A Bouquet of a Dozen Rosés


Spring, is considered the official Rosé season, when everyone starts thinking it’s Rosé o’clock somewhere!

As we enter pink wine season, we find ourselves in a category run amok. Ten years ago, I was begging my customers to try the dry, refreshing Rosés of France, Spain and elsewhere, and to stop thinking all pink wine was sweet White Zinfandel. Even with in-store tastings , it felt like I couldn’t give a fantastic Rosé away. Fast forward to today and the Rosés are practically flying themselves off the shelves.

Where do Rosés come from? Well, there are the regional pink Rosés from such traditional locales: Provence, Rioja, Tavel, the Côtes du Rhône—with more pink wines from these classic places than ever before,  we need to pay attention to quality. Not only that, lesser-known regions are taking advantage of demand, many have no Rosé tradition at all and yet, are astonishingly good. The “newer” Rosés include grapes like Blauburgunders from Germany, Blaufränkisches from Austria, Agiorgitikos from Greece (surprisingly refreshing and delicious), Blaufränkisches from Austria and Cab Francs from the Loire (yum!). So you can basically find a Rosé from anywhere, even locally in New Jersey!

A good Rosé, by definition, should be bright, crisp, dry and mouthwatering with moderate alcohol. In the mouth, they should offer great acidity, a pithy tannin and a hint of minerality. Unfortunately, most domestic bottlings are sweet white zins, with quite a bit of residual sugar and a “thicker” texture. This is because many rosés are made using the saignée method, juice bled off a fermenting tank to concentrate what remains, not so much a product as a byproduct. Often these are high in alcohol (more than 13.5%) rendering them too ripe and too fleshy to be refreshing. 

Rosé should not be an afterthought or a byproduct, but something that had to be grown and made in the vineyard, harvested early to ensure good acidity and low alcohol, and made judiciously to preserve aroma and freshness. Settling for anything less is selling yourself short.

Prices for Rosé can range all over the map from $6 to more than $25 a bottle. It’s worth remembering that a pink wine’s main function is to refresh, and that can be done at a low price point. There are some Rosés, however, that have the pedigree, consistency and excellence that are absolutely worth the higher price: Bandol, older Riojas and certain Txakoli Rosés. Normally, if you’re paying more than $25 a bottle, you’re probably paying too much; more than $30, you’re being gouged, plain and simple.  It’s a good idea to ask your retailer for wines that are every bit as good for less money.

Here are a dozen serious Rosés that we happened upon in our travels. The prices range from $8.99 to $18.99 with one exception that is over $20. Most are in the 11 – 13% ABV — only one was 13.8%.

Pedroncelli Dry Rose of Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2017

The Pedroncelli family has been producing zinfandel-based Rosé since 1954 and they’re one of my favorite California wineries. The focus here is on crisp acidity and true varietal character allowing the fruit flavors to shine—and shine it does with bright aromas of strawberry, orange, rose petals, and spice. It offers full flavors of candied raspberry and cherry with a hint of white pepper spice. Even though it is made in a dry style, the wine retains a hint of sweetness because of the fruitiness of the zinfandel grape. This pink is refreshing, clean and crisp with a delicate berryspice finish. This one is so delicious and can be found in many shops and retailers. 

La Belle Collette, Côtes de Provence, Provence, France

I found this one at Tinali Wines in Brick. A classic French Provençal Rosé blend, it comes from the sunny hills of the Château de Saint-Martin – one of the 18 Grands Crus Classés in Provence. La Belle Colette  takes its name in memory of Colette, the Provençal writer. The wine’s bright fruity style is produced from six different grape varieties: Syrah (57%), Carignan (25%), Cinsault (9%), Grenache (7%), and Tibouren(2%). The floral nose is delicate offering intoxicating fragrances of raspberry and strawberry with a hint of lavender. The palate is round and fresh, tasting of summer’s red fruits—strawberry, raspberry, hints of apple, pepper and caramel flavors. At once it’s thirst-quenching and the velvety structure combines the fragrant flavors Provence in the fresh and delicate finish.

This Rosé is perfect as an aperitif on bright sunny days accompanied by Provençal style dishes, appetizers, summer barbecues and garden parties. This surprising wine is sure to become a summer favorite. 

Rose par Paris, Côtes de Provence, France

Another find at Tinali Wines, Rosé par Paris is a versatile, bright rosy pink Provençal blend of 30% Grenache and 70% Cinsault. Produced by Domain de l’Allamande, a 74-acre family vineyard in the heart of the Pierrefeu area. The property has characteristic limestone soils and a continental climate with a maritime influence, which give this wine a high minerality.

The nose is fresh and fuity with delicious aromas of citrus and berries. The flavors are refreshing with notes of rose water, cherry and strawberry backed by good zip. The  finish offers a fresh burst of citrusy ruby red grapefruit and a zingy minerality. Delicious chilled on its own, or with salads, meat, or a Provençal meals. 

Rhone to the Bone, Côtes du Rhône, France 

Clear light pink Rosé comprise of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. We found this one at Wegmans for under $10. The label was bold and definitely demanded our attention.  Once opened, the nose offered notes of red  currant, cherry, citrusy grapefruit and  a hint of mint. Sharp, viscous mouthfeel backed by a pleasant freshness on the palate, balanced by a touch of minerality. It was great for burger night and will become a regular in our lineup.

Rivarose Brut Salon de Provence, IGP Méditerranée, France

This was an accidental purchase at Wegmans. I planned to get another Rosé but this landed in my cart and at the checkout line instead. since it wanted to go home with me, I figured, why not give it a try? Made with 100% Syrah, this sparkling Rosé has gentle effervescent bubbles that offer a flavorful bouquet of berries and grapefruit. Apparently, Rivarose has made sparkling rosé in this region since 1909, and it is the only Brut Rosé from the heart of Provence. On the nose, strawberry and raspberry aromas dominate, while in the mouth the strawberry flavors and notes of exotic fruit combine with a fine and elegant mousse crating a bright sparkler with notes of citrus fruits and spice.

Enjoy on its own or as an aperitif pairing with cured meats, crudités, Provençal dishes or chocolate-based desserts. With its rose-petal hue and yummy crispness, you may just find that any occasion is special enough to pop the cork and celebrate! 

Fleur de Mer Côtes de Provence Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France 

Fleur de Mer is crafted by winemaker Florian Lacroux of the 50-year-old cooperative, Les Maîtres Vignerons de Saint-Tropez. A brilliant coral pink blend of 46% Grenache, 21% Cinsault, 14% Syrah, 19% Other (Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cabernet), Fleur de Mer evokes aromas of fresh watermelon, cherry, subtle citrus, peach, lavender and Mediterranean herbs. The flavor profile is a mineral-infused strawberry and mild grapefruit blend with notes of lime and tangerine. On the palate, this wine is light- to medium-bodied with nice controlled acidity that leads to a mouthwatering feel. This balanced, medium-bodied wine is fresh and elegant with a soft texture, a minerally finish  and refreshing acidity. This is a versatile wine that will pair with lots of foods, perfect for sitting oceanside or poolside on a hot summer day.

