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The honey that we make is our lives. Experience has taught me two things...


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Howdy Beezers! I'm excited to share something new with you... Over the upcoming months, most of the content you'll be seeing here will be from special guest contibutors! This is sure to add a new texture to this thing we've been weaving over the years. I know that many of my readers (yes, you!) are writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers. PLEASE feel free to contact me if there's something you'd like to contribute! I'd be most honored to pollinate... send me a note: m.mckinley@rocketmail.com

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December 14, 2009


It's the holiday season, and most of us are gifting, serving and drinking more wine. If you're anything like me, you drink the wines you like. I like allot of wines! However my knowledge about that fabulous fermentation beneath the cork is limited. Fortunately, I have Guru of The Grape Toni Johnson in my back pocket....

So many more people are drinking wine than 25 years ago...yet most of us are still struggling with food pairings. Got any ideas for Holiday feasts?

TJ: Food that is prepared for Thanksgiving and Christmas naturally has sweet elements in most preparations. And the foods are generally lighter in weight which is a one of the key elements in matching food and wine. The weight of the wine should generally match the weight of the food.

OK, back to the question at hand. Think about a holiday spread, softer white cheeses for appetizers. Sweet potatoes in some form, ham prepared with pineapple and brown sugar. Even turkey has some natural sweetness- more in the form of being succulent. These are foods that need a wine to enhance the natural flavors of the food, not mask them. A heavy Cabernet or an over oaked Chardonnay would trample all over the flavors of your table . So stick with wines that have the same natural elements. For whites, I would be inclined to have one that is "Off dry", a term that means it is not overly dry or really high in acid (think Pinot Grigio). You can go anywhere in the world to find off dry wines. France has wonderful Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley. Vouvray is probably one of the most well known wines from the Loire, but ask for one that is not too sweet. Or ask for an Albarino from Spain in the Rias Biaxas region. They have a natural sweetness without being cloying at all. Viognier also has these attributes but if you ask for a Viognier at a wine store, an over eager sales person might try to talk you into one from France that will be from the region called Condrieu which will take you back about $50.00 or more. I would go straight to Germany and buy the wonderful well made Rieslings that cannot be found in any Pick and Save. Many are made in a drier style so ask for one that is Halb Troken or half dry. And pay more than you think a Riesling should be. You will be greatly rewarded.

For reds I would recommend ones with brighter fruit and lower tannins ,and here you can have tons of fun. There are wonderful reds from places you might not consider. Reds from Austria made with the grapes Zweigelt or Blaufrankish are wonderful choices. Since they are made in a more fruit forward style they seem to be made in a sweeter style when in fact they are dry wines. Italy has many many wines that are made in this style, Barbera from Piedmont comes to mind, but make sure you go to a wine store with a salesperson you can trust. Other red wines that will work are Zinfandel, Sangiovese (Chianti) and of course Pinot Noir.

MPM: Okay Sister. WHAT exactly is a Sommelier?

TJ: This is actually a French term that literally means "wine waiter". In Europe being a waiter is a career, not just a job that one gets before getting a "real job". So these wine waiters are trained specifically to be specialists in wine. To help you make the right choices, to listen to what you like and then translate that to wines that will perfectly match your meal. In the US there are many Sommelier organizations that are raising the bar for wine service here. I have an advanced certification from one of those organizations called The Court of Master Sommeliers. If you are in a restaurant that has a Sommelier, you can be assured that your wine choices will be guided by a professional that has your interests in mind, not just a waiter that wants to sell you the most expensive bottle on the list.

MPM: I would say that other than the perennial holiday scented candle, wine has to be the most popular "host gift". Any ideas for pairing the right grape with the right person?

TJ: It is always a great idea to fish around, and see if you can find out what your host likes. They will be very impressed that you brought them something they can appreciate, not just a token bottle you picked up on the fly. Also something with bubbles is always a great choice, but please go to a wine shop to buy them. You will want one that has gone through "secondary bottle fermentation" which is the way Champagne has been made for centuries. ( By the way the monk Dom Perignon did not invent champagne, records show that he was a red wine producer that tried and tried to keep his wines from getting bubbles in them!).

There are many to be found in all price points. From Spain they are called Cava, and are required to be made in this traditional way. Many sparkling wines in the US are also made in this fashion but you really have to ask for guidance.

I often bring a dessert wine to a party since this wine pairing is often overlooked. You always want your wine to be sweeter than your dessert so bringing a late harvest wine, well made Port or anyone of the fortified dessert wines that are made all over the world would be a great host gift.

MPM: I think many people are interested in understanding wines better. Any suggestions for budding wine geeks?

TJ: Well let me tell you, I firmly believe in the organization that I am certified in. They offer ranges of tests from introductory to the advanced that I passed, and then on to the Master level. It is all self study but by doing that you learn so much more than if you go the curriculum route.

My advise for starting a wine education venture is to attend wine tastings that are offered all over the city. Go to smaller ones that are more interactive as opposed to larger tastings with people that are just pouring. Have at home tasting parties and taste by regions or different grapes. You can also have guest speaker at your tastings which is a service I offer through my company, Professional Wine Consultants. If you are a waiter find a mentor that can help guide you to what you need to know in a logical order of learning. I have mentored quite a few people in Milwaukee. I find it very rewarding to pay it forward.!This is a subject that is mind boggling huge. The test that I passed required massive amounts of study and to pass the next level will require exponentially more. OY! But if you are serious about learning, then find others that want to learn also, have study groups, and do tastings as opposed to "tastings". Tasting requires spitting so you can actually talk about the wine. "Tasting" is drinking which of course is fun in it's own right! I say cheers to that!

MPM: Hmm. I'm growing thirsty....

Contact Toni! toni@wineproevents.com
: http://www.wineproevents.com/

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