Sip and Stuff

thanksgiving snoopy.jpg

A couple people close to me said recently that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. Reflecting on that notion, I thought it made perfect sense as to why: Lots of food, family (and all that entertainment), and typically some booze. Eggnog is for Christmas, Champagne is for New Years, and let me tell you why wine is just perfect for Thanksgiving.

First of all, I must qualify that by saying that wine is just perfect most of the time but of all the holidays, Thanksgiving food pairs SO well with wine.

Baked Brie - Delicate and nutty, creamy and rich, my family always has an entire wheel of Brie topped with pecans and honey then baked until warm throughout. French baguette gets cut up and we dig into the cheese, top it with some cranberry sauce, and throw that delightful bite back. With this, a dry Rosé. You may not agree but let me explain. Rosé, especially a dry, French Rosé, cleanses the palate and is a great option for getting your day drink on.


Pacing yourself on Thanksgiving is KEY...with food and wine. You gotta save room for pie! Drinking a light, crisp Rosé this early in the day allows for a nice buzz but won’t fill you up like a heavier white/red wine tends to do. Plus, Rosé’s signature pink hue gets the party started all on its own. 

Baked Turkey with Stuffing - Ohhh stuffing. My beloved stuffing. I've personally tried both vegetarian and non-vegetarian styles and I love them both. Starchy, earthy, moist, addictive. Paired with turkey, which is fairly neutral-tasting, and you have yourself a palate ready to drink a medium-bodied Pinot Noir. Migration by Duckhorn is a really delicious Pinot Noir and would be a perfect bottle to open up with these dishes. Structured yet light on the palate with subtle spice notes and stewed cherries, these flavors would go well with turkey and stuffing. A light Pinot Noir won't stand up to the stuffing so that's why I recommend a medium-bodied Pinot. If you're more bold, go for a Zinfandel with these foods. Since I work at The Barrel Room and have had the opportunity to taste different vintages of Duckhorn wines, I am convinced they produce consistent wines that people (myself included) adore. Just my opinion! If Zinfandel sounds nice, get Paraduxx by Duckhorn for this course. 


Pumpkin Pie - Even though I'm not a pie fan, I can appreciate a nice pairing of dessert with wine. If Pumpkin pie is around, go for a Viognier or an oaked Chardonnay pairing. A dry Riesling would also be really tasty with a slice of Pumpkin pie--the honey notes in this varietal would be congruent to the buttery crust and the sweet pumpkin filling. If there's more than one pie you're working with, see the helpful pie chart above for some more pairings. Note: Complimentary pairings oppose and counteract each other to create balance. Congruent pairings have many shared compounds that combine together and intensify.

By a long shot, Carignan, a varietal originating from Spain that grows in France and Italy, would be well-suited to the majority of Thanksgiving dishes. Even more great about Carignan is that it generally is not expensive to buy. Vanilla oak, cinnamon, black cherry, plum sauce, game, and dried cranberry are common notes in this wine. This fruity, mildly-tannic varietal is an ideal pairing for everything from the cranberry sauce to pumpkin pie.

Whatever your preference in style, wine is something we can all be thankful to have this holiday season. Put on some stretchy pants and grab your bottle opener; 'Tis the season, but no need for a reason to sip and savor the simple pleasure of enjoying food with wine. 

Written by: Sara Cortez


Cool Blue Wine

Red, white, or…blue?! Gik Live (Gik for short) is a blue-colored wine produced using both Spanish and French grapes for the base of their cool blue wine. I first spotted this unique style of modern winemaking on one of the many food-related pages I follow on Facebook which prompted further investigation, of course. What the heck is BLUE wine and HOW is it made?!


Gik’s color is made by adding two organic compounds to the grape juice as described on their website as being Anthocyanins extracted directly from the grape skin and Indigo, while using what they call, “food tech,” to achieve the blue hue.

They claim to add, “natural sweetener,” and not sugar so as to avoid further fermentation and an increase in alcohol percentage after corking. At 11.5% ABV, if you accidentally polish off half the bottle, you don’t have to feel too blue—it’s also reasonably priced at $48 for three bottles and ships from Boston, MA. $16 a pop is definitely a reasonable price to me!

