A Matter of Trust

Leo, master of the phrase “Do you trust me?” (I think Kate is relaxed only because she’s monkeyed  up… and Celine Dion is cooing romantically in the background.)

Trust Cabernet Sauvignon

Trust me: one of those phrases that is easy to ask of another yet difficult to do when you yourself are asked. Trust is a word that carries with it a lot of weighted implications… who or what you put your trust in reveals who or what you deem worthy of trust. Trusting too easily can signify a naivete or intentionally turning a blind eye to foibles, while failing to trust reputable, good, honorable people and things will mean you’ll go through life without taking risks and developing little faith. Without getting into further philosophical babbling, let me be bold enough to ask you to trust me (no, no teetering on ship balconies involved, you can relax) on this wine recommendation: this wine is dynamite. It is pure, delicious indulgence, and people will grow to trust your wine recommendations when you tell them about Trust Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is a wine that begs to be decanted. Only when you let it breathe will you be completely overwhelmed by its sheer power and finesse. The first time I tried it my in-laws were gracious enough to bring some over to our house for dinner, and it instantly became one of my new favorite wines. Then, when my dear friend bought me a decanter, we had a bottle that we poured in, let it decant a couple hours, and wow! This wine unfolded like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Let it stretch its gorgeous, stunning wings. It has all the right stuff of a top-notch Washington Cabernet Sauvignon. Perfection!

As the tasting notes gush, “We are greeted here with a nose full of cherry cordials: high-cacao chocolate, Kirsch, and a pie cherry in the middle. The fruit here (cassis, plum, and black cherry) has purity and focus, and it is framed by fresh notes of eucalyptus and green tea. This is balanced, elegant, food-friendly Cabernet: moderate in body, acid, tannin, and alcohol.” The 2007 blend is currently sold out, according to the website. Seattle Magazine has voted Trust Cellars “Best Washington Wine” for 2011.

Wine can bring us together around its delicious self, and, perhaps in a very small way, help us to understand each other better and work on our trust. I’m not advocating for drunken debauchery, of course, but strangers or friends enjoying a glass of fine wine together is a deliberate act of peacekeeping. Wine can’t save us from ourselves or save the world, but it can at least help smooth the way.

Puget Sounders, make it a point to visit their Woodinville, WA tasting room. When I went there I experienced fantastic wines, friendly service, and excellent education on their wines. Their Riesling is also lovely, pick that up, too!

May we all embrace the gift of trust.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Chai This Out: Oatmeal Cookie Makeover

Give humdrum oatmeal cookies a hint of the exotic with pure milk chocolate and chai spices.

Give Your Oatmeal Cookies a Theo Chocolate Makeover

OK, yes, this blog is primarily about wine, but I am one who hates to be defined or labeled, so from time to time I might branch out (I am the rambling vine, after all) and go down a different path for fun. Gourmet cookie mavens, lean in, I’ve invented a diabolically delicious cookie!

While some may consider it a cardinal sin to corrupt as perfect a classic as the oatmeal raisin cookie, I appreciate a good, creative “remix”: it pays homage to the original in a way that enhances it, not completely changes it.

If you love Quaker oatmeal raisin cookies as much as I do, but prefer chocolate to raisins, and enjoy high quality fair trade organic chocolate and piquant spices, this cookie has your name written all over it. 🙂

Here is Quaker Oats’ immortal “Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie” recipe, but with my substitution. Leave out the raisins and instead include small pieces of a broken up Chai Tea Milk Chocolate Bar.

In order to make this recipe, you must secure four Theo Chocolate Chai Tea bars (be sure to get at least one to eat straight).

The Rambling Vine’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chai Tea Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened (1 cup)
3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla (preferably the gourmet kind from Mexico)
1.5 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
3 c. Quaker oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 c. Theo Chocolate Chai Tea bars, cut into small pieces

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and chocolate; mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown. My cookies are usually larger than a literal tablespoonful, so 12-15 minutes might be more accurate.

Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered. Yields 4 dozen cookies.

How’d you like them?

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Break Out the Bubbly Without Breaking the Bank: Sparkling Wine 101

Bust out the bubbles, it’s time to celebrate!

Ah, champagne… flying corks, foaming bottles, glittering crystal champagne flutes, hearty dinner toasts brimming with pomp, glamorous soirees swirling with evening gowns, tuxedos, and string quartets. These are the usual images that come to my mind when I hear the word “champagne.” For many of us, champagne seems elite, unknowable, and seldom appropriate. In our minds, it is reserved only for extremely special occasions (for whatever reason) or it seems too complex and distant to be enjoyed. I aim to change your thinking! Champagne is within your reach and you might be surprised by its potential once you start exploring it more.

