Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wine 101 & A Cocktail Recipe #HEBJoyville #sponsored

In accordance with the FTC Guidelines, I am disclosing that I received compensation in the form of products and a gift card from H-E-B for my time and participation in the H-E-B Virtual Progressive Dinner. Although we have material connection to H-E-B, any publicly stated opinions of H-E-B and their brands remain my own.

Welcome to Day 2 of HEB's Holiday Virtual Progressive Dinner! Today is Drinks & Wine Day, hosted by ME, Ashley! Be sure to post your favorite holiday libations on Instagram and tag @HEB and #HEBJoyvilleSweeps for your chance to win an HEB gift card!

Alright, so, keep up with me here: The recipe on this post is for a cocktail, but the information in the post is about wine. Because as talented as I may be in the bar and kitchen, I'm not quite at the level where I can help you bottle your own wine. Not yet, anyway. Got it? Okay. Cool. (Plus, why would you need to when HEB carries such a kickin' selection?)

TL; DR: Read on for a wine lesson, scroll down for a cocktail recipe.

As some of you may know, I attended a tiny artsy-fartsy college in Boston. In order to pay the exorbitant rent while I studied, I worked nearly full time at a busy Italian restaurant outside of Fenway park. One of the things they were big on was wine suggestions. During my time there I learned some quick and dirty tricks that will help you pair wine like a pro... or at least enough that your guests will THINK you're a pro ;)

Thanks for the swag, HEB!

The 5 S's
This was how we learned the proper way to taste wine. If you see any errors, forgive me (and let me know in the comments!) it's been a little while...
1. See - First step is obviously to LOOK at the wine. Notice the colors--is it a full, deep red? A light, rose color? 
2. Swirl - This technique is twofold. Gently swirl the wine and notice how the liquid slides down the inside of the glass. Fuller wines will slide slower, lighter wines will slide quicker. Swirling also aerates the wine a bit, releasing the aromatics.
3. Smell - Now that those aromas are swirling up in the glass, stick your nose in there and take a whiff. What do you smell? Fruit, oak, caramel, vanilla... see if you can pick up the different flavors before you even taste it. 
4. Sip - Take a sip and, if you're like me, resist the urge to gulp it down. Let it settle on your tongue. Are you tasting the flavors you smelled before? Roll it around a bit.
5. Savor - This may look funny, but now you need to get some air in there. Take a small breath and move the wine around as you do so--like a little kid blowing bubbles, but backwards. The flavors should be popping now.

There you go! Now you can taste wine like a pro, and impress your wine guests with a demonstration when you serve your selection of holiday wines!

And now... for pairing. We all know this simple rule: Red Meat = Red Wine. White Meat = White Wine. Right? Well... kind of. In reality, you pair wines by body, not by color. So heavier whites are going to pair with anything from chicken to veal, while lighter reds can pair with beef or chicken.

A Few Wine Pairing Tips
(I am by NO MEANS a sommelier, these are my personal rules I go by, and they might help you, too!)
  • Pair by body: heavier wine = heavier meat
  • Pair by sauce: red with red and white with white applies better to pastas. Pasta with red sauce pairs better with a red wine, same for white.
  • How do you pair smokey or spicy dishes? Lighter, sweeter wines, like a RosĂ© or White Zinfendel, OR look for wines that have spicy notes in them which will complement the flavors.
  • Dessert Wine: If you're drinking a sweet wine with dessert, make sure it is as sweet or sweeter than the dessert you're enjoying, or else it will make your dessert taste bitter.
  • Red with red, white with white is fine... only if you can't remember anything else.
  • Not brave enough for fancy wine? Sangria is a lovely cocktail-wine hybrid that is tasty no matter what your entree. 

Ashley tip: drink whatever wine you want! If you HATE reds or can't stand Chardonnay, the fact that someone's telling you it'll go nicer with your entree then what you really want to order isn't going to do much for you. 

And now... for the cocktail recipe!


A good rule of thumb is to offer one signature cocktail at your party, and leave a few basics out for those who just want to do a rum and coke. I typically make a big batch of sangria, but if you want a more personal, holiday-themed cocktail to make for guests, I'd go with this. I call it my Cranberry "Texan" Mule, a take on a Moscow Mule. Spicy ginger beer and tangy cranberries combine with vodka for a lovely holiday drink!

Cranberry Texan Mule
  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • .5 oz fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz cranberry simple syrup (see below)
  • 1/2 cup ginger beer
  • ice
  • lime wedge, for garnish

For the Cranberry Simple Syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
-Prepare the simple syrup: Over medium heat, mix together the water and sugar until sugar has just dissolved. Add cranberries and zest, and stir lightly. Bring heat down to low, and leave on heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a jar (berries and all!) and refrigerate until cold, or overnight.

-Fill a glass with ice (if you have a copper cup, go for it!) and pour vodka, lime juice, and simple syrup over the top. Top with ginger beer, and stir gently. Serve with lime wedge, and extra cranberries for garnish.


  1. G'day Sign me up for one of these right now
    Cheers! Joanne

  2. Cheers! I’m loving this cocktail recipe, Ashley. Right up my alley…right down to the cranberry simple syrup. Nice wine pairing tips, too, my friend. I am beyond elated to be back blogging after a family emergency last spring and my scary illness that followed. (I will be sharing my story on the blog to help others, soon.) I have really missed everyone and their blogs. Anyway, I just wanted to drop by to thank you again for the kind words you left on my blog last June. They meant more than you know. Meanwhile, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. Warmest wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! xo

  3. I actually was at a wine tasting last night, I sure wish I read this BEFORE going, lol! Great tips and I love the sound of the cranberry syrup in this cocktail.

  4. Fabulous tips on wine paring. I am still developing my wine palate. I've gotten good with whites, but reds and I are still learning to become friends.

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