Seems like the world of wine is ever-expanding and changing, though this particular type of wine may be considered by some to not even be wine, technically. Gik is made by using both red and white grapes that are selected from wineries whose people display an, “innovative nature,” and are mainly from the La Rioja, Zaragoza, and Courthezón regions. Without one specific denomination, Gik certainly breaks the conventional European method of naming wines based on the specific town or estate the grapes originate from, i.e. appellation. Instead, Gik is a combination of selected-for-quality grapes from those main three areas. Talk about innovative!


I satisfied my own curiosity about this colorful newcomer to the wine scene by checking out their website: and you should too.

Written by: Sara Cortez

Boozy Barrels

For the love of oak, that tastes good! 

Aging wine in oak barrels simply makes wine more palatable for the consumer. If your mouth starts to water just thinking about a buttery Chardonnay with flavors like shortbread and vanilla, that flavor is oak's influence on your wine of choice. Cool, huh?

I needed a birthday gift last week for my boyfriend who loves a good Old Fashioned and is mostly indifferent to wine. I know, who is indifferent to wine? Well, he is and I definitely am all for everything involving any kind of wine. So, on a recent trip to my local Vons (let me qualify--it was in Scripps Ranch because the one near my house on Adams Avenue has one aisle of wine and never has what you're looking for), I discovered bourbon and whiskey barrel-aged red wine.  

Interesting, I thought, what flavors does this aging process impart? Would whiskey lovers pick up tasting notes they also find tasty in whiskey/bourbon?

Wait, I don't even know much about barrel-aging wine! I work at a restaurant called The Barrel Room, for goodness' sake. So I got to it already and did some investigating into the history of barrels and their impact on the wine making process.


Clay pots and amphorae are some of the first methods used in wine storage during ancient Greek and Roman times. Clay-based vessels predate wooden containers for storage of wine. During the late 2600 BC in Egypt, straight-sided, open wooden buckets that employed the craft of the cooper were documented. Fully-closed barrels were first developed during the Iron Age (800-900 BC) for holding wine, beer, water, milk, and olive oil. Trade and transportation encouraged shippers to use only sealed wooden containers (fragile clay vessels were not ideal) so then the craft of cooperage was launched. 

Advantages of Barrel-Aging

Subtle flavors are imparted to the wine as it ages in the barrel. A barrel essentially does two things:

  1. It allows a very slow introduction of oxygen into the wine.
  2. Certain characteristics of the wood are imparted into the wine (vanilla).

For red wines, controlled oxidation takes place during barrel aging. This gradual oxidation results in decreased astringency and increased color and stability. Fruit aromas evolve into more complex ones. By utilizing a program of topping the wine (filling up the barrel) while it is in the barrel and then racking the wine, these beneficial effects occur over a period of many months.

Oak wood is composed of several classes of complex chemical compounds, each of which contributes its own flavor or textural notes to both red and white wines. The most familiar flavor of these are vanilla flavors, sweet and toasty aromas, notes of tea and tobacco, and an overall structured complexity of tannin that mingles with the tannin from the fruit itself (in the case of red wines).

The specific compounds creating these delightful nuances in the finished wine are:

  • Volatile phenols (cool band name, eh?) containing vanillin
  • Carbohydrate degradation products containing furfural, a component yielding a sweet and toasty aroma
  • "Oak" lactones imparting a woody aroma
  • Terpenes to provide "tea" and "tobacco" notes
  • Hydrolysable tannins, which are important to the relative atringency or "mouth-feel" of the wine.

Aging Wine Before Bottling

After fermentation, wine is racked several times to remove the bigger solids. Young wines can be rough on the palate. Youthful wine is raw and "green", which needs to settle for some time before consumption. This process can be done in neutral containers like stainless steel, cement vats, older casks, etc. or in smaller and newer wood barrels, which are not neutral-tasting but will influence the developing wine.

Well, I hope you have learned a little bit about the barrel-aging process now that you've read this info! This was a fun one and further encouraged me to explore the world of wine. It's scientific, it's interesting, and it's freaking delicious!

Written by : Sara Cortez



Wine for Fun

And just like that we have moved onto February 2017. Geez, time flies!

