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The Home Plate - Life and Lamb

Crowd-Pleasing Easter Wine Tips

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With its tasty lamb and cornucopia of spring produce, Easter is a holiday when pretty much anything goes, wine-wise. The rich, fruit-packed reds that paired so well with your winter holiday lamb are certainly worthy of a reappearance; or, do as they do in countries surrounding the Mediterranean (home to some of the world’s oldest Easter traditions) and go for higher-acid, medium-alcohol reds like Chianti. Delightful-with-lamb whites like Chardonnay, that make the perfect refreshment on a warm spring day, are also worth keeping in your differential.

Regardless of which style you choose, offering one red and one white is a surefire way to satisfy your Easter crowd. Here’s how to make it work:

Dynamic Duos
If your guests will be drinking both wine styles, it’s always good to choose a red and a white from the same region.They won’t taste the same, of course, but other characteristics like fruit ripeness and alcohol (that tend to be influenced by a region’s climate and geography) are likely to be in balance.

Which Comes First?  
White wines are usually served before reds, as classy aperitifs or refreshing meal starters. Whites-before-reds isn’t an absolute…but if you go there, you may find that the tannin in some red wines (especially Old World reds like Bordeaux) adds a sharp, astringent edge to the whites. 

Serve Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and other lighter whites icy cold. Chill Chardonnay and fuller-bodied whites in the fridge for about 30 minutes (ice bucket optional after that). Give delicate reds like Pinot Noir about 1015 minutes in the fridge. Finally, keep fuller-bodied reds like Cabernet at room temperature, unless your room is very warm (say, above 72°F). At that point, you might want a few minutes of chill time, as “room temperature” is considered to be around 60°F.

From your grandfather’s homemade jug wine to that 1982 Margaux in your cellar, there’s a glass out there for nearly every wine. What most drinkers really need: good all-purpose red and white glasses. Ideal red glasses have a shorter stem with a wide bowl, designed to increase the surface area of the wine (and unleash complex aromas and flavors). White wines benefit from glasses with a narrow bowl and opening, a means of keeping the wine cool and drawing their fragrant aromas upward. 

Typically intended for reds, decanting (pouring your wine into a glass pitcher or jug) is a great way to maximize enjoyment. Again, the idea is to increase wine surface area. If time allows, give your wine an hour or so to breathe (tip: if you’re roasting lamb, pour the wine in the decanter when the meat goes into the oven). In a rush? Try “splash decanting”—pour the wine back and forth a few times between two vessels. Decanter-less? Mimic the process by filling your red wine glasses halfway about 20 minutes before dinner. Have everyone give their glass a good swirl before trying the wine, and you should be good to go!

Ale Summer!

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drink-juneGot blue skies, friends in the yard and lamb on the grill? Just one other thing's needed to complete this pleasant picture: a crisp, refreshing summer ale. While many craft breweries state the obvious by listing "Summer Ale" on the label, it also helps to have a sense what makes a great warm-weather brew, so you don’t miss any tasty choices. Labeled "Summer Ale" or otherwise, here are five low-alcohol, lightly-hopped contenders.

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale, Lyons, Colorado

"One of the quintessential American hoppy pale ales of our time," says BeerAdvocate.com, of this Rocky Mountain gem. Clocking in at 6.5% ABV, this pale ale is a little hoppier than most summer-ready suds, but it's very well balanced. Full of malt and citrus, it's delightful with grilled lamb chops and burgers. Another reason why Dale’s belongs high on our summer beer list: it comes in a can. Bring on the easy party cleanup!  6.5% ABV.

Hoegaarden Original White Ale, Brouwerij van Hoegaarden, Belgium

Nobody does refreshing wheat ales like the Belgians (for the record, they're not bad with fries, chocolate and waffles, either). Anyway, while you'll see this fine brew everywhere, Hoegaarden is no ordinary mass-market offering. Generally regarded as the classic example of its style, this "witbier" has been crafted since 1445 (kudos to the monks who made it first). Pale gold in color with cool coriander and orange notes, it's a quintessential summer ale. 4.9% ABV.

Stone Levitation Ale, Escondido, California

Generously malted and hoppy but with a lower summer-appropriate alcohol content, this ale goes down easy with all-natural, additive-free Australian lamb. Also worth mentioning: the brewery's mission sounds awfully familiar: "We avoid dumbed-down flavor profiles and the vigorous pursuit of the lowest common denominator… we avoid additives, cheap adjuncts, stabilizers and chemical preservatives." Well put, mates! Sip in a tall, frosty glass. 4.4% ABV.

Bell's Oberon Ale, Kalamazoo, Michigan

http://www.bellsbeer.com/brands/8-Oberon Ale
Ask any fan of this cult favorite summer sipper, or simply read the label: this American wheat ale offers the color and scent of a sunny afternoon. Crafted with Bell's signature house ale yeast, it combines a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas. A touch of wheat malt adds smooth-yet-crisp texture. With its medium body and mix of savory and fruity flavors, this is one to try with this month's featured recipe.

