Strawberry Champagne Punch

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This delicious punch will be a real hit at your backyard party.  I’ve also served it during the Holidays as it’s a beautiful festive color.  The mixture of the champagne and the carbonation of the ginger ale give it a nice bubbly texture and it’s just the right balance of sweetness.  The frozen berries act as ice cubes and are really yummy to eat after they’ve soaked up the punch.  And ladies, it’s a low calorie, guilt free cocktail so drink up!

Now, lets talk ginger ale for a moment.  If you live in Michigan you know about Vernors.  It is an absolutely delicious, super carbonated ginger ale.  It was first served to the public in 1866.  There’s quite a history behind this refreshing beverage as well.  It was created by a highly respected Detroit pharmacist named James Vernor.  Mr. Vernor also ran a soda shop.  He had been working on a medical tonic of vanilla, spices and ginger to calm the stomach.  He had it stored in an oak cask when he was sent to fight in the Civil War in 1862.  When he returned from the war and opened the cask he was amazed at the delicious flavor of the drink that had been enhanced by the oak’s aging process.  Vernor began serving it in his soda shop and as demand grew for the product, it  began being served throughout the Midwest.  A plant was opened in Detroit so that Vernors could be mass produced.  Vernors was growing as the city of Detroit grew.  A large sign with the company’s logo was placed on the Detroit River in the 1940’s where the ferries passed by taking passengers to Windsor, Bob-lo Island and Belle Isle.  A shop opened on the Detroit River where customers could watch Vernors being produced while they enjoyed drinking the soda.

Vernors has long been used as a stomach ache cure given its high carbonation and ginger flavor.  It has even been mixed with fresh lemon juice and served warm as a cough and sore throat relief.

The Boston cooler is a dessert drink made with Vernors and named after a boulevard in Detroit where it was reportedly first served.  It is made by placing scoops of vanilla ice cream into a tall glass and pouring Vernors over the ice cream.

Vernors remains very popular in Michigan and surrounding areas today.  So much so in fact that I’ve known family and friends who have moved away and still have Vernors shipped to them to satisfy their craving for this delightful and unique soda.

Recently, Michigan 7-11 stores have even created a Vernors Slurpee!  I hear it’s delicious.  Oh thank Heaven for 7-11 keeping this delicious soda’s popularity alive and well.

(Information gathered from the Detroit Historical Society’s website at http://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/vernors-ginger-ale)

Strawberry Champagne Punch
 
Author:
Recipe type: Punch Cocktail
Cuisine: Beverage
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 750 ml bottle of Moscato champagne
  • 2 liter bottle of Diet Vernors (or other brand of diet ginger ale)
  • 2 10 oz bags of frozen strawberries (or mixed berries)
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients into a punch bowl and mix well.

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Strawberry and Bell Pepper Salad with Pear Champagne Vinaigrette

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I am a fan of fruit on a salad; I think it’s an unexpected surprise.  It adds a natural sweetness and looks so fresh and pretty.  I’ve made this salad with red leaf lettuce, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, red onion, sliced strawberries and crumbled blue cheese.

The dressing is a pear champagne vinaigrette that’s light, slightly sweet and really delicious.  Trader Joes makes a pear champagne vinaigrette dressing but of course, I love to make dressing homemade, this one definitely gives Trader Joes’ version a run for its money.  I adapted this recipe from one I found on allrecipes.com

Strawberry and Bell Pepper Salad with Pear Champagne Vinaigrette
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Serves: 1½ cups
Ingredients
  • 1 ripe pear - peeled, cored and chopped
  • ½ cup white wine (or non-alcoholic sparkling white grape juice)
  • 1 clove of garlic - chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup champagne vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
Instructions
  1. Blend the pear, white wine, garlic, Dijon mustard, champagne vinegar, black pepper, and salt in a blender until well combined.
  2. Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture in a thin, steady stream while continuing to blend. Blend a few seconds longer until the salad dressing is thick and creamy.

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Before You Buy Your Wine

IMG_0063Okay then, now that you’re familiar with the basics, let’s explore some more facts about wine that will make you look like an expert and really impress your friends…

What’s in a Name?

Wine stores can be a bit overwhelming.  Usually the reds and whites are separated but after that you’re on your own.  Here are some tips:

Wines are grouped in two ways – either by the variety of the grape (for example Chardonnay or Merlot), or by the place or region where the grapes were grown and the wine was produced (such as California).

