Food really does matter when paired with wine. Have you ever had wine with a meal or dessert and thought it tasted horrible? Or gravitated to a sweet wine because you were convinced you did not like dry wine? For a long time, that was me—until my husband and I started making our own wine. Who knew there was so much to know about wine and pairing it with the right foods?
Raising kids takes a huge amount of time and effort; making sure they are involved in the right activities, getting homework done, participating in community service projects and so on. Add working full-time and commuting 3 hours a day to get to that job and you have the story of my life. A couple years ago, my husband and I wanted to find an activity that we could do together for our bi-monthly date that had nothing to do with our kids or work. It’s so easy to get caught up in routines and individual hobbies and not connect as a couple. We wanted to be very intentional about the time we set aside to spend with each other.
Because we work up North, the thought of going anyplace far from home is sometimes less than desirable. It seemed like any time we wanted to do something really exciting, it involved getting in the car and driving an hour and a half to get into D.C. That’s why we were thrilled to find a small locally owned winery in Fredericksburg VA that offered wine making classes. It’s only ten minutes from our house! any winery we have been to. You will not find fields of grapevines. The winery is tucked away in commercial retail space.
All wine for sale at the winery is made by owner and expert Oenologist Hal Bell. He opened his unique winery because of his dedication and passion for home winemaking. This is evident in the fantastic wine he sells, his vast knowledge of wine, and his cult following (his students.) We did a wine tasting and loved many of the wines that were served. This is rare. Typically, we will go to a wine tasting and maybe like one or two of the wines being offered. We thought this would be a lot of fun and a somewhat romantic activity for our dates, so we signed up. Most of the wine in the winery is made from wine kits that contain grape juice and seed, and skins packs, depending on the wine. Not really knowing much about wine, other than we liked it sweet, we decided to make a White Moscato.
The class met 5 times over the course of 8 weeks. There were six couples in class. I think other couples thought it was a cool thing to do together as well! The classes are not limited to couples, it just so happened to be the case in our class. The cost of the class covered the type of wine we decided to make, and all the supplies needed to bottle our wine (32, 750 ML bottles).
Each week we met, Hal would take us through the steps needed to make our wine. He helped us understand the history, chemistry, biology, geography and psychology in the art of winemaking.
In the first class, we watched our wine progress through primary fermentation, where the yeast was alive and working hard. The yeast population grows really fast because of the huge supply of sugar, nutrients, and oxygen they lucked into. It’s like a party in there. Everyone is hopped up on sugar and bouncing off the walls. This is the most active and productive phase of fermentation. In fact, up to 70% of the total amount of alcohol is produced during this stage.
Hal created an experience in our wine making classes that is not experienced by many. One of the highlights of the wine making process was not only tasting our wine every class as it matured from juice to wine, but the wine tasting, and food pairing Hal provided. This really helped to prepare us for the type of food that we could pair with our wine on bottling day.
In the second class, the wine is racked from the tub into a glass carboy for secondary fermentation. After a while, things start to slow down. The oxygen has been depleted and the bulk of the sugar has been used up; because of this, the yeast population is no longer expanding. In fact, life is getting hard for the yeast. Alcohol levels have risen to the point that it is affecting the yeasts ability to reproduce and even survive. Many cells are dying off and collecting at the bottom of the fermenter. This is also referred to as gross lees. This is one of the reasons we must rack the wine after primary fermentation is over. Racking the wine is the siphoning of wine from one container to another leaving all the sediment behind. We don’t want to pick up any off flavors from the dead yeast.
Secondary fermentation lasts between a week to two weeks. Obviously this is a much slower stage in the process. Secondary fermentation takes up to two weeks just to get the last 30%.
Each week, Hal would do a tasting of a couple wines with a food pairing. (Not only is Hal an expert oenologist, he is an incredible chef.) We were exposed to wines we would have never chosen.
Wine pairing with various foods was a game changer. My taste in wine has changed greatly after that first class. Pairing wine is a funny thing; every dish will have more than just one component. You might try to pair a wine with chicken… but it’s not JUST going to be chicken, is it? Of course not! It will have herbs or spices, a side dish of veggies, etc. There are many things to think about when pairing a dish. In the end, you have to choose which part of the dish you want to emphasize and then match the wine to that element.
The thought of trying to figure out wine pairings can be overwhelming, however there are some apps you can add to your phone that will help you when you feel stuck. Some of the top-rated apps available for wine pairing are Pair It, Hello Vino, Vavino, Wine Ratings, Plonk, and Pocket Wine. Some of these are free and some of them have in app purchases. Check them out!
In our third class, we worked on stabilizing our wine. We re-racked into a clean carboy leaving the sediment behind. (After the secondary fermentation, excess sugar not previously consumed by the yeast restarts alcoholic fermentation. When the yeast dies during this stage, they create a silky sediment that gently piles up on the bottom of your carboy.) This sediment is called the fine lees. Unlike the first time, we kept these lees as they are great for cooking with. They can be used in sauces, dressings, breads and anything else you want to give a flavor boost. If you are sweetening a wine before bottling, it is essential that the wine yeast be dealt with so that it cannot start re-growing a colony again. We degassed the wine, added Potassium Sorbate, Potassium Metabisulphite, sweetener and Chitosan.
In our fourth class, we re-racked and added Glycerin to our wine. Glycerin increases the wine`s mouth-feel giving it a fuller, more pleasant texture. Glycerin also smoothes over some of the harsh characteristics that are prevalent in most younger wines.
Our fifth class was exciting! Everyone needed to bring a dish that complimented their wine. We bottled our wine and feasted. Each couple introduced their wine and the dish they brought to pair with it. With our Moscato, I paired Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bites. They were delish! At the end of class everyone likes to trade bottles, so you end up with a mixed case of wine. I loved this because it gave us the opportunity to appreciate a wider assortment of wine. It also gave us ideas for the next type of wine we wanted to make.
