Articles in Drinking

Late-harvest grapes at Luna Vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2014 David Latt

California’s Napa Valley is home to some of America’s best wineries. The valley is also well-known as an incubator of female winemakers. Shawna Miller is one of a group of talented women who have pursued a wine-making career in the valley.

Growing up in a small Virginia town along the Appalachian Trail, Miller spent a lot of time outdoors, hiking and helping her grandmother tend the large garden that fed the family. In the summer they ate what they grew and canned the rest. During the wet, cold winters they happily supplemented their meals with the food they put up in the pantry, including jars of huckleberry and blackberry jam, tomatoes and green beans.

She never thought about grapes or wine.

Studying forestry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, she graduated with a degree in forestry, which was a natural fit for a woman who had grown up trekking the Appalachian Trail. That’s also where she met and married Zak, who shared her love of biology. To see the world and build their resumes, they picked up jobs wherever they could. After a stint with the U.S. Geological Survey in Florida, a friend invited them to work a harvest in New Zealand. That work-vacation changed their lives.

Learning wine making around the world

Winemaker Shawna Miller in the Luna Vineyards with late-harvest vines. Credit: Copyright David Latt

Winemaker Shawna Miller in the Luna Vineyards with late-harvest vines. Credit: Copyright David Latt

Near Margaret River in Western Australia, they worked at the Cape Mentelle Winery where she learned that each grape had a different temperament. Each had to be picked at exactly the right moment. Pick too soon or wait too long and the grapes would yield inferior wine.

She and Zak were hooked. They pursued harvests in California, New Zealand, Australia and Chile. They experienced firsthand how soil and climate — terroir — created different wines. The Indian Ocean breezes that swept across the grapes at the Cape Mentelle Winery yielded wines very different from the ones she came to love in hot, dry Napa.

Taking classes at the University of California, Davis Extension, Miller wanted to learn the science behind raising grapes and making wine. But there wasn’t time to get a degree in enology.

Her graduate work would be done in the fields and in the labs where her background in science got her jobs measuring fermentation levels.

Mastering the art and science of wine

A bottle of Luna Vineyards Reserve 2012 Sangiovese, Napa Valley. Credit: Copyright 2014 David Latt

A bottle of Luna Vineyards Reserve 2012 Sangiovese, Napa Valley. Credit: Copyright 2014 David Latt

To become a winemaker, she had to master more than chemistry. Wine making is part science, part art.

Even if a wine is made entirely from one varietal, the grapes grown in one part of a vineyard can be markedly different from those harvested from another area. Blending those different flavors is an art that must be developed by a winemaker.

Today as the winemaker at Luna Vineyards, she oversees the production of a collection of well-regarded, affordable wines.

Luna Vineyards

Vineyard irrigation at Luna Vineyards, Napa Valley, California. Credit: Copyright 2014 David Latt

Vineyard irrigation at Luna Vineyards, Napa Valley, California. Credit: Copyright 2014 David Latt

What distinguished Luna Vineyards in its early days was the choice to produce Italian-style wines. When Michael Moone founded the vineyard in the mid-1990s, he wanted to make wine modeled on the Italian wines he loved. He planted Pinot Grigio (white) and Sangiovese (red) grapes and blended the wines in a way that set them apart from the largely French style wines produced in the valley’s other vineyards.

At times in their marriage, Miller’s husband Zak has worked half a world away at a winery in Chile. But now with Zaira, their little girl, to raise, Zak stays closer to home as an assistant winemaker at Domaine Carneros.

As harvest time approaches, they put the call out to their parents. When the grapes are ready to be picked, Shawna and Zak will be in the fields from before dawn until well into the night. Someone needs to be home with Zaira.

In the days before the harvest begins, Miller walks through the vineyard. The fat clusters of grapes hang heavily on the row upon row of well-tended vines. If the weather cooperates and no pests damage the grapes, she could have a very good year. She is always hoping that with luck and hard work, this year’s vintage could be one of the winery’s best.

