The Dolcetto Lesson with Renata Bonacina

dolcetto wine, red wine, Italian wine, slow wine event
Renata Bonacina

One of the truly fun things we get to do, here at OddBallGrape, is trying some amazing wines at events such as Slow Wine, this past February. And as we promised in that post, we’re finally bringing you the lesson on dolcetto wine, in particular from Cà ed Balos winery from the southern end of Piedmont. Renata Bonacina is the owner and winemaker there, and she was gracious enough to give us a short lesson on dolectto and the wine she makes.

“It’s a challenge,” Bonacina told us about her work in her vineyard. “It’s a challenge every year, every day. But, of course, technology helps to assist you. But the vineyards where we work are steep places which you need to have chain tractors. And we do have lots of manual work to be done, not only during the harvest time, but during… All the canopy management during the summer. So it’s hard work, especially when you have a very hot summer, like last summer. You have to wake up at five thirty in the morning.”

dolcetto wine, red wine, Italian wineShe makes some lovely Moscato d’Asti, but it was her dolcettos that sold us.

“First of all, you have different wines called dolcetto. Our dolcetto is Dolcetto D’Alba,” she explained. “It’s a wine that has a very soft tannin, is usually very fruity. It has alcohol by volume not very high. It’s usually 12.5 [percent]. In some cases you can have higher, considering that it is a different kind of dolcetto compared to mine. Because there are some that can reach 13 [percent alcohol]. But generally speaking, they don’t have a very high volume of alcohol. Usually, dolcetto, traditionally in my region, was the meal wine for all the people. So it’s a quite simple wine, which you pair with many different foods, which I mentioned before. I mean pasta, rice, cheese or meat, because of the fact of having the tannins very soft. It’s not so strong and very easy to pair.”

Bonacina’s dolcettos were gorgeous, full and rich and still pretty dry. She said that she ferments her grapes in steel tanks, then puts them in barrels for five or more months, usually the summer after they’ve been harvested.

Getting the wines, here in the U.S. may be a bit of a stretch, but check out the website for the winery. If you email them, it’s possible they’ll be able to tell you where in the States you can buy the wines. Or if you’re in Northern Italy, you can go to the winery.

In the meantime, if you see dolcetto on a label, think a soft, fruity wine that’s perfect with food. And if you see Dolcetto d’Alba, buy it.

What’s Dry Cooking Wine?

It was a simple question. Anne’s daughter saw a recipe that called out dry white wine and dry cooking wine, dry white wines, dry red wines, cooking with winewondered what makes a dry cooking wine? Or dry wine for cooking?

And as with most simple questions, the answer is… Well, not so simple. We could post a list of types of white wines, but then, with our luck, you’ll stumble into the rare one that’s made in a sweet style.

So let’s start with the basics. Fermentation in wine is what happens when yeast consumes sugar in a juice and spits out alcohol. In most cases, we’re talking about grape juice, but wine can be made from any number of juices, including some stuff you don’t even want to think about as juice, such as parsnip and bell pepper (trust us, don’t go there). In dry wine, the yeast consumes all of the sugar in the wine before dying of alcohol poisoning. In sweet wines, either the fermentation is stopped or the alcohol is so high it kills off the remaining yeasts before it can consume all the sugar.

As Anne wrote in her mini-blog, From the Dark Side of the Fridge, earlier this week, dry wine has more acid in it, so it brightens flavors up. Which is why you generally use dry wine in cooking, as opposed to sweet wine. Sometimes, it will be a dry red wine, which usually goes with stronger flavored foods, such as beef. Often it will be a dry white wine, which is not only more acidic, it’s going to have a lighter flavor that won’t overwhelm other flavors in the dish.

So Which Dry Cooking Wine do I Buy?

All of the above is interesting, but admittedly not a lot of help when you’re at the grocery store staring at row upon row of wines, mostly grouped by grape variety or country of origin, and there’s no friendly shopkeeper within miles to help.

Wine snobs will tell you that you don’t want to buy any wine for cooking that you wouldn’t drink. But while the vast majority of what a wine snob will tell you is, indeed, a veritable load of horse manure, they’re sort of right on this one. Only sort of right.

You don’t want really, really horrible wine. Most jug wines fall into this category (though not all). That makes sense – anything that tends to be overly fruity or oxidized is not going to add the best flavor to your meal.

That being said, you don’t want really good wine, either. All the things that make really good wines good – the subtle layers of flavor, the interplay between tannins, acid and fruit – that’s all lost when you’ve added the meat and/or veggies, the herbs and other flavors and cooked it all together. So there’s no point in spending $30 for a bottle, then cooking out all of the reasons the bottle is worth $30 (assuming, of course, that you got one that really is worth $30, which is another post all together).

What you want is a basic bottle in the $5 to $7 range. The infamous Charles Shaw label from Trader Joe’s is perfectly acceptable for cooking and won’t set you back much more than $3.50 in most parts of the country ($2.50 in California). Red wines cabernet sauvignon and merlot are generally fermented dry. On the white side, you can generally count on chardonnay and sauvignon blanc to be dry. In fact, these are so commonly fermented dry that if they do happen to be made as sweet wines, it will say so on the label. Or should. Alas, nothing is absolute in the wine world. But it’s a pretty safe bet that something labeled cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc will be a dry wine.

