I'm not a holiday humbug, but I do have a bit of a "one down, X more to go" type of mentality when it comes to this time of year; Thanksgiving is over — now it's on to everything in December.
In addition to the big holidays, November and December, for me, are filled with a lot of birthdays and other parties. I can barely go a week without coming face to face with a plate of cookies or a slice of cake (or pie, or truffles, or ....you get the picture). The highlight of my Thanksgiving dinner this year was a slice of apple pie made by a guest who recently hosted French exchange students. The students shared some tips with their hosts for baking authentic French pastry, and they brought along a killer apple pie to this year's Thanksgiving feast. I always make my apple pies with a straightforward bottom crust and a crumb topping, but this pie was a two-crust beauty made with a super buttery, flaky/chewy pâte sucrée (the sugar in the dough makes it a little bit crunchier than other crusts — kind of like a cookie). It's tough to know what wine to have on hand for occasions like Thanksgiving where there are lots of rich foods and sweets, but I think this is a time when white wines can shine. Because while egg nog or mulled wine are tasty in small doses, heavy holiday beverages (even those big, dry reds) just don't have the pairing power of certain whites when it comes to sweet holiday treats. A few well made whites can take you from hors d'oeuvres to dessert without competiting with the food, filling you up, or exhausting your palate.
Fortunately for me, each year WineMaker's Publisher, Brad Ring, chooses a different country or region as a theme for our office holiday party, and this year we will be enjoying some fine German fare. I have a feeling I'm going to see a lot of dishes with pork (and fingers crossed for spätzle), so I'm sure to see some Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner on the table, as well as (of course) a range of Rieslings (from dry to sweet). Tim Patterson had a great story back in 2003 about making your own Riesling that I recommend for the home winemaker's perspective.
If you want to be a total food nerd, by the way, do a search on YouTube for "making spätzle" (I lost an hour of my day today that way.) The recipe is deceptively easy, but good spätzle is made as much in the technique as it is in executing the recipe. I've only ever made it with a food mill or a colander, but this woman's cutting board technique is enviable: http://youtu.be/-Y6Ga9hMm4Y
(Spätzle, a type of small German dumpling, in it's basic form. )
If you want to make spätzle, check out this recipe and step-by-step from The Smitten Kitchen: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2011/03/spaetzle/. Be sure to have some sort of German white wine on hand in the kitchen for moral support, as well easy access to a sink for constant hand washing as the dough is quite sticky.
Ok, enough about making spätzle and drinking German wines (at least until I get to the party this weekend). What else is going on in the world of WineMaker?
The December 2014-Janaury 2015 issue should be in everyone's hands by now, and in this edition Bob Peak wrote a great story about when to make certain winemaking choices. When he and I talked about the assignment back in the late summer, I described it as sort of a Kenny Rogers "Gambler" theme — knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em in the winery. Thanks to all the great innovations in winemaking, we're faced with lots more decisions in our home wineries than ever before; but just because you CAN do something, should you? For instance, do you need to add enzymes? What about yeast nutrients? Bob breaks down the pros and cons to help you make the call.
In this issue we also released the results of the 2014 Annual Label Contest and congratulations are in order for all the winners. I am a pretty terrible artist, so it's always a lot of fun for me to see how talented all you winemakers are when you're outside the winery. If it were up to me, every bottle of wine would probably be labeled with masking tape and Sharpie (like my leftovers), so I'm thankful that there are those folks with imaginations out there!
(The 2014 Grand Prize winning label design by Robert Fowler and Nyla Niblo of St. Paul, Minnesota)
We also released the names of the top 100 wine kits, which is our list of the top 100 scoring kit entries in the 2014 WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition with the highest average scores that have shown the potential in a blind judging format to make excellent wines. If you're looking to give a wine kit as a gift this holiday season, do not skip that list before you head to the home winemaking store!
Cheers, winemakers — have a safe and satisfying holiday season. If you serve any of your homemade wine this season, be sure to snap a photo and share it on WineMaker's Facebook page or send it to us via Twitter. I'll be raising a toast to you at WineMaker's holiday party and I'm looking forward to all the great stuff we have planned for you in 2015!