Harvest — exciting and nerve-racking

Oak barrels ready to be cleaned at Luna Vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2014 David Latt

Oak barrels ready to be cleaned at Luna Vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2014 David Latt

With a last look at the refractometer that measures the sugar level of the grapes, Miller makes the call to the vineyard manager, “OK, let’s take it.” And that’s when the real drama begins.

The grapes are ready. Miller is ready. But during harvest time there is more work than workers available. Sometimes when she calls she is told there isn’t a crew available. The grapes won’t be picked for days.

During that waiting time she is at the mercy of the weather. If it gets too hot or if it rains, the grapes will be pushed past their prime and a vintage that could have been great will be less so.

At moments like this, all Miller can do is watch and wait. She busies herself, making sure the lab is ready and the fermentation tanks are clean. Finally, when the crew is available, then it’s all hands on deck. Time for their parents to babysit Zaira.

Fermenting and then blending

What makes one wine different from another? Of course the quality of the grapes matters, but so too does the palate and skill of the winemaker.

Depending on the style, the maturing wine spends time in stainless steel vats or in oak barrels. When Miller believes the wine is ready, she begins a series of trial blends that are like rough drafts. Making several blends, she and her team will sample and rate each, comparing that year’s wine with ones they liked from years before. Like the best chef, she will mix and combine until she has the flavor she loves. At that moment, she will call in the bottling crew.

During the year there are moments when Miller can take a break to spend time with her family. As all-consuming and as hard as the work can be, having time with Zak and Zaira is absolutely essential.

And then it’s time to start the process all over again. In spring the leaf buds poke through the dark wood. In the heat of the summer, the vines need to be tended, the grape clusters are thinned and the plants monitored for pests. And in the fall there is the harvest when so many moving parts have to work together to give Miller what she needs to make great wine.

At the end of the day, even with all those stresses, Miller counts herself lucky to have found a career she loves, in a valley that produces beautiful wines.

Main photo: Late-harvest grapes at Luna Vineyards in Napa Valley, California. Credit: Copyright 2014 David Latt

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A new style of Vinho Verde wines is emerging, and it’s perfect for springtime sipping. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Portugal is famous for producing two styles of wine that couldn’t be more different: Port and Vinho Verde. Port is known as a wine for winter — rich and warming, perfect for fireside sipping. Vinho Verde is the yin to Port’s yang — light, fresh and (typically) white. Vinho Verde is a wine for spring.

With a name that translates to “green wine,” in reference to its youth and freshness, Vinho Verde comes from the rainy region of the same name in the northwest corner of Portugal. While reds and rosés are also made there, Vinho Verde wines are primarily white. Known for their crispness, acidity and light effervescence, the wines are naturally low in alcohol and usually priced under $10.

The new Vinho Verde

New vineyard locations and farming practices are resulting in higher-quality, more-complex Vinho Verde wines. Credit: Copyright 2015, Courtesy of Wines of Portugal

New vineyard locations and farming practices are resulting in higher-quality, more-complex Vinho Verde wines. Credit: Copyright 2015, Courtesy of Wines of Portugal

While those cheap-and-cheerful wines are still plentiful, a new style of Vinho Verde wines is emerging alongside them. Like their traditional cousins, these wines are crisp and refreshing, yet they’re drier, riper and more mature in character. Their alcohol levels are low compared to many other whites, but at 12%, they’re a bit higher than the traditional 8% or 9% for Vinho Verde. Prices also have gone up, from about $7 a bottle to a still-affordable range of $11 to $20.

Another notable change is that producers are starting to showcase single-grape varieties such as Alvarinho, Loureiro and Trajadura, which were traditionally blended together.

This new approach is the result of a campaign by the region’s viticulture commission to encourage growers to plant in new locations, and improve their farming practices. Instead of using the old pergola trellis systems, growers are wire-training the vines on more modern systems. Rather than planting on the valley floors, they’re planting on slopes. The result has been a remarkable increase in the quality and complexity of the wines.

