Join the Club

In the vast, diverse, daunting world of wine, where does one begin? Easy to appreciate but difficult to discern, simply finding the best bottles is a full-time job. That’s why the best restaurants hire skilled sommeliers, after all! If you’re overwhelmed by the abundance of options, going well beyond the basic choice of red or white, you’re not alone. In fact, you could literally join the club.

WineAccess, my go-to resource for the best bottles shipped from every major wine-growing region in the world, straight to your door, now offers quarterly shipments that promise hand-selected labels that include small-lot gems, impossible-to-obtain rarities, and unbeatable values. These aren’t just top shelf picks; they’re treasures you won’t find on any shelf.

Each shipment comes with six bottles, with exclusive videos highlighting each wine and the story behind it. You’ll get to know the growers, understand their inspiration, and literally taste the fruits of their labor. This connection creates an even greater appreciation for the craft. For anyone who’s ever relished the opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes and see how it’s made, this is the next best thing to visiting the vineyards in person.

Specific themes unite each bundle of bottles, covering many different regions and styles to help deepen an understanding of the wonderful, wild world of wine. My sample box was focused on “Wine Making Techniques,” and how they impact the final style of the wines. Grape variety and quality are obvious factors, but post-harvest intricacies such as maceration, fermentation, extraction, and aging have an influence on the resulting flavors.

For example, the 2016 De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault Itata Valley Chile is notable for its boldly unfiltered approach. De-stemmed but uncrushed grapes are allowed to macerate naturally, without any added yeasts or sulfur. The wine hibernates all winter, undisturbed, to be bottled in the spring, clean and simple. It should come as no surprise that the taste is rich and full-bodied, deeply fruity with notes of dark berries and a hint of savory herbs. That robust character makes a lot of sense, and is even more rewarding to recognize, when you know how it came to be.

On the lighter side of the spectrum, the 2018 Adegas Galegas D. Pedro Soutomaior Albarino Rias Baixas retains the bright, crisp, freshness of the grapes by storing them in stainless steel barrels, rather than oak. Vivid flaxen hues light up the glass, bearing the essence of green apple, citrus zest, and a cool sea breeze.

On top of that extraordinary curated experience, when you join, you’ll get 10% off all purchases at WineAccess.com. In stark contrast to most exclusive clubs, everyone is welcome here. There’s no secret password, no initiation rites, nor silly handshakes. All you need is a thirst for adventure and a love of wine. Once reserved for only the fanciest folk, these worldly wines have never been more accessible. So go ahead, join the club!

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Happy Camper

Only once in my life have I attempted any form of overnight camping. At five or six years old, eyes full of stars and head full of dreams, my parents pitched a tent right in the backyard, no more than a few feet from our back door. Safe from the true elements but still firmly planted in the “great” outdoors, it was an ideal way of testing the waters.

It was all perfect. My sister and I made shadow puppets after the sun fell, giggling long into the night. We rolled around in sleeping bags, despite the balmy summer air. As soon as the flashlights switched off, however, I was inconsolable. The ground was too hard, there were ants and mosquitoes and (maybe!) spiders, it was too dark, too cramped, too breezy, too… Outdoors. After about 15 minutes, I hightailed it back inside to my bed.

To this day, my idea of “roughing it” still involves WIFI and running water, but no matter. I would gladly build a campfire to roast marshmallows and make s’mores any day. After all, that’s really the only reason anyone would bother with camping, right?

Starbucks knows this and capitalizes on the concept. Their seasonal S’mores Crème Frappuccino makes all the glory of camping accessible without pulling out of the drive-through line. It is, sadly, one of the few concoctions that can’t be veganized.

Save yourself the trouble, heartache, and money by just making your own at home. Instead of marshmallow-infused whipped cream, my copycat recipe is crowned by a plume of aquafaba marshmallow fluff, homemade chocolate syrup, and a crunchy sprinkle of crushed graham crackers. The base is a simple blended iced mocha, made from frozen coffee cubes, so the mixture isn’t watered down by plain ice.

Raise a glass to the goodness of summer, without having to hike into the woods and set up camp.

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Kombucha in a Class of Its Own

To those who can’t ride the wave of kombucha sweeping the nation: I get it. The harsh, vinegary bite of most commercial brews can be matched in hostility only by the aggressive carbonation quick to follow. Frothing angrily in the mouth, searing all the way down the throat, such overbearing acidity obliterates all other sensations. Flavor? Who could discern a flavor from something as pungent as straight battery acid? Those sensitive to the taste know this isn’t such an exaggeration, especially when pairing equally assertive notes of ginger or lemon; an incredibly popular approach.

