people together. While this has long been my objective, my website and 30-second elevator speech didn’t reflect that. In fact, peoples’ eyes glaze over when I say I provide “Sommelier and Wine Education Services for your Parties and Events.” Yawn… And then they ask what Sommelier means, and I say a fancy French word for wine steward. But we never really got down to the core of my business model of creating fun, passion-filled wine events that bring people together. Instead of burying the fun deep into conversation, I am now seeking to promote the “fun” up-front.

So here is my new approach and elevator speech: The Zin Diva creates fun, passion-filled wine events that bring people together. We strive to make wine fun and approachable while providing the amount of wine education that you and your guests desire.

I’ve also established the core values for The Zin Diva, so that they can guide us as we plan events, serve guests, hire help, and market ourselves. As we grow, the core values should remain constant.

So, here are The Zin Diva’s Core Values:

  • Passion
  • Warmth
  • Authenticity
  • Diversity
  • Rewarding Relationships

And in summary, here’s a look at how I’m promoting The Zin Diva now:

We plan and host fun, passion-filled wine events for Northern Virginia, Maryland, and the Washington, DC Metro area including locations up to 1.5 hours away from Alexandria, Virginia. Ask us about planning a fun wine event for your group by contacting The Zin Diva at beth.taylor@zindiva.com or 703-249-WINE.

Cheers to having fun!

May I Offer You a Glass of Bubbly?

May I offer you a glass of bubbly this evening? the sommelier asks.

You accept and are surprised that this sparkling wine is dry yet crisp and fruity. “What is this? I really like it,” you ask.

“It’s Cava from Spain,” the sommelier says. “Cava is typically fruit-forward and is made just like Champagne but from different grapes. I love starting an event with Cava because it’s so refreshing.”

You mingle with the other guests while tasting five more intriguing wines and nibbling on cheese and charcuterie. By the end of the evening, you discover a couple of new wines you really like and know where to find them.

You’re also thrilled that your favorite charity just received a lot of donations by featuring The Zin Diva, LLC, for tonight’s wine tasting fundraiser.

Based on actual events

Around the World in Wine

Last Saturday was a blast! I led a wine tasting for the Norfolk Jaycees that had us traveling around the world—with 50 friends, acquaintances, and strangers as my companions. Through the expressions of six wines, we visited Spain, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, France, and the United States of America, in that order.

Spain

Cava, Brut Rosado, Castillo Perelada, Spain, NV, 11.5% ABV

We started off with a pink Cava from Spain. Unlike many Cavas, this wine had Pinot Noir in it, which gave it a beautiful bright pink color.  Both on the nose and palate, the wine showed notes of strawberry, raspberry, and lemon zest with a hint of white flower and white rock. I love sparkling wines to start a party for several reasons: they get people in a party mood, cleanse the palate, and work with a wide variety of food choices like an appetizer spread.

South Africa

Chenin Blanc, essay, Western Cape, South Africa, 2009, 13.5% ABV

From Spain we traveled to the Southern Hemisphere and checked out South Africa’s signature white grape, Chenin Blanc, but with a bit of a twist—a touch of Viognier. A beautiful yellow-gold with green highlights, this wine expressed itself as yellow apple with peel, yellow peach, under-ripe apricot on the nose and ripe apricot on the palate, lemon zest, lemon juice, and honeysuckle with a hint of oregano and muddy river rocks on the nose. I’d pair this wine with pan-sautéed pork chops with caramelized onions and sautéed red or yellow apples, such as Braeburn. I’d add a touch of white wine at the end to make a bit of a sauce and incorporate the browned bits from the pan.

New Zealand

Sauvignon Blanc, Yealands Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2009, 13% ABV

Staying in the Southern Hemisphere, we traveled to New Zealand, which has a cool climate with long growing days. Even though its own prohibition preventing the wine industry from developing until recently, New Zealand has a reputation for making only quality wines. This wine was no exception. Yellow with gold-green highlights, this Sauvignon Blanc screamed for attention with flavors of fresh-cut grass, white grapefruit juice, gooseberry, lemon zest, green apple with peel, white rock, basil, and jalapeño. With the medium acidity level and intense flavors of this wine, I’d pair it with an herb salad topped with sherry vinaigrette, herb-encrusted chicken or fish, or a Caesar salad.