Wines for spring dishes

Vinho Verde wines are delicious with shellfish and other light spring dishes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Vinho Verde wines are delicious with shellfish and other light spring dishes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

The great thing about the new-wave Vinho Verde wines is that they’re still wonderful for spring sipping. Not laden down with heavy oak, the wines pair beautifully with warm-weather dishes, including salads, shellfish and grilled fish. In Portugal, where fabulous fresh seafood is plentiful, Vinho Verde is often served with grilled sardines, arroz de marisco (seafood rice) and clams cooked in a cataplana.

Here are four delicious Vinho Verde wines to help you ring in spring:

Loureiro

Loureiro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Loureiro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Quinta de Gomariz Loureiro 2014 ($13): Made from the Loureiro grape, this wine has a spicy, floral aroma. It has fresh citrus notes on the palate, accented with spice and a bit of orange peel flavor on the finish.

Via Latina

Via Latina. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Via Latina. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Vercoope Via Latina Loureiro 2014 ($18): This wine has lovely aromas of green apples and citrus, with light floral notes. It’s fresh and crisp, with citrus and green apple flavors, and just a bit of tropical fruit. It’s nicely balanced, with bright acidity.

Aromas das Castas

Aromas das Castas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Aromas das Castas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Aromas Das Castas Alvarinho-Trajadura 2014 ($12): With a fresh, peachy aroma, this wine is slightly spritzy, with tangy citrus and peach flavors. It has a nice long finish, with a note of lemon zest.

Casa de Vilacetinho

Casa de Vilacetinho. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Casa de Vilacetinho. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

Casa de Vilacetinho 2013 ($11): A blend of Avesso, Arinto, Azal and Loureiro grapes, this wine has citrus and tropical fruit aromas. It’s off-dry and a little bit fizzy, with stone fruit and citrus flavors.

Main photo: A new style of Vinho Verde wines is emerging, and it’s perfect for springtime sipping. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tina Caputo

More from Zester Daily:

» The little-known French wine perfect for spring

» A spring value wine from Spain

» Port wine is a great excuse for a tasting party

» Portugal’s vibrant white wine

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Gin tonic with Pepe José Orts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Caroline J. Beck

If you want to order a gin and tonic in Spain, first drop the “and” from the drink’s name (it’s known simply as a “gin tonic”) and then be prepared to answer two serious questions from the barkeep.

First, what gin? Any respectable bar will have 10 to 50 bottles, or more, in stock. Second, what tonic? You should also know a favorite based on your preference for its handcrafted blend of bitter and sweet.

Being a complete cocktail neophyte, I was recently stumped when facing this interrogation at La Barra de Monastrell, a swanky bar in Alicante, and sheepishly asked the bartender to use whatever he thought best. I was rewarded with a refreshingly crisp, lightly floral quaff served in an iced balloon glass, or “copa de balon,” almost large enough to require the use of two hands.

In an instant, one luscious bittersweet sip helped me understand why the gin tonic had made a crazed ascent to become the unofficial national drink of Spain in less than a decade. But at the same time, it introduced a whole host of other questions. What makes a Spanish gin tonic different from the classic British stalwart? How many riffs on one cocktail can there be? Could I master the technique for the perfect gin tonic?

I sought out one of the reigning gin tonic masters in Spain to discover why this age-old cocktail is such a perfect foil for the Spanish philosophy that it’s good to play with your food. I also got some tips on making your personalized best GT.

Main photo: Gin tonic with Pepe José Orts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Caroline J. Beck

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The staff at Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rhinegeist Brewery

Craft beer now outsells Budweiser in the U.S. With two to three craft breweries opening every day across America, every region of the country now has craft bragging rights. The top-selling new craft beers come from breweries located in some unexpected small towns and cities. Find the one closest to you. Source: IRI-tracked supermarket sales.

The reporting for this story is part of a Zester Media project on craft beer, spirits and cider. Look for our book — “Start Your Own Microbrewery, Distillery or Cidery” — due out from Entrepreneur Books in June. It will be available on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.