Honoro Vera Rosé 2017, Jumilla, Spain

Another inexpensive Wegmans find, this Spanish Tempranillo/Syrah blend was a delicious discovery. This beautiful salmon colored Rosé shows hints of watermelon rind on the nose. The palate shows primarily red fruit: cherry with a touch of strawberries and watermelon. The finish is very smooth and bright with watermelon and strawberries. Medium-bodied and dry it offers a nice lively, crisp acidity, that is both refreshing and approachable. Served chilled, this wine is a very refreshing and surprisingly versatile—perfect with food or just sipping on a hot day. It may be sipped as an apéritif or it can go with an array of foods: salads, seafood, side dishes, pork or chicken. A refreshing Rosé for any occasion including outdoor dining, picnics or backyard barbecues. It will be invited back.

El Coto Rosado, Rioja, Spain

This Rosado is a delicious Rosé made from  90% Tempranillo and 10% Garnacha, and it is one of our summer staples. A lively, pale  pink Rosé that at first offers up a sweet nose of fresh strawberries and raspberries with a hint of caramel. Silky and delicate, the wine follows with tangy, red cherry aromas with piquant herbal notes leading to ripe, juicy flavors on the palate. Dry and easy drinking, the palate is fresh as well as sweet, displaying a wide range of sharp and crispy red and dark fruits, strawberries and cherries. The cleansing acidity helps balance the fruit and the long, clean finish. It is versatile, ideal as an aperitif, great with salads, Mediterranean and Oriental cuisines and very easy to enjoy. 

Frog’s Leap, La Grenouille Rougante Pink, Napa Valley, California

There’s something fun about this wine, even though it’s kind of spare. The word “Rouganté” in the name seems to mean “blushing Frog.”  Made from 87% Carignane 8% Valdiguié (Napa Gamay) 2% Mondeuse 1.5% Charbono  and a half-percent of  Mourvedre/Riesling, it’s bone dry, and acidic, with modest strawberry flavors. This Californian is directly comparable to a Provençal Rosé.  Very aromatic, with aromas of apple skin, white flowers, a lot of strawberries and red fruits, gooseberry and raspberries that introduce this medium to full-bodied wine with vibrant acids and crisp fruit flavors. Delicate floral aromas and fresh fruit flavors come together in this classic style. Lifted by bright, natural acidity and low alcohol, this wine is the perfect companion to a warm, sunny day. A light tannic structure makes this wine food-friendly, with a clean and lingering finish. Nice and easy to drink and a perfect accompaniment to any meal!

Sidebar, Russian River Valley, Rosé, Russian River, California, USA, 2016

Made entirely from 100% Syrah, Sidebar Rosé hails from old Syrah vines in the Russian River Valley. This dry, succulent wine is a light pink-orange in color and begins with a robust flavor bursting with watermelon, cranberry and bristling acidity. There are classic notes of strawberry and watermelon, hazelnut and savory lemon peel that introduce a crisp, energetic and chalky palate which over-delivers flavor.  Dry and crisp, it remains lighthearted in the glass, finishing with a tease of grapefruit. This is one generously flavored wine, and is admirably dry and refreshing, with zesty red fruit, citrus and spice notes. Seamless, it’s medium bodied and has plenty of texture to offer around a crisp, meaty finish. 

Heitz Cellar, Napa Valley, Grignolino Rosé, 2016

Every year, Heitz produces a limited amount of their unusual and rare Grignolino Rosé and since 1961.Ruby grapefruit-red, it’s sultry with strawberry, watermelon, orange zest and salty spice flavor, highlighted with a vibrant and seductive nose of sweet red cherry, wild berries and floral aromas. This wine is built around great acidity, with just the subtlest hint of savory phenolics on the back end that cry out for al fresco dining. This one is a splurge Rosé.

Lest we forget New Jersey, here is my favorite home-grown New Jersey Rosé:

Four JGs Monmouth Blush, Colts Neck, NJ 

4 JG’s combines the crisp fruity flavors of Vidal Blanc with the French vinifera Cabernet Franc to create a delightful blush wine. With a medium salmon pink hue and the profile of a classic French Loire Valley dry rosé, this wine presents a beautiful balance of fruit flavors, refreshing acidity, and a clean, crisp finish. On the palate you get bright red fruits of cherry, watermelon, lime, and raspberry which continue to a crisp, dry finish of minerals, white flowers and savory herbs.This vintage of Monmouth Blush has a  label featuring Molly Pitcher…a local Monmouth County heroine. This wine is thirst quenching!

There you have it a bouquet of a dozen Rosés!

Like a Rock: A wine fit for packing


petra-zingari-smSometimes, things just go better with wine. Well, maybe most things go better with wine. Packing up your belongings for a big move is definitely something that goes better with wine…lots of wine. Somehow it seems less tedious and a lot easier to part with some old knick knack that came from Lord knows where and has been collecting dust for Lord knows how long.

Since it’s a cold, dull January day, we need a cheerful easy-to-drink sipper that will help warm and not break the bank. Today’s choice? An Italian red.  Petra Zingari, a fresh entry level Tuscan. The cheerful sun-inspired label helps to brighten our day. The winemaker says the label is inspired by a pictorial interpretation of the spiral theme, which represents the repetitions of life, but the sunny idea works for us as we begin loading packing boxes full of various belongings.

The first thing we notice as we pack up the china, is that this wine is fresh and juicy on the palate, bursting with cherry fruit and an attractive note of wild rose. Smoke, underbrush, licorice and truffles add complexity to the generous, dark fruit. Medium-bodied and wonderfully intense, Zingari impresses for its sheer richness and density. Sweet, floral notes add length and brightness to the long, caressing finish. This shows great depth
without coming across heavy, quite a rarity in Bolgheri. There is lots of flavor and it is quite supple, drinking well already, very pleasant and really well-priced. Somehow, packing seems to be a breeze.

So what makes this wine so tasty?  Well, Zingari is a four-variety Tuscan blend of equal parts Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot aged entirely in stainless steel. It is an absolutely fabulous entry-level red. It offers immediately noticeable aromas of fruits and flowers: rose petals, red and black cherries combining with a pleasant vegetal background trace of herbed vegetables, what’s not to like?

According to the winery, when Vittorio Moretti, and his daughter Francesca, set out in search of a property in the Maremma in 1997, they asked Attilio Scienza, Italy’s most celebrated viticultural professor and consultant, to help them find the best spot. Scienza came up with Petra (the name is derived from the Latin for stone, or ‘pietra’ in Italian’), which is southeast of Bolgheri and inland from the sea. The estate now has 97 hectares of vineyard, which surround a modernist winery built by the Swiss architect, Mario Botta.  The vineyards are located at the foot of the hills, partly in the village of Suvereto and partly in Riotorto.

Since we know this little gem pairs well tomato-based pastas, fresh Parmesan and the like, we know it will take us through packing straight through to dinner. There is enough freshness for the Zingari to drink well for a number of years. One box down, another 30 to go!

