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  • Pamela Froman

Wine, Cheese, and Scrumptious Foods Oh My!


Wine, cheese and foods during the warmer months are a great way to socialize, entertain, have fun, and of course eat and drink! Enjoy a typical glass of vino or break out of the box with some unusual flavors. Plan your own wine and cheese party and make sure you have the best pairings for your palette. Store your bottles in a winer rack or cellar – that you build and customize yourself. Go out on the town to the many local wine bars that dot the Los Angeles landscape or check out a wine tour. And learn how to ask your sommelier what the best choices of wine will go with your meal. Finally, create meals that go hand in hand with the season!

Wine is one of the best ways to relax or complement a delicious meal. But there are so many varieties, blends and flavors. How to pick? The first thing you need to do is educate yourself. Here's a guide to everything wine.

Wine is made with grapes, but they aren't the green or red ones that you'll find at the supermarket. Wine grapes have thick skins, and they are small, sweet, and contain seeds. A wine made with one type of grape is called a single-variety wine or varietal wine. A wine made with a few different grapes is called a blend.

Red wine is made from darkly-colored grapes. The color of the wine can be everything from an intense violet, which is typical for young wines, or a brick red for more mature wines. White wine can be a straight yellow color, yellow and green, or yellow and gold. It is produced by fermenting pulp of grapes. Rosé is a wine that includes some of the color from the grape skins, but not enough to be a red wine. Sparkling wine is a wine that has bubbles – in other words – fizz. Of course the best known sparkling wine is Champagne.

There tons of wine grapes, but here are a few of the most common.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a red grape that is the most popular wine variety in the world. These wines are full-bodied with bold tannins and a long finish. Syrah is a red wine that’s comes from the Rhône Valley in France and Australia. It has an intense fruit flavor. Syrah is often blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre to create the red Rhône blend. This wine also has a meaty quality. A red wine that originated in Croatia, Zinfandel is fruity and spicy with a medium-bodied finish. Zinfandel is a red grape but is best known as the rosé wine White Zinfandel. Planted in France, Pinot Noir is dry and light-bodied with higher acid and soft tannins. Chardonnay is a dry full-bodied white wine. When oak-aged, Chardonnay has spicy notes. Unoaked varieties are lighter and zesty with apple and citrus flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is a dry white grape widely planted in France. Wines are tart, with herbal green fruit flavors. You can find Sauvignon Blanc in Cabernet Sauvignon. A dry light-bodied white grape that comes from Italy, Pinot Gris are light and easy to drink, often with some bitter flavor. Finally, Riesling is high in acid, but can be sweet or dry in your glass.

These days wines are going beyond the grape, with many creative, unusual and funky styles.

Sav Sparkling Wine added birch sap, a syrupy liquid extracted from birch trees, to their wines. But they aren't the first to capitalize on the sap idea, with many tonics in Europe containing the liquid. The sap has to be harvested between winter and spring when the buds develop. Sav Sparkling ferments their wine for two years to blend in the tastes of citrus, almonds, bread, apple, grapefruit and of course, the sap!

If you've ever wanted to reach for the stars, you can do so with Meteorito. Meteorito was created by Ian Hutcheon, an astronomer, and is a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wine. Hutcheon uses a 4.5-million-year-old meteorite in the fermentation process that crashed over 6,000 years ago. This wine truly captures the solar system and beyond!

Flowers and wine go together like peanut butter and jelly. A perfect example of this is dandelion wine. This wine is perfect for the spring and summer seasons, and the best part is that you can make it yourself! Find an easy-to-make recipe for this floral favorite at www.allrecipies.com/recipe/162202/dandelion-wine

Who wouldn't want the sweet treat of chocolate wine? Based out of Washington state, The Chocolate Shop winery specializes in chocolate-infused wine with a base blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Inhale the inviting aromas of black cherry and dark chocolate, with nuances of red wine and sugar for the finish! www.chocolateshopwine.com

Spice is nice when it comes to jalapeño wine! Boyd's Cardinal Hollow Winery in Pennsylvania is the genius behind this hot to the palate drink, and they aren't fooling around – their wines are made of 100 percent jalapeño peppers, no grapes at all. Don't be afraid to try it though, as the flavor is warm but not too hot. In other words, it won't burn your tongue. www.cardinalhollowwinery.com

Everyone's favorite breakfast side has broken into vino territory. That's right, you can now enjoy bacon wine. Napa Valley's Bacon Cabernet Sauvignon is fermented with real bacon. How do they make this concoction? Raw meat is simply tossed in the batch of fermented wine. Tasty!

Of course wine is always at its best when paired with a great slice of cheese. White wines typically tend to match with a wider array of cheeses than reds. That's because white wines are devoid of tannin. However avoid blue cheese with white wines. It's too much flavor on the palette.

Wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon work with aged cheddars and peppery cheeses. The tobacco notes in Syrah mesh with smokey cheeses and Zinfandel works well with firm cheeses. Serve in small bite-sized pieces over grilled bread.

Light red wines like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais pair nicely with lightly flavored, washed rind cheeses and nutty, medium-firm cheeses such as Gruyere or Taleggio. But if you enjoy a softer style of cheese, try a Brie or Camembert.

Off-dry types of Riesling, such as a German Riesling, are perfect with fondue. The sweetness and acidity compliment the nutty robust fondue flavors and make everything taste deliciously sugary and salty at once.

Blue cheeses work well with a vintage port. A good rule of thumb is that the older the vintage port, the more pungent the blue cheese you can pair it with. This is because as vintage port ages the tannins soften creating a much sweeter wine. The sweetness of dessert wines compliments the stinkiness of the cheese.

Who wants to drink alone? Having friends over for wine and cheese is the perfect excuse for a good time for all. Here's a few tips to plan a wonderful wine and cheese party.

Chill the wine for a few hours before your get together, but take it out of the fridge 15 to 20 minutes before your guests arrive. Take cheese out two to three hours before.

Prepare the cheese on a plate or platter with each cheese in its own spot. Place wine tasting cards to tell guests what cheese goes with what wine. Make sure to set separate knifes for each cheese to prevent mixing flavors. Cheese knives are perfect, but you can use butter knives or paring knives too.

Create wineglass labels where each guest writes their names directly on their wineglass with a Sharpie marker. The ink will wash off with soap and water and this way everyone knows which glass is their own.

Serve nonalcoholic drinks along with the wine to set the tone of the evening. If you are hosting a a sparkling-wine party, serve sparkling water mixed with different fruits.

Keep plastic bags or containers on hand so guests can take home any leftover cheeses.

A new trend in home design is creating a dedicated space for a wine collection. After all, you can't have a collection of delicious wine without a spot to show them off! And no matter what kind of home you have, it's easy to find a space that can be converted into a personal wine storehouse.

Your first step is location. Choosing a location for your wine collection is key to keeping your wine in pristine condition. You'll need to find a corner of your home that has no direct sunlight. The cellar should have a baseline temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. As well, your cellar must control humidity – an ideal level is 57 percent. Too much humidity and you may start to grow mold, and too little the cork will dry out, ruining the wine. A basic humidifier can provide you everything you need.

You may not need as much space for your cellar as you think. Collections with 200 to 250 bottles can be contained in as little as 30 square feet.

Frame your space with basic 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 walls. A thicker wall will allow for more insulation, creating a more controlled environment. Once the walls are up, insulate the boards with a spray-foam insulation. Next, install a through-wall wine cooling unit. These units create a cold room on one side of the wall and a warm room on the other. The warmed up room has to be large enough to absorb the heat. In this way, you can keep your wine at the ideal environment.

Light up your collection with one of the many amazing LED lighting options, which emit very little heat. Track lights, puck lights or LED strip lights can all light a space in fun and funky ways.

You need to create a seal in the doorway of your cellar. Use an exterior-grade, insulated door, and if you choose to frame in any glass, it must be dual paned. Finally, decide how to display your wine. Racks, bulk storage and display can all be interesting, so mix and match! For the easiest solution, try ready-made metal or pine racks. Wine Racks America, Inc. is a full-service manufacturer of high quality redwood and pine wine racks and cellar systems. Standard Cellar Kits start at $92 and are one to eight columns across. Colors range from natural to oak to cherry to walnut and more. www.wineracksamerica.com/instacellar

Los Angeles offers up fantastic spots to sip yummy wines by the glass – or the bottle if you prefer!

Augustine Wine Bar in Sherman Oaks offers up incredible wines from around the world. Their collection dates back to 1860! The atmosphere of this hot spot is pure vintage décor with pieces including a 1912 piano. www.augustinewinebar.com

Marche Wine Bar in Burbank has a wide-ranging selection with bottles for every taste. Delicious bar food, friendly staff, and a gorgeous atmosphere will make you want to visit! They also have a great happy hour. www.marchewinebar.com

With an extensive wine list, Vino Wine and Tapas Bar in Encino is an authentic Spanish tapas bar. This sophisticated spot offers up a relaxed and warm feel, old world charm and of course, delicious tapas food paired with wines. http://vinowinetapas.com

Wade’s Wines in Westlake Village is the perfect place for the wine enthusiast. They have a huge selection of wines with an onsite tasting room. The tasting room also offers an incredible beer selection. www.wadeswines.com

With real grape vines onsite The Stonehaus in Westlake Village is a truly unique wine experience. There is a full service cafe and restaurant, and a selection of wines from around the world, including their own private label wines. Check out the winery or warm up by the outdoor fireplace and you relax with a glass. They also often feature live music. www.the-stonehaus.com

Blue Table Wine & Cheese Bar in Agoura Hills is a European style cafe with tons of sidewalk seating, tables, and an fun-loving atmosphere. There is an extensive cheese and wine list, as well as sandwiches and other specialty items made with fresh, local seasonal produce. www.bluetable.net