For the record, champagne is not truly champagne unless it is produced and bottled in Champagne, France. Anything else is technically a sparkling wine. “Champenoise” refers to the method and style in which champagne is made. If you’d like to read more about this specific process of “methode champenoise,” read here.

I haven’t had much opportunity to try true champagnes, so if you’re reading this and you feel it upon your heart to expand this wine blogger’s horizon into the elevated world of fine French champagnes, be my guest and send me a bottle!

This time of year there is no shortage of graduations and accompanying festivities, honoring those who have completed their educations, be it victorious triumph or barely skating through (also a feat worthy of celebration!). It’s a highly-charged, emotional time, both for the graduate and the loved ones who have supported the graduate along the way, and such occasions call for fine food and drinks to make the celebrations memorable and meaningful. It’s also summer (theoretically, in Seattle) and therefore an opportune time for a chilled, fizzy alcoholic beverage like sparkling wine.

Mumm Napa Valley Cuvee is a fine sparkling wine whose price won’t cause a heart attack and whose quality won’t leave you with a raging headache. I find this wine smooth, refreshingly drinkable and with interesting flavors. It even works well in a mimosa (sparkling wine and orange juice). My husband and I got some as a housewarming gift when we purchased our first home. Nothing makes you feel more grown up than buying a house and being given “champagne” to boot!

The tasting notes are so romantic and poetic, I have the urge to put on a Jane Austen movie and throw a tea party: “Cuvée M is a modern, slightly sweet sparkling release. Light peach rose in the glass, aromas are elegant, rich and complex, showing fresh white and yellow stone fruits with subtle hints of wild strawberry. A heady touch of fresh brioche, with hints of vanilla and honey add to the wine’s complex bouquet. Flavors of peach and pear combine with a creamy caramel character, on a long, satisfying finish. Great for champagne cocktails or as an aperitif with hors d’oeuvres. Cuvee M also matches up beautifully to creamy desserts [and] spicy entrées. Enjoy.”

So far this year I have been to two graduations. One was a very moving high school graduation, for a private high school with six graduating seniors in the class, all of whom had overcome major obstacles in their education. The other was for a friend who obtained his master’s degree from a large public university, with English not being his first language. His mother traveled across the globe to be with her son on that day. I wanted to share the beautiful toast she spoke at his graduation dinner: “For the music in our souls! Let the music in our souls always sound for those we love and care for and those who love and care for us.”

I could not end on a more perfect note. Cheers!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When Time Isn’t On Your Side: What to Drink

“Ti-i-i-ime, is on my side, yes it is!” It is when you enjoy Rosemount Estates Shiraz.

All too familiar scenario: you drag through the door on a Friday night after a long week of work and while you would love to immediately start indulging in a glass of wine, you have a moderately nice bottle that requires a couple hours worth of aerating/decanting (for optimal taste, you’re a wine connoisseur, after all) and you absolutely cannot wait. Seriously, who has time for nonsense like that at times like these? It’s time to start winding down from your long week and focus on relaxing. A glass of wine is a lovely addition to this process and you need unfettered access ASAP.

This past week was brutal. I was unusually overwhelmed by things that needed to get done, and wasn’t easy on myself about them. Rest assured, my week ended joyfully, but during much of it I was super pressed for time, cramming umpteen tasks that I needed to get done into every minute of the day. This is only natural on weeks where there is more to do than usual. I don’t mind being busy, but I need space and time to relax and recharge. I do better that way. But I also don’t want to miss out on fun activities or neglect the things I really do need to get done (you know, like showering).

A tempting treat from the Land Down Under that’s under $10 a bottle, 2010 Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Shiraz is a wine that drinks BEAUTIFULLY without needing decanting. You can drink it the second you pop the cork. I poured some in our decanter but it made scant difference. Voila instant gratification, pour away!

From the tasting notes: “A full bodied, juicy sweet palate with cherry, chocolate and plum flavours with a smooth finish.” I find it smooth and easily drinkable, but it possesses enough flavor complexity to pair very well with red wine foods, particularly a rich beef stew or pasta, or even Afghan cuisine (yes, I’ve had this wine with Afghan cuisine at a local restaurant, and it’s awesome). On its own, it’s mellow and yummy.

For those of you who pride yourselves on time-saving tricks and tactics, put this red wine at the top of your list for “time-saving” wines. Now go have a glass and relax!

Time is
Too slow for those who wait
Too swift for those who fear
Too long for those who grieve
Too short for those who rejoice
But for those who love
Time is eternity.

~ Henry Van Dyke

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Taking Center Stage: Single Varietal Cabernet Franc Shines


In an orchestra, every musician is important and must play his part fully, but it is the principal of each instrumental section that garners the most attention and praise. Although Cabernet Franc may frequently play second fiddle to virtuoso Cabernet Sauvignon, it has been emerging lately and more frequently in starring solo performances such as this. It’s gaining credibility and standing on its own two feet.

Cabernet Franc is traditionally a blending grape used in Bordeaux blends (along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and occasionally Carmenere). Because of its tartness, tight structure, and other qualities, it is not normally featured as a “soloist” in a wine or wine blend. Cabernet Sauvignon is more commonly consumed as a single varietal than Cabernet Franc. But there are some wonderful, compelling Cabernet Francs, and this, I think, is one of them.

Corvidae The Keeper 2010 Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley is a bold and precocious soloist. This wine has an interesting aroma: tobacco, floral – rose, pepper. The flavor is so big at the very end it’s almost like you literally have to chew it. It’s tart, but with a big, explosive plush mouth feel at the finish. This wine will shine at its best when paired with the right foods. In its review, it proves itself a versatile and highly competent contender with other varietals.

From the tasting notes: “Plush and velvety, full-bodied and easy drinking. The scent and flavors knock you out – spice joins black tea, fresh tobacco, thyme, sweet cedar chips, blackberries and cassis. When Cabernet Franc is made from well ripened fruit (as this wine is), it combines plush fruit and interesting accent notes with body that stands well with rich roasted and grilled meats. This deliciously large version of Cab Franc is smoother than Cabernet Sauvignon, less earthy than Merlot, approachable like Aussie Syrah and spicy like a smooth Zinfandel. There’s few options to pair this wine incorrectly, but try these especially: green peppercorn roasted pork tenderloin, hearty lasagna, or braised chicken with wild mushroom ragout.”

This is a wine I would put in the “very interesting, worth trying” category. It is made by a very talented and acclaimed Washington winemaker, David O’Reilly, whose wineries are under the names O’Reilly’s and Owen Roe. You can read more about him here. The Keeper might not be for everybody, but I know many of you will enjoy it… or at least be surprised by what it can do!

So, give overlooked Cabernet Franc a fighting chance! Take a break from Cabernet Sauvignon and sit back and indulge in this dazzling, delightful Cabernet Franc.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cooking with White Wine Debunked: The Whys and the Wherefores

Don’t be puzzled any more! The Rambling Vine solves your cooking with wine conundrums.

When flipping through cookbooks, scouring Pinterest, or browsing cooking blogs as you plan out meals, how many of you deliberately avoid recipes that involve wine, simply because you have no idea what type or brand to buy? Don’t be ashamed, it’s not like this is something we are taught growing up or even attributable to natural intuition. I learned how to cook through instruction and practice (heck, I’m still learning, and I love it), and the same goes with learning which wines work well to cook with. Except I am going to cut out some of the trial & error for you by giving you a solid recommendation! You no longer have to be intimidated by cooking with white wine (I’ll touch on red soon)… aren’t you excited? Keep reading….

Cardinal rule of cooking: the wine you cook with should be something you would want to drink. Do not cut corners by buying icky, cheap, vinegar-like wines… they will only ruin your dish. And also, I forbid you, NEVER buy the bottled cooking wines in the condiments section of the supermarket. Just don’t. Trust me, they’re abysmal. It would be better to just omit the wine entirely if you’re going to go that route. But you’re not, because you are a culinary god/goddess who wants to be an expert on cooking with wine! Read on!

When cooking with white wines, you’ll typically want to select dry whites, such as chardonnay, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. When you add white wine to a savory dish, the alcohol will cook off and the remaining flavors will complement and enhance your dish, imparting dimensions of rich taste that you wouldn’t get by leaving it out. The enzymes and other compounds in the alcohol are playing a role on the chemical level, too, breaking down the food as it is heated, but since I never had to take chemistry in high school (I opted for college-level anatomy & physiology instead, overachiever that I was), this is not my area of expertise. Since what you’re really after most of the time is just good flavor and the right acidic content, this wine has all the flavor you need at a price you’re willing to pay.

Columbia Crest Two Vines Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to bottle when I need a good, reliable dry white for cooking and accompanying the subsequent meal. Priced oh so reasonably at less than $10 a bottle, it’s the equivalent of keeping a good soy sauce or other quality condiment in your pantry. The flavors are good, but not so overpowering that they throw the balance off of your dish.

From the tasting notes: “This fresh, lively Sauvignon Blanc opens with aromas of lemon zest, honeydew melon, dried herbs and a hint of freshly cut grass which are typical notes of the variety. Juicy flavors of melon, gooseberry and kiwi end with a lengthy, bright citrus-like finish.” Now, doesn’t this sound like something you could sip on with dinner, or sample while you’re cooking?

I prefer cooking with Sauvignon Blancs or Pinot Grigios as opposed to Chardonnays, because with Chardonnays there are the more pronounced issues of “oak” (Chardonnay is fermented in steel or oak, and this will greatly affect the taste of the wine) and that can interfere with your recipe. You’ll have hardly any losses across the board with Sauvignon Blanc – chicken, fish, etc. all stand up well with this wine.

Just for fun, here is a recipe you can try that calls for a dry white wine such as this (shucks, whaddya know?). This is modified slightly from Rachael Ray’s 365: No Repeats, one of my favorite cookbooks that I used to teach myself “finer” cooking beyond basic things like spaghetti and scrambled eggs. Bon Appetit! 🙂

Sweet Sea Scallops in a Caper-Raisin Sauce
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley (I use dried, it’s easier, though fresh will taste way better)
3 T capers, drained
3/4 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. golden raisins
16 sea scallops, drained and trimmed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 T unsalted butter

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add the shallots, cook for a minute or two, season with salt and pepper, then combine with the parsley and capers. Add the wine and golden raisins. Simmer until wine is reduced and the mixture is at the consistency of a thick, chunky sauce. Transfer the sauce to a bowl, reserve.

Wipe out the pan and return to the heat, raising to high. Season the scallops with salt and pepper, add a little olive oil to your skillet, add the scallops and sear them for two minutes on each side. Once cooked through, lower the heat a bit and add back the sauce to the pan, along with the lemon juice. Cook for a couple more minutes. Remove the scallops from the pan and arrange on a serving platter. Remove the pan from the stove, add the 2 T butter and melt it in the pan with the sauce, and then pour over the scallops.

Serve with crusty bread, a green salad, and a glass of Columbia Crest Two Vines Sauvignon Blanc!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The People’s Choice Award: Cellarmaster’s Riesling Takes the Cake

C’mon, admit it, you love you some N’ Sync, don’t ya?

The other day I was listening to some bubblegum pop music on the radio. It’s upbeat, catchy music that makes me move, smile, sing along, and look insane while driving. It may be sappy, but it sure makes me happy! Nothing overly analytical about it, it is what it is: straight forward goodness that does its job well with a predictable song structure in two and a half minutes. I can’t listen to it all day, but it definitely has a special place in my audio library. (And heaven knows I would never burn as many calories on the elliptical without it).

The same thing applies to certain wines. Every wine lover can fondly recollect wines that grabbed their attention and subsequently went down in history as all-time favorites. These are the wines you rave about to your friends, and they like them so much they immediately tell their friends, and so on and so forth. I can’t count how many times I have recommended this wine to both friends and strangers who were looking for something great yet affordable to drink.

Columbia Winery Cellarmaster’s Riesling Columbia Valley is that wine. Sweet, not dry, with fruit and honey notes. Perfect for when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth. This is the ideal wine to introduce to someone who perhaps has never tried wine before or who prefers sweet wines. It’s even fun to spring on a wine connoisseur and have them try pairing it with the recommended “strong cheeses, desserts, or extremely spicy foods.” And it’s well under $10 at most Washington grocery stores.

According to their website, “Columbia Winery is Washington’s first premium winery, producing distinctive Washington wines from European vinifera grapes since 1962.” They introduced “new varietals to the state, such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Gris.” As you can see, they have been making wine in Washington for a long time and really know their stuff.

Just what makes this Riesling so exceptional? From the tasting notes: “Floral aroma with hints of peach, quince, lime and clove delight the nose. Rich and full-flavored fruit on the palate is balanced by refreshing, crisp acidity. Sweet wine. A beautifully balanced wine that has classic floral, Riesling aromas…. These grapes are selected for this wine because of their higher acidity. This excellent acidity emphasizes the apricot, peachy flavors and creates a good match for strong cheeses, desserts or extremely spicy foods. This wine has a long finish.”

Some seasoned oenophiles may lose their preference for Riesling as their palates develop. They might shrug their shoulders, quickly write one off as just another sweet Riesling, and channel surf in search of something more complex and compelling. Again, I don’t expect you to agree with me on every wine; taste for yourself and be your own judge. But I think even the most opinionated will fall for this sweet, delicious Riesling. It is a special bundle of great taste, affordability, and “shareability.” Even if we hate to admit it, the reason we like things like Riesling and pop music is because deep down, they hit the spot.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.