What I learned was wine has a weight, a body. Some wines are light-bodied while other wines are medium-bodied or even full-bodied. A light-bodied wine is a wine that disappears rather quickly in your mouth. You drink it and the taste lingers in your mouth for mere seconds and then it dissipates. A medium-bodied wine stays a bit longer on your palate. The taste of a full-bodied wine might stay on the mouth for several minutes. You can liken this to what it feels like when you drink milk. Skim milk is light-bodied while regular milk is medium-bodied, and half & half is full bodied. You should pair foods and wines of the same weight.
Temperature makes a difference when selecting what wine to pair. If I am serving a roasted chicken and we are having it right out of the oven, then I would serve a room temperature wine that is of equal weight, such as a Pinot Noir If we are going to have that same chicken served cold in a salad the next day, I would pair it with a chilled Rosé.
Tannic wines love fatty food. For instance, eating Pappardelle pasta with veal ragu, a classic Italian dish, you would want a dry wine. It’s amazing how this dish changes the astringency and dryness that comes from the tannins. The tannins are tamed by the fat that’s in the meat and the sauce. If you choose not to eat meat, you need to find the fat component elsewhere and there is nothing better than cheese. Feta cheese is an excellent way to replace the fat in the meat when pairing with a vegetarian dish.
Hal taught us how to craft a spectacular wine. We have since taken a dessert wine class and ventured on to making our own wine regularly. When I want a certain wine, I now cook foods that would complement the wine or vice versa. Wine making with Bacchus Winery has been one of the most gratifying hobbies we have embarked upon.
I would encourage anyone in the area to stop by for a wine tasting and perhaps sign up for a class. You will not be disappointed.
Food really does matter when paired with wine. We will explore food pairings more in another post.
Keep it Fresh!
Salted Caramel Apple Mini Cheesecake Bites
- April 8, 2019
- 4 hr
- 358 Cals/Serving
- Print this
- 1 1/3 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (approx. 10 Sheets)
- 2 1/2 Tbsp Sugar
- 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
- 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter (melted)
- 1/2 cup Four
- 1/4 cup Quick Oats
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar (Packed)
- 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp Nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp Sea Salt (fine)
- 1/4 cup Unsalted Butter (cold and cubed)
- 2 (8 oz) pkgs Cream Cheese (softened)
- 2/3 cup Sugar
- 2 large /Eggs
- 1/4 cup Sour Cream
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 1 lb. Granny Smith Apples (peeled, cored and finely chopped*)
- 2 tsp Lemon Juice
- Salted Caramel
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp water
- 1/4 cup salted butter, diced into 1 Tbsp pieces
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt, or more to taste
- Shaved chocolate for garnish
- Step 1
- Crust: In a mixing bowl, whisk together graham cracker crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Pour in butter and using a fork, stir until evenly moistened.
- Step 2
- Divide mixture among 18 paper lined muffin cups, adding a rounded tablespoon to each cup. Press into an even layer. Bake in preheated oven 5 minutes, then remove from oven and allow to cool.
- Step 3
- Streusel: In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, quick oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add cold butter and using fingertips, rub butter into dry mixture until it comes together it small crumbles and pieces of butter are no longer visible. Transfer to refrigerator while preparing apples and filling.
- Step 4
- Filling: In a bowl, toss chopped apples with lemon juice, set aside. *I recommend chopping very small so they can cook all the way through, almost mincing them (even smaller than that pictured because mine weren’t quite tender all the way through).
- Step 5
- In a mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer set on medium-low speed, cream together cream cheese with sugar just until smooth. Mix in eggs one at a time, then blend in sour cream and vanilla.
- Step 6
- Cheesecakes: Divide cheesecake batter evenly among 18 muffin cups pouring filing over crust (I used a 1/4 cup and filled it about 3/4 full). Divide apples evenly over cheesecake layer, then finish by sprinkling a heaping tablespoon of the streusel over tops.
- Step 7
- Bake in preheated oven 23 – 25 minutes. Cool at room temperature 30 minutes, then transfer to fridge and chill 3 hours. Serve with caramel sauce.
- Step 8
- Salted Caramel: Gather all your ingredients and have them nearby ready to add to the mixture as needed.
- Step 9
- In a heavy-bottomed 2 – 3-quart saucepan (something that isn’t dark on bottom so you can see the shade of caramel), heat sugar, salt and water over medium-high heat whisking constantly to dissolve sugar.
- Step 10
- Once mixture reaches a boil, stop whisking and allow mixture to boil until it reaches a dark amber color, carefully swirling pan occasionally* (this will take time, so be patient. See photos below for the stages to watch for).
- Step 11
- It will first bubble vigorously, and steam and it will be a clear shade, then bubbling will continue but the bubbles will become smaller and slower and it will slowly tint yellowish, then orangish, then a deep reddish orange and that is what you are looking for.
- Step 12
- Once mixture reaches a dark amber color, immediately add butter and whisk until butter has melted then immediately remove from heat.
- Step 13
- Carefully pour in cream and immediately whisk with a long handled whisk to combine (it will bubble vigorously). Whisk until mixture is smooth.
- Step 14
- Pour caramel into a glass jar to cool. Once cool, store in an airtight container in refrigerator.
- Step 15
- Caramel sauce will be thicker once cooled to room temperature and much thicker once chilled.
- Step 16
- Drizzle Chilled salted caramel over cheesecake bites garnishing with left over apples, shaved chocolate and toasted chopped pecans.
- Step 17
- Remove from refrigerator 30 mins prior to serving.