New Belgium Somersault American Blonde Ale, Fort Collins, Colorado

Who doesn't love an all-American blonde? Crisp, light-bodied, very lightly carbonated, and on the lower end of the calorie spectrum, this blonde ale from America's third largest craft brewery is quite a catch. Icing on the cake: it received a whopping 100 points on BeerAdvocate.com. Designed to be "a fun roll around on the tongue," it combines notes of apricot, citrus, ginger and oats. 5.2% ABV.

Drink Your Veggies

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We’ll always have James Bond’s (or Don Draper’s) classic martini and the Dude’s White Russian, but these days, cocktails have gotten a lot more interesting. A bevy of distinctive ingredients is the name of the game, and as anyone who’s sipped, say, a bacon martini can testify, expecting the unexpected is part of the fun. (Side note: we haven’t seen any lamb-tinis. Yet.)

With so many fruits and veggies at their peak, now is the perfect time to experiment. Here’s a look at what top American chefs and mixologists are doing with seasonal stars like beets and avocados. Give their recipes a try at home, for something delicious to sip while you grill some lamb.

Spring Star: Beets

More tender than their fall counterparts, spring beets offer a light, naturally sweeter flavor. They’re an ideal base for this cool Beet Martini from Stephanie Izard, Top Chef Season 4 winner and owner of acclaimed Chicago restaurant Girl & the Goat. The presence of fresh apple and orange juices makes this a delightful alternative to your run-of-the-mill fruity martini.

Spring Star: Fennel

Fennel and booze go way back, as this spring veggie (also considered an herb and a spice) is a main ingredient in the famous elixir absinthe. For this great-looking drink, Strawberry Fennel, mixologist Miguel Aranda of New York’s Apothéke concocts “Fennel bitters” with Grand Marnier, coriander, cloves and more, then combines the blend with traditional lime-based sour mix and fresh strawberries. The result is a complex treat that harmoniously plays to all five aspects of taste—sweet, salty, acidic, bitter and savory

Spring Star: Avocado

Vitamin-packed avocados are making their debut now—and they’re good for more than just guacamole. Bridget Albert, a master mixologist and co-author of Market Fresh Mixology (focused on making seasonal cocktails with fresh ingredients) makes a Savory Avocado Cocktail by mixing tequila, triple sec and lime juice with muddled avocado and tarragon. If you try it at home, you should know it’s excellent with spicy Latin flavors. Why not try it with some lamb burritos or empanadas?

Spring Star: Apricot

Apricots are one of the fruits that really hit their stride in spring. Chef Jeffrey Morgenthaler of renowned Portland restaurant Clyde Common whips up a Kentucky Breakfast Cocktail using bourbon, fresh apricot preserves and lime juice, plus the popular ingredient responsible for many a trendy cocktail’s light, frothy texture: egg whites. Here’s what else you should know: this delish “breakfast” drink can be sipped with a tasty lamb dinner, too.


Perfect Spring Brews

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Transition your mug from winter to summer with these fantastic spring brews.

Trees are in bloom, temperatures are rising and we’re rocking odd combinations like scarves and sandals. Spring has officially sprung, and for lovers of American craft beers, that means one thing: it’s time for some of the year’s most sought-after brews. We’re talking pale ales, copper ales and the like, whose not-too-light, not-too-dark character hits the spot as we say goodbye to winter and await the summer sun. These flavorful, refreshing selections really jive with lamb: 
Sierra Nevada Glissade Golden Bock – Chico, CA 6.4% abv.
A lighter take on a traditional German bock (malt) beer with just a touch of sweetness, Glissade is made for sipping “as winter begins its slide toward the sunny days of spring.” Subtle malt flavor mixes with airy citrus, spice and floral aromas, courtesy of specially selected European hops. Easy-drinking and crowd-pleasing, this is one you’ll want on hand when you fire up the grill for that first backyard BBQ (or some easy Tuesday night lamb shanks).

Blue Point Spring Fling Pale Ale – Patchogue, NY 5.2% abv
Who needs romance when you’ve got this hoppy-but-delicate copper ale to woo you? Conceived as a cross between a malty German beer and a zesty American IPA, it’s crisp and refreshing, with nutty, honeyed undertones. Make a tasty sandwich with the leftover roast lamb from Saturday’s dinner party and kick back with this Blue Point on a sunny Sunday afternoon. 

Ninkasi Spring Reign Ale – Eugene, OR 6.0% abv
A crowd-pleaser with an edgy label, this seasonal ale combines a lightly toasted malt flavor (like you’d get in a British Ale) with crisp, citrusy American hops. Fun fact: the ancient Sumerians worshipped the beer they made, and praised the Goddess Ninkasi for the miracle of fermentation. Consider the fact they also loved lamb, and we’ll let you guess what they were eating with their heavenly beer. 
Dogfish Head Aprihop India Pale Ale – Rehoboth Beach, DE 7.0% abv
This “massively hopped” India Pale Ale is brewed with Pilsner and Crystal malts and (you guessed it) apricots. Rest assured, it tastes more beer-y than apricot-y, but the addition of the fruit makes for appealing aromas and flavors notes that marry well with the rich character of the hops. A winner with lamb chili or a juicy lamb burger.

FYI! These seasonal brews are all fantastic with meat pies, like these lamb-and mushroom-loaded delights: