Monthly Archives: June 2009

Thirsty strikes again on

Here’s a 4 minute clip on food and wine pairing.  Very attractive freeze frame don’t you think?

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My flame burns blue for you

I’m currently studying for a spirits exam and during the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing some fun facts that I’ve discovered in the process.

You’ve probably noticed in my postings that I’ll often give the percent alcohol by volume (ABV) of the beverage in question.  In the U.S., the “proof” measurement is used as well.  The proof is twice the percentage of ABV at 60°F – i.e. 80 proof=40% ABV.

Alcohol content is easy for distillers to measure these days with hydrometers and other modern equipment, but back in the old days, gunpowder was the analytical tool of choice.  Equal parts spirit and gunpowder were mixed and set alight.  If the gunpowder didn’t burn or just sparked, the spirit was too weak and if it burned too brightly, the spirit was too strong.  If the mixture burned evenly, and with a blue flame, it was considered to be “100% pure” or “100 proof”.  Turns out that a blue flame will appear at a 50/50  ratio.

In Britain, the proof to ABV ratio is 4:7.  In the 18th century payment to British sailors included a ration of rum.  These sailors also used the gunpowder trick, making sure the liquid would ignite and that it hadn’t been watered down – these thirsty fellows didn’t want any spirits that were “under proof”.   Rum that passed a sailor’s test was later found to contain 57.15% ABV, which is quite close to a 4:7 ratio of alcohol to total liquid.  The definition then became (4÷7) × 175 = 100 degrees proof spirit.  100% alcohol had (7÷7) × 175 = 175 degrees proof spirit, while alcohol with 50% ABV had (3.5÷7) × 175 = 87.5 degrees proof spirit.  To convert percentage of alcohol to degrees proof, multiply the percentage by 1.75 (and watch out for scurvy).

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Pull back on the reins

82840004Phenols are a class of chemical compounds commonly found in wine (and chili peppers, cannabis, raspberries and wintergreen to name just a few).  In wine they can bestow pleasant aromas like vanilla, wood, cloves, carnations or animal smells such as horse. 

Now you may enjoy a little horse leather in your glass, but probably not horse manure.  4-ethyl-phenol is the compound responsible for this horseplay and there’s 4 times more it found in red wines than in white.  It shows up more often if the grapes have been macerated without any oxygen before the fermentation process.  Continue reading

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Caiprissimo in question photographed by Wendell T. Webber

Caiprissimo in question photographed by Wendell T. Webber

In this week’s Dining & Wine section of the NYT, they published a recipe for Blueberry Maple Caiprissimo, which calls for Cognac, maple syrup, rosemary, blueberries and lemon juice. I thought caiprissimo may have been an alternate spelling of caipiríssima, so I did a little research. 

You might remember my posting on cachaça, where I gave a recipe for a caipirinha. Well, if you substitute white rum for the cachaça, it’s called a caipiríssima. If you opt for vodka, it’s caipiroska or caipivodka and with sake, it becomes caipisake.

I couldn’t find a definition or any other cocktail using the spelling caiprissimo, other than where the Times had adapted it from: Food & Wine Cocktails 2009.  Is it the Cognac?  Is it because it’s blended? 

Any way you spell it, these drinks should be on your list of summer refreshment.


Filed under Cocktails

Finger Lakes Distilling

FLD logoThere was some great press in my hometown paper yesterday about what some of my friends are up to – and yes, it involves booze. 

Brian and Thomas hope to open their doors in just a few more weeks to share their gin, vodka, whisky, cordials and brandy with you.  I’ve had it all and I can tell you that you’re in for a treat – they’re using all natural (and local!) ingredients and doing it the old-school way.  I’m headed up there this weekend to help out with their tasting notes and to whip up a few cocktails.  You can expect a full thirsty report as their big day approaches. 

In the meantime, check out their blog by clicking here or using the link in my blogroll below.

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Little fox

trousseau 3Le ginglet or little fox is the name Philippe Bornard has given his 100% Trousseau from Arbois Pupillin.  That’s quite a moutfull – I’ll break it down for you. 

Arbois (ahr-bwah) is the most important appellation in the Jura region in eastern France.  It also happens to be the name of the region’s main town.  Arbois Pupillin is a commune within the Arbois, with rights to its own appellation.  The Jura is located between Burgundy and Switzerland and its isolation has helped its producers maintain many of their winemaking traditions; some unique varietals and some uncommon wine styles (we’ll touch on those later). 

Five varietals are important in this region: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Poulsard (often called Ploussard), Trousseau and Savagnin.  Trousseau and Poulsard are the region’s indigenous black grapes (Savagnin is white).  Trousseau is more robust and deeply-colored than Poulsard and gives wines that are earthy and mineral-driven, with lots of berry notes.  You can see from the picture that the wine is a beautiful magenta color and not very opaque – Poulsard is even lighter, often appearing more like a rosé than a red.  Trousseau’s not a very tannic (think mouth-drying) wine and it’s also tasty with a light chill on it, making it an outstanding summer red.  Trousseau can also refer to a wedding dress, a dowry or the Bastardo grape fround in Portugal.

