Everything in its Season

I long to get this show on the road. To get this new farm set up! Get the rototiller! Get the goats! Get the fencing done! Let’s get planting!

But, alas, it is October 2nd. I can plant hopeful bulbs of dancing tulips and sunshine yellow daffodils that will surprise me with delight come spring. That is all.

The wood stove is coming next week and the goat shed is coming too and we are slowly getting fencing done. I can see it all! I can see the corn in rows interspersed with pumpkins zooming along the front yard on green tendrils and vines. I can see the vineyard I have always wanted stretching out to the western sky. I can see the bright red tomatoes, the crisp lettuces dancing in the cool breeze, the baby goats and sheep jumping around the pasture in the sunlight. My polar bear dog with a job, finally.

I can see myself moving the dutch oven to make room for the kettle for a cup of tea and checking the fire. I can hear the vibrant shaking of the pressure canners putting away summer’s gifts. Wiping my hands on my apron and taking my granddaughters outside to play. Watching the sun set behind the wild pasture with rabbits shooting to and fro and turkey vultures swaying gently on the breeze overhead.

This is our fourth farm. Our fourth homestead. The second home of our own since beginning homesteading. This one on land. In the country. Our own. My heart soars with gratitude and excitement to get this farm set up! But alas, it is October 2nd.

The dark smoke billowed densely and ferociously off the mountain sides. The smell of it all filled the air. The wildfire was scarcely contained and my heart broke for the animals and trees and the wildness being consumed. Death and ending before our eyes as we drove to our mini-vacation spot. Next spring, there on the mountain, life will unfold. Everything in its season.

The aspens and oaks danced in brilliant colors of gold and red, creating patchworks across the mountainsides. That specific shade of bold autumn blue sans clouds stretched above everything and the west was in its ultimate splendor.

Our youngest daughter, her husband, and their new baby joined us for a few days at a beautiful place. A private spot where one can hike to various hot spring pools nestled along the mountain. Walking along the path we stopped to eat hawthorn berries and wild plums. Deer wandered past the pools, a fawn catching up with her mother. Birds flitted from thick tree to tree and life buzzed all around. It is a clothing optional resort and the feeling of air on one’s skin while passing thickets of herbs and trees and the feeling of the water from warm waterfalls is grounding and restorative.

A crow cawed and flapped its wings loudly as it flew close by. The warmth of the water followed by the cool breeze was enlivening. Amongst plans of future and to-do’s and day-to-day life, it is good to rest and restore, to ground in a new place, to spend time with loved ones, and to look out over thickets of oaks and pines and into valleys. To pull a blanket closer around, sip coffee, and hear the earth speak, as breezes lightly blow fog up the road. Everything in its season.

The Multi-Generational Legacy of Farming and Homesteading

The garden once Gandalf moves to the goat and sheep yard.

I wish we had started homesteading and farming long ago. It would be nice to have a multi-generational legacy of land and tradition that becomes genetically ingrained in the children and is always a sense of comfort and a place to return. My eldest child grew up near the beginning of our journey so he had little experience with the farm (though he can grow anything), but perhaps he had some connection, because he would like a farm of his own some day. My middle child tends to pots of tomatoes and peppers, herbs and flowers that flourish on her second floor deck as she watches the deer cross her yard in her mountain-like neighborhood. My youngest daughter was around the most and seeing her hold a newborn goat for the first time was to watch a thirteen year old melt. So enthralled with farm life she became, and she and her husband are adamant about getting a farm and homesteading off grid. And of course, my granddaughter, has been a farmgirl since birth. Photo shoots with goats her first year and farmer’s markets in bonnets. Bottle feeding goats her second year, gardening her third, and so forth. She is the most excited about our new farm. Her baby sister will love it here too, I just know it. So, better late than never!

