I’m Dreaming Of A White… Russian?

Merry Christmas from The Rambling Vine! I have not forgotten you, my dear, thirsty readers! You could say I’ve had my hands full these past few months, working full-time while pregnant, then getting a case of bronchitis so bad my excessive coughing basically evicted my son three weeks before his due date (we thought we had all the time in the world to prepare… ha!). What a whirlwind! That being said, our son Blake Elliot was born October 4th and is the most perfect, sweetest little buddy baby I’ve ever known. Because he is so delightful and endearing I’m ready to have more, but I’d like to enjoy wine for a while longer after the 9-month hiatus. Priorities! 🙂

Last night, with it being Christmas Eve Eve, I decided to indulge my inner bartender and make us cocktails. I opted for White Russians since I happened to have half & half in the fridge and the right spirits in our lazy Susan liquor cabinet (I know, I know, gotta baby proof the 80 proof one day).

A White Russian is vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream (for a Black Russian, simply omit the cream). It’s a drink I first picked up on in my early 20’s when I started ordering cocktails and needed something tasty and easy to remember. White Russian stuck, maybe because I love the dance flick White Nights, maybe because I minored in Russian in college. It’s basically a spiked iced coffee… and you can never go wrong with a spiked iced coffee.

A White Russian may be an overlooked drink, but when you make it with my favorite  vodka, organic Peabody Jones Vodka by Woodinville Whiskey Company, and microbatch locally roasted Coffee Liqueur by New Deal Distillery, you’re on a whole other gourmondo foodie level of White Russian. These spirits are each amazing on their own, and I suggest sipping each one on its own just so you can appreciate their complex and delicious flavors. Peabody Jones Vodka and New Deal Coffee Liqueur hail from fabulous tasting rooms that are full of additional tantalizing options and are most definitely worth checking out. Trust me, you’ll be paying tribute to them for years to come after your first revelatory visit. You can even find both their products at Total Wine now!

Since the vodka and coffee liqueur are more complex than usual, you might think that combining them would result in gustatory excess. I am of the school of “more is more” in this instance. Mixing one outstanding spirit with another outstanding spirit is like pairing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie; so much hotness can’t be a bad thing, unless you think they’re so hot it’s sickening, in which case you are probably a purist and don’t like mixed drinks anyway. Bah humbug!

So, here is a recipe for the best White Russian you will ever have. It is the Rolls-Royce of White Russians. Enjoy one this week as you watch The Big Lebowski with family or friends (if you don’t know what I’m talking about… do it anyway and find out).

The drink abides. 

White Russian

1.5 oz. (3 T) Peabody Jones Vodka
0.75 oz. (1 T) New Deal Distillery Coffee Liqueur
1 oz. (1 T) half & half

Pour vodka first, then coffee liqueur, then cream, into an old-fashioned glass with ice, and stir.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012 – Present. 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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What to Drink When You’re Expecting Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s challenging being a pregnant wine-lover. While very light drinking – especially after the first trimester – is probably not going to harm the baby, science still cannot tell us how little alcohol it takes to cause damage, and that’s just not something I’m willing to risk. My guilt wouldn’t let me anyway: I sneak thimble-sized sips of wine or beer from my husband every now and then, and I still panic a tiny bit. It’s just not worth it to me, although once I’m in my 8th or 9th month I may be so uncomfortable I’ll be willing to risk a glass of wine once a month. 🙂

However, there’s still “in the mean time.” It’s now June, and I am in my 21st week, or about  month 5. Still 4 more months of good behavior in store.

More than enjoying a glass of wine on its own, I have missed wine the most when I’ve had a very rich meaty or cheesy dinner and I don’t have those precious few sips of wine to wash it down and ease the digestion of fat. It makes a huge difference now in my ability to digest and enjoy a meal. Certain dishes like rich, buttery, cheesy pastas or marbled cuts of beef with velvety sauces are unbearable now without a glass of wine!