Marin Kombucha is the brew for you. Before breaking the seal and taking your first sip, forget everything you previously knew about fermented tea, because this is just that: tea first, tonic second. Far more balanced, sweet without being sugary, and altogether more refreshing than any other option in the category, Marin Kombucha stands apart from the pack. Founders Gerit Williams and Brian Igersheim meld their unique passions in food and chemistry to create such an unparalleled beverage right in the heart of the north bay, between Napa Valley and San Francisco.

I was lucky enough to meet Gerit at an event by Sound & Savor, who stocks only Marin Kombucha as the non-alcoholic alternative to beer or wine. Passionate about tea, his lifelong obsession progressed in knowledge, understanding, and exposure throughout the years to culminate in the brand, first launching in 2015. Ask him anything about the process and prepare yourself for a complete education. Reverse osmosis-filtered water meets a mix of dragonwell green and kimon black tea in exacting proportions, but don’t forget about the nuances drawn out by brewing time and temperature, too.

“After 90 seconds, all the bitter tannins begin to leach out,” he explains. “Longer brews don’t yield stronger flavor, just more bitter flavor. Besides that, it destroys antioxidants.”

Both art and science intermingle in every glass bottle, bringing centuries of tradition into the modern age with precise control over every step in the process. Every small batch ends at exactly a PH of 3.5 and an alcohol content of less than 0.01%. The really fascinating thing, however, is that this is truly a live food; given warmth and time, the yeast will reactivate and continue to ferment. It’s one of (if not the) only kombucha currently on the market that could actually grow its own scoby given the right conditions. If you’ve considered adding probiotics to your daily diet, skip the supplements and drink your “medicine” instead!

Marin Kombucha’s signature flavors of oak-aged fermented tea reflect the local harvest: Original Oak, Apple Juniper, Pinot Sage, and Ginger Lemongrass. While these four distinctive varieties are currently bottled for purchase in every Whole Foods in northern California and in many specialty and natural foods stores, rapidly spreading across the country, limited run batches tempt in full kegs. Unconventional combinations like Strawberry Pistachio, Raspberry Cacao, Blood Orange Cardamom, Cactus Agave, and Mojito tease, popping up randomly on tap every now and then. My current favorite, Melon Rose, is happily transitioning to single-serve packaging soon, harmonizing notes of honeydew, watermelon, and a hint of rose on a naturally effervescent foundation.

Currently producing in excess of 15,000 gallons per week, the only barrier to further growth is sheer physical space. Demand is bubbling over because once anyone tries their first sip, they’ll realize what kombucha really should be. It’s hard to go back to anything else.

 

 

 

Stubborn as a Mule

Endlessly evaluating the population at large, it’s impossible to predict exactly when or if a trend with actually come to bear, but that sure doesn’t stop us from trying. One of the most recent assessments that hit my radar was which drinks would be big this summer.

Preferences appear to be split across the country, showing a rise in appreciation for the aperol spritz and negroni in along the west coast, while easterners are more likely to quaff hard seltzer or froze to beat the heat. However, Moscow mules were indisputably on the decline across the board, having peaked in popularity long ago. Those copper mugs are so 2018.

Naturally, that’s exactly what I find myself gravitating towards.

Rather than claiming I was on board before it was cool, I’m proud to proclaim that I’m all in after it was cool. Much less pretentious, just a bit slow, I’ve discovered the charm of bracing ginger and lime over ice, spiked with the clean, crisp bite of vodka. It’s hard to go wrong with such a classic combination, which begs the question, just who is turning up their noses to proclaim it as passe? Besides, you’ve already got the cups knocking around in the back of your cabinet… What else are you going to do with them?

Meeting Russia by way of Japan, my eastern inspiration swaps vodka for sake, lime for bold, astringent yuzu juice, and adds a touch of matcha for an earthy foil. Paired with bracing ginger beer for both a sweet and spicy bite, this new blend could very well become a trend-setter after all.

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Poppycock

Delicious, nutritious, and an illicit narcotic? Poppy seeds are an excellent source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and several essential minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc, to say nothing of the morphine residue that may remaining after harvesting from opium poppies.

Yes, opium which is also an excellent source of heroin, morphine, and codeine. While it’s true that an “overdose” may genuinely make you fail a drug test, the seeds themselves contain none of the potent drug. No need to lock your spice rack at night or keep a surveillance camera on your baking supplies; while a junkie might be sorely disappointed, I’d say that the flavor they offer is still powerfully addictive.

