Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

CHRONICLING THE JOYS OF FOOD AND WINE IN THE CHARLOTTE METROPOLITAN REGION

Stop Saying these 12 Things about Wine

reprinted with permission from Wine Folly


Sooner or later in your wine journey, you’re going to come across, shall we say, certain people: certain people who say certain things. They may be going for refined, but we both know they’re coming off as something else. Let them say their piece, pity them quietly, and be content in taking the high road.

1. “I only drink...”

There’s no way this sentence ever ends well. The world of wine is so big! There are over 1,400 identified grape varieties and thousands of unique wine regions. Why anyone would limit themselves to just a tiny fraction of it, simply doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s no big thing, though. They could be in a wine phase and not even know it!


2. “Actually, it’s pronounced...”

Pronouncing Alicante Bouschet, Gewürztraminer, and Txakoli (or Txakolina) without breaking a sweat is pretty cool. But you know what’s even cooler? Not giving people a hard time if they pronounce it wrong! (Lord knows we didn’t do it right on our first try.)


3. “Sweet wines? What are you, five?”

We’re adults. And, adults can enjoy wines like Port, Sauternes, and Tokaji Aszú—sweet wines that rank among the most complex and revered wines on this planet! Yes, the wines that get most people into the world of wine in the first place tend to be sweet, so we see where that “beginners only” mentality comes from. Funny how that changes the further you get in your wine journey, however.

4. “Ew, screw cap wines. Pass!”
The wines of Australia and New Zealand are almost exclusively stoppered with screw caps. Take it from us, they are producing some dynamite stuff. Plus, screw caps have shown to age wines just fine (in fact, you don’t even have to store the bottle on it’s side). Why would someone let a flimsy, unfounded closure preference prevent them from tasting great wines? Tsk tsk.


5. “Pssh. White wines aren’t meant for aging.”
Sure, most white wines aren’t meant for long storage (but neither are most red wines for that matter!). However, when you get to top-tier Champagne, White Bordeaux, White Burgundy, White Rioja, Italian Soave, and German Riesling, you’ll discover they develop some surprisingly rich and luscious flavors with a little bit of age.


6. “I’m not drinking any $#&@ing Merlot!”
OK. Even now, this is still a very funny scene and quote. But what isn’t funny is dismissing some of the world’s greatest and most acclaimed wines for no good reason. Also, if this is said in reference to Sideways, the ironic inside secret was that Miles lusted after a bottle of 1961 Château Cheval Blanc, which is a Merlot blend from Saint-Émilion. See? Even Miles loves Merlot! Also, if you’re still saying this, you should definitely watch some newer movies about wine. Some of them have been pretty great. Just sayin’...


7. “Champagne isn’t Champagne unless it’s from the region.”
While it’s true that Champagne can only come from Champagne, it’s been the universal word for sparkling wine for beginners for a long time. So instead of clobbering your compatriots with knowledge bombs, let them taste first and learn later. The sparkling wine might actually help smooth things over. They’ll get there, and we can all help.


8. “You never, ever pair red wine with fish.”

We believe we speak for Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Beaujolais when we say, “Excuse moi?”


9. “How do you know it tastes like ______?”

Have you ever eaten a baseball glove? Doubt it. A signature note of aged Tempranillo, and one that’s echoed by wine experts worldwide, is leather. Do these wine experts sit around gnawing on baseball gloves and the sides of couches? We doubt it. (But you never know.)

We often encourage people to taste not only wine, but any number of things, be it vegetables, animals, and minerals, to expand their palate. But there’s no denying it: smell has a gigantic impact on taste. For the things we haven’t yet tasted, we’ll naturally try to relate them the best we can. That relation typically comes in the form of smell.


10. “You’re not getting all that acid/tannin? Ugh, it’s so obvious.”

Oof, bad form. Detecting primary flavors is hard enough. Learning how to detect and describe acid and tannin is whole new ball game. What do productive members of wine society do? That’s right, emulate your grandma. If someone is looking adrift or openly lost, gently educate, rather than flagellate.