Our team just celebrated 2016 with our holiday party and it made me think: each shift we work as a team, we juggle knowledge about wine, serving guests, and knowing the world of food all at the same time. It can seem like a whirlwind for even the most experienced team member but alas, those shifts are the ones we especially enjoy that glass of wine once we clock out. 

This post is going to be as random as they come but I wanted this first post of February to come at you with quotes about wine, enticing pictures, and organized charts delving into all aspects of how wine exists.

February is the month of love, a feeling that only grows within myself each time I learn something new about wine. Hopefully some of this entertaining info makes you fall deeper in love with wine as well or perhaps appreciate it for exactly what it is.

So take it all in and embrace the wonderful weirdness of wine!

“In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” 
― Paulo Coelho
“Either give me more wine or leave me alone.”
― Rumi, circa 1200’s
“A gourmet meal without a glass of wine just seems tragic to me somehow.”
― Kathy Mattea
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

How the heck do you make wine?! Let's find out!

Written by: Sara Cortez

Written by: Sara Cortez

Modernized Wine

Images of rolling hills filled with succulent vines, rustic tasting rooms, and open land come to mind when imagining a traditional vineyard. 

That's a shot I took myself on a visit to Ponte Winery in Temecula Valley. While I do enjoy making the trip up to Temecula, I was stoked to find out that there is a modern take on wine making and it's #trending. 

Here I am at Daou Winery and Tasting Room in Paso Robles after completing a 4-night 5-day, 38-mile backpacking journey in King's Canyon National Park. It was an incredibly beautiful tasting room, enveloped in marble counter tops and set high on a peak that overlooks all of Paso Robles. We loved the wines we tasted there (as you can see on my face).

Urban wineries, in contrast to traditional wineries, are very hip and modernized, located in the city rather than the country. In my neighborhood (Adams Avenue / North Park area) there are two that have popped up and being a wino, I've always wondered what Urban Wineries are all about. 

There is a lot of freedom in urban wine making. Depending on what varietal they want to work with in a given year, urban wine makers have the option to transport that specific grape from the succulent region they were grown to their urban facility for the wine making process. Urban wineries allow winemakers to essentially go grocery shopping for the ideal grape.

I looked up Negociant Winery in North Park and was amazed by the varietals they made wines with, some of which I hadn't heard of and others like Zinfandel, which I know and love. 

Ripe fruit is taken from vineyards and then carted off to an urban setting for the crushing, fermentation, and aging processes, making it easier for wine lovers like me to taste wines without the commute. Where do the grapes come from you ask?

Urban Winemakers do not grow their own grapes--rather, they are sourced from established vineyards, larger ones that grow for mass production, and grow enough to sell their fruit by the ton to other winemakers. Even grape farmers who grow the fruit but don't make wine will sell to urban wine makers. 

In San Diego, there are 12 urban wineries. You can scope the details about all of them here: 

This approach to tasting wine is a nice middle ground between making the trip to Temecula to get the whole vineyard/tasting experience and shuffling to the grocery store in sweats to buy a nice bottle of vino for a night in.

Written by: Sara Cortez

Wine Wisdom

Feel empowered this holiday season knowing you have these 10 interesting facts in your back pocket to counter your know-it-all Aunt who went to Italy for a week and now acts like she's a Master Sommelier. Put Auntie in her place AND feel good knowing you're that much closer to entering the new year more smarter than the last. Knowledge is power! 

Wine fact #1. The custom of hitting glasses together with a “cheers” greeting dates back to old Rome, where people enjoying wine together could also get poisoned together. Bumping glasses made wine spill from one to the other,  ensuring that there wasn't any poisoning going on. Seriously...this tradition started even earlier in ancient Greece where the party's host customarily had to take the first swig and swallow to show his guests that he didn't intend to poison them. Things could get messy clanking glasses and spilling potentially poisonous wine but at least you could have the peace of mind knowing at least you weren't the only one getting poisoned.

Wine fact #2. When in Rome takes on a very different meaning for this fact: In ancient Rome, it was forbidden by law for women to drink wine. If a Roman man caught his damsel drinking wine, he would be legally allowed to kill her. Good thing we live in the 21st century in America, my female friends. Denying a woman her wine nowadays could end very badly for the forbidding male. I know I would get myself in a serious battle with my man if he tried telling me I wasn't allowed to drink my wine. 