Super wines for super bowls


It used to be that football and beer were synonymous. Today,  the big major games are for everyone, from hardcore football fanatics to Bowl-day bandwagon hoppers to the I’m-just-here-for-the-commercials-and-halftime crowd. Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about touchdowns and beer ads; it’s about good food, good drink and good company —so it’s not unusual to hear football fans talking about the wines they planning to drink during the game.

Since football get togethers are often meaty with lots of spices and zesty sauces, you will want to have a few bold, fruity reds such as Malbec, Syrah or Zinfandel to balance the flavors of the food. You will also want wines with good acidity to cut through the fat of your manly beefy and meaty dishes. Of course, for the side dishes like veggies and dips, you may want a delicious white and we found a few rich whites with plenty of acitity to stand up to football.
All of the wines on this list are affordable and most are under $15.

Punta Final Malbec

Bodega Renacer Punto Final Malbec Classico 2013,  Mendoza, Argentina
All of the grapes come from Uco Valley. This full-bodied red delivers ripe cherry, plum, black currant and raspberry ganache, with sweet spice notes of black pepper and clove. It offers round intense tannins, good acid and a long medium-weight finish. Perfect with red meat, burgers, flavorful sauces and intense cheeses. Drink now.

 

 

Bogel Old Vine ZinfandelBogle California Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Lodi and Amador County, California
A versatile wine to pair with everything; from rich and unique dishes to your favorite barbecue or weeknight takeout. This soft and lively red shows easygoing cherry, red cranberries, sassafras, pink peppercorns and caramel notes. Rustic and refined, there are hints of a hillside briar patch wafting through the wine, while spicy clove heightens at the finish from the oak aging. Drink now.

 

Charles Smith Boom Boom! SyrahCharles Smith Boom Boom! Syrah 2013, Columbia Valley Washington
A blend of  97% Syrah, 3% Viognier, this is a smooth and polished wine, featuring aromas of fresh picked herbs and wet earth. Rich black cherry, fresh currant and cooked plum character at the center, are followed by hints of tobacco and lavender —finishing with a touch of roasted fig. An explosive dark cherry bomb that pairs wonderfully with lamb dishes, rich meaty stews, chili or slow-roasted pork tenderloin. Drink now.

 

CSM-SyrahChateau Ste. Michelle Syrah 2012, Columbia Valley Washington
This Syrah is blended with a touch of Viognier, Mourvedre and Grenache for layers of flavors. Soft and supple, this jammy Syrah offers pretty raspberry and cherry flavors on a medium-weight frame. Approachabe and fruit-forward this wine has a soft and delightful finish. Excellent with beef, grilled salmon and strongly flavored cheeses. Drink now.

 

5-Guigal CdR redE. Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2011,  Rhône Valley, France
This classic wine blend of 60% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre offers top quality year in year out. Fresh cherry aromas greet you from the glass. Full, round and racy, it wine offers dark red berry fruit flavors with spice and pepper notes. Round and smooth tannins offer a lightly mulled character to the plum and currant fruit, with coffee and roasted mesquite notes on the full long finish. A full-bodied, rich and intensly aromatic with plenty of elegance and finesse due to the well balanced tannins and fruit. Drink now.

 

 

 

M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche RougeM. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche, 2013, Rhône Valley, France
This fresh and balanced blend of Grenache and Syrah gives “Belleruche” an extraordinary richness and complexity. Crafted in a light, soft and perfumy style, it offers tea, mulled spice and supple cherry notes framed by a dusty finish. Excellent with lamb, duck, pork and spicy ribs. Drink now.

 

Altovinium Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013

 

 

Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013, Calatayud, Spain
This 100% Garnacha offers a lovely perfume of spice box, mineral, and wild cherry. This perfectly balanced mix of flavors lends itself to an intensely fruity wine with loads of taste, a smooth texture, and a pure, fruit-filled finish. Pairs well with white and red meats roasted or grilled, big game, meat casseroles and stews, complex sauces, foie gras and legumes or blue and cured cheeses. Drink now.

 

8-Hogue-CSHogue Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington
This Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and complex offering black cherry, spicy oak, cassis, sassafras, and tobacco on the nose. This medium-bodied vibrant red delivers rich black cherry and herb flavors on a sleek frame. Yet, it’s creamy and toasty on the palate, with concentrated flavors of dark cherry and cassis, soft tannins and a silky finish. Pair with roast pork tenderloin, barbecued baby back ribs, or grilled sausages. Drink now.

 

9-4vines chardFour Vines Naked Chardonnay, 2013, Central Coast, California
This is a crisp, concentrated Chardonnay with all its natural acid. Fermented in 100% stainless steel, Naked exhibits apple, white peach, and pear flavors, finishing long with hints of citrus and mineral. This medium- to full-bodied, clean and refreshing white offers a strong Sauvignon-like citrus edge, with notes of lime and lemon. Drink now.

 

 

11-Hogue-ChardHogue Chardonnay, 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington
Light and tangy, with tropical fruit aromas and a hint of lime on the finish, this wine is a blend of  96% Chardonnay, 1% Viognier, 1% Muscat Canelli, 1% Semillon and 1% Chenin Blanc. Classicly balanced, the wine offers spicy and rich aromas of nutmeg, pear, pineapple and creamy butterscotch. On the palate, the wine is complex and balanced with vanilla cream, toast and fresh, crisp apple. The Chardonnay is an excellent match for crab salad, roast chicken, pork tenderloin, or quiche.

 

11-CSM-ChardChateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2013, Columbia Valley Washington
This is a fresh, soft style of Chardonnay with bright apple and sweet citrus fruit character with subtle spice and oak nuances. Fresh and light, this Chardonnay deftly balances apple, citrus and spice flavors on a soft frame. A pleasurable, food-friendly Chardonnay, it pairs beautifully with salmon, scallops, crab, poultry and creamy pasta dishes. Drink now.

 

 

Cool Sippers for Spring 2014


Lately, the question that I’ve been hearing from friends and customers is “What’s drinking for Spring 2014? What should I be drinking?”

Comfort food and classic cookware are making big classy comebacks. Chefs are taking down-home cooking upscale. Humble vegetables like beets and turnips are taking root on Michelin-starred restaurant menus from soups to dessert. It’s a good thing I like beets and turnips!

From my seat at the wine bar, I’ve notice five interesting trends and they are all good. Yes, there are new wines on the market, old wines are being rediscovered by a new generation of wine lovers and they are all waiting for us to take a sip.

First, more people will be discovering more affordable wines from different regions

The demand for established big hitters from Burgundy and Bordeaux continues to raise the prices and make it harder for regular every day consumers to afford them. Because of this many consumers are willing to try new wines from different countries, and discovering tremendous bargains. Portugal and Spain have had strong vintages and weak economies, and they have some great offerings on local wine shelves. Old world countries unfamiliar to the American wine drinker—Croatia, Slovenia and Bulgaria—are modernizing their vineyards and wineries to better compete in the world market. In South America, Argentina and Chile are producing new premium wines at great values. But will Brazil be the next trendy South American wine region? These regional shifts seem  driven by a genuine interest in more varietals and styles as a new generation of wine drinkers reveals itself to be more adventurous than previous generations.