Wines named for their grape variety are called varietal wines.  The two most popular grape varietals are the white Chardonnay and the red Cabernet Sauvignon.  To keep wine labels honest most wine-producing countries have an appellation or wine-categorization system that, among other things, sets out the minimum percentage of the grape variety that a varietal wine must contain in order to be called by that grape’s name.

Vintage is the year the wine is made and is another thing that confuses most people before they buy.  Is there a big difference between wines of different years?  The answer lies in the quality of the grape harvests in those years.  Grapes and their crops are subject to droughts, pests, level of sun and rain levels, all of which affect the taste of the wine.  A good year that produces a plentiful harvest of excellent grapes is praised as a top vintage year.  Wine experts keep tabs on each year and rate how each varietal from each region fared.  These are called vintage charts and most wine stores keep one handy.

Wine “buffs” often toss around the French concept of terroir (pronounced ter-wahr).  It just means the unique combination of each vineyard’s natural factors:  soil, climate, altitude, length of seasons, and even the slope of its hill.  Changing these characteristics can produce strikingly different wines from the same grape variety.

Notes on Reading a Wine Label:

Wine labels provide technically accurate information about its contents.  They help narrow the choices down when deciding what bottle to buy.  A wine label will not necessarily show all the following elements but will almost always show the country of origin and the winery.

Country of origin:

The country that produced the wine.

County or region:

The locality that produced the wine.  American wines may list the state first before the region; for example: California, Napa Valley.

 

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Vineyard:

The winery.

Vintage:

The year the grapes were grown, harvested, and made into this wine.

Appellation:

The government-sanctioned locality designation that ensures minimum production standards.

Alcohol content:

The amount of alcohol in the wine.  Generally it is twice the concentration of beer and a fraction of that of distilled spirits.

Special terms:

The expressions “Estate Bottled” or “Produced and Bottled by the Winery” mean that the winemaker took great care to create a distinctive wine by controlling the process from growing to bottling.  Expressions such as “Reserve,” “Barrel-Fermented,” and “Cuvee” may sound good but have no fixed meaning and do not necessarily indicate that the wine is special.

 

About Wine bottles and Glasses:

Bottles:

The shape of the wine bottle can tell you right off the bat what kind of wine it is.  A Cabernet or Merlot wine bottle from Bordeaux or elsewhere has a distinctive shape that winemakers call high-shouldered.  French Beaujolais, red Burgundy, American Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay traditionally come in slope-shouldered bottles.  Tall skinny bottles are used for Riesling wines.

Glasses:

The shape and size of your wineglass can, believe it or not, have an impact on how a wine tastes.  As a result, wineglasses come in a variety of sizes and shapes.  The most important thing when choosing a wineglass is that it be designed to show off the aromas of the wine when you smell it.  A long stem is preferable so that in holding it, your hand is at a distance from the bowl.  Hands carry scents that might obscure those of the wine.

Speaking of hand placement, that is also an issue.  Glasses of white wine should be held by the stem.  Whites are served chilled and by keeping your hand away from the body of the glass, you’re not exposing the heat of your hand to the wine and therefore warming it at all.  Reds on the other hand are served at room temperature and can therefore be held by the body of the glass as it doesn’t matter that you might be warming it up.

The rim of the wineglass curves in slightly for two reasons:  to capture the aroma and prevent spills when swirling wine.  The glass should be clear and not colored to better view the subtleties of the wine.  Although specially shaped glasses can enhance appreciation of certain wines, such as dessert wines, an all-purpose glass with a long stem and a 12 ounce capacity should work for regular use.  Traditionally, whites are served in smaller glasses, and Sherry, Port, and Madeira in even smaller ones.  The narrowness of the champagne glass, called the flute, serves to focus the subtle aromas and show off the tiny bubbles.  It holds about six ounces of champagne.

Caring for wineglasses:

Wineglasses are fragile and should be handled carefully to avoid breakage.  Just as important is to keep them very clean.  Rewash them prior to use and rinse thoroughly.  Smell the glass, and make sure it doesn’t smell like detergent as you will taste it in your wine.