Wine fact #3. The old kings of Egypt, however, avoided wine entirely because they believed that the red alcoholic beverage was actually the blood of men who attempted to fight the gods and failed. Thank goodness for science and debunking myths! Egyptians were, however, all about their version of beer rather than wine, brewing a sweet, thick, and low-alcohol drink consumed for nutritional value over getting a buzz.

Wine fact #4. Are you a wino and also a crazy person? If you visit Vietnam, go ahead and ask your waiter for a glass of cobra wine. Venomous snakes aren't preserved for their meat but for their venom, which is dissolved in the liquor. Venom is not a threat to the drinker here because its proteins are unfolded and therefore made inactive by the ethanol and would also be denatured by stomach acid anyway. If venom isn't your thing, try the cobra wine--made using the body fluids mixed with wine and consumed immediately in the form of a shot. Snake blood wine is prepared by slicing a snake along its belly and draining its blood directly into the drinking vessel filled with rice wine or grain alcohol. Let's take a bloody shot, mate! 

Wine fact #5. During prohibition in the United States, grape juice concentrate manufacturers took advantage of the lust Americans had for drinking alcohol and decided to slap a clever warning label on their grape juice products saying, “After you mix the concentrate with water, please do not keep the mix in a barrel for 20 days – as it will turn into wine.” Think it might take a bit more than just placing grape juice and water in a barrel but what do I know?!

Wine fact #6. The world champion of recognizing wine by smell is Richard Juhlin, a Swedish Champagne writer, who correctly named 43 out of 50 champagnes in Paris at the annual Spectacle du Monde tasting in 2003. For comparison, the second place winner was only able to recognize 4 of them. Juhlin also earned the title of holding the record in tasted champagnes since 1998 (currently, he has tried more than 8,500 different champagnes). This guy really nose his wine!

Wine fact #7. Although most of us cook with wine (maybe spare a splash in the actual food being prepared) it is best not to keep your wine in the kitchen. There is too much heat which could damage the wine’s quality. Don't keep your wine chillin' in the fridge either (unless it's a white wine)--just too darn cold in there. Find a cool, dark closet somewhere in the house where you can keep all your bottles. Hopefully the skeletons in there don't drink all your stash.

Wine fact #8. If you own a collection of bottles, don’t age or store them standing upright--this can cause the cork to dry out, potentially shrinking and allowing oxygen/air to get in the bottle. Always keep wine bottles lying down on their side (unless it has an artificial cork or screw-cap).

Wine fact #9. A survey in Australia produced results which showed that women who drink 2 glasses of wine a day tend to enjoy sex more than women who do not drink at all. Bet those Romans are kicking themselves for sure now!

Wine fact #10. People who have wine phobia are called Oenophobia. It might sound funny, but this phobia, just like others, cause the victim a lot of suffering, especially if they go out to restaurants a lot. The most common reason why people fear wine is because it contains alcohol, which is a toxin that could cause unpleasant effects. People suffering from methyphobia (fear of alcohol) would fear wine and beer (zythophobia). Sufferers would not drink wine themselves and avoid people who are drinking wine because they worry that drinking wine may make them act unpleasantly towards them. 

Fear not, friend. Wine production is only advancing right now, and we are here to enjoy every last drop of modern viticulture. 

Written by: Sara Cortez



Strike the Match

Sip, savor, enjoy. Food pairing is the wonderful practice of finding harmonious pairings by evaluating flavor, texture, aroma, and intensity. 

Pairing wine with food can be broken down into two categories:

Congruent vs. Complimentary.

Congruent pairings share compounds whose fusion results in a more intense flavor profile due to similarities in flavor notes.

Complementary pairings counteract each other displaying opposite compounds resulting in a balanced-out effect when combined.

Here are a few tips for pairing this with that:

Acidic Food: 

If what you're eating is acidic and puckers your inner cheek, avoid drinking a wine that's low on the acidity scale. Wines with high acidity will shine here but ones with lower acidity will taste flat. Combine higher-acidity foods with equally-acidic wines because no one wants a wine they'd describe as flat. Ew.