  • El Coto Crianza, Rioja, Spain 
    El Coto de Rioja, in Oyón, was founded in 1970 by a group of wine makers committed to creating a new type of Rioja. Today, El Coto de Rioja Crianza is one of the most popular wines in all of Spain and one of the top-selling Rioja’s in the world. Dusty and leathery, it’s packed with the sour cherries and rustic aromas that are part of the classic Rioja profile. Made from 100% Tempranillo it is positively ancient in style. Basically, it’s earthy, with seductive cigar box, spice and herbal aromas balanced by plenty of scented red fruit to round out the rough edges. This medium-bodied red offers up a vanilla and leather-laden wine that has layers of fresh raspberries and cherry fruit flavors, cedar and spice with a wonderfully long, soft, yet earthy finish—the essence of fine traditional Rioja. I love it, but then, I love Spanish wines. If you’ve never had an old-school Spanish wine, I suggest you at least give it a try— it’s always a good value!
  • Bodega Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda Malbec, Argentina
    Established in 1901 by Leoncio Arizu, Bodega Luigi Bosca is the oldest family owned and run winery in Argentina and it is being managed by the third and fourth generations of the Arizu family. The winery owns seven vineyards and more than 700 hectares, located throughout the province of Mendoza. The Wine Spectator gave this little gem a solid 87 points and described it as “Toasty with plum, vanilla and mocha notes followed by a medium-weight, slightly firm, smoky finish.”  This intense red wine could be considered an amazing bargain with its fresh aromas of morello cherries and spices wafting from the glass. It is a well-structured, velvety wine with balanced tannins as a result of three-months spent aging in French oak casks. It will be hard to find another Malbec with such richness and depth at  this price.

New World Chardonnay revival

I’m hearing that Spring 2014 will be the Spring of Chardonnay. It looks like ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) may finally be falling by the wayside this year. Producers seem excited about Chardonnay, believing they have the right clones and vine age to produce superior fruit and leaner, cooler climate wines. Producers are limiting the use of new oak barrels to amplify the expression of fruit and “terroir” while reducing that huge “oaky” flavor. If you’re an oak lover, don’t worry, the oak won’t disappear completely, subtle use of oak will continue to play its part in the best Chardonnay. Look to see more aromatic and elegant styles from cooler coastal and higher altitude vineyards. These revived Chardonnays have the wow factor that has eluded us in recent years.
Here are two Chardonnays with an elegant expression of fruit and richness:

  • Josh Cellars Chardonnay, California
    Sometimes you just want an affordable, tasty Chardonnay and this wine from Josh Cellars delivers plenty of bang for the buck. Josh Cellars is the value line from Napa winery Joseph Carr. A blend of tank and barrel fermented fruit, this bright Chardonnay opens with inviting stone fruit aromas of ripe white peaches, apricot and pear accented by tropical pineapple and delicate notes of honeysuckle and white rose petals. On the palate, you’ll find lush peach, pear, citrus and tropical fruit in a creamy-textured, medium-bodied wine supported by just enough citrusy acidity.  Balanced, and round, the flavor profile is gentle — ripe citrus summer fruit, melon, peach and pear with hints of apple, light oak, and apricot aligned with a touch of vanilla and smoke. This Chardonnay is excellent with food , very enjoyable and a crowd pleaser. Serve it cool, not cold for the greatest benefits.
  • Joseph Carr Dijon Clone Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
    Winemaker Joseph Carr says he uses 100% French barrel selections and separated lots by  individual Dijon clones. The wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lies (on the yeast) with full malolactic fermentation. Indeed, he has produced a balanced, luscious and opulent Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast region. The aromas showcase  green apples, vanilla, butter, lemon tart, a touch of apricot  and green pepper. There are light notes of oak and yeasty brioche behind the luscious fruit.  French oak aging imparts oaky smoke vanilla flavors. This is a classy Californian in a very Burgundian style and it will be perfect for any meal. This is one wine you can’t  afford to pass up!

Champagne isn’t the only Bubbly of choice

With bubblies, rising prices for domaine and estate Champagnes from established regions have caused us to reconsider our choices and to explore different regions. Although spending on Champagne has picked up, most consumers are not opting to spend the big bucks for every day occasions. Consequently, Prosecco, Cava and other sparkling wines are  gaining market share. Prosecco, made only from the white grape Glera, has embedded itself in the American wine vocabulary, palate and budget.

  • Riondo Spago Nero Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
    As with most Prosecco, Riondo Spago Nero is made using the Charmat method, meaning it is a first-rate wine to drink young and fresh. In general, Prosecco often has lower alcohol levels and is best consumed within 2 years of release. This 100% Prosecco (Glera) version is a personal favorite and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate agrees stating, “This effusively fruity, light-bodied offering offers terrific floral notes, persistent effervescence, and a clean, delicate finish. It is an ideal apéritif to enjoy over the next year.— 90 points.”  It is effusively fruity and light-bodied, not to mention delicious. This amazing little wine is a perfectly inexpensive sparkler, so if you love bubbles you can splurge a lot more often.
  • Veuve de Vernay Brut, France
    Veuve du Vernay Brut is a crisp, clean and refreshing sparkler from the Bordeaux region of France. This charming little wine is made from a grape called Ugni Blanc (or Trebbiano in Italy). It’s bright and zesty with hints of apple and pear on the nose and lots of fine velvety smooth bubbles. The flavors are very much apple and pear with a hint of toast. For the price, it’s perfect to serve at any celebration, as an apéritif or as a compliment to lighter dishes.

Sustainable, organic or biodynamic wines are becoming more numerous and mainstream

The Natural Wine movement has highlighted the need for greater sustainability across all wine production due to their obvious popularity with consumers. Actually, it seems the younger generation of wine drinkers are not asking “are you organic and sustainable?” But “why aren’t you?” Because of this, more and more wines will be labeled sustainable, organic or biodynamic as these eco-friendly vineyard practices gain popularity with growers and consumers.

  • Barone Fini Pinot Grigio 2012 Valdadige DOC
    I know a lot of Pinot Grigio lovers and this Trentino-Alto Adige winery follows all the strict guidelines of the Italian DOC while practicing sustainable agricultural techniques. The average vine here runs between 25 to 30 years of age and these older vines provide crisp, dry flavors of roasted almonds and surprising concentration of apple. Soft, round apple and pear fruit fills the mouth with ripe, juicy flavors. The finish is long with ripe apples and lychee nuts. This is a fresh Pinot Grigio and it is meant to be enjoyed with friends as an apéritif, or with a light meal.
  • Deep Sea Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California
    Deep Sea Pinot Noir is comes from Rancho Arroyo Grande in the Central Coast region of California, just thirteen miles from the Pacific Ocean. Most of the fruit for this Pinot Noir comes from the Solomon Hills Vineyard in Santa Maria, California. This Pinot greets you with a wonderfully smoky nose, hints of vanilla and caramel notes. Barrel-aged for 17 months in French oak, this wine is soft and silky with classic flavors of cherry, rose petal, and exotic spices.  Light and balanced, with delicious fruit, elegant oak notes and earth, this wine pairs well with many cuisines, or can be enjoyed on its own.