One night not too long ago, I went out to eat with my girl friend and in the spirit of yea-I’m-celebrating-with-my-out-of-town-friend-I-should-live-it-up I ordered macaroni with three cheeses and kielbasa sausage (makes me sick just to read that now!). What the heck, I thought. I never order this sort of thing, it will be a treat. The dish came, and it was wonderful and addicting, but then I began to fear the power of all that oily cheese and butter and the havoc it would soon wreak on my GI tract. There is a reason I never order this sort of thing without wine! What have I done, I thought to myself with the same disgust and self-loathing of someone who’d just signed up to run a marathon through Death Valley on a July noon. We were about to go see a movie after dinner… would I miss most of it because my body insisted I stare at bathroom wall art work instead?

But then I remembered what I could do! Although I didn’t have a tasty glass of wine with which to complement my mac and cheese, I recalled hearing about Italians from Modena, the region famed for prized aged balsamic vinegars. I had bought a fine bottle for my dad as a birthday present, and remember reading the tag on the bottle that listed how the people of Modena enjoyed their vinegar: over strawberries, over parmesan cheese, or – gasp! – even by the spoonful after a meal. Huh, that’s nifty, and makes sense, I had thought to myself. Vinegar is highly acidic and breaks down fat molecules, thus helping you digest. Taking a spoonful of rich balsamic vinegar after a meal is like a tonic or digestive aid, more medicinal in purpose, but if you select a sweet, dessert-y balsamic, it’s more pleasant than a harsh, cheap, low quality vinegar. The Latin and Greek roots of the word balsamic even mean “balsam-like” or “restorative” or “curative.”

With this snap revelation from Bacchus the Italian wine god, I asked our server if he could bring me some balsamic vinegar. After his first failed attempt of bringing me malt vinegar (the kind Brits put on their fish & chips – not something to slurp on its own!), he did manage to find some better balsamic and brought it to the table (someone got an education in vinegar that night). My friend had an empty condiment cup from her nacho toppings, so we emptied it and I filled it like a shot glass and slammed that baby down without too much puckering.

Praise the Lord, I had no issues! That shot of vinegar did the trick in helping me digest some mighty rich food. I think it probably worked better than a glass of wine because of how much concentrated acidity is in balsamic vinegar as opposed to a single glass of wine. Who knew, huh?

The restaurant balsamic was OK, but definitely not the finer, aged, gourmet kind you can savor on its own, with its dark, rich, syrupy smooth sweetness. Sometimes those bottles will run you $30, $40, $50 even, depending on how long it has been aged, and also the name brand.

If you want a fabulous, authenic, aged balsamico from Modena, with great texture and smooth, complex aromatics, have I got a sweet little secret! It’s even less than $20. You must think I’m crazy, right? Ha, check this out….

The sweet little secret is Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Tsillan Cellars in Lake

Nectar of the gods, aged balsamic vinegar. Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

Nectar of the gods, aged balsamic vinegar. Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

Chelan, WA. You know it must be good if we’ve downed most of the bottle, right? We bought this 8.45 oz. bottle for only $12 when we were wine tasting at Tsillan (pronounced Shuh-lan) Cellars last summer. This balsamic vinegar is from Modena, Italy and “is aged up to 18 years in wood casks. Its sweet yet subtle character makes it the most famous vinegar in the culinary world.”

Tsillan Cellars is a gorgeous Tuscan-style villa overlooking the lake. I could totally die happy there. I’ll definitely blog about some of their other wines down the road. For now, trust me when I say that they make fantastic wines and an astonishingly awesome balsamic. I don’t see this vinegar for sale on their website, so you may just have to plan a trip out to Lake Chelan soon for some wine tasting. Darn! 🙂

This vinegar is scrumptious on its own (I’ve enjoyed a couple spoonfuls since being preggo) or mixed with a fine olive oil to drizzle onto roasted veggies or in which to dip big hunks of rustic rosemary bread. For a special treat, drizzle over strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and mint with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar. Or, for an even more ridiculously special treat, stuff some medjool dates with bleu cheese, wrap with bacon, and roast in the oven until cooked through, dark and crispy, then drizzle balsamic over the top. Freaking. Unbelievable.