Australia

Merlot, Thorn-Clarke, “Terra-Barossa,” Estate Grown, Barossa, Australia, 2008, 14.0% ABV

Taking a jaunt over to Australia, we tasted a Barossa Valley Merlot from a reputable winery, Thorn-Clarke. Ruby red fading to a salmon-colored rim, this Merlot burst with flavors of blueberry jam, blackberry, black cherry, black plum, cinnamon, and black pepper with secondary notes of dried mint and dark chocolate. After sitting awhile, the wine flavors integrated into a spicy barbecue sauce, reminiscent of BBQ spareribs. The tannins in this wine were soft and integrated. I’d drink this on its own or with meat like steak or the above-mentioned ribs. It would also be delicious with a Thanksgiving meal, playing off the rich flavor accents of cranberry sauce and stuffing while marrying nicely with the neutral turkey meat.

France

Bordeaux Superieur AC, Comtes de Tastes, “Chateau Haut Gay,” Bordeaux (Right Bank), France, 2009, 14.5% ABV

Flying back to the Old World in Bordeaux, France, we enjoyed a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc from the Right Bank. Ruby red fading a to a pink rim, this wine showed blackberry and black cherry fruits, cinnamon, and vanilla with notes of forest floor, dust, and oregano and slightest hint of dried mint. Atypical of a Bordeaux, this wine emphasized fruit and new oak flavors more than earth though pleasantly the earth was still present. I’d definitely be happy pairing this with a steak, perhaps a filet mignon encrusted with pepper and served with sautéed mushrooms and onions to pick up on the earthiness.

United States of America

Zinfandel, The Other Guys, “Plungerhead Old Vine Zinfandel,” Lodi, California, USA, 2009, 14.9% ABV

Finally, we returned home to the USA but over to the west coast in Lodi, California. Plungerhead Zinfandel taunted us with unconventional wine packaging, including a wine label featuring a man with a toilet plunger on his head and a plunger-shaped synthetic cork. In the glass, this Zin treated us to blackberry brambles, blackberry jam, black cherry, huckleberry, black pepper, cinnamon, and something sweet and green on the nose—almost like running through a field of wildflowers and tall weeds. I’d happily drink this on its own, with a pork chop or chicken breast that’s been sautéed and then has a balsamic or cherry reduction sauce or in place of a Chianti with Italian-inspired food. For a vegetarian option, I’d try a rice pilaf, quinoa, or mixed greens featuring dried cherries, perhaps some diced yellow apples, toasted pecans, and a touch of a mild blue cheese, like a Danish blue, topped with a balsamic vinaigrette.

We finish our brief tour around the world in wine. We’ve learned more about wine, wine and food pairings, art, and each other.

I look forward to hosting another wine tasting event soon!

Thank you so much to the “Around the World in Wine” supporters:

Sheila Giolitti and the Mayer Fine Art Gallery for generously allowing the Norfolk Jaycees to use the Waterside gallery in Norfolk, VA, for our tasting. http://mayerfineartgallery.com/

Mike Adams at Bon Vivant Market in Smithfield, VA, for his help in selecting the wines and for extending a discount to the Norfolk Jaycees. All wines tasted and described here can be purchased through Mike Adams at Bon Vivant Market. http://www.bonvivantmarket.com/

The Norfolk Jaycees for hosting the event, obtaining the ABC license, and taking care of all manner of logistics details. http://www.norfolkjaycees.com/

Christopher B. Taylor for shooting and editing photos of the event, including the three featured above, and assisting with all logistics of the wine tasting.

© Elizabeth Taylor – 2011 

A Taste of Italy

So for my latest adventure in wine tasting, I hosted “A Taste of Italy” wine dinner party at my apartment. I had 12 bottles of wine, my 3-day-3-meat sauce, and 15 guests.

For the wine portion, my co-conspirator in blind wine tastings, Dona, bagged up the wines and randomly numbered the three whites and then the seven reds. We had two Prosecco wines open for aperitif.

About 10 of us decided to take part of either a blind or semi-blind wine tasting challenge. Four of us “called the wines,” which means we described the visual cues, the nose, the taste, the mouth feel, and the finish of each wine and then tried to identify what varietals the wine was made of and where in Italy the wine was from.

Proseccos and Italian Whites

First up, we tasted the whites—two Pinot Grigios and a Soave. They smelled and tasted so nasty and dull that I didn’t even try to identify which was which. We suspected that the wine glasses were causing some of the off-odors of play-dough and clay, so we cleaned the wine glasses again before moving on to reds and had better results—at least as far as the nose and flavors are concerned! It was another story altogether on our ability to identify the wines. Lesson learned: Make sure I smell the wine glasses after I wash them to ensure they’re clean! I’ve taken this to heart and even started polishing my wine glasses so they sparkle AND smell clean.

We had red wines labeled #4 to #10, and I knew what the wines were but not the order so, in theory, I had an advantage. The guests who tasted “semi-blind” had the list of wines in alphabetical order. Those who tasted blind only knew the wines were from Italy.

Blind Tasting Results

So here’s how I identified the wines (* indicates that I loved it):

*#4 It’s so delicious, balanced, and smooth and not too acidic or tannic for my tastes. So it must be the Super Tuscan that I had selected rather than another type of Sangiovese-based wine. Call: Super Tuscan 2007
*#5 Yum! Lots of dried fruit, seems big and full. This is how I remember Ripasso tasting. So: Ripasso 2007
#6 Seems big and bold like I’d expect Amarone to be. Call: Amarone
#7 Tastes like a Sangiovese-based wine, dried fruits, violets in the nose. I already picked the Super Tuscan and it seems too beautiful for a Chianti, so I pick Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
*#8 It’s so soft and sweet. It must be the “little sweet one,” that is, Dolcetto. Call: Dolcetto.
#9 I’m running out of choices. I don’t recognize the flavors on this one, so maybe Barbera? Okay, Barbera 2008.
#10 It tastes Sangiovese-based again but all my options are gone except for one so let’s pick the Chianti Colli Senesi.

Italian Reds in Blind-Tasting Order

And here’s what they actually were…

*#4 Barbera D’Asti. Uh, oh. This isn’t good. I didn’t even get close to the right type of grape or region. But I guess I like Barbera more than I thought!
*#5 Chianti Colli Senesi. Oh my! I had no idea a Chianti could taste so good!
#6 Dolcetto. Are you serious? How could I mix up Dolcetto (the little sweet one) and the big, bold Amarone?! Yikes, I’m bad at this.
#7 Vino Nobile di Moltepulciano. Woo hoo! I got one right! I think it must be luck since I knew what the wines were.
*#8 Amarone. Okay, what is up with the Amarone and Dolcetto mix up? This Amarone was a gift and I think it was a Trader Joe’s wine that cost less than $20 and Amarones are routinely upwards of $40 for just a regular one. Maybe this is why is doesn’t taste intense like I expected.
#9 Ripasso. Huh. Well, I have had only one Ripasso before, so I guess I just need exposure to more Ripassos so I can get a better idea of this wine’s profile.
#10 Super Tuscan. Yea! I got that is was Sangiovese-based! Does this count for one right? But wait, I thought this was my favorite before the tasting… And I haven’t been a very big Chianti lover due to the medium plus acidity and high tannin levels (see Chianti call in #5 above) except with food… My world is shifting…

For the exact details on the wines, download the list I printed for the party: Italian Wine List.

On to the Food!

Okay, so I flopped this blind wine tasting. But so did everyone else! Misery loves company. But we didn’t wallow for long because we had lots of delicious wines to drink now that we had tasted and spit for the past, oh, two hours.

And we had 3-day, 3-meat sauce over penne waiting along with Caesar salad, garlic bread, and tiramisu.

As we settled into the social mealtime, we poured more wine and enjoyed the deep flavors of the meat sauce. Jennifer, who has trained as chef, said it was one of the best meat sauces out there and she wanted the recipe. I responded, “It’s made with love.”