It’s in the Blends

Red blends have become a thing. Blends are perfect for when you don’t know what type of grape you want to drink or what to pair with your meal. A blend of several varietals will offer a bit more flavor, round out some rough edges and help compliment the meal. You really can’t go too terribly wrong with a blend. The easy-to-grasp concept, modest price points and flavor profiles can add a new dimension to your cellar and they can be found from every region.

  •  Apothic Red Winemaker’s Blend, California
    This is an inexpensive blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Merlot from California. It’s often a favorite at wine tastings. Think of it as a berry fruit bomb with a cornucopia of flavor. Plum and blackberry aromas are quickly followed by notes of vanilla, spice and a bit of maple. The flavors are a melding of juicy mixed berries, cherry cola, brown sugar and spice that give way to a finish of lingering chocolate and maple syrup. An intriguing wine that will take you on a full flavor rollercoaster ride. It pairs nicely with barbecue and pizza, but many love it on its own.
  •  Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Côtes du Rhône Rouge, Rhône Valley, France
    “Les Abeilles” is a tasty Rhône blend of 33% Grenache, 34% Syrah and 33% Mourvèdre. Named after the honey bees inhabiting the vineyards, this wine entices with intriguing aromas of plum, ripe dark fruit and a little licorice. This medium-bodied, velvety red has smooth blackberry and black cherry flavors with spice against a backdrop of smooth, silky tannins. It offers a dry and velvety finish. A great bargain.
  • Di Majo Norante Ramitello, Biferno Rosso, Molise, Italy
    I love a good Italian wine and this blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Aglianico is one of them. It begins with a lovely aroma of dark berry fruit, smoke, menthol and maraschino cherry. The wine tastes delicious with the berry fruit continuing from the bouquet as well as some added flavor of dried herbs, licorice and leather. This is a smooth, silky soft wine with very nice balance. The finish is dry and delicious with some lingering smoky notes.
  • Primus, Colchagua Valley, Chile
    Primus is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah and Merlot from Colchagua (pronounced  kohl-CHA-gwa) Valley which has been dubbed the “Napa Valley of Chile.” This blend is a big, full-bodied wine. The ripe red and black berry fruit aromas are layered with exotic spice. You’ll also note the telltale “Chilean” menthol and eucalyptus on the nose. Blackcurrant, blueberry, ripe cherry, chocolate, toasted oak, vanilla, pepper, anise, and rich chocolate flavors create a dense, warm, spicy, leathery, dark-fruited lovely wine with mouth-drying tannins.

There you have it, a dozen wines for spring 2014. Enjoy!

September wines


Often I’m asked about what wine is mandatory to stock for late summer going into fall?

Many people incorrectly assume that warm weather wines must whites and only be whites, but, trust me, warm weather wines come in all colors and flavors, including my perennial favorite, Rosé.

I love Rosés, in my book, you can’t go wrong with Rosé. Often made from high-acid, mineral-driven grapes, they tend to go well with summer-fresh produce and are great to drink with or while you’re waiting for your food to arrive. Another plus for Rosé is it makes a good transition into fall’s cooler climate and pairs beautifully with root vegetables.

There are many beautiful dry and crisp Rosés, the best known seem to come from Provence, in Southern France. One of my favorites from this region has recently undergone a name change by the new winery owners. Not only has this wine changed names, it now sports a new bottle shape as well. Once known as Chateau Miraval Pink Floyd because the legendary rock group Pink Floyd recorded a portion of their famed 1979 album The Wall at Miraval’s private recording studio.

New owners, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, took care of the old vines, terraced vineyards, and organic farming that form the basis for the salmon-hued Chateau Miraval, Cotes de Provence Rosés “Pitt & Jolie”, 2012. This refined and elegant full-bodied Rosé is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, offering pure flavors of dried red berry, red cherry, honeydew and tangerine, with a focused finish layered with flint and spice notes. (Around $20)

Another delicious Rosé from Provence is Chateau Beaulieu Coteaux d’Aix-En-Provence Rose 2012. Situated in the town of Rognes, Chateau Beaulieu’s 494-acre vineyard lies in the heart of on old volcanic crater at an altitude of 1300 feet. This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah. Each grape variety is vinified separately in stainless steel tanks to preserve its natural character and is aged two to three months before blending.
Chateau Beaulieu offers a subtle, yet expressive bouquet of red currants, wild strawberry with notes of juicy ripe peaches and pear. The crisp fruit flavors echo the nose. This is a balanced, elegant wine excellent as an aperitif and pairing with grilled fish, crustaceans, and fruit-based desserts. Serve slightly chilled. ( Around $12)

I can never pass up a Spanish Rosé and a current favorite is: Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Rosado 2012 from Rioja, Spain, 2012. This pink Rioja  offers a great value and can be found under $12 in most shops. A blend of 85% Tempranillo and 15% Garnacha, this wine offers aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, rose petals and a very slight hint of licorice. The flavors of this fresh wine follow suit, there is a balance of red berry fruit, acidity, alcohol and a very generous finish. This wine makes a match for white meat (chicken and pork), vegetables, pasta and a variety of cold cuts.

To transition into fall’s cooler weather and darker reds, there are two regions that offer astounding values: Chianti and Rioja.

Starting with Chianti, a region in Tuscany, you’ll find the term “Chianti” is a broad catch-all phrase that doesn’t convey the range of styles offered today. The old straw-clad fiasco bottle that held shrill, acidic Chianti is long gone and in it’s place you’ll find some wines with character and great values.

One such wine is Antinori Chianti Superiore Santa Cristina 2011. I enjoy most of the wines made by this producer and this one, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot is a good value running around $15 (or less).

Santa Cristina was originally introduced in 1946 as a Chianti Classico, but with the passage of the 1984 DOCG laws requiring lower vineyard yields, Chianti Classico grapes became so complex and rich that they required more aging than this fruity fresh wine needed to maintain its style and character. In 1987, Santa Cristina moved away from the Chianti Classico designation, and with the 1994 vintage Antinori began including 10% Merlot to the blend to add soft, open fruit nuances to the wine.

Antinori Chianti Superiore Santa Cristina 2011 is a classic, ruby-red, well-structured Chianti, offering aromas of red berry fruit (red currant and cherry), with vanilla and floral hints of violets. As the wine breathes ,whiffs of vanilla from the oak aging waft from the glass. The medium-bodied palate is well-balanced and complex, with sweet tannins and ripe red fruit notes upfront, followed by typical spicy sensations from the oak palate and more savory flavors lingering on the finish.