More from Zester Daily:

» American brewing steams along with crafts

» 12 beers that make you want to pack your bags

» The local malt issue that can change craft brewing

» Great American Festival finds: 9 craft beers you shouldn’t miss

Main photo: The staff at Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rhinegeist Brewery

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Abby Fisher's 1881 cookbook was long known as the first African-American cookbook until Malinda Russell’s book was discovered in 2001. Credit: Copyright Sylvia Wong Lewis

I was born in Harlem, a child of Southern migrants and Caribbean immigrants. I witnessed what the women in my family could do with food.

Rarely is our history taught through the lens of food. Yet, it was over the hearth and in kitchens large and small that they impacted our nation’s culture and created economic, political and social independence through ingenious culinary skills.

That is why I honor African-American women cooks for Women’s History Month this March.

The women in my family created and passed down masterful meals from ancient, unwritten recipes. They built communities and paved my way with proceeds from selling sweet potato pies, fried chicken dinners and roti lunches: a Trinidad flatbread cooked on a griddle and wrapped around curried vegetables or meats. My mom made these popular rotis and sold them in box lunches to employees at the hospital where she worked.

Whether they were free or formerly enslaved, the women I descended from cooked their way to freedom and wealth in America.

In their honor, I have chosen to feature two vintage recipes from two of the oldest cookbooks written by African-American women.

Cookbook pioneers

Malinda Russell wrote “A Domestic Cook Book” in 1866. Abby Fisher wrote “What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking” in 1881.

Malinda Russell's "A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen" is believed to be the first published cookbook by an African-American author. Credit: University of Michigan/Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive

Malinda Russell’s “A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen” is believed to be the first published cookbook by an African-American author. Credit: University of Michigan/Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive

Mrs. Fisher’s cookbook was long known as the first African-American cookbook until Mrs. Russell’s book was discovered in 2001. Both women wrote their books at the behest of friends, fans and patrons.

Mrs. Russell, a free woman from Tennessee and an owner of a local bakery, was known for her pastries. Most of her recipes are European-inspired. Her cookbook also includes remedies and full-course meals. It was published after she moved to Paw Paw, Michigan.

Mrs. Fisher, a formerly enslaved person, won cooking medals for a wide range of dishes, including preserves and condiments in California. She moved out West from Alabama after the Civil War.

Below are their original recipes and my interpretation.

Mrs. Russell’s Jumbles Cookies

Jumbles were cake-like cookies popular from the 1700s. Mrs. Russell’s recipe was exceedingly spare on details, like all of her recipes:

“One lb. flour, 3/4 lb. sugar, one half lb. butter, five eggs, mace, rose water, and caraway, to your taste.”

The popular vintage cookies have been adapted through the ages — even by modern food bloggers. I personally sampled a reimagined version of a Jumbles recipe at a culinary event that Anne Hampton Northup was said to have made when she cooked at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Northrup was a chef and the wife of Solomon Northup, whose life was depicted in the Oscar-winning picture “12 Years a Slave”.

Here is a more detailed recipe so you can make Mrs. Russell’s Jumbles Cookies, using her ingredients. Since she suggested using mace, rosewater and caraway to taste, feel free to alter the suggested amounts of those ingredients:

Jumbles Cookies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspons mace

2 tablespoons caraway seeds

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

8 ounces salted butter (2 sticks, at room temperature)

5 eggs (small- or medium-sized)

4 tablespoons rosewater

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, mace and caraway seeds.

3. In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter together.

4. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat in eggs to the butter and sugar mixture.