Nut and seed blends are gaining traction in the non-dairy aisle, but no one seems to appreciate the power of the poppy seed. This could be said across the board, however, as poor, misunderstood poppy seeds rarely get top billing in any dish. Every bit as capable of creating a creamy, dreamy, dairy-free drink, their subtle nutty flavor bears intoxicating nuances of both sweet and savory notes in every sip.

Toast them to enhance that elusive, rarely touted taste, or keep it simple with a more subtle, straightforward blitz. A mixture of oats and almonds lend a richness and body that could rival anything fresh off the farm.

If you can resist the urge to lift the entire blender right to your lips to gulp down the entire milky amalgamation as is, it happens to make a brilliant creamer for iced coffee, too. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when poppy seed lattes become the next big trend in a month… It really is an addictive drink.

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You Brew You

Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I stumble into the kitchen and blindly rummage around for sustenance. Sheer muscle memory propels me forward before my brain has fully activated, recharged and ready to begin processing a new day. Coffee is the switch that flips it on, that starts the cycle anew, for me and so many millions, if not billions of other sleepyheads across the globe. How you choose to brew says a lot of about culture, economics, habits, and personal taste, but more attention is paid to the beans than the actual mechanics of making a cuppa. Respectably so, for all their natural nuances, slick brands and designer packages notwithstanding; the bean alone is a weighty decision to contemplate when the need for caffeine overrules all other sensible demands.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appreciate the method of making coffee itself. Do you use an electric, automatic drip coffee maker like most Americans? One of those ubiquitous plastic models always found in attendance at moving sales year round? Maybe you have more than one, because it never hurts to have a backup. Cheap, easy, accessible, reliable; I’m there with you, friends. There’s nothing wrong with the effortless instant gratification of push-button service, delivering a hot cup of coffee on demand, no questions asked.

When it comes to manual brewing methods, you take control back into your hands, quite literally.

Pour Over (Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Clever): Functioning almost exactly like a standard drip machine without the buttons or whistles, there are a number of popular variations on the concept but it all boils down to pouring hot water over grounds, slowly allowing the brewed liquid to run down into a waiting glass below. It takes patience and a steady hand, but no real skill since gravity does all the hard work. Use a medium grind to extract the brighter, lighter, more floral flavor notes without any hint of bitterness. Different models have their own uniquely patterned ridges built in, which will each affect the rate of drainage differently and produce surprisingly distinctive results. Which is “best” is just a matter of preference, so experiment a bit to find what tastes just right to your palate.

Plunger (French Press, AeroPress): Most people are familiar with the French press due to it’s accessibility and wide availability. Simply add grounds, water, steep, and plunge. There are no disposable filters to trifle with and no waste as a result. Detractors grouse about gritty brews or long steeping times, but a properly sealed, well-built device shouldn’t give you any trouble. Because the beans have full contact with the hot water for the entire time, this approach extracts the full gamut of flavors locked within, as well as the most antioxidants and caffeine. Use a coarse ground to enjoy the most robust results in a traditional French press, but fine for an AeroPress, which does use filters to catch any residual sediment.

Cupping Brewer (Rattleware): Uncommon outside of serious barista circles, it doesn’t get much simpler in concept, or more complex in flavor. Grounds and water combine for extended brew times, 10 minutes and beyond, to get every element of the bean to come forward. Grounds float toward the surface, to be skimmed off with a spoon before sipping. Though impractical for multiple servings, it’s an ideal way to truly appreciate a fresh brew with zero waste. Use a very coarse grind and be prepared to stop drinking before you reach the bottom, since most will settle and remain there. It’s impossible to avoid consuming at least some of the sediment, so this stuff is like rocket fuel.

There’s also the stove top moka pot, although I’d argue that this begins to skew into a more hands-off realm where the device does most of the heavy lifting. In fact, there are electric versions available, which always pull in top recommendations from experts, so I don’t trifle with the low tech toys. Siphons, using vacuum pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds, could also fall under this distinction, but they’re more of a novelty than realistic appliance for the average home brewer. Plus, the cost for entry is rather steep- No pun intended.

Across the board, general guidelines for success start with using 60 grams of coffee for every 1 quart of water (yes, you really should weigh it!) and water heated to 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally in a goose neck kettle for easy maneuvering.

How do you do your brew? Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. You may just discover a whole new world of flavors locked within the same beans you already love, and only thought you knew.