How to Taste Wine

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How to Taste Wine

Tasting wine as opposed to simply drinking it down, means taking the time to judge its qualities.  It can conjure up intimidating visions of wine snobs sitting in judgment, not of the wine but of you.  Can’t tell the difference between a cheap Chianti and an expensive Bordeaux?  Don’t worry; tasting is the only way to learn how.  Focus on the three elements in tasting wine:  appearance, aroma, and flavor.

Appearance:

This is how the wine looks in the glass.  Is it dark or pale (regardless of whether it’s red or white)?  Swirl the wine in the glass.  Does it all slide down into the glass or does it leave a few spiky trails behind?  If it leaves trails of wine, it’s a plus.  That means the wine is rich in body.  Wine experts call this having good legs.

Aroma:

Your sense of smell if used properly can greatly enhance your tasting of a wine.  So rotate the glass so that the wine swirls inside the glass, mixing with the air.  Bring the glass to your nose quickly, and put your nose into the glass as far as it will go without actually touching the wine.  Does the aroma smell fruity?  Fresh?  Intense?  In any case, the aroma should be pleasant.  If it smells “skunky” or “corked” send it back or open another bottle.

Taste:

After you have looked at and smelled the wine, take a sip.  Swish the wine around in your mouth as if you are chewing.  Then swallow.  You should be able to taste several things with the wine.  The first thing your tongue will register is either dryness or sweetness, followed by acidity, fruit, and tannin.  Then note whether the wine is heavy, light, smooth, or rough.  Most wine flavors, however, take several seconds to taste because they are actually aromas vaporized in the mouth and perceived through the rear nasal passage rather than through the taste buds on your tongue.

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A Step-By-Step Guide to Tasting Wine:

  1. Pour only two ounces into the glass.
  2. Gently swirl it around so it coats the sides of the glass.  Does it cling to the sides?  Then it’s got legs and will probably taste more full-bodied than those wines that simply slide quickly down the glass.
  3. Put your nose inside the glass and inhale the aroma.
  4. Take a sip…but don’t swallow.  Hold it in your mouth for a few seconds.  Pay attention to which parts of your mouth are feeling the wine.  Any puckering sensations at the back of the tongue and throat?  That’s the effect of tannin.  Any prickling on the tongue?  That’s the wine’s acidity coming through.
  5. Take a little breath while it’s still in your mouth to intensify the wine’s flavor.
  6. Swallow.  Is there a finish?
  7. Take another sip and see what other flavors you can discern.

Basic Wine Facts and Terminology

 

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What is Wine?

So, you’re ready to learn about wine; fantastic!  Most people often feel overwhelmed about the subject of wine… all the different regions, names, vintages.  It’s hard to keep it all straight.  Relax; the good news is that learning about wine is fun and fascinating.  So start tasting and get ready to explore the wonderful world of wine.

Wine by definition is fermented grape juice.  Fermented refers to the process of fermentation, which is the conversion of sugary grape juice into alcohol with yeast.  Yeast is a natural fungus that grows on grape skins.  In the late 1800’s, winemakers started adding sugar-eating yeast to the process, to better control fermentation.  Wine is fermented in wooden oak barrels or steel vats.  The next part is how long to age it and at what temperature, and that is decided by the vintner or winemaker.

There are about 25 varietals or varieties of grapes used in wine.  Each variety has a name.  The tricky part is sometimes a wine is named for the grape that makes it or it’s named for the region where the grape was grown.

Wine comes in two primary colors, red and white.  Pink or rose wine is considered a secondary hue, not a color in itself.  Wine comes in different styles:  still means no bubbles, sparkling which has bubbles, such as Champagne, dessert which is sweet-tasting wine and fortified that has extra alcohol added.

White Wine at a glance:

White wine is defined really by what it lacks and that is the red pigment that makes red wine.  White wine is rarely purely white or clear.  It’s usually light yellow to gold and is sometimes even pale green.  Popular whites include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio.  These will be discussed in detail later.

White wine is mostly made from the juice of white grapes but can also be occasionally made from the juice of red grapes but only the juice not the skins.  The juice of most red or purple grapes has no red pigmentation so a wine made with only the juice can be a white wine.

When compared to a red wine, white wine is often described as less full-bodied.  Whites can range from soft, meaning a smooth taste, to crisp or a little tart, to broad which is flavor intensive.

White wine is served chilled, but not so cold that the flavor is dulled.  Aim for about 45 degrees F which is about the average in most refrigerators.