11. “There’s only one kind of wine: red.”

Sing the praises of bold red wines all you want. We’ll join along. Right after we sing the praises for Viognier, Assyrtiko, and Albariño. All are great; all in different ways.


12. “This wine tastes like morning mist, rolling down the hillsides, transforming into dewdrops on the grass...”

Not a half-bad tasting note, but let’s pump the brakes. We’re talking about wine, not writing the sequel to The Leaves of Grass! Now, there’s no wrong answer when it comes to taste, and it’s important to remember feelings and sensations when drinking. But, it’s also equally important to put wine experiences into something that can be quantified—real tastes, real flavors. Wine is still a product, and each has a specific flavor that can be (more or less) defined.

Seven Ways to Snack Like a Pro This Football Season

reprinted with permission from Brandpoint


Football season is quickly approaching, which means it’ll soon be time for tailgating or watching the big game on TV. For many of us, this time of year is tough on our diet and exercise plans, but it doesn’t have to be, according to Bryan Snyder, registered dietitian and director of team nutrition for the Denver Broncos.

Snyder, who is responsible for keeping the year-round nutrition strategies for the team’s players on track, also knows the pitfalls for fans. “Nutrition goals can fall by the wayside when leisure time includes snacking or party fare,” Snyder says. “We tend to make poor choices when it comes to snacking, earning it a bad rap. But in fact, by picking healthy and tasty options, anyone can come out a winner on game day.”

Snyder recommends these tips for better snacking in his healthy eating playbook for football season and throughout the year.


Plan ahead.

Cut and slice your fruits and vegetables the day before you plan on eating them. That way, when you find yourself hungry and ready for a snack, you’ll already have the hard part finished. Grab your pre-cut veggies and dip them in low-fat ranch dressing or hummus to help get you through the day. This is a great way to add some healthy vegetables to your tailgate menu. Perhaps you could make a strawberry banana smoothie with Greek yogurt the night before and leave the pitcher in the refrigerator for a quick grab-and-go snack as you run out the door.


Snack on foods that are healthy and will fill you up.

How many times do we eat a snack and 10 minutes later we’re hungry? The perfect snack strikes a great balance of healthy carbohydrates along with protein, fiber, and antioxidants. One of the healthiest and best snacks is pistachios. With 1 ounce of pistachios, you get 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, healthy fats, and 6 percent of your daily value of iron. Plus, pistachios contain antioxidants, which help our immune systems stay strong and fight off diseases. One serving of pistachios contains only 160 calories.


Aim for whole grains.

The last thing you probably think about as you get ready for the big game is setting out snacks that contain whole grains. However, eating whole grains may reduce your chances of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, and incorporating whole grains isn’t as hard as it seems. One option you could have available is whole grain crackers and cheese. Try whole grain Wheat Thins instead of potato chips as a healthy substitution.


Stay hydrated with water.

Our bodies have a difficult time distinguishing between being hungry or thirsty. Often, we feel like we are hungry when in reality we simply may be thirsty and/or dehydrated. One study found that people who drink water 20 to 30 minutes before starting their meals eat about 75 fewer calories per meal. Considering we may be snacking for three hours while watching the game, these calories will add up.


Replace fatty protein with lean proteins.

Hamburger sliders are a staple of many tailgating menus across the country, but sometimes we just want a good burger. While eating a fatty hamburger in moderation isn’t the worst thing in the world, there are certainly some leaner options to choose. Instead of going to the grocery store and picking up the first piece of beef available to grill for the game, look at either a leaner beef option or a different meat altogether. For example, a better option for protein would be a 97 percent lean ground beef to make sliders or hamburgers. Another option would be to simply choose ground turkey instead of ground beef to make patties to throw on the grill.


Don’t be afraid of veggies.

Despite what your buddies may think, it’s not against the law to eat vegetables at a tailgate party. More than likely, there will be some grilling before the big game. Don’t be afraid to throw some zucchini, mushrooms, or even asparagus on the grill to complement the other items you are cooking. You can also chop up some veggies and serve with low-fat ranch dressing or hummus.


