Culinary Thymes

Branching Out with Beer

I can't help but notice how often beer drinkers doggedly order the same brand over and over again. While I admire commitment and fidelity as much as anyone, the advantages of Bud Light over Miller Lite can't be so overwhelming as to prevent a person from ever branching out a little. As Michael Jackson (the beer expert not the Pop Icon) once observed, a person would never go into a restaurant and order "a plate of food," so why would they just order "a beer?" With just a little bit of exploration into what the world of beer has to offer, we can have a much better chance of finding the right beer to fit our mood, not to mention our menu selections.

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The World Beyond White

One of the best things about drinking wine versus any other beverage is the almost limitless amount of flavors, styles and experiences available to enjoy and explore. That's why it makes me a little sad for people when they tell me that they only like white wines, or reds, or especially pink wines (I'm only kidding about the pink wines). Not that I'd ever force an orthodox white wine drinker to try a spectacular glass of red wine, but for someone who is open to the idea of branching out a little and giving something new a chance, I'd love to help.

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Springtime Sipping

As the weather starts to warm up and the last vestiges of Houston's bitter winter dissipate, many of us have thoughts that drift to the fun of our outdoor grills, what to cook on them and, maybe most importantly, what to drink with the ensuing fruits of our heated labor. Everyone has their favorite backyard drinking and grilling combinations, and what follows are some of mine.

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Refined Bubbles

Of all the wines in the world, none suggest a celebration louder or more clearly than Champagne. As a generation fortunate enough to experience not only our own fin de siècle, but the end of a millennium as well, we all certainly have something to celebrate. There has been much talk of a Champagne shortage this New Year's Eve, but it's only partially based on fact.

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Cool & Fresh Sauvignon Blanc

Wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape are perfect for hot Houston summers. Generally lighter, crisper and more aromatic than Chardonnays, they can be a great match for grilled foods, lighter Asian fare and bright chutneys. Sauvignon Blancs are also great for sipping poolside while trying to ignore the mosquitoes. The best are made in the Loire Valley in France, Bordeaux, California and lately, New Zealand.

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The Wines of Spain

For many years Spain was known for producing large amounts of inexpensive bulk wines, full-bodied and high in alcohol, with tons of oak but scant subtlety or charm. All that has been changing. Since Spain has become a member of the EEC, strict wine making laws, similar to those of France, have been implemented, along with an orderly reorganization and demarcation of recognized fine wine regions. These factors, along with the introduction of closed stainless steel vats, cool fermentation techniques and overall higher expectations, have resulted in some real world-class wines. Not only are they delicious, unique in character and widely available, they are usually a great value.

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How to Host A Wine Tasting

The enjoyment and study of wine is a satisfying lifelong avocation for many. Wine tastings, whether directed by a professional or just among friends, can be a fun part of the wine experience. The main thing to keep in mind when planning or attending a wine tasting is to not take it too seriously. Have fun, be open and don't let anyone intimidate you.

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The Pleasant Wines of Provence

Although Provence is one of the oldest wine growing regions in France, it is also one of the lease appreciated and explored by wine drinkers. Mostly known for its Rosé, Provence produces some of the most distinctive, delicious and food friendly red wines available. The main grape varietal that gives Provencal reds their unique character is Mouvèdre. Other varietals playing their role in these wines' flavor profile are Grenache, Cinsaut, Syrah and Carignan. If you are looking to venture away from the familiar territory of Cabernet and Merlot, Provence is a good place to start.

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Affordable French Labels

France produces an amazing variety and quantity of wines that range from simple every day beverages to some of the most sublime wines ever conceived. The scope of France's output can be intimidating and confusing at first, but any effort you put towards understanding this family of wines will be richly rewarded. Remember, you get out of drinking what you put into it.

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Great Grape Regions: California vs. France

While many wine drinkers confidently order their favorite California Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Cabernet, some are less certain about what to do when faced with selections from France. There are several reasons for this. One of the simplest is language. First of all, the French have a different word for everything. Then there is always the problem of pronunciation rearing its ugly head. Basic differences in wine labeling between the two countries also leads to confusion.

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