5. Add the flour mixture and mix until combined.

6. Add the rosewater and mix until combined.

7. Using a tablespoon measure, spoon tablespoon-full size drops of the batter on your baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

8. Bake for about 10 minutes, just until the edges turn golden.

9. Cool the cookies for two minutes on wire racks. Serve, and store the remainder quickly in a sealed container or bag.

Mrs. Abby Fisher’s Blackberry Brandy

This old recipe holds up very well today. Many of Mrs. Fisher’s recipes called for huge amounts of each ingredient:

“To five gallons of berries add one gallon of the best brandy; put on the fire in a porcelain kettle and let it just come to a boil, then take it off the fire and make a syrup of granulated sugar; ten pounds of sugar to one quart of water. Let the syrup cook till thick as honey, skimming off the foam while boiling; then pour it upon the brandy and berries and let it stand for eight weeks; then put in a bottle or demijohn. This blackberry brandy took a diploma at the state Fair of 1879. Let the berries, brandy and syrup stand in a stone jar or brandy keg for eight weeks when you take it off the fire.”

The basic ingredients for Mrs. Fisher's Blackberry Brandy: blackberries, sugar and cognac. Credit: Sylvia Wong Lewis

The basic ingredients for Mrs. Fisher’s Blackberry Brandy: blackberries, sugar and cognac. Credit: Copyright Sylvia Wong Lewis

I was so inspired by Mrs. Fisher’s recipe that I made my own version — which is now in the middle of the eight-week fermentation process. I used the same ingredients, but reduced the amounts, and poured them into a glass jug instead of a brandy keg. And I used cognac, because Mrs. Fisher’s recipe called for the “best brandy.”

We’ll have our own taste test — at my next family reunion.

Main photo: Abby Fisher’s 1881 cookbook was long believed to be the first African-American cookbook until Malinda Russell’s 1866 book was discovered in 2001. Credit: Copyright Sylvia Wong Lewis

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Alain Jaume and two of his children. The family winery was created in 1826 and today spans the southern Rhone Valley. Credit: Copyright Alain Jaume & Fils

I was tasting the 2012 Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône “Les Champauvins,” a smooth, nicely structured red with flavors of black and red berries. It was so cozy and friendly that, dear reader, I felt a Cole Porter song coming on: “You’d be so nice to come home to. You’d be so nice by the fire. …”

At $15 to $20, I could imagine coming home to that wine when a bit of self-pampering was warranted.

“Les Champauvins” was made by the Jaume family, whose winery is located in Orange in France’s Rhone Valley. Created in 1826, the domaine is now run by the sixth generation: Sebastien Jaume, 36, the winemaker, is an enologist who worked at the Erath Winery in Oregon, Château Gruaud Larose in Bordeaux and Clos des Papes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Christophe, 35, handles marketing, and Helene, 25, oversees the newest acquisition, Château Mazanne in Vacqueyras.

The domaine originally comprised 12 hectares (almost 30 acres) of vines when Alain Jaume took over in the 1970s. It has since expanded to 90 hectares (about 222 acres), spanning the southern Rhone. Wines made from these vines are sold under the Grand Veneur label.

There is also a negociant line labeled Alain Jaume that encompasses an encyclopedic range of wines from simple Côtes du Rhône to Gigondas. As if that weren’t enough, the family rents out a vacation home at Château Mazanne that sleeps 17, has a pool and endless mountain vistas.

But I digress — back to that Champauvins.

Champauvins, a rich blend

Like all of Grand Veneur reds, this is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, though percentages vary according to the wine.

Grenache brings a unique, sweet smoothness to a blend and accounts for 70% of Les Champauvins. Syrah deepens color and adds exotic scents. Mourvedre delivers tannins, power and age-ability. In general, both the Syrah and the Mourvedre mature, at least partly, in oak barrels, whereas the Grenache ages only in tanks.

Many of the grapes are hand picked. Credit: Copyright Alain Jaume & Fils

Grenache grapes provide a sweet smoothness. Credit: Copyright Alain Jaume & Fils

Viticulture at the estate-owned properties is organic. Grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape are hand-harvested; most of the others are as well, except when climatic conditions demand speed.

Les Champauvins is located 10 feet beyond the Châteauneuf-du-Pape zone, not far from Jaume’s vines in that appellation, and its soils are similar: red clay carpeted with large rocks streaked with quartz called galets roulés.