White wine works well with lighter foods, typically white meat, fish, and cream-based pastas.  Because of the lighter body of white wine, it matches better with lighter fare than a red wine.  Really, it’s a matter of personal taste.

Red Wine at a glance:

Red wines are not always red.  They range in color from dark pink to ruby to purple to almost black.  To produce red wine, winemakers leave in the skins of the red grapes while fermenting the juice.  The skins contain tannin which is a natural substance that makes red wines taste “firm” and creates that puckering sensation in the back of the mouth.  To balance the tannin taste, have some soft creamy cheese with your red wine and see how well they pair up together.

The other major difference with red wine is that they’re usually more complex than whites.  Complex means that when you drink it, you taste more flavors and sensations in your mouth.  Complexity is something vintners create.  It usually depends on the grape varieties used and the vintage which is the year the grapes were harvested and turned into wine, the health of the grapes, the winemaking method, the wine’s acid level, and the amount of time spend aging in the barred or vat.

It takes about the same amount of time to make a red as a white but generally the red is aged longer.  There are no hard and fast rules about serving reds with meat, but the usually acknowledged rule of thumb is that because reds taste complex or full-bodied, they stand up well to food that’s equally full-bodied like steak lamb chops, and roast fowl.

Red wine should not be drunk chilled or cold because cooling makes the tannin taste bitter.  However, it should not be served too warm either.  Ideally, the wine should be about 65 degrees F and the bottle should feel slightly cool to the touch.

Pink Wine at a glance:

Pink wine, formally known as rose, and now referred to as blush are usually made from red grapes.  To make the wine pink, the winemaker leaves the grape juice in contact with the red skins for only a very short time.  In some cases, pink wine is made by combining red and white grapes or by blending red and white wine at various stages of the winemaking process.  White Zinfandel is a blush made with the juice from red Zinfandel grapes.  Why they are called white zinfandels instead of rose or pink remains a mystery.

Sparkling Wine at a glance:

A sparkling wine is infused with bubbles from carbon dioxide gas.  To create a sparkling wine that’s fizzy but not too fizzy and very high on taste requires a refined technique developed by the French called methode champenoise.  It requires the wine to be fermented twice.  In the first fermentation yeast is added to turn the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide and takes place in an oak barrel.  The second fermentation takes place in the bottle where a bit of sugar and wine are added and the subsequent bubbles are trapped in the bottle. Champagne is the most common example of this type of wine.

Dessert Wines at a glance:

Dessert wines are rich, intensely sweet wines.  They are almost all developed from grapes harvested late in the season and are therefore that much sweeter.  The flavors of many are further enhanced by the help of a fungus known in the wine world as noble rot.  It attacks ripe grapes late in autumn and causes the water to evaporate, leaving a very sweet flavor.  The flavors range from honey like to caramel, apricot, or peach.    They come from almost every wine-growing region of the world.  Generally they are not served chilled because they are low in acidity making room temperature ideal for maximum taste.

Fortified Wine at a glance:

Fortified wines are fortified or strengthened with alcohol, usually brandy.  Fortified wines include Sherry, Port, Madeira, and Marsala.  They can be either sweet or dry.  Dry varieties are best enjoyed as aperitifs, beverages served before dinner to stimulate the appetite, and sweet fortified wines double as dessert wines.  Fortified wines are often used in cooking, but they have strong flavors and should be used sparingly.  Some of the best fortified wines include:

Madeira:

Named for the Portuguese owned island where it is made.  Color ranges from pale gold to gold and can be dry or very sweet.

Marsala:

Italy’s most famous fortified wine, made in Sicily.  It has a rich flavor either sweet or dry.  Dry Marsala is used in chicken and veal dishes.  Sweet Marsala is used for desserts, such as Italian zabaglione.

Port:

Originally developed in northern Portugal.  It’s basically a sweet wine fortified with grape alcohol (brandy).  It’s the perfect after dinner drink.

Sherry:

Originally made in the Andalusia region of southern Spain.  They range in color, flavor, and sweetness from bone dry before meals and light to rich and creamy after dinner.

Vin Doux Natural:

From southern France.  They are high in natural sugar and then fortified with extra alcohol.  They’re always sweet and enjoyed as a dessert wine.

Ten Aromas or Flavors Associated with Wine:

Fruits

Herbs

Vegetables

Earth

Flowers

Grass

Tobacco

Toast

Smoke

Coffee, mocha, or chocolate

Basic “Winespeak”:

Sweetness:

On the tip of your tongue, as soon as you put the wine into your mouth you can notice sweetness or the lack of it.  Dry is the opposite of sweet in winespeak.  Wines can be classified as sweet, dry or off-dry (semi-sweet).

Acidity:

All wines contain acid, usually tartaric acid which exists in grapes.  But some are more acidic than others.

Acidity is more of a taste factor in white wines than in reds, it’s the backbone of the white’s taste.  It gives it the firmness and structure in your mouth.

A larger amount of acidity makes it taste crisp and those without enough acidity taste fat and flabby.

The sides of the tongue  trigger the perception of acidity which is classified as tart, crisp or soft.

Tannin:

A substance that exists naturally in the skins seeds and stems of grapes.

Because red wines are fermented with their grape skins and seeds, tannin levels are far higher than in white wines.

Oak barrels can also contribute tannin to wines.

An example of tannin is when you take a sip of a red wine and rapidly experience a drying-out feeling in your mouth.

Tannin is to a red wine what acidity is to a white, a backbone.

It sometimes tastes bitter so you sense it near the back of your tongue and on the inside of your cheeks and between your cheeks and gums.

Classified as astringent, firm, or soft.

Note:

To determine between acid and tannin, pay attention to how your mouth feels after you’ve swallowed the wine.  Both will make your mouth feel dry but acid makes you salivate in response to the dry feeling.  Tannin just leaves your mouth dry.

Body:

The impression you get from the whole of the wine, not any one place on your tongue.

It’s the impression of the weight and size of the wine in your mouth, usually attributed principally to a wine’s alcohol.

Of course, all wines take up the same amount of actual space in your mouth but some seem fuller, bigger or heavier in the mouth than others.  Think about the wine’s fullness and weight as you taste it.

Classified as light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied.

Flavors:

Flavor means its mouth aroma.  However, never ask for a wine by a particular flavor, that’s not proper wine etiquette at all.

Instead, refer to families of flavors in wine:

Fruity – make you think of fruits when you smell them or hold them in your mouth.

Earthy – think of mushrooms, leaves, and so on.

Spicy – cinnamon, cloves, black pepper or Indian spices.

Herbal – mint, grass, hay, rosemary

If you like a wine and want to try another wine that’s similar, one method is to decide what families of flavors in the wine you like and mention that to the person selling you the bottle.

Components of Wine:

Water – wine is mostly water, not added water but water gathered naturally in the grapes.

Alcohol – wine is ethyl alcohol, 10-15% by volume.  Fortified is usually 18-20% by volume.  It’s also an important flavor component.

Tannin – see details above.  Acts as a natural preservative.

Fruit – the beauty of the noblest grape varieties, both red and white, is their ability to produce wine with a complex aroma of fruits other than grapes, particularly when young.

Acid – see details above.

Sugar – residual sugar left over after fermentation.

Glycerine – the component that gives wine its desirable degree of viscosity (thickness).  It’s a complex alcohol, a by-product of the fermentation process.

Carbon dioxide – gas produced during fermentation, gives wine a slight fizz.  It’s a very important component of sparkling wines.

Oak – refers to oak treatment – barrel fermenting or barrel aging; new oak or old, charred oak, oak chips or French or American oak.  All adds a flavor component to wine.  Vanilla and tannin are two flavors given to wine by oak.

“Contains Sulfites”:

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a compound consisting of sulfur and oxygen that occurs naturally during fermentation.  However, it’s helpful to the winemaking process and additional amounts are often added to wine.  Its primary function is to inhibit wine from oxidizing during the winemaking process when it’s exposed to air.  It also helps prevent unwanted second fermentation in bottles of sweeter wines by inhibiting yeasts from consuming residual sugars.  Think of it as a food preservative.  With advances in technology, less sulfur dioxide has been needed.  This has become a problem to people with asthma who have had life-threatening reactions to it.  So, in 1988, the ultrasound government mandated that all bottles of wine containing ten parts per million of sulfites carry the warning “Contains Sulfites.”  Other less dramatic reactions to sulfites are headaches and or dizziness.  The maximum allowable level of sulfites in wines sold in the ultrasound is 350 parts per million but almost all contain less than half that amount.  Some wines are made with no sulfites added.

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