I’ve been making some version of this meat sauce since 2003, inspired by my friend Carol of Italian descent who has her own family recipe, the 1997 “Joy of Cooking” Italian American Meat Sauce recipe, and the wild boar meat sauce at Sienna Restaurant on Daniel Island in SC. As I have grown in my love for food, wine, and cooking, my meat sauce has grown with me, and it truly is an act of love and generosity to make it for those around me.

But really, I’ll give you my 3-day, 3-meat sauce recipe. It’s up to you if you’re up to the challenge of dedicating so much time and love to one dish.

The Zin Diva’s Three-Day, Three-Meat Italian Sauce

Special equipment: 8- to 12-quart bouillabaisse pot or French (Dutch) oven, large frying pan, food processor
Total Time: 2-3 days Prep Time: 2 hours  Initial Simmer Time: 6 hours  Flavor Integration: Overnight in Refrigerator  Reheat: 1 to 2 hours  Total Active Time: 10 hours
Servings: 12-20 depending on portion size

Ingredients

Meat
5 lb. beef rump roast, trimmed of excess fat and patted dry
10 oz. pancetta, diced
3 lb. sweet or spicy Italian sausage (reduced fat works too!)

Everything else

4 jumbo white onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 28-oz cans whole plum tomatoes crushed between your fingers as you add them to the pot OR 4 28-oz cans petite diced tomatoes
2 cups dry red wine (such as Chianti, Tempranillo, Syrah)
1 6-oz can tomato paste
3 sprigs fresh basil (plus extra to balance flavors)
2 Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds from consumed hunks of Parmesan (I store the rinds in the freezer until I make sauce)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Italian Parsley
Fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat the 8-quart pot on the stove top over medium to medium-high heat until you can feel a good heat rising. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil. When oil is hot, add the rump roast and brown on each side until nicely browned but not black or burnt. Continue to step 3.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the frying pan over medium heat until you feel a good heat rising. Add the Italian sausage and brown on all sides until sausage is firm and cooked throughout. Remove sausage from pan and allow to cool on a cutting board. Repeat until all sausage is cooked. After the sausage is cooled, slice it into ¼ inch thick slices. Set aside in the refrigerator until needed in step 4.
  3. Once the roast is browned, add the onions, pancetta, and garlic to the 8-quart pot with the meat still in the pot. Stir regularly, making sure to rotate/shift the beef occasionally so that the onions can absorb its juices. When onions are softened and almost translucent, about 20 minutes, add 1 cup water and continue to stir until a bit of a sauce forms and the water is mostly evaporated, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and their juices, red wine, tomato paste, and basil, stirring to integrate well. Add the parmesan rinds. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir as often as needed.
    For a straight-sided pan, I found I needed to stir every 10-20 minutes to reintegrate the top layer that bubbled up. For the natural-convection promoting bouillabaisse pot, I only stir every 30 minutes to an hour. Every 2 hours, turn the beef over so it cooks evenly.
    Cook the beef for four to six hours until it is knife tender, i.e., a knife blade inserted in the roast is inserted and is removed with almost no resistance.  Remove the beef from the pot and let cool. Add kosher salt and black pepper to the sauce to taste. Add the sausage slices in the pot. If making this over two or three days, put all items in the fridge and return the next day to complete.
  5. Cut the beef into ¾ inch cubes and pulse in batches in the food processor until shredded but not mushy. Return the shredded beef to the pot, stirring after each addition to integrate. Allow the pot to simmer to integrate flavors.
  6. Add 1 cup chopped parsley and chopped basil leaves from one sprig to the pot and stir. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings to taste. To further meld flavors, refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day, adding water as needed if the sauce is too thick. Remove parmesan slices before serving.
  7. Serve hot sauce over pasta such as whole-grain penne. Top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
© Elizabeth Taylor – 2011

Loire Valley Wine Dinner

I recently passed my Level 1 Sommelier exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers! Now it’s time to start studying for Level 2. Since I will need to taste and study specific wines/regions AND I love to entertain, I’m combining the two along with some wine education. Voila! Time to plan a dinner party!