Another major Jaume property is in the Lirac appellation, across the Rhone from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s the site of the deservedly popular Domaine du Clos du Sixte. The lip-smacking 2012, rich and velvety, mixes light oak flavors with those of black cherries and herbs like thyme and bay leaf ($12 to $25).

Three heroic red Chateauneuf-du-Papes

Three red Châteauneuf-du-Papes are all in the northern sector of the zone. In addition to varying percentages of the three grapes, differences in the three bottlings can be accounted for chiefly by the age of the vines and choice of fermentation techniques.

The basic Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 70% Grenache, is a delicious mouthful of the savory flavors of herbs as well as sweet ones like black cherry. Its texture is velvety, revealing the dulcet character of Grenache combined with the exoticism of Syrah and the muscle of Mourvedre. It’s nicely priced at under $40.

Next, “Les Origines” is made from a northern sector of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard. Its grapes are painstakingly sorted before fermenting for three weeks with regular punching down. Its dark robe presages deep flavors of gently crushed black and blueberries, licorice and coffee bean. The wine is fresh and smooth and lifted by a hint of menthol.

The vines for Grand Veneur’s Vieilles Vignes are more than 75 years old. Grenache makes up 50% of the blend, Mourvedre, 40%. Nearly pitch black with purple reflections, it’s a potent weave of blackberry, blueberry, herbs, dark chocolate and licorice. Rich it is, but cool, too, with no jagged edges, no heaviness and a long finish. It’s Jaume’s priciest wine, at around $96.

Ideal food pairings

You can cellar all these wines for decades. Or drink them now. In the latter case, decant them a good two hours in advance and put the carafe in a basin of cool water in order to serve the wine at about 60 F.

One dish the Jaumes pair with these wines is wild duck with roasted figs — which sounds yummy. What’s more, it evokes the culinary association that inspired the domaine’s name. The term dates from the Ancien Regime’s chasse au cour. The results of the hunt would be served with a blood-thickened variation on the sauce poivrade called Sauce Grand Veneur.

But Easter is approaching and these wines are superb with lamb, my current favorite. My late uncle Bill, however, traditionally baked ham with pineapple. With that, I’d want a special white.

Jaume’s oak-aged Chateauneuf-du-Pape “la Fontaine” is pure and quite plush Roussane ($80) that I’d save for lobster. For a marriage truly made in heaven, however, I’d grab their discreetly fragrant Viognier, a Cotes du Rhone ($12), with mingled flavours of apple, litchi, pear and white-fleshed peaches. I feel a song coming on.

Main photo: Alain Jaume and two sons. The family winery was begun in 1826 and today spans the southern Rhone Valley. Credit: Copyright Alaine Jaume & Fils

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Fresh-squeezed lemonade at The Desert Bar in Parker, Arizona. Credit: Copyright Seth Joel 2015

There may be no better example of a destination watering hole than the one on the site of the abandoned Nellie E Mine outside Parker, Arizona. Ken Wardlow’s Desert Bar is in such a remote location in the Buckskin Mountains that just getting there is an adventure. But it’s no secret to communities up and down the Colorado River from Blythe to Lake Havasu, whose residents party there every Thanksgiving weekend, or to the snowbirds who come from all over the country in January: Pull into the parking lot and you will see license plates from Alaska, Illinois, Washington, Oregon and Nebraska. The accents you hear of German gentlemen cooing over showy 1,000 horsepower ATVs will confirm that this place is an open secret among Europeans, too. Then you enter the bar and meet 300 new best friends.

In 1983, Ken Wardlow had three things: a piece of property he had owned since 1975, a liquor license and a great imagination. He built a 12-by-12-foot shack with three walls and called it the Nellie E Saloon. Customers with a thirst for its Wild West aura began coming in droves, and by 1989 the shack had been replaced by a solid structure. It has been growing organically every year since. Now known as the Desert Bar, it’s a three-level complex with tin roofs, multiple seating areas, bars, kitchens, bandstands and a dance floor that you reach by a covered bridge spanning an actual gulch. It has no address other than its coordinates (34 degrees 12.05.14 North, 114 degrees 08.55.87 West), and it relies on its own wells, solar panels and twin cooling towers. In short, it is entirely off the grid.