DeLiese Cellars in Thousand Oaks offers a spot for those with a passion for exploring fine wines. They partner with local vintners and offer a wide range of wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and more. Live music adds to the great atmosphere. www.deliesecellars.com

For a more rustic feel, check out Cornell Winery & Tasting Room in Agoura Hills. Cornell Winery offers up local wines of the region, serving vintages made in Malibu and the Santa Monica mountains! www.cornellwinery.com

Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City offers artisanal sandwiches and salads, all made with organic greens, homemade dressings and aiolis and all made to order. They curate some of the best selection of cheeses and wines. Stop by for cheese plates like warm brie served with crostinis, sliced apples, and dried fruit drizzled with honey or local mozzarella, basil, heirloom tomatoes, with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The cheeses are especially delicious accompanied by a glass of wine. http://artisancheesegallery.com

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Westlake Village across from The Four Seasons is the best wine experience you can have in the Conejo Valley. Aldabella Custom Crush Winery offers a wonderfully appointed tasting room and event center designed to cater a wide range of events. Aldabella provides a space where friends and family can come together and store their private collections as well as enjoy fine wine.creates a tasteful, yet homey feel. World renowned jazz tunes, comics and original bands play here weekly in the cozy intimate space. Happy Hour is every Friday night from 5 to 7 p.m. www.aldabellawinery.com

Green Jug in Woodland Hills is a family owned and operated liquor store that provides you with a personal touch. The 10,000 sq ft brick and mortar store features an extensive selection of the best wine, spirits and beers from all over the world. With long relationships with many wineries Green Jug has the inside track on new and exciting releases. Green Jug offers wine tastings every Friday from 5 - 8 p.m. www.greenjug.com

The Red Room in Encino is a classy neighborhood restaurant and lounge with a contemporary ambiance, a delicious selection of food and beverage, and a hint of romance! They offer a list of 50 rotating wines that are hand-picked from all over the world by their expert sommelier, faithfully kept at the proper temperature to the exact degree. Additionally, the restaurant offers a mouthwatering list of tapas, crispy flatbreads, tasty entrees, and fresh salads, as well as a thirst-quenching selection of beer. www.redroomencino.com

Sommeliers can be found in fine restaurants, vineyards and other high-end food or drink-associated establishments. It can be intimidating to face a huge wine list and an expert sommelier, so you might just decide to just point to something on the list. But is that the best wine for the meal you ordered? Is there something you might like more?

When the sommelier swings by your table, ask for an opinion on what wine and food pairing would be best for your meal, based on what your tastes are. If you are craving a specific food item or type of wine, ask the sommelier what would work best – that's why he or she is there! Mentioning a specific wine makes it easy for the expert to give you the exact wine you want.

If you are interested in trying a wine from a certain region, ask the sommelier for an opinion. They will know the history of the wine, what type of grape was used and where the wine comes from. They even are trained to know the vineyard where the wine was made!

When you order a wine from the sommelier, the expert will open the bottle for you and pour a taste, that you can then smell and sample. The sommelier will guide you as to what scents you should be experiencing. Ask them what they are most excited about on the list, and you are sure to sip something great.

The weather is warming up and that means delicious seasonal foods and produce. Fruits and veggies in season include apricots, radishes, artichokes, avocados, peas, onions, asparagus, and baby carrots. Garlic scapes and green garlic are both available in spring and early summer. Green garlic is immature garlic and looks like a slightly overgrown scallion. Parsley flourishes in the spring too.

Lemons are at their juicy best from now into early summer. Rhubarb is known as the first fruit of spring. Dandelion Greens are a Mediterranean favorite available from early spring through summer. Fava Beans are another choice Mediterranean treat that is ripe at this time of the year.

Cherries are ready to harvest by the end of spring. Sweet cherries, including the popular Bing and Rainier varieties, are available from May to August. Sour cherries have a much shorter season, and can be found for only a week or two, usually during the middle of June.

Look for seasonal foods at your local farmer's market!

Spice up your spring and summer with some sun-filled appetizer and entree ideas.

Try artichokes with roasted garlic-wine dip. Whole artichokes are delicious and satisfying, full of texture and flavor. Add the creamy and sweet savoriness of roasted garlic into the mix as a dipping sauce and you are in appetizer heaven! Chimichurri shrimp on skewers is the perfect party staple. Dining on seafood adds to tasty ambiance. Grill eggplant to create the classic Middle Eastern dip Baba Ghanoush. Let slices steam after cooking so flesh becomes succulent and tender. Serve along with toasted pita, cucumber, or fennel. Vibrant and refreshing, Cucumber and Green Tomato Gazpacho is the soup you'll crave in summer. Add bread soaked in water to thicken the soup. Crab-Stuffed Grilled Bell Peppers is a delish combination of mini bell peppers and creamy crab dip into one yummy bite. Grilled Chicken with Fresh Grape Glaze is a funky spin on grilled chicken, and combined with soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and rosemary, it works!

Enjoy the sunny season. Happy drinking, and happy eating!

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