There’s something mysterious yet appealing about balsamic vinegar’s whole “sweet and sour” routine. It’s complex and satisfying, which is apparently something preggos crave a lot, like pickles and ice cream. Don’t worry, I haven’t gotten to that stage yet, at least not eating them together. Balsamic vinegar is a whole new paradigm, like parenthood.

So, if you’re like me, an abstaining preggo who may get herself in trouble from time to time with rich dinners, make it your Mary Poppins mantra that “Just a spoonful of balsamic vinegar helps the indigestion subside… in the most delightful way!” 🙂

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012 – Present. 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.

La Dolce Vino: Valentine’s is for Lovers (Or Anyone, Really)

Valentine’s Day is most commonly attributed to romantic lovers, but really? What about all the other forms of love out there? Love of family, best friend, neighbor, children, pets, etc.

How sweet it is! Rosa Regale... your perfect Valentine's Day accompaniment.

How sweet it is! Rosa Regale… your perfect Valentine’s Day accompaniment.

Aren’t we just as entitled to celebrate these forms of love as highly as romantic love? If love is blind, then those responsible for commercializing this holiday need to start embracing a little more affirmative action in the love department. Love doesn’t fit under just one label!

Here is a wine that is not only bubbly, fruity, flirty and sexy enough to drink with your lover on Valentine’s Day; it’s perfect to enjoy with a friend or relative (though I would advise against a child or pet… don’t take me too literally, folks), even to bring to an Anti-Valentine’s Day party (aka getting wasted, binging on bonbons, and performing voodoo on stuffed teddy bears). Hey, equal opportunity!

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto D’Acqui is a sparkling dolce red wine that is usually under $20. As the Italians say, “Questo rocce!” This rocks! It’s like Martinelli’s for adults, but way better… molto meglio.

From the tasting notes:

“This rare Brachetto, a semi-dry, red sparkling wine cherished by the courts of Europe over two centuries ago, owes its reincarnation to Banfi. Rosa Regale is created in one of Italy’s smallest production zones, the Brachetto d’Acqui Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, commonly referred to as DOCG. It is crafted from 100% Brachetto grapes grown exclusively at the La Rosa Vineyard in the town of Acqui Terme located in the Piedmont region of Italy. The label features a single red rose, representing the wines origin from this single vineyard La Rosa estate.

Rosa Regale has a delicate bouquet of rose petals and offers sensuous flavors of fresh raspberries and strawberries. Its effervescence is softer than that of champagne, yet it yields a persistent and delicate pink froth. Its lively garnet color makes other sparklers pale in comparison. Served chilled and with a low alcohol content, it serves as the perfect partner throughout the entire meal, beginning as an elegant aperitif, moving to a savory appetizer and ending with a sweet dessert. No wine pairs better with chocolate than Rosa Regale. The bright fresh berry flavors complement the sweet velvet of the chocolate. Rosa Regale is a seductive red sparkler that turns any occasion into a celebration.

Legend also has it that both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony presented Cleopatra with several gourds of Brachetto. The empress then had her lovers drink the wine in order to unleash their passion.

Rosa Regale is produced using the Charmat process or Metodo Italiano (Italian Method). This method forces the second fermentation to happen in large stainless steel tanks prior to bottling, rather than in the bottle like the traditional mĂ©thod champenoise. This process is best used on sparkling wines that are meant to be enjoyed young and relatively fresh.”

I had this wine one February when I organized a Business After Hours event at two next door businesses: a flower shop and wine bar. We wandered happily back and forth between each adorable shop. Once I had a sip, I was smitten and could not stop drinking this. Oddly enough, the flower shop was pouring this, not the wine bar.

Since it’s a sweet wine, I think it’s plenty good on its own. Of course, pairing it with dark chocolate truffles or a lava cake would be a decadent Valentine’s Day gorge fest or an extra special treat on your anniversary or birthday. It also makes an elegant gift… perfect for a holiday like, oh, I dunno, let’s think here, maybe, Valentine’s Day?

However you choose to enjoy this sparkling wine, and however you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day, do it wholeheartedly and with love!

How sweet it is! (It’s Valentine’s Week… we gotta start the cheez early).

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012 – Present. 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.