The Desert Bar’s curiosities don’t end there. It is rarely open — only on weekend afternoons, before sunset, mid-autumn through mid-spring (that is, when the average temperature hovers below 100 F). To reach it, you have to join the line of Jeeps and pickups that creep along five dusty miles of primitive road. (Unless you have a quad, dune buggy, side-by-side or dirt bike, do not accept the challenge of the treacherous back way. Better to enjoy that drama through some daredevil’s head cam on YouTube.) So why is this bar so wildly popular? Well, there’s cold beer and lemonade that’s squeezed to order. There’s perfectly prepared American comfort food like hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches to energize you for the journey home. You can indulge your secret longing for a basket of deep-fried pickle spears, or go all the way with the fritto misto of pickles, onion rings, mushrooms, jalapeños and freshly cut fries unfairly known as the “junk basket.” Try it, just the once…

But in the end it’s the atmosphere, not the menu, that makes all the difference. As the regulars arrive, they grab the shaded table they will occupy until sunset, while the newcomers wander around in awe. Cameras and cellphones capture the abandoned cars and fire trucks strewn around the property, the three bars, and the open-air ladies’ room constructed of rusting metal plates. Women — and, if the coast is clear, the occasional man — linger in here taking photos of the 30-mile view through the glassless picture windows. Hands down, the most-photographed structure is the trompe l’oeil “church.” Constructed from steel plates in 1991, it contains just one room under the three-story, copper-topped steeple, lined in stamped tin with two arched openings. And yes, destination weddings take place there regularly.

The words that customers use over and over to describe The Desert Bar are “fun” and “unique.” For the first-timer, two miles on the bone-rattling road to its door are enough to make you question all the praise. But once you see that steeple up ahead you know it is going to be worth the trip. Fun? Just walk up into the hills behind the bar and listen to the buzz of conversation and laughter filling the canyon. Unique? Without a doubt. Guaranteed you have never spent a Sunday Funday in such a hospitable bar surrounded by such inhospitable mountains.

Main photo: Fresh-squeezed lemonade at the Desert Bar in Parker, Arizona. Credit: Copyright 2015 Seth Joel

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Photo: Bottle of sake with a traditional ceramic carafe and small cups known as o-choko. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The dogma about sake today is that high-quality versions must be served chilled, but that is a total misconception. In fact, there are many quality sakes that are best enjoyed warmed.

It’s true that sake, a traditional Japanese rice wine, was once consumed warmed if its quality was not good enough to be appreciated when chilled. But sake has gone through a dramatic change in quality in Japan in the last 50 years.

In the 1970s, specific yeasts that could produce delicate, sophisticated aromas and flavors in sake were developed. This accelerated the creation of high-grade ginjo sake. Made with highly polished rice, ginjo sake is lower in acidity, more fragrant and possesses elegant flavor. Because of the delicacy of its flavors, it should not be warmed.

I believe that the development of ginjo sake was hugely influenced by the introduction and growing popularity in Japan of wine from Europe and America. French, European or American meals served on white tablecloths with forks and knives accompanied by wine were seen as sophisticated and modern.

So when the new ginjo sake arrived on the scene, style-conscious drinkers became convinced that all good sake should be consumed cold or chilled.

But some traditional sake lovers shunned ginjo sake because of its lack of acidity and rich flavors. Some sake brewers also went against the trend and focused on producing quality traditional sake, which is high in acidity that is bold and round in flavor. They are known as junmai (100% rice sake), yamahai, kimoto and honjozo (alcohol added) sake. These varieties are well suited to be enjoyed in a different range of serving temperatures.