Pungent Food: 

Some cheeses out there are darn right stinky. Accompanied by a powerful flavor, Gorgonzola is a cheese that begs to be dancing with a Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah on the taste buds. Even a Zinfandel with fruit-forward qualities would be a great match.

Rich Food: 

We gotta get a palate cleanser up in here for this dish. Red, red, tannic red is the go-to in this case, providing just the right amount of dry taste and texture you'll definitely be craving. Fat content in some cheeses and meats (or even avocados) coat the mouth, inviting a scrumptious Cabernet Franc to slim things down.

Bitter Food:

Think of that bitter-tasting and gritty texture identifiable in cooked spinach. Same thing as tannins in red wine! Foods in this category tend to magnify the bitter taste of tannins so choose a sweet wine with little to no tannins.   

Spicy Food:

Reel in that Riesling! I adore spicy stuff and once I discovered how delicious a cold Riesling tastes with some fiery Indian Curry, I decided it was my favorite flavor combo. Milk is a close second when the heat gets real. 

Sweet Food:

This is the best news I've heard all day...DOUBLE SWEETS! If it's sugary, get to poppin' a varietal that has honey characteristics, like a Roussane, Chenin Blanc, or Muscat.

Sometimes it's nice to be intentional with your wine consumption but I, too, have paired Hot Cheetos with Meiomi. These are simple suggestions in case you do decide to plan some pairings out.

If you're like me, it's a plan for me, myself, and I because just in case it's as disastrous as my decision to have an entire bottle of Rosé with chocolate chip cookies and pizza, let's say there aren't any hard rules in pairings--taste, decide, indulge. Wine does not judge. 

Which Wine Are You?

You find out a lot about people when you go out for drinks. There are those that go for pricey cocktails with half a shot of alcohol and lots of interesting ingredients while others drink craft beer and craft beer ONLY. Some sip on scotchety scotch scotch.


Who else is with me when I say that wine is my preferred beverage of choice?

Now, use your judgment here and if you're at a dive bar, the wine may be as gross as the restroom around midnight, and you're probably better off with a mixed drink.

You can't help but judge your friend that gets ugly when they have whiskey yet give them a few glasses of Riesling instead and they're fun-loving and hilarious. So, is there a correlation between your go-to varietal and who you are? 

Chardonnay drinkers, say hey! This varietal is not-so-subtle and neither is the personality of those that adore this golden-hued wine. When you're out with someone who orders a Chardonnay without looking at the menu, know that they will want to share their crazy stories or analysis of the social scene. These die-hard Chard lovers are just as bold as the varietal they adore. 

Rosé is one of my personal favorite wines and I enjoy it because I am one to really enjoy being different. Red and white are the main categories everyone knows about but what about some pink drink? Rosé can be dry, sweet, subtle, and versatile and from my experience is also delicious as a sparkling variation. This varietal is for those that reject the notion that this is only a red-and-white world!

Zinfandel is zippy and bold but also a crowd-pleaser. Those that sip on this varietal embrace edginess without being overbearing. When out with a Zin drinker, do something slightly sinful yet tasteful and enjoy the vibes they put off. Adventurous yet refined, people that go for Zinfandel are bound to be adaptable and interesting. 

Sauvignon Blanc drinkers know and enjoy complexity and focus. When your friend orders a Sauv Blanc, be sure to ask them how they feel and think about the topics you cover in conversation. Loudness is a characteristic that just does not flow with a Sauvignon Blanc fan, so keep things concise and intellectual. 

Riesling has wiggled its way into my preferences and it is lovely. Probably not the lowest calorie wine, it pleases the palate initially then provides a lingering dryness after the first sip. Sweet and tart, Riesling just wants to have fun, and so does their fan club. These taste buds prefer candies with fruity qualities over rich chocolate sweets.  

Finally, an ode to the most treasured thing that has BUBBLES. Champagne for everyone, darling. What better way to enjoy getting a buzz than a flute of sparkling something? Universally revered, and that's just the way you like things to be. If you pop bottles on the reg, you're definitely more comfortable around others. I say, I'll drink champs regardless--Netflix and chilled bubbly? Sign me up! 

Whatever your preferred wine reveals about your personality is based on research from a wino so take this with a grain of salt and stick to your guns (or grapes).

Drink to enjoy, as always. Try something new or never change. Wine doesn't judge.