I will tell you a secret though; moving here to this gorgeous piece of land, I considered (gasp) not homesteading or farming (for like a week). Hang up my farmstead aprons and become a “normal” wife. I could get a job and wear smart pant suits and buy cans of food (instead of pulling them from the root cellar) and keep all the land as it is. I sat out on the back porch with my farm dog (who is a little bored without charges as am I) and looked out across the cedars and cactus, across the deep valleys, up the mountain tops, across the larger-than-life western sky, and then started envisioning things. Ah yes, normalcy didn’t last for long, because that (pointing) would be the perfect place for goats and sheep. That area could be kept wild for the bunnies and natural medicine. There is the vineyard, of course. There is the huge pumpkin patch and corn field as you enter the property. Here is the garden. There is where the clothes line will go. And so forth. Doug had the same ideas, so it wasn’t long until in our minds, a fully functioning homestead and farm was painted and planned. Homesteading and farming is hard work, but it is deeply satisfying, soul enriching, life giving work. And comes with wonderful things like homemade cheese and wine.

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The vineyard
I can see this shed with a huge mural of pumpkins on the side! Need to contract my girls!
Welcome to our farm.

My grandparents grew up on farms (and had no desire to ever step foot on one again) and I was fascinated by their stories, always asking questions. The “normal” today is actually just the status quo. Farming and homesteading were not only the norm, but the expected, in every generation from my grandparents back. And I am honored to be a part of it. We will start this generational wisdom over starting here. Because it is important work. Environmentally, emotionally, sustainably, and beautifully important. Watch us grow!

What is your favorite aspect of homesteading/farming?

Starting a Farm and Homestead (Pumpkin Hollow Farm adventures continue)

“And just like that, we are homesteading again!” Doug said as he walked into the house after work. Two pressure canners were sputtering on the stove, twelve quarts of homemade chicken broth within. The house smelled wonderful. I was in the process of making cheese. We ate tortellini en brodo alfresco while pointing out where we should put our Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign. Yes, just like that, we will be farming again too.

The first real homestead we had was gradual; first a garden, then chickens, then goats, we learned one thing at a time. The next thing we knew we were practically living off grid and cooking on a wood cook stove! We have learned a lot over the past decade. I waited to see if Doug wanted to homestead and farm. I didn’t want to just jump into it. After all, it is an expensive adventure to start and it is a lot of work. He keeps talking about breeds of goats, and wethered sheep, and plotting the grazing section and where to put our vineyard…we went and picked up fencing for goats and sheep. We’re in. Homesteading isn’t just a job or a lifestyle, it becomes a very part of you.

I couldn’t remember how much it cost to have farm animals (besides chickens), it has been four years since we have had goats and sheep (that is how long it has taken us to get back to the country). This blog holds, not only my memoir within it, but so much information that I constantly resort back to. I looked up “How Much Does it Cost to Have A Farm Animal” from the first year I started this blog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that prices have only increased about 20%. I did expect higher. We should still be well in our budget to feed some more furry kids that give milk and fiber.

I have been visiting local vineyards. Grapes grow very well here and I would love to start my own winery. Even if it is just for me and my friends to start. A lot of folks focus on one thing, maybe beef, or chickens, or vegetables. They aren’t all over the map like I am. I want to have a vineyard, use my own plants to dye my own fiber from my sheep, create beautiful crocheted and sewn pieces to sell, have a huge pumpkin patch, a large garden, have milking goats, and still leave land to be wild and a safe place for bunnies. (Gandalf loves bunnies. They are as delicious as the chickens, apparently.) I love to have variety. That way, I always have what we need and my creative expressions can change as well. I am not going to get burnt out having sheep if I only have two!

When plotting your homestead, first write out what you would like. Garden? Chickens? Ducks? Remember that poultry will consume everything in their path, so they have to be separate from the garden. Goats? They will eat trees down to nothing so the orchard (did you want an orchard?) has to be fenced away from the cute ruminants. Do you have a niche you want to focus on? Don’t think of money while you are writing down your list. What do you want to do? Then draw out your land (even if it is a quarter acre or in the city) and sketch in where you will put everything. Decide on priorities based on money and time to get things started.

Then note where you might make extra money from your homesteading adventures but always have a back up plan. That is the most valuable lesson we learned over the past ten years. Pumpkin Hollow Farm continues on! Our family is excited.

Where are you at in your homesteading adventures? My granddaughter, Maryjane, has loved our farms and has made so many memories. I want to have Grammie and Pa’s farm for her and her sister. So, it’s not all serious here. Homesteading and farming should be fun.

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey (a field trip)

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Sometimes one needs to run away, to have a change of scenery, and to put the day to day chaos away and perhaps have a glass of wine!  A change of place can create calm in thought and help bring on new ideas.  We haven’t had a field trip to a winery in some time, so Doug and I with our friends, Rodney and Pat, headed up to Canyon City to explore one in our own back yard.

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The Holy Cross Abbey is a beautiful gothic structure that used to house monks and a boarding school, but as it declined the grounds were left to a viticulturist and the abbey now rests while the winery does the work now.

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We enjoyed the VIP tasting (surprisingly affordable) which included eleven pours to taste most of the wines produced there, from a luscious Petit Sirah to a sweet Apple wine made from local apples.  As we walked outside to the place that the tasting would be held we immediately took in the quaint picnic table set for four with wine glasses.  The vineyard directly behind buzzing with life.  The perfect early autumn air and the smell of nearby mountains and flowers made the event seem as if it were written out of a magazine.

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Our delightful hostess, Elise, was a charming addition to the tasting as we compared stories of herbalism, homesteading, and future dreams.  Her aspirations include starting a community organization that brings like minded people together and turning her parents’ property into a lively homestead for them.  We took to her sweet spirit and enthusiasm immediately.

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It was a day of laughter, good weather, friends, and wine.  We sat in the sun, enjoyed a meal together afterwards, and sang karaoke into the night.  The perfect day.

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If you are in the area the Holy Cross Winery is a lovely place to stop. http://abbeywinery.com

Traveling the World by Cookbook (my favorite cookbooks)

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Delicious food and inspiration, something I daily seek.  I like to travel around the world to see what folks are eating.  I like visit farms around the globe.  I like to sit in stranger’s kitchens and see if I can experience a bit of their life by eating what they eat.  Through cookbooks I can do this from my own farm kitchen and so cookbooks have always been a bit of an obsession for me.

Mind you, I never follow a recipe to its exact measure but the blueprints and guidelines for delightful food I wouldn’t have thought of is most welcome to a busy farm wife foodie who doesn’t like to prepare the same thing over and over.

“Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own” by Bob Flowerdew is a great book that I may have told you about before but I find it ever so enchanting as the photographs make the book come to life.  As if I am in England learning from a master.  He takes us through the gardening season, growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparing delicious foods.  It is filled with brilliant ideas and a way to make potato au gratin that will change your life forever.  Decadent.

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“Another Amish cookbook?” my love asks as I purchase another.  I have…ahem…a few.  I love them for their stories.  I love the local ones that are say the recipe was submitted by Mrs. Elmer So and So.  I love the vague amounts in some and the tried in true in books like this one.  “The Amish Cook’s Family Favorite Recipes” by Lovina Eicher is my go-to in the summer when I am rushing around.  Perfect coffee cake to make and pack for the farmer’s markets, interesting recipes like chokecherry tapioca, and casseroles that make the kids want to move home.

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“Love Soup” by Anna Thomas is a book I have read from cover to cover many times.  Her soups are vegetarian and filled with flavor and comfort, sustenance, ease.  I love this book for its endless ideas for soup along with recipes for bread and salads.  Her stories along with the recipes are fun and the book is split up seasonally, which appeals to me more than ever.

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I have checked out “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook” by Frances and Edward Mayes from the library enough that it really ought to be a part of my collection at some point.  If I could go anywhere right now and enjoy a meal it would surely be in Tuscany.  I want to experience the long outdoor wooden table with twenty friends and strangers, water glasses filled, wine glasses raised.  Courses of flavorful foods that I have yet to prepare.  Many things that I have never heard of cooking or tasting in my Colorado raised existence.  I can hear the laughter, the long meal, the joy.  I loved the Under the Tuscan Sun books by Frances Mayes so it is a pleasure stopping by their house via library book for a meal. (Note: if you saw the movie, it is not even remotely the same as the books.  Do pick up the books!)

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Another library find, “Fresh from the Farm” by Susie Middleton is a delightful part memoir part cookbook using seasonal produce.  What to do with mustard greens, delicious ways with arugula, and much more.  I am definitely enjoying borrowing this book!

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If I make a menu plan and grocery shop regularly for the things we need then I am less likely to want to go out for subpar food.  This book, “The Casual Vineyard Table” by the owner of one of my favorite wines and vineyards, Carolyn Wente, makes me want to hurry home and cook!  I picked it up at the Wente winery when Doug and I were there visiting our friends, Lisa and Steve, in Northern California.  It was one of our best trips and we so enjoyed ourselves and became even bigger wine snobs, I rather fear.  Where do I start?  Potato Crusted Sea Bass with Gingered Blue Lake Beans or Bay Scallops with Rhubarb Puree?  Or one could always head straight to the back of the book and prepare Chocolate Chili Pecan cake with double bourbon whipped cream.  Oh my.

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Then there are lean times, which we are in more often than not.  Not poverty stricken, starving times, thank the Lord we always have food, but no sea bass or single vineyard wine times.  This book is practical, intelligent, and savvy.  Using minimal ingredients, all staples, one can put together hundreds of healthy meals on the cheap. “More-With-Less” by Doris Janzen Longacre is a homesteader’s necessity!

Do share your favorite cookbook titles!

A Walk in the Vineyards (visiting Napa)

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Is wine just another drink?  A snobby, pretentious one?  An expensive bottle of grape juice?  It is more than that, of course, as I have written in Wine 101 and Wine 200.  The puzzle of finding out where the grapes were grown, in what kind of soil, surrounded by what, in what climate, on old or new vines.  These can all be answered in a glance, smell, sip.  I love that one can find so many complexities and aromas in a simple glass of…well….grape juice.

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And behind all that, the fancy restaurants, the food pairings, the bottles snug in the cellar, is the farmer.  A farmer, workers, wine makers, all making this journey through dinner sensational.

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Homesteaders have been making their own wine for many, many centuries.  Fermenting grapes was a way to preserve the bounty and provided safer refreshment than water at many times.  It is a preservation method, a return on the farmer’s time and energies growing this humble fruit.

Following the vineyard tour of Pine Crest in Napa, I took to memory everything the guide said about the growing of the grapes.  Hillside, sun, distance from the ground, sugar content, days on the vine.  I kept asking questions.  I must grow grapes.  A sad shake of the head met me.  140 days on the vine.

“Oh, I can do that.  I have a four and a half months to grow.”  That is a hundred and forty days after the fruit is visible, after flowering, after Spring, 140 days.

“Oh wait, that is my entire growing season!”  Oh, Kiowa, you high desert land, you’re killing me as a farmer over here!

But you know me, if someone tells me in Napa Valley, where they know grapes and wine, that I can’t grow grapes, I’ll be shopping for Sangiovese and Petite Sirah grapes the second my plane lands back in Colorado.  There has got to be a way for me to grow good grapes.  I will research areas similar to my climate and see what they grow.  Surely along the equatorial line Colorado matches up with somewhere like France across the globe.

Six dollar wines with cute animals on them or fancy Italian words used to be my wine of choice.  Now, you can find a darn good wine at twelve bucks, but I used to think the Costco style wines, in all their bulk glory and appealing labels, were the best wines.  Then I started enjoying red blends, their smooth, creamy textures, albeit void of intense complexity, seemed fitting for any occasion (and still can be).  Though I love a good puzzle.  And the puzzle can only be found in single vineyard wines.

Single vineyard is how you know the grapes came from the same place.  That wine will give you more uniqueness, as it will whisper to you notes about its soil constitution, how far its roots traveled, how much sun it received, how old the vines are.  Its own place on the planet written out in a bottle.

Estate grown means that it is grown on the vineyard owner’s properties, but their vineyards could be miles apart.

Reserve means that it was grown in a particular patch of vineyard, a more expensive wine generally, but a more concentrated memory of where it was grown.  The best area of the vineyard.

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We walked through the vast vineyards.  Watched as row upon row clung to the hillside taking in the glorious sun.  Smelled the sacrificial roses.  They are there to attract insects.  The destructive bugs will hopefully go to the roses instead of eating the precious fruit.

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We walked through the warehouse-looking area where thirty feet high there were stacked newly harvested and resting wine hovering in French oak barrels.  Enormous steel tanks held bubbling early fermentations of wine.  We walked into the cave.  Several miles of caves exist under the buildings.  Rows and rows of oak line the walls filled with their proud vintage.  We tasted a sample right out of the barrel.  It was delicious.  Creamy, interesting, smooth, filled with berries, molasses, spice, and vanilla.  We walked further down the cool caves (incidentally only three degrees cooler than my basement…I can do this!) and came upon a beautiful round table with three dozen shimmering glasses and small plates of cheese.  We went through three tastes of wines, each delightful with its chosen cheese, and savored the romantic cave atmosphere.

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Next Google search; zone 4 grape vines and an oak barrel.

To Screw or Cork…

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A few years back we were sitting in an upscale wine bar, twinkly lights abounded, a joyful dancing fire warmed in the large fireplace,  It was our monthly wine tasting event and we were cozy with the owner at a table as people milled around sampling, catching up on the month’s events.  I came back to the table with my next sampling.

“This wine has a screw cap!”  Giggle, giggle, shake my head.

I could see that Lee had explained this many times and just as he had explained to me how to pronounce meritage, he patiently explained to me the reason for screw caps.

Cork is endangered, actually.  It is a tree.  And we sure use a lot of it to make floors, and wine corks, and corkboard.  One could choose the plastic type corks but they expand and contract.  So does the cork, actually.

The wine maker pouring the wines cut in.  “Every one in one hundred bottles gets oxygen into it via the cork.  That ruins the wine.  I only have one shot at getting people to fall in love with my wine,” he says, “It may not seem like a lot, but one out of a hundred people are not going to re-purchase or try my wines again because of it.  Screw caps keep oxygen out better than plastic or corks.”

This is also cost effective and helps keep wines affordable.

“Do you know how much I paid for that wine?” my dinner guest exclaimed ($13), “I can’t believe it has a screw cap on it!”

I proceeded to tell her what I just told you.  It wasn’t until last night that I remembered my own lesson.  I had bought different bottles of wine during the week but had taken them to friend’s houses and left it or my friends drank it all at my house.  (I helped.)  Last night I wanted a glass.  I had three bottles of half drunk wine.  One vinegary, one really vinegary, and the one with the screw cap.  Doug poured me a glass of the screw capped one.  I hesitantly sniffed it since it  was about ten days old and after four, we typically pitch it.  It smelled of Sangiovese, of Italian countryside, fresh currants, and cinnamon….

Ah, screw caps, you spoil me.

Will the Real Farmgirl Please Stand Up?

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When I told the owner of Miller Farms, Joe, at his birthday party a few months ago that I wanted to be a farmer, he looked at me with a mix of pity and humor.  Apparently grown women don’t run around dreaming of being a farmer when they grow up.  The rest of the farm hands laughed too.  The grumpy farmer at the farmer’s market asked why I would want to do such a thing?  It’s hard work.  I have never been afraid of hard work.  In fact, I dislike days that there is no work.  I have to keep busy.  I am not afraid of sunrise, dirt, or feeding people.  Only two percent of the population grows all the food for our country.  Scary.  Not crazy about relying on someone else to grow food for me.  Makes me feel kind of helpless.  That is why I garden.  Be it not very well for the past twenty years but I had a slower learning curve then everyone else and no family to teach me.  Just books.  And now Debbie.

Debbie started out as one of my students learning herbalism a few years back.  She received a grant for a greenhouse and grows a myriad of wonderful herbs as well as vast amounts of food.  So, the teacher becomes the student today as I go for my internship and learn which side is up.  Everything in her hoop house survived the below zero temperatures.  I am intrigued.  Her land is a picturesque bounty set against hills and filled with roaming cows and a beautiful old restored house.  Her general demeanor is always kind and upbeat.  A renaissance woman, a Master Gardener, and a friend.  I will learn well in this atmosphere!  http://lookingoutfrommybackyard.wordpress.com is her blog.  I shamelessly stole these pictures off of her blog!

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I think I will plant a few rows of wine grapes.  I have two Cabernet Sauvignon vines here I can bring with me to start.  An Apothecary garden that will consist of beautiful medicinal and culinary herbs.  Long rows of three sisters, corn, beans, and squash will grow together and remind us of history.  All of the glorious, unique, colorful heirlooms seeds I ordered back in January in my garden dreaming will sprout and take hold, reaching their heads up to the endless sky, looking out to the mountain range, and will provide sustenance for our family and beyond.

I never want to sell wholesale.  Just as I run my Apothecary.  No wholesale.  No faceless item on the shelf.  No wondering who made it.  I want to hand it to you.  Tell you a funny story about it.  Throw in a free round of cheese to eat with the fresh tomatoes and kale.

Now I am really getting ahead of myself.  I don’t have a goat!

Wine 200

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We bartered for a class each.  I would teach her beginning herbalism and she would teach me beginning wine.  She reminded me of my ballet teacher in college or my sixth grade teacher.  She kept snapping at me.  She said, “What do you smell?”  Then just as quickly, “YOU ARE TAKING TOO LONG!”  “Uh,” I replied with a squeak, “I smell…red.”

I then took a set of sommelier wine classes from a teacher that taught for a rather big wine school and now works for a winery in Napa.  Much better.  Among giggly, well traveled, interested people, I learned more, and more about how I learn.  We were to smell upwards of forty different wine glasses filled with everything from dirt to ammonia, from lemon to grass, and memorize scents.  Smelling the wine is a way of tasting it and a lot can be determined by the sniff.  One can tell if oxygen got in (vinegar).  How the wine maker prepared it.  Whether he chose Sur Lis (placed on yeast to sit and create a creamy taste), more tannins (that pucker taste) means longer with the skins,  and what kind of oak was used.  Whether it grew in limestone or in a rural area.

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In a comfortable atmosphere I breathed in deeply from the glass of wine and closed my eyes.  I could smell cinnamon, and figs, currents, and sunshine….touch of vanilla.  I smell sunny days and atmospheres, like France, and a later harvest.  It is not right or wrong.  I am not going to be a sommelier for a living.  I can smell Autumn in Tuscany along with fruits and spices and Slovenian oak and not get scoffed at.  It so increases my enjoyment of the wine, isn’t that what wine is for?

Choosing a wine for food can be daunting.  But it is simple.  Think of common tastes.

A creamy sauce might want cream from the oak of Chardonnay balanced with its tropical fruit to cut the richness.

However Chardonnay will make a salad taste metallic, better to drink a crisp Pinot Grigio to bring out the freshness.

One wouldn’t want to mix a bold, knock your socks off, Tempranillo with say….a light broth because you would lose the taste of the broth!  Better to mix it with a flavorful marinara sauce or barbecue.

On the same note, one wouldn’t want to drink a Moscato, in all its sweet glory, with a big bowl of stew because you would lose the wine.  It would taste like sweet water.

So choosing wines that are the same “strength” as your dish helps balance the flavors.

Those that prefer red wine but are drinking a “white” dish could opt for a Pinot Noir.  It is more subtle than Cabs and has lovely earth and cherry flavors that work well with nearly everything including spicy foods.

Ideas:

Oyster mushrooms with butter and Parmesan over linguine and Chardonnay

Mushrooms in a thick sauce with seafood and tomatoes loves Nebbiolo

Dessert loves Champagne

Chef salad and Pinot Grigio

Potato Cheese soup with Chives and a red blend

Flourless dark chocolate cake…not too sweet…with Moscato

Tomato soup and Merlot

Spicy mole sauce over trout and Pinot Noir

Fruit Salad and Sauvignon Blanc

Root vegetable stew and Cabernet Sauvignon

In the end….drink what you love!

Toast to life!  Cheers!

Click here too read Wine 101.