Have a backup plan

You might be heading to the game on Saturday or Sunday, and you plan on meeting up with some friends before the game to tailgate. In this case, you may have zero healthy choices to pick from while you’re snacking and eating before the game. It’s always good to have a backup plan. Healthy bars, nuts, or a piece of whole fruit are easy and portable so you have a go-to backup plan. Trail mix and pistachios are easy to throw in your bag for the game or to have around your house for a snack. Plan ahead and bring some small snacks with you so you don’t indulge in hours of unhealthy snacking, like our Pistachio and Date Energy Bites (recipe below). Great for tailgating, this portable and delicious snack is healthy and gives a great variety of protein and antioxidants to not only fill you up, but give you an immune system boost as well.


Pistachio and Date Energy Bites

ingredients:
• 1 c dried cherries
• 8 oz dates
• ½ c local honey
• 1½ c rolled oats
• 1⁄3 c dark chocolate chips
• 1 tbsp chia seeds
• 1 tbsp flax meal
• 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (or ½ tbsp vanilla extract)
• 1 c pistachios (shelled)
• pinch Kosher salt
• ¾ c pistachios (finely ground)

Combine dates, honey, chia seeds, flax meal, and salt in a food processor and mix. Add a small amount of honey if the mixture is too thick.

Remove mixture and place into a mixing bowl. Incorporate  pistachios, cherries, oats, and dark chocolate chips, and stir until combined.

Use desired portion scoop or portion by hand. Roll bites in finely ground pistachios, coating the whole bite. Store in the refrigerator.

Makes 20 to 25 bites.

How to Throw a Holiday Party on a Budget

by Rachael White


The holidays can often drive people to go overboard on spending, but what if you’re trying to watch your wallet? Staying on budget doesn’t mean you have to cancel all holiday celebrations. It simply calls for a little more creativity. As you’ll see, creative thinking and a little planning go a long way toward making it all work. Here are some tips for throwing a fabulous holiday party on a budget.


Maintain a Tight Guest List

As nice as it would be to invite every Dick and Jane you know to your fabulous holiday bash, this isn’t the time to go overboard with your invite list. That person you met at last year’s office holiday party and promised to call but never did? Cut her from the line-up. Party planning sometimes requires ruthlessness—but it’s worth it in the name of better food, drinks, and decorations. After all, the holidays are about spending time with the people who are most important to you, so being picky about who you invite will help you create an intimate setting. A group of no more than 10 or 12 is perfect for a cost-effective yet elegant get-together. An added bonus of intimate gatherings: you’ll have more time to spend with your guests, enjoying their company (and vice versa), rather than constantly making the rounds or worrying whether everyone is having fun.


Focus on a Festive, Rustic Menu

Let’s face it: food is one of the most important components of any party—let alone a holiday party—and besides drinks, it’s usually the most spendy. But you don’t have to forego your budget or compromise quality to feed your guests. Here are a few affordable suggestions for filling fare that won’t empty your wallet.

Dress up standard fare. Get creative with the basics. Take potatoes: they’re filling, inexpensive, and versatile. Potato stacks, for example, are easy to make, affordable, and elegant. Another basic (inexpensive) ingredient: flour. Make a simple crust and compile a selection of sweet and savory tarts or galettes like a rustic potato tart. Dishes like these require few ingredients, and making the crust is easy and affordable.

Take it down a notch. I don’t mean you should compromise on flavor. However, if you rethink typical portion sizes, you’ll be able to offer a wider variety of food for a lower cost. Small bites are fun and festive, from miniature hamburgers to tiny cookies with shot glasses of milk, there are many appetizers you can make (or purchase) that won’t cost a ton of money. Not only are everyday foods undeniably cute in miniature form, they’re also easier to handle while mingling or holding a drink. Tip: Look for seasonal food offerings to keep the cost down but the taste factor right where it should be.

