Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: The Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh

Eagranie Yuh's new chocolate book and kit, The Chocolate Tasting Kit, shows us that the world of chocolate is just as complex and fascinating as the worlds of wine, coffee, and tea. Ever wanted to know the difference between white and dark chocolates? Hungry to identify the top chocolate producers and regions worldwide? Yuh's 48-page book, just one of multiple components in The Chocolate Tasting Kit, offers all of the gooey details succinctly, and it's fun to read.

Is The Chocolate Tasting Kit just for chocolate geeks? Well, it does include around 100 "tasting notes," little cards for filling out price, chocolate origin, flavor notes, and more that only the most chocolate-obsessed might eventually use up. It also comes with a pouch for storing labels from your favorite chocolates as well as 12 tasting flashcards; for example, the "fruity" flashcard reads: Fruity is one of the biggest flavor families in chocolate—which makes sense, since chocolate comes from a  fruit. The most common flavors are red fruits, berries, and citrus. When it comes to citrus, see if you can distinguish between the fruit, which is more sour, and the zest, which is brighter.
Tasting Notes
But no. The Chocolate Tasting Kit is a practical resource for anyone who wants to learn about chocolate, and it opens up the world of chocolate in ways that few other resources have.

To get the most out of this kit, begin by reading the book. I learned so many fascinating facts, such as the difference between mass-market and fine chocolates and how chocolate makers coax the inherent flavors from cacao beans through the conching process. 

In style, Yuh's writing is witty but doesn't include the tacky chocolate puns usually found in writing on chocolate. Amazingly, the book keeps things light while informing us of such things as the complex five-step process of turning cacao beans into chocolate. Like producing wine, fine chocolate production requires masterful technique and an appreciation for the natural flavors found in fruit.

After reading the book, it becomes clear how to use the rest of the tasting kit. The flavors and descriptions of single-origin chocolates had me salivating and anxious to sample a few top chocolates. Importantly, The Chocolate Tasting Kit DOES NOT include chocolate. I imagine that this would be too difficult to monitor, as the freshness of good chocolate is far shorter than the freshness of a good book. In other words, it just wouldn't be practical to include chocolate in a kit that will likely stay on book shelves for years to come.

Accordingly, I went out and purchased some of Portland, Oregon's best chocolates—Woodblock Chocolate, Alma, and Moonstruck. Next, I peeled off a few tasting notecards and began filling out the information. Between this and the tasting-note flashcards, I quickly found flavors and aromas in the chocolates that I had never identified before. And I call that a success.

Chocolate is something everyone has access to and that most people love. Eagranie Yuh's The Chocolate Tasting Kit is a one-of-a-kind resource for expanding your world of chocolate.

Price: $24.95
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Where to Buy: www.chroniclebooks.com

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sagrantino: The Insider's Italian Wine

Review of 2009 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG Wine

The first time I visited Umbria, Italy—the land of the age-worthy sagrantino grape and Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG—I'd just quit a job teaching English in Lecce in Southern Italy to take an extensive tour of Italy's wine and food; Umbria was the fifth stop in the Italy From Top to Bottom travelogue, published by EuropeUpClose.com, and there, I discovered the famous cities of Perugia and Assissi and some of the most manicured countryside in all of Italy. Picture Italian cypress trees forming dotted lines across hills and valleys; astutely straight rows of freshly harvested hay; and luxurious wineries and estates built high above, on rolling green hills. To cap it all off was the wine, and when I reached Montefalco, the center of Umbrian wine country, I was welcomed with a huge wine-drinking festival, called Cantine Aperte.

While memories of my discovery of the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG remain strong, I have the luck of knowing where to find fine sagrantino wines in the United States to make the memories even stronger. Sagrantino is very unique grape, and if you're seeking a special holiday gift for a wine aficionado, you need look no further. With powerful tannins and flavors reminiscent of cherries and damp fall leaves, the wine has as much depth as any I've found elsewhere on the globe, but its rarity and price often keep it under the radar. They shouldn't. Prices are comparable to fine Oregon pinot noir and less than most Napa Cabs. What better time than Christmas to splurge on an exciting, sure-to-impress Italian wine? And the best sagrantinos age beautifully for 15+ years in the cellar.

I recently tasted an astoundingly deep and complex sagrantino, the 2009 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. Established in 1971, Arnaldo Caprai winery has been instrumental in distinguishing clones of sagrantino grape vines, and winemaker Marco Caprai stands alone in my opinion in his talent to express Umbrian terroir with the sagrantino grape.

The 2009 drinks well now, and it will only grow more complex with age. I let the bottle breathe for an hour before drinking, and the first sip was, as I said, astonishing. It was as though the wine jumped out of the bottle and challenged me to a gentleman's dual—that's how powerful, voluptuous, and multi-layered it was. The 14.5% alcohol content offers the first clue as to the size of the body. On the nose, I found a seemingly limitless number of aromas, beginning with spicy black pepper and dark chocolate and continuing with damp fall leaves, eucalyptus, and black cherry. The palate revealed mineral complexity—chalk and granite—lending a velvety mouthfeel. Tobacco and dark spices led to a bitter-chocolate finish.

More than anything, the 2009 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG is a wine for grown-ups. It is for those who have tasted through many vintages and are looking for something potent and beautiful. The fruit is subdued; clearly, "jamminess" was not winemaker Sig. Caprai's primary goal. Pair it with grilled, smokey meats or a Christmas roast with a rich, dark sauce. To truly geek out, check out some of Umbria's traditional foods for inspiration.

WHERE TO BUY: Typically costing between $85-100 dollars, Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG is distributed nationwide by Folio Fine Wines. Check your local fine wine shop. Alternatively, if you live in AK, CA, DC, FL, MO, NV, NH, NM, ND, OR, VA, or WY, order online at www.noblemerchants.com.

Let me know what you think. Salute!

Sample Disclosure: I received this wine for review as a free media sample. Each month, I receive twenty or so offers for free wine samples. I only respond to offers that I believe will be review-worthy, and if I do not like the wine, I do not write the review.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

New Article: The Great Winter Beer Festivals of the Alaska, Oregon, and Washington

Winter beers aren’t typical brews, and likewise, holiday beer festivals aren’t typical beer festivals... 

Your guide to the best holiday beer festivals in the Pacific Northwest

Pairing food and beer is one thing, but Christmas cookies and beer? And not just any beer: winter beers, such as Midnight Sun Brewing’s Arctic Devil, a 13.2% barley wine aged in whiskey barrels. Winter beers aren’t typical brews, and likewise, holiday beer festivals aren’t typical beer festivals. Picture rooms full of jolly beer lovers clad in ugly holiday sweaters, reindeer antlers, and faux Santa beards—you may even see a full-fledged Santa or two. This mix of holiday camaraderie and high-alcohol specialty beers makes winter beer festivals the most spirited of the year. But what exactly constitutes a “winter” or “holiday” beer? In Portland, Hopworks Urban Brewery brewmaster Christian Ettinger provides a professional perspective.

“When I think of holiday ales, I think of kicking off my snowboarding boots after a powder day. I’m sitting in a ski lodge after getting my ass kicked on the mountain, and all I want is to sit in front of a fire with a big plate of nachos and a great beer.” They keep you warm; they aren’t for sipping on a palm-tree-studded beach. Read the full article online---->

Celebrate the Holidays With New Washington Grape Varieties

Looking for a rare and unusual wine to sip with Christmas dinner or on New Year's Eve? It's easy to throw cash at a well-known bottl...