It’s time once again to check my email bag for your wine and spirits questions. You can always reach me at [email protected].
Is it acceptable to mix red wine with grape juice, or am I committing a social faux pas?
Mixing and diluting wine is actually a common and time-honored practice that dates back thousands of years. In the Talmud we find that wine was customarily diluted by at least three-to-one with water, and even as much as six-to-one, without compromising its essence as kosher wine, suitable for making Kiddush and reciting the borei pri hagafen (“creates the fruit of the vine”) blessing. The talmudic commentator Rashi even went so far as to suggest that wine in the time of the Talmud was stronger than it is today (Rashi on Talmud Berachot 50b).
Similarly, the ancient Greeks and Romans routinely mixed water with their wine — and were also known to mix their wine with lemon, honey, spices, resin and even seawater. While these particular wine cocktails are not likely to gain much traction today, if you enjoy mixing grape juice with your wine, you should do so proudly and unapologetically. I’d suggest perhaps not using overly complex or expensive wines for this, if only because much of what makes them expensive will likely be lost through the mixture.
What is meant by “structure” in wine, and is it good or bad?
For better or worse, “structure” is a common, if terribly abstract, wine term. Its use is part of an attempt to more straightforwardly discuss, in a big-picture sort of way, the interplay between a wine’s sensory components — acidity, sweetness, body, alcohol and tannins. A silky, full-bodied, high-alcohol red wine has a distinctly different structure from light-bodied, sleek, vibrantly acidic white.
Wines that exhibit “good” structure are thought to have the potential to age well and so are often noted as such. Wines that are not adjudged to improve with age can be said to be lacking in structure.
What wine would you pair with sushi?
To my mind, Japanese beer is probably a better overall pairing to sushi. If wine is preferred, however, my first instinct would be to try a dry bubbly, like French Champagne or Spanish cava.
If you are talking about a fairly classic or old-school sashimi or sushi — chirashizushi or inarizushi or makizushi — then the flavors are likely to be more subtle and delicate. In which case a variety of still wines — like a vermentino, a chablis, a dry to off-dry riesling, a vouvray, a sylvaner, an albariño, or perhaps even a grüner veltliner — may also work perfectly.
If, however, the sushi is more contemporary and Western — like uramaki or American-style makizushi (Alaskan roll, California roll, dynamite roll or spicy tuna roll, etc.) — then beer or bubbly is really the better option. The hot, spicy and other strongly flavored elements will be tough to match well with most still wines. You can try an off-dry riesling or a vouvray, but there is a good chance that a bubbly will work better.
A nice sparkling wine or beer will revive the palate and cut through the strong flavors. Also note that a strong hit of wasabi is likely to smother many still wines, and the gari (pickled ginger) is yet another element to throw off the pairing. That said, gari on its own goes great with gewürztraminer.
What’s good this week?
Tura Estate Winery, Mountain Peak, 2014/5777 ($80): This intense, complex Bordeaux-style blend — 55 percent cabernet sauvignon, 27 percent merlot, 9 percent petit verdot, and 9 percent cabernet franc — was grown in the Har Bracha vineyards on the southern ridge of Mount Gerizim, 850 meters above sea level.
Aged for 22 months in new French oak barrels and then aged for additional 12 months after bottling, this is serious, heady and full-bodied with notes of black pepper, dark berries, plums and dark chocolate. This is also a good example of a wine whose structure should provide for significant ageing potential. This is delicious now but should continue to evolve nicely for years to come. L’chaim!