Five reasons to drink your sake warm

1. Warming sake helps to blossom its natural flavors and fragrance.

2. Warming sake balances its sweetness, acidity and astringency.

3. It is wonderful to consume warmed sake with meals during the cold winter. It’s like mulled wine, but with no added sugar.

4. Warmed sake is absorbed by the body more quickly, so we can “feel” it sooner and control the amount we drink.

5. Without learning how to appreciate warmed sake, we can never say that we have a complete understanding of this wonderful beverage.

Certain groups of sake can be enjoyed at nine different temperatures. This may seem intimidating, but according to Hiroshi Ujita, president of Tamanohikari Brewery in Kyoto, there is no strict rule on warming sake. Each sake lover in Japan has a preferred temperature for a particular sake.

How much to warm the sake is also influenced by the season, the temperature of the dining room and the temperature of the dishes that will be consumed with it. You can find temperature guidance on warming sake in my book “The Sushi Experience,” but here is some guidance on four easy to master-and-understand sake temperature levels that you can use to begin exploring the joys of warmed sake. Consider these levels and try them on your favorite robust flavorful sake: Body temperature (hitohada), 98 F; lukewarm (nurukan), 104 F; warm (jokan), 113 F; hot (atsukan), 122 F.

I suggest that before using real sake, you practice recognizing these temperatures with some warm water and a thermometer. It won’t take you long to distinguish with a touch of liquid on your hand between the four levels I have suggested. If you decide to try warming sake, follow the very basic instructions in the recipe.

Sakes made for warming

Here are some recommended sakes to start on your warmed sake adventure. If you start with this group, you will fall in love with these warmed beverages for the rest of your life. The recommended temperature is only a guideline. As Ujita advises, explore different temperatures to see what you prefer, and have fun with it.

1. Tamanohikari Yamahai: This sake comes from the 342-year-old Tamanohikari Brewery. After the war, a rice shortage forced brewers to produce sake with less rice and added alcohol. In 1964, Tamanohikari Brewery was the first company to revert from its postwar poor sake production method to the original, traditional method using 100% rice-produced sake. Tamanohikari Yamahai has good acidity, umami and round body. Recommended at 98 F.

2. Tengumai Yamahai: This sake comes from the 192-year-old Shata Shuzo Brewery in Ishikawa Prefecture. The name Tengumai implies that everyone wants to dance after drinking this sake. Acidity is high with slight astringency and strong aroma. Recommended at 98 F and 113 F.

3. Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo: This sake comes from the 211-year-old Kokuryu Brewery in Fukui Prefecture. The company has been developing robust tasting ginjo sake that has been designed to be consumed warmed, going against the major trend of chilling ginjo sake. Warming Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo enriches the characteristics of sake — roundness, robustness and refined flavor. Recommended at 98 F.

The next time you are dining at your favorite Japanese restaurant, try ordering your sake warmed to your preferred temperature.

How to warm sake like a pro

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 2 to 3 minutes

Ingredients

Sake

Flask

Medium-size pot

Thermometer, optional

Directions

1. Transfer sake into a flask, filling to 90% of the flask.

2. Add cold water in a medium pot, enough to submerge 80% of the flask, and bring it to a boil.

3. Turn off the heat and add the flask in the center of the pot and leave it until the preferred temperature. It will take about 1 to 2 minutes to heat to 98 F. If you want to warm it a bit more, leave it for an additional minute.

4. Warmed sake should be served in a small sake cup and consumed while it is nice and warm.

Tips

  • Use a little ceramic or heat-proof glass flask that can hold about 1 cup of sake.
  • Use a pot of boiling water to warm the sake; don’t put it in a microwave oven.
  • Enjoy warm sake in a small ceramic o-choko cup, or a small heat-proof glass cup.
  • As a beginner, follow the temperature guidelines above. Be careful not to overheat the sake; the modestly warm temperatures I have suggested are best.
  • Enjoy different temperatures and find the preferred one for your selected sake.

Photo: Bottle of sake with a traditional ceramic carafe and small cups known as o-choko. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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