Grape to Table

What's the deal with Natural Wine?

wine school, natural wineSarah O'KelleyComment
Hanging with some of my favorite natural wines: Lo Fi, Occhipinti, La Boutanche, and others!

Hanging with some of my favorite natural wines: Lo Fi, Occhipinti, La Boutanche, and others!

With the new year comes resolutions right? Or at least intentions! Usually centered around a healthier lifestyle – mostly food and exercise. But perhaps drinking “cleaner” might also be on your radar.

Clean has definitely become a buzz word in the wine world over the past year alongside natural, raw, etc. But what exactly does “clean” wine imply and better yet how can you find it?

When we use the term “clean” in regards to eating it has come to mean a diet that probably avoids processed foods and most likely seeks out organic, naturally created ingredients. In the world of wine, “clean” seems to be taking on a similar direction with a preference for natural farming methods but also “minimal intervention in the cellar. “

Well if you don’t work in the wine world you certainly might wonder what in the hell that last phrase means. Simply put, folks often say it means not altering wine’s natural state too much. More specifically it has come to mean using lower amounts of sulfur dioxide.

I know sulfur dioxide sounds scary, but in reality it is simply a preservative used in many foods (like fruit juices and dried fruits.) It also protects wine from various microbiological problems. It also sounds a lot like sulfites – which are related but not exactly the same thing. Sulfites are actually a bi-product of fermentation so all wine has sulfites to some degree.

Could certain folks be more sensitive to sulfur dioxide than others – certainly! Hence, the interest in natural/raw/clean wine and claims like: “This wine won’t give you a headache!”

While I personally believe that if you drink enough of any alcoholic beverage you will probably have a headache, I do feel like I never get that “half glass headache” from natural wines.

Okay so enough nerdy stuff – how do you find such wines? Well some mail order companies are certainly jumping on the natural wine bandwagon and offering subscriptions. But the reality is most small wine shops probably have at least a few wines that are lower in sulfur dioxide additions and hopefully a lot of wines that are farmed sustainably. So, no need to ship these wines in – just go talk to your friendly wine merchant! You can also be on the lookout for certain importers that specialize in natural wines. On the back label of the bottle look for names like Louis Dressner, Selection Massale, Jenny & Francois, and Brazos (to name a few!) Also, check out one of my favorite wine regions — Beaujolais, specifically Cru Beaujolais — tons of natural wines there!

P.S. There are no labeling regulations just yet for natural wines, but you will see many wines labeled with various eco-friendly certifications like Demeter (for biodynamically farmed.) When a wine is labeled “certified organic” in the United States it does mean that there is just about zero added sulfur dioxide.

Champagne 101: Up Your Bubbly Game

french wine, holiday wine, sparkling wine, wine schoolSarah O'KelleyComment

Okay it’s the one week of the year when I can talk Champagne for days on end – hallelujah! And I know the issue with Champagne beyond this week is that it’s pricey. And you need a primer to read the labels!

 Well, what if I told you that the price is mostly related to the complex process behind this flashy bubbly. And this complex process indeed adds complexity to the wine! So, yes, it’s worth the splurge!

Cheese Board Tips for Holiday Entertaining

food and wine, holiday wineSarah O'KelleyComment

If you follow my Instagram feed you have probably noticed my cheese addiction! I came by this quite naturally as my family always set out cheese plates before dinner (and this was in the 1980s when such things were definitely NOT common place!) Of course, back then it was exotic to serve Maytag blue cheese with guava jam and saltine crackers! Honestly, it’s only in the last 15 years that more truly artisanal cheeses have become commonly available in mid-size American towns (not everywhere has New York City caliber cheese shops!) And it is only in the past five years that there seems to be a significant rise in small creameries in the southeastern United States that are inspired by classic European cheese-makers.

So I consider myself lucky to know Eric Casella and Nora Granger, proprietors of Counter Cheese Caves, a Charleston, South Carolina based business focusing largely on these incredible Southern creameries. Eric and Nora worked in some of the top cheese shops in New York City before moving to Charleston a few years ago. Now they sell to many of the best restaurants in the city and just started their online shop that can ship around the country! (The deadline for ordering for Christmas shipping is Wednesday, December 19, at 9 a.m.)

Consequently, this seems a perfect time to ask their advice on cheese boards for the holidays! I cannot imagine a festive occasion without this decadent start so let’s dig into their pro tips!

Very Best Oyster Stew Recipe!

recipesSarah O'Kelley1 Comment

I am allowed to give this post such a grandiose title because it’s not my recipe! This oyster stew is inspired by my father (Papa) who passed away in 2001. I grew up eating this stew during the winter, and I specifically remember it during the holidays — right about the time we would decorate the Christmas tree.

Thanksgiving Wine Tips

wine pairing, holiday wineSarah O'KelleyComment

Happy Thanksgiving week!

This is definitely the best time of the year for my job – chatting about wine AND food all the time. Really, helping folks with pairings is the ultimate for me as it brings together my two passions – cooking and wine.

The most asked question is: “What will you be drinking on Thanksgiving?” Above is a lineup of what I am considering, but believe it or not, I still have not fully decided. However, I will definitely be following the handy tips below.

Whet Your Palate: Favorite Intro Wine Books

wine history, wine pairingSarah O'KelleyComment

Beginning your wine journey is exhilarating but daunting.

Even as a professional studying for your first certification there’s that feeling of, “Where to begin?” The world of wine is HUGE, and even if you plan on simply tasting your way through it (never a bad idea) you have to know a bit just to read labels!

 Luckily, there are MANY books to whet your palate. But even choosing the “best” book can feel overwhelming. Let me help!