For me, when it comes to red, Rioja continues to offer the best values in ready-to-drink, age-able wines. At a tasting earlier this year, I absolutely fell in love with Vivanco Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Reserva—my tasting notes had five exclamation points,

For just under $20, you get a deep, dark cherry red wine. The grapes come from vineyards in Briones and Haro, Rioja Alta, where the average age of the vines is 35 years. With aromas of spicy oak, this wine has everything I and any Rioja fan would expect: mature black plum and red cherry followed by some balsamic and eucalyptus notes. There is a wonderful balance and blending of the aromas and flavors—from the oaky toffee elements in the nose (vanilla and marshmallow), to the long-lasting black cherry, sweet currant, dried herbs, mushrooms, and a minerally touch of limestone that race across your taste buds. This wine has intensity and balance, soft, round tannins, and a long finish with hints of toast and licorice. If possible, decant before serving.

Both of these wines are perfect with appetizers, any cheese, pizza, root vegetables and red and grilled meat. To bring out their soft fruitiness, try chilling them for about 20 minutes before serving.

There you have my five delicious finds to take us from summer’s heat to the beginning of fall.

Grab your charcoal and your corkscrew, grilling season has arrived


On a warm sunny, summer afternoon, the big red winess that most of us would normally match with red meat are about as refreshing as a hot cup of coffee. Sometimes pairing wines with grilled food in warm weather just needs a bit of consideration regarding the flavors that outdoor (or indoor)grilling can bring to the plate: smokiness and charcoal. These alone can overwhelm less robust wines and make them appear wimpy next to your perfectly served rib-eye.
Zinfandel, Merlot, Shiraz and Malbec are always mentioned as the preferred wines to go with grilled red meats, because they each bring a few desired characteristics to go with that sometimes spicy and charcoal blend of flavors.
Zinfandel is a bold red wine that really bellies up to meaty, smokey flavors. This varietal’s black pepper spice, acidity and ripe tannins balance the fat and brings the texture to a new dimension. Zinfandel with it’s big, bold fruitiness is a natural when it comes to sauces and mild salsas especially sweet and spicy barbecue sauces. Butif your sauce is  heavily spiced, it could compete with this juicy wine and both could come up as losers.  In cases like this, the best spicy sauce/wine combination is often Merlot, because of its characteristic fruit-forward flavor profile. Merlot will support the spice and not aggravate it. Grilled pork chops, chicken and garden-variety salads with lighter dressings also mingle well with Merlot.

Another varietal that always seems to make the grill-friendly wine list is Shiraz (Syrah) As with the previously mentioned wines, this varietal is delicious with just about any red meat. Shiraz is dynamic, offering some aggressive fruit flavors, more mellow tannins and a softer-fuller body than a Cabernet. In fact, Shiraz absolutely shines with burgers, steak and hot dogs.

Quite a few wine lovers reach for an Argentinian Malbec to pair with those same burgers, steak and hot dogs, especially if they are smothered with onions sauerkraut and relish. Malbec has dark, plummy fruit flavors and a peppery spice edge that just works beautifully with grilled meat. Besides, it’s hard to argue with the value-for-money equation offered by this cheerful red with a lot of fruit intensity but not a lot of tannins.
If you want to be sophisticated or are a little unsure if what wine to choose, Pinot Noir will be your best safe bet. Pinot Noir a flexible varietal that is known for being extremely food-friendly. Pinot Noir with its hints of smoke and cherry can go from a juicy burger or grilled chicken to grilled fish —especially salmon—in a single sip.

One of the more versatile red grapes in the world, Grenache (Garnacha) from the rugged, rocky area in Spain’s Catalonia region is a favorite when grilling. These wines offer unmistakable candied fruit roll-up and cinnamon flavor tinged with both sweetness and spice. Grenache and Grenache- dominated blends are delious when paired with grilled meats.

Of course, you can’t only drink red. If you find it’s just too darn hot for red, you will find Riesling to be the perfect varietal for grilled brats, shrimp, barbecue chicken, and a variety of grilled veggies or pineapple.Besides, grilled fish and vegetables often generate a thirst for summer white wines. The important key point is to look for a wines with a savory character. Sauvignon Blanc has an herbaceous quality that supports marinades and sauces with similar attributes. Many fresh and lively Sauv Blancs are pungent, with nuances of dried herbs, and a slightly vegetal note that will highlight grilled veggies, roasted peppers and grilled.

Thick cuts of fish, particularly the richer salmon or tuna, are good with robust whites. Instead of reaching for a California Chardonnay, why not try a Torrontés from Argentina? Torrontés is Argentina’s white wine answer to malbec and offers enticing aromas that are strikingly similar to Viognier, with hints of peach pit, flowers, and orange citrus fruit, yet it is quite dry. This crisp white almost seems a little a bit like Viognier with the combination of soft stone and citrus fruits, floral oils and hints of spices, but is often much less expensive thanViognier—in fact, a good bottle of Torrontés is often under $15.  Although blackened Mahi Mahi, or grilled Cajun chicken with fresh mango salsa will work with Torrontés, you might want to pair it with a bit of Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer often offers a balance to spiciness with its slightly to moderately sweet character and honied hints of musky cinnamon, rose petals and citrus peel spice.

When it comes to pairing wine with the grill, it’s all about the sauce. Almost everyone who grills chicken or beef either marinates it or slathers it or something, so a simple rule of thumb is if it’s barbecue sauce, go red; if it’s citrus-tangy, go white; if you’re uncertain, go Pinot Noir—I’d go Rosé, but that’s just me.  No matter if it’s red or white don’t forget the 20/20 rule to give the wine a chill. If you don’t know the 20/20 rule, it’s simple: If the wine is white take it out of the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving; if the wine is red, put it in the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving.

Here are several delicious value-priced wines for the grill or any warm weather get-together:

Ravenswood Winery Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, 2010  (about $12)
This is a classic example of Lodi Zinfandel with plum, strawberry jam, blackcurrant jam and earth aromas and extreme fruit-forward flavors of thick, rich, concentrated blueberry fruit and soft spice. This medium-bodied wine offers minerals, decent acidity and easy mellow tannins to pair well with grilled meats.

14 Hands Vineyards Merlot, Columbia Valley, WA.  (about $12)
The wine is actually a blend of 78% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Syrah, 1% Grenache and 1% Cabernet Franc, making it a perfect grilling blend. The aromas start dark and earthy, slowly revealing notes of cherry. The palate offers lush flavors of mocha, black cherry and blackberries, followed by a bit of oak. It is smooth and silky with firm tannins that will pair well with just about anything on the grill. This is the perfect wine to bring to a cookout.

Hope Estate Shiraz The Ripper 2009, Western Australia  (about $14)
The ‘Ripper’ Shiraz has notes of crushed blackberry, cherry and mulberry over cedar, dried Provence herbs, lavender and a hint of mint. Full-bodied, ripe, rich, fruit-forward and concentrated, the blueberry  and blackberry and spice flavors blend with vanilla oakiness and are supported by definitive tannins and refreshing acidity, finishing with long lasting notes of toast and cedar. Bring on the steak!