Beware of anything that says “late harvest” on the label. That means the grapes were harvested well after most of their pals that became dry wine, which in turn means that there was more sugar in the grapes and it’s probably a sweet wine. The other thing to be aware of (although it’s an older thing that you see don’t too often in grocery stores anymore) is anything actually labeled “cooking wine.” It usually has salt added and is pretty nasty.

There are lots of other wines, both red and white, that are dry, and if you have a particular fave that’s generally on the wine rack or in the fridge, then there is absolutely no reason not to use it when the recipe or whatever you’re making calls for a dry red or white. As long as it tastes dry to you.

 

Theodora Lee and Theopolis Vineyards

Theodora Lee Talks about how she came to farm and make wine for her Theopolis Vineyards.

We had a grand time talking with Theodora Lee, owner and winemaker for Theopolis Vineyards at last summer’s Garagiste Festival. (By the way, if you get a chance to go to one, it’s well worth it and a lot of fun). We also loved Theodora’s wines. In fact, she talks about our two faves in the above video – transcription below.

I am Theadora Lee, I am the owner of Theopolis Vineyard, also known as a nickname, Theopatra, Queen of the Vineyards.

Q – How did you get into wines?

Well I moved to California in 1987 to practice law at Littler Mendelson. I’m a girl from Texas. I grew up driving a tractor. I bought a sheep farm in order to plant grapes because I wanted to do farming – grape farming as we would say it in Texas. And in 2012, my buyer – I’d been selling grapes to award-winning wineries since 2006. But in 2012, my buyer rejected my grapes because I had to pull at 24 brix instead of 27 brix

Q – So what did you do with the grapes?

I bottled my first wine in September of 2014 and it’s my petite syrah.

Q – Wow. That’s exciting.

And I got a gold from Sunset Magazine’s International Wine Competition.

Q – That’s impressive. Do you enjoy the experience of farming?

I wanted to be out in the country, getting my hands dirty. So I took a couple courses and U.C. Davis viticulture about the four seasons of growing. So I do the pruning. You know, I do bud break. I do all of the aspects of the farming and that’s what got me into the wine business. Now that I’m bottling the wine, I love the pleasure on folks’ face when they taste the wine. I’ve been specializing in the pleasure of the bottle since I was in high school making Wanda Punch.

Q – Tell us about your rose of petite syrah.

It’s a hundred percent petite syrah. It is rare that any fool would try to make a rose out of petite syrah. Because pettie syrah is one of the darkest, inkiest red grapes around. So, in order to make a rose, you basically have to take the skins off of the grapes early, early in the fermentation process and even after doing that, the rose is not pink. It is a ruby color. It has all the refreshing flavors of a rose. But it drinks like a red wine. It is a very aromatic, refreshingly brilliant rose. But it is extremely dry.

Q – You also make a Symphony wine. Tell us about that.

Symphony was created by Professor Olmo at Davis Viticulture School, and it’s a cross between muscat and grenache gris. And it is a dry version. Most people who make a symphony wine make an off-dry version. But I make all my wines dry. Bone dry. And let me tell you why. I grew up in Texas. If you’ve ever heard of muscadine wine. Muscadine is a grape that grows wild in the South. It is sweet and it tastes like cough syrup, it’s so sweet. And my daddy used to pick it wild on his farm. And he would make bootleg wine. As a little girl, you know, you’d sneak into your father’s cabinet and try to taste it. I tasted that wine and swore I would never drink wine again, ever in my life. Until I came to California and learned about dry wines

Celebrity Wine FAQ: David Hornsby

David Hornsby, courtesy Fox

When we talk about actors, we generally think of whichever project they were last seen in. However, David Hornsby is not seen in his current project because he’s not only the producer, but voicing the character of Joel on FX’s new animated comedy Unsupervised, airing at 10:30 p.m. on Thursdays.

We caught up with Hornsby last July, where he confessed that he’s not a big wine drinker.

“I’m a beer man,” he said. “I like a cold beer at the end of the day.”

But while he has nothing against wine, per se, he does have difficulty drinking red wine.

“Why does red wine give me heartburn?” he asked for his wine FAQ. ” The second it goes down my pipe, oh man!”

Well, we did some checking with WebMD, and that site said that if wine gives you heartburn, it could be an indication of GERD, which can be a serious problem. Or it could just be a personal sensitivity. These things happen.

Hornsby did ask a second question: “Why are there so many blogs about wine? Aren’t they just fermented grapes? Am I crazy?”

No, Mr. Hornsby, you are not crazy. Wine is simply fermented grapes and sometimes other fruits. But something that tastes this good and that can be this complex can be a lot of fun to talk about. And people who love wine often love talking about it, and writing about it, in the case of we bloggers.

Admittedly here at OddBallGrape.com, we’re on a mission. We want to make wine more fun for everyone, not just the swirl, sip and snark crowd. So hopefully, your tummy issues will clear up. Or maybe you’ll find a nice white wine that you can enjoy. You might even try a bubbly, if you can drink beer okay.