Cook the old-fashioned way. Break out your slow-cooker! Many cuts of meat that you may turn up your nose to for a fancy, sit-down dinner party are actually perfect for group holiday parties. With a little effort, you can serve a satisfying, warming meal for your guests with money to spare. From soups and stews to pot roast to short ribs, the options are endless for creating meals that will wow your guests and warm their souls. If you plan a meat-based meal, crock pots are very helpful in stretching the meat—and your dollar.


DIY Decorations

Decorations are essential for holiday parties. Twinkle lights, snowflakes, and other holiday-themed items help make the environment festive and put your guests in the holiday spirit. There are many ways to decorate your party space without spending a lot of money. Some take a little extra effort while others can be thrown together using items you probably already have on hand.

Take string lights placed in hurricanes, for example. They’re simple yet stunning, and they give off a soft light that helps create the perfect party ambiance for this time of year. Another great DIY idea: use paper to cut out beautiful snowflakes for garland. If you don’t want to buy paper, use pages from old magazines or newspapers. You might add a little extra sparkle by spraying the snowflakes with silver or gold glitter. Another surefire way to create a holiday-worthy environment: light tea candles and set them on mirrors or in decorative glasses. Scatter small branches or aromatic, fresh-cut herbs (sturdy ones like rosemary work best) around the candles, along with a few fresh cranberries, to create a beautiful centerpiece.

The key to throwing a holiday party on a budget is to keep things simple and make use of what you already have on hand. Don’t add a lot of fluff to the menu or decorations. Instead, do what you can in a tasteful manner to create a festive environment this holiday season. Play some holiday music in the background, relax, and enjoy the party with your guests!



Five Headache-free Holiday Hosting Tips

There's a reason the holidays are called the most wonderful time of the year. It's an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones over delicious food and shared traditions. But playing hostess can sometimes feel more like a burden rather than a blessing. This year, keep your holiday gathering fun, not frantic, with these headache-free holiday hosting tips.

1. Put time on your side. Start your dinner or cocktail party prep as soon as possible to make room for any last-minute surprises, like forgetting an ingredient or unexpected guests. Developing a checklist and assigning manageable to-dos each day will help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. For example, once the invitations have been extended, plan the menu and gather recipes and a grocery list. Take inventory of your cooking supplies, serving dishes, and tableware. While cleaning the house, identify what decorations are needed.

2. Know when to buy, when to DIY, and when to ask for help. From appetizers to desserts, determine what on the menu can be homemade, made ahead of time, or store-bought and how guests can contribute. Figure out what is actually feasible for your meal—it's OK if you can't make everything from scratch. If you've never made homemade pie, there's no reason to put your culinary skills to the test the night before. If budget allows, buy prepared dishes or desserts from the market and place on festive platters. Find do-ahead recipes that can be stored in the fridge until they're ready to be served. By prioritizing your menu and asking for help, it will alleviate unnecessary stress and allow you to enjoy the event.

3. Ditch the pile of dirty dishes in favor of disposable tableware. Instead of standing over the sink cleaning, spend the extra time celebrating with family and friends. Make sure to choose products that can stand up to heavy foods, such as mashed potatoes and gravy or stuffing. Try using eco-friendly products that are made from recycled material and are biodegradable in home composting, leaving you to only feel guilty about that second helping of green bean casserole. And, if your guests are known to be animated, opt for recyclable disposable wine glasses. They'll hold up the event's style without sacrificing your favorite stemware.

4. Set the scene the night before. Focus on setting the table, deciding where to put the drinks, gathering extra seating, and decorating the night before. That way, the day of the party, you just have to worry about putting out the food and drinks. While last minute rearranging is bound to happen, conquering the planned details ahead of time will help keep you sane.

5. Deck the dinner table with a napkin fold. For a sophisticated, yet deceptively-easy place setting idea, consider using a perfectly-coordinated line of disposable tableware and add a napkin fold as a pretty and practical accent. Although some napkin folds can be intricate, try a unique design such as a poinsettia that can be made in a matter of minutes. Include