Colores del Sol Malbec Reserva, Lujan de Cuyo,Mendoza, Argentina (about $9)
Colores del Sol, means “Colors of the Sun”  shows excellent balance with an opulent, full-bodied mouthfeel and ample fine grained tannins. Spice flavors lead into a rich, fruit-driven palate, dominated by flavors of raspberry and black cherry, currant and tea. Smoke, spice and caramel lead to the smooth finish. This wonderful red wine would pair well with grilled red meats,.

Castle Rock Pinot Noir California Cuvee 2011 (about $10)
This medium-bodied red is elegant, offering aromas of cherry, tea and herbal spice. Its smooth, silky-textured palate offers mild tannins, and flavors of black cherry, plum and spice,all the way through the long finish.  Brooding and savory, green, fennel-like edges feel refreshing and honest, avoiding the dried fruit flavors that mar many value-priced California Pinot Noirs. Perfect to set up for chicken or pork sausages.

Altovinum Calatayud Evodia 2011, Calatayud, Spain (about $10)
Evodia is an exciting project in the Denominacion de Origen Calatayud, hailed as one of Spains most progressive and promising wine growing regions. This savory wine has concentrated black cherry and cola on the nose, followed by raspberry notes with a bit of pepper and heat. This medium-bodied wine is slightly dry and a very much fruit-forward the with herbal notes of dried oregano and tobacco blend beautifully with black pepper spice for a good grill pairing.

Bodegas Juan Gil Monastrell Honoro Vera Organic 2012, Jumilla, Spain (about $10)
Monastrell accounts for 85% of the grapevines planted in Jumilla. Monastrell is known as Mourvedre in France, Mataro in Australia and is the M in GSM.  The nose is full of blackberry, bitter dark chocolate, raisin spice and licorice aromas. The boldness carries over to the Monastrell flavors, blackberry and fig compete with Australian black licorice. The mid-palate brings dried strawberry, raisins and a stiff brush of tannins, making it a nice organic favorite to grilled meats and vegetables.

William Cole Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Albamar 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile (about $10)
William Cole Vineyards lies deep within Chile’s prestigious Casablanca Valley—often called “Chile’s Burgundy.” Albamar pays homage to the Casablanca Valley’s foggy sunrise (“alba” means sunrise) and the cooling breezes of the ocean (“mar” means ocean). This wine offers excellent fresh citrus fruit flavors of Meyer lemon, lime and crisp apple. Dry, light and crisp with the right amount of acidity and minerality to compliment the vibrant fruit and mild herbal flavors. It is bone dry and very food friendly. Ceviche is just one dish that would match the acidity and mineral freshness of this Sauvignon.

Ruca Malen “Yauquen” Torrontés, Salta, Argentina (about $11)
“Yauquen” is a word from the Mapuche language that means “to share a drink with a friend”.  The bouquet is bursting with aromas of white flowers and citrus fruits. It is fresh on the palate with crisp stone fruit flavors, fresh dill, delicate herbs and good mineral and acid on the finish. The acidity makes it a perfect pairing with spicy cuisine, particularly Thai and Tex-Mex grill. Favorite pairings include: grilled or sautéed pork chops, pork tenderloin and grilled or sautéed veal.

Hugel & Fils Gewürztraminer, 2011, Alsace, France (about $23)
This white is very floral offering fresh aromatic notes of fruit and spice, rose, lily of the valley, mango, lychee, pineapple, passion fruit and cardamom.Fresh and dry on the palate, it sparks flavors of citrus, crystallized ginger and mango before becoming  floral on the high-acid finish. Very stylish with spicy dishes, grilled lobster, crayfish tails or grilled veal and pork.

Blue Fish Riesling Dry 2011, Niederkirchen, Pfalz, Germany (about $9)
Blue Fish Riesling has amazingly seductive aromas of ripe apricot, peach, pear marked with a lovely floral accent. This wine is dry with a a slight effervescence, pleasing structure and underlying acidity. Not overly sweet or dry, the smooth fruit flavors start with Granny Smith apples followed by lemon, raspberry, aloe juice, pineapple, sweet red apple and a hint of lime. This is a very crisp, tart, clean and refreshing wine would pair well with a  grilled ribeye steak or pork belly with scalloped potatoes.

Enjoy!

Warm weather wines under $15


The first rule of wine drinking is: no matter the season, no matter the cuisine, you should always drink the wines that give you the most pleasure.
Unfortunately, most big red wines seem dull and overpowering because alcohol and tannin tend to stand out as summer temperatures rise. You may opt for that big, bold cabernet with a thick steak, but there is a lighter alternative such as a Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, or a red-Rhône blend; white wine lovers should seek out a Gewürtztraminer. The beauty of these wines, and the reason they go so well with grilled meats, is their savory character, which pairs nicely with the smoky, earthy aromas from summer time grilled foods. Just remember: 10 minutes in an ice bucket will do wonders for a tannic red wine on a hot day.

Chardonnay isn’t a first choice with summer’s grilled fish and vegetables. These call for white wines with savory characteristics like Sauvignon blanc, Gewürtaminer, or Riesling. Sauvignon Blanc—pungent and savory, with nuances of dried herbs, and a slightly vegetal note, pairs well with grilled dishes. Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling with citrusy notes play especially well with fish.

Here’s a selection of six summer-friendly wines around $10 or less that won’t break the bank:

Culture du Sud Vin de Pays de Méditerranée, France
This wine from the south of France is a satisfying blend of Merlot, Syrah and Grenache. Delicious notes of black cherry, tobacco and herb linger on the medium-weight finish.

Castle Rock Pinot Noir California Cuvee 2011
Castle Rock Winery is known for low-priced, readily available Pinot Noirs. This medium-bodied blend features fruit from multiple California AVAs and offers aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, tea, herbs and spice. Smooth and silky with mild tannins, this value red has a wonderfully long finish. Pair with summer lamb, veal, salmon and light pasta dishes.

Albet I Noya Tempranillo Classic 2012, Spain
One of the best valued reds to come along in years, Albet i Noya has been Spain’s leading organic wine producer since 1979. Made according to strict organic specifications, this medium-bodied red highlights black fruits and Tempranillo’s blackberry aromas.  it is well-balanced, and offers rich fruit flavors, a vegetal note and terrific length on the finish.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Chile
This elegant, expressive and fresh Sauvignon Blanc has a herbaceous quality thats made to support marinades and sauces. Citrus notes of grapefruit and green apple intermingle with herbal hints and follow throught to a pleasant mineral finish. Fresh and balanced, this wine is an excellent choice to serve as an aperitif or with vegetarian combinations. Pair with soft and fresh cheeses, grilled chicken doused in Italian or citrus marinade, roasted peppers, veggies in fresh herbs, grilled fish with dill and lemon.

Bauer Haus Riesling 2010, Germany
Riesling, with its naturally high acidity and sharp piercing aromas can sometimes resemble Sauvignon Blanc, but instead of vegetation and gooseberry,  flowers, honey, minerals, nuts and citrus fruits aromas waft from the glass. Bauer Haus Riesling has peach and apple flavors with a crisp acidity that results in a well-balanced, easy-to-drink wine. It works well as an aperitif or paired with anything grilled: brats, shrimp, barbecue chicken, pineapple or veggies.