Philippe Bornard is a biodynamic winemaker who started making his own wines in 2005 (instead of selling his grapes to cooperatives).  In addition to an eye-catching label, this wine also has a bright orange wax top – Philippe hand-dips each bottle.  Wines from the Jura aren’t plentiful in the U.S. marketplace, but you can always enjoy come enjoy one with us.

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Vintage cocktail books

I recently got a very cool present – The Wine-Drinker’s Manual 1830 Reprint: In Vino Veritas., in collaboration with Amazon offers several selections, with very fun titles like Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks 1869 Reprint and The Flowing Bowl – What And When To Drink 1891 Reprint: Full Instructions How To Prepare, Mix And Serve Beverages.  All of the books have been digitized from old originals – in my copy you can see traces of Dewey Decimal numbers hand-written on the inside cover as well as a stamp that says, “Harvard College Library.  From the Heirs of George C. Dempsey”.

I want to share a quote with you from the first chapter, “On Wine-drinking”:

“The antiquity and propriety of drinking wine is not, however, matter of question.  The Archbishop of Seville, Antonio de Solis, who lived to be 110 years old, drank Wine; and even that wonderful preacher of propriety, Cornaro, did the same.  All we differ about is quantity; and this is a point on which we do not pretend to reconcile our readers, for that would be too quackical a pretension for any Wine-drinker to aspire to.  Sir William Temple, as good and grave a man as any of the ‘illustrious’ of our country, was pleased to lay down a rule, and limit propriety to three glasses.  ‘I drink one glass, ‘ says he ‘for health, a second for refreshment, a third for a friend; but he offers a fourth is an ‘enemy’.”

Sir William Temple

25 April 1628 – 27 January 1699

Yes, this book was printed in London.

Sir William Temple was an author, statesman and diplomat who served as the provost of Trinity College in Dublin and acted as a consultant to Charles II.

Doesn’t he look like a thirsty spirit?  Maybe he poured his fourth glass out for his homies.


Filed under Cocktails

Hands-free device


Wine is near to my heart, but not so much so that I would wear this wine glass holder necklace.  Its producers claim it gives you the freedom to snack and socialize while keeping your hands free, but maybe they should have included a straw.  You’d still have to use a hand to get the glass to your mouth, right?  Then what becomes of your plate of snacks or your hand gestures? 

Some have pointed out that it would prevent you from losing your wine at a crowded party.  Folks I know seem to have no trouble keeping an eye on their glass of wine without having it attached to them. 

It’s definitely a conversation starter, but maybe one where you have to explain why you’re a dork.


Filed under Gadgets, Wine

We all scream…

…for ice cream pops.

Gearing up for summer (should it ever decide to arrive), I purchased Tovolo Shooting Star Pop Molds.  They also make them in a bomb pop shape – those red, white and blue beauties were always my favorite from the Mr. Frosty truck  – it was a tough call.   We made our  inaugural pops with wild strawberries and drinkable yogurt from Milk Thistle Farm.   Milk Thistle’s a family-owned farm in the Hudson Valley and in addition to making some very tasty milk, they claim to know all of their cows by name.  This last tidbit was especially welcome news after having seen the movie, Food, Inc. a few days ago.   

strawberry close up

Wild berries are in at the market

We added some sugar and some water, thinking they might freeze better and tossed everything in the blender.  I’d probably omit the water next time around, to get more of the tangy, yogurt notes. 



This was not a very scientific recipe, but the quantities were something like this:
*8 oz. yogurt
*8 oz. water
*8 oz. strawberries
*4 tablespoons sugar

We filled the molds, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top, to let them expand and we left them for about 8 hours.  The Tovolo company says to wait at least 4, so kudos to us.  

finished popsi cle
the finished pop, turned to hide a bite mark

Yesterday, we made an agua fresca mix of pineapple, mango and strawberry and some of that mix has made it into the molds of the recently-eaten strawberry pops.  Their status remains to-be-eaten – I’ll keep you posted. 

In true thirsty fashion, I also have some ideas for adding some spirits to the mix.  Frozen juleps, daiquiris, fruit caipirinhas – on a stick, with a drip tray!  Sure would beat a brown bag on a stroll through the city.


Filed under Other Beverage

What has this wine been reduced to?


Better for breakfast than happy hour

Today I’m going to share 4 faults in wine that fall under the “reductive” category.  In essence, this is the opposite effect of oxidation and can produce stale smelling wine.  If extreme, reduction can cause some pretty foul odors – just-boiled eggs, anybody?

1. Sulphur (SO2).  The smell of gassy hot springs is not exactly what you want in your glass of wine.  Excess sulphur’s not always easy to detect (and it often blows off with a little time), but in some cases it can lead to heachaches or migraines.  Maximum doses are set by law in each wine-producing country.  Sulphur gets a bad rap, but keep in mind that it does some important winemaking related things: it inhibits the development of wild yeasts and undesirable micro-organisms, it helps the winemaker control fermentation, it cleanses the wine (and the vessels that hold the wine) and it assists aging wine by helping to prevent refermentation in the bottle and by helping to prevent discoloration through oxidation, especially in white wines.  Continue reading

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