The Loire is home to many medium-body white wines primarily from the Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc grapes, which will be a perfect fit for summer. The Loire also produces light- to medium-body reds including Cabernet Franc and Gamay. I’ve researched food and wine pairings, bought the wine, ordered Loire Valley cheeses, found high-quality maps, and gorgeous photos. I’ll be preparing the food and explaining the wine region and the wine and food pairings.

Before guests arrive, I’ll be tasting each wine using the tasting grid from the Court of Master Sommeliers. This will involve a 4 to 6 minute analysis of the visual components, nose, and taste/mouthfeel. Typically, wines are tasted “blind,” meaning you don’t know what the wines are in advance. Since I know what the wines are, I won’t be tasting blind. However, my goal is to be able to identify these wines with the specific regions (AOPs) of the Loire Valley when given to me blind at a future date.

Here’s the map of the Loire Valley. As you can see from the tentative menu below, we’ll be traveling through the Loire Valley with wines from Muscadet, Saumur, Touraine (including Rose, Gamay, Chinon, and Vouvray), and the Central Vineyards (Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume)

The wine regions of the Loire Valley

Tentative menu:

Appetizers: Loire Valley Cheeses, Shrimp Cocktail
Pairing: Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc (Pouilly-Fume & Sancerre), Rose (Touraine), Gamay

Salad: Sliced mushrooms and goat cheese over a bed of mixed spring greens tossed with a lemon juice-olive oil vinaigrette
Pairing: Chenin Blanc (Vouvray & Saumur)

Main Course: Roasted red & green bell peppers, sauteed asparagus, and prosciutto tossed with whole wheat penne and Pecorino Romano
Pairing: Cabernet Franc (Chinon) and Sauvignon Blanc (Pouilly-Fume & Sancerre)

Dessert: Summer berries with zabaglione (alternate is plantation-specific chocolate)
Pairing: Coffee (w/ liqueur as desired such as Frangelico, Kahlua, Godiva)


A Tour of Europe in Six Wines

I hosted “A Tour of Europe” wine tasting last night for 29 people. I was on a natural endorphin high til 3 a.m.! We had Cava from Spain, German Riesling, White Bordeaux from France, Red Bordeaux from France, Primitivo from the boot of Italy, and a Ruby Port from Portugal! I presented all the wines, answered questions, and showed wine maps to those interested! What a great night!

A Tour of Europe in Six Wines

Here’s the wine menu for the evening:

A Tour of Europe in Six Wines


Sparkling wine, Spain

Cava, Brut Rosé, Segura Viudas, Spain, NV
A beautiful, pink bubbly with balanced fruit and acidity. Pairs well with most food. $9, 11.5% ABV

Light body, off-dry white, Germany

Zeppelinwine Riesling, Max Ferd. Richter, Mosel, Germany, 2009
A fruity and spicy wine with apple, pear, citrus, and floral notes. The crisp acidity and residual sugar helps it pair with most lighter foods including slightly spicy ones. $14, 9.5% ABV

Medium body dry white, France

Bordeaux, Chateau La Roche Saint Jean, Appellation Bordeaux Controlée, France, 2010
100% Sauvignon Blanc. Dry and crisp with grapefruit notes and a long finish. Pair with goat cheese, salad, fish, and a hot summer day. $10, 13% ABV

Medium body dry red, France

Bordeaux, Chateau des Léotins, Appellation Bordeaux Controlée, France, 2009
Blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot. Easy drinking entry level Bordeaux. Pair with cheddar cheese, steak or enjoy on its own. $9, 13.5% ABV

Full body dry red, Italy

Terragnolo Primitivo, Apollonio, IGT Salento Rosso, Italy, 2004
Related to Zinfandel, this Primitivo has rich, ripe fruit and will pair beautifully with hot Italian sausage, red sauce, cheeses, and other hearty foods. $18, 14.5% ABV

Sweet dessert wine, Portugal

Ruby Port, Honor, DO Douro and Porto, Portugal, NV
Fortified dessert wine with residual sugar, lots of ripe fruit, and a long finish. Best paired with dark chocolate and rich chocolate desserts.  $22, 19.5% ABV