Two Vines Gewürztraminer, Washington State
Two Vines offers the typical Gewurztraminer aromas of apricot, orange zest and spice joined by lively citrus note and some floral notes. Upfront fruit flavors of melons, pears and lime give way to pink grapefruit and finish with bright acidity and a mineral note, balancing the wine’s subtle sweetness. Pairs with Asian dishes or zesty BBQ or chicken wings.

Grey skies are going to clear up with some sunny spring wines


Grey skies, low temperatures, snow and hail showers one minute, bright warm summer sunshine the next…aah, the joys of spring. When the weather is “in betweeny” like this, you need versatile wines that can adapt to changing weather conditions. It’s time for a wine rack spring clean!

The idea of changing the wine you drink with the season, just as you change your diet and your wardrobe still meets some resistance. People tend to ‘like what they like’ when it comes to wine, drinking the same bottles right through the year. The more pronounced acidity and palate weight of lighter wines may not be to your taste. But try them with the right kind of food and you’ll see how perfectly tuned they are to the flavors of spring.

Whenever I’m asked  about seasonal choices, I hear little voices calling out to me from their space on the wine rack, “Pick me! Pick me!”  But with limited space, we have to be discerning. Of course, I always start with my first tried-and-true favorite, Sauvignon Blanc. For white wines, there’s something innately spring-like in the herbaceous aromas and zingy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Although I love its refreshing gooseberry and leafy minerality charms, my spring versions need to be fuller in style, with a more weight and depth of flavor than in Summer when coolness and refreshment are of prime importance.
Here are two delicious American versions:

  • Kathryn Kennedy California Sauvignon Blanc (about $25)
    Good California Sauvignon Blanc is a trickier endeavor than it seems; so many fall too ripe, shifting away from grassy freshness; others take green flavors to an extreme. Kathryn Kennedy California Sauvignon Blanc  doesn’t play grassy, but it’s still zingy and fresh for the style, with flavors of dried hay, oregano, nectarine skin and a lemon-rind bite. Good for herb-laden foods and goat cheeses, it’s also an excellent “porch-pounder.”
  • J. Christopher Willamette Valley Sauvignon Blanc (about $18): This Sauvignon Blanc is a beautiful spring-scented wine and a perfect partner for delicious late-spring garden gems—peas, fava beans, fresh herbs—that are so challenging to partner with wine. This refined wine offers notes of elderflower, freshly mowed hay and ripe pear underlined by the crisp acidity we expect from Sauvignon Blanc Pour alongside a fresh-herb and chèvre salad for an ideal late-spring pairing.

Spring is also the time to reintroduce Riesling. Riesling tends to polarize wine drinkers—some love it, some hate it. There’s no denying Riesling offers crisp, fresh flavors and modest alcohol levels that make it perfect for spring sipping. If it’s the sweetness you want to avoid, stick to Alsace Riesling, German Kabinett Riesling or Clare Valley Riesling from Australia. If you want to avoid the typical kerosene flavors it can develop with age, stick to younger wines.

  • Josef Leitz Eins Zwei Dry Rheingau Riesling (about $17)
    Not that we don’t love the off-dry beauty of the German wines, but spring flavors lean just slightly toward a drier style, and dry German Riesling is a particular favorite because it can easily work all the way through a meal. The stony character of the Rheingau truly shines in this lean and exciting white. Eins Zwei Dry is full of lime pith, lemon, quince, cool stone, white peach-skin flavors and a hint of saline. It’s clean, tangy, fresh and thirst quenching on the palate…or, as we like to say, quite gulp-able.

The Albariño grape plays in the gray area between Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, yet neither is a fully fair comparison.  Good Albarino can be lovely and expressive, rewarding you with a more exotic twinge like the stony character or subtle floral scent sof Riesling.

  • Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Estate Vineyard Monterey County Albarino ($18)
    This Albarino is grown biodynamically near Soledad, and it brings a curiously oily Riesling quality, with exotic scents of shredded green papaya, pomelo and lily. Zingy and almost clipped in its style, it still has enough sweet fruit to drink with a substantive seasonal main course.

One fashionable option is every sommelier’s darling, Grüner Veltliner—this Austrian grape is less demanding than Riesling, more sophisticated than Pinot Grigio and quite delicious ron its own.

  • Bethel Heights 2011 Grüner Veltliner, Oregon (about $18)
    This dry wine exhibits aromas of pear, yeast and lime with hints of spice and white pepper. There are herbaaceous notes in this light- to medium-bodied white. The clean mineral notes, crisp lemon, lime zest and hints of chalk are followed by a touch of flint and white pepper. A great dinner or sipping wine.

This spring, Pinot Grigio lovers should give the beloved Italian Falanghina grape a chance. Preta Capolino Perlingieri Falanghina Sannio DOC (about $16) offers just a hint of floral and fruit on the nose. Flavors of green olive and brine meld with dried lemon peel, apple, white peach and fresh green herbs. With its sharp as a tack, intensely mineral flavors, it’s often called the Pinot Grigio for grown-ups.

We love Chenin Blanc, and in its home territory of the Loire Valley the wines combine complexity and fruit with vibrant freshness. In South Africa, Chenin Blanc combines riper fruit flavors with an exotic pine-pitch accent that parallels spring’s fresh flavors. A good choice is: Ken Forrester Petit Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc (sbout $10). This producer is known for great values. With its steely, aromatic profile,  Fuji apple and a mouthwatering citrus presence, this value-driven wine can taste like a more expensive proposition.

Chardonnay lovers must try Chehalem “INOX” Willamette Valley Chardonnay (about $19) this spring.  This wine takes its name from the French abbreviation for “stainless steel,” and it has a crisp, steely delivery. Made from 100 percent Dijon clones, it is clean, light-bodied and wonderfully balanced. This white pairs best with grilled vegetables, mild goat cheese, chicken or trout.

Okay, so what reds are just right for Spring?

Pinot Noir is a good choice because it’s a supremely flexible grape. Pinot Noir’s low tannin and softly spicy fruit are the keys to its adaptability—it’s great with or without food, and is light-bodied enough to match up to warming weather. Young Pinot Noirs are best for that bright, intense, pure raspberry fruit, but you don’t have to sacrifice flavor and complexity.

  • Brooks Pinot Noir- Willamette Valley 2011 (about $21)
    The joyful young fruit – red cherries, strawberries, black raspberries – is what you notice first, but then a touch of cherry cola and peppery spices come through. that’s followed by smoky oak, along with a fresh emergu amd textire. Finishes with a refreshng bitter edge that cleans your mouth and a nice bit of spice that leaves you wanting more.

These are jut a few great buys for spring tasting and your spring wine cellar. Jut as you can never have too many pairs of shoes, you can never have too many styles of wine! Enjoy.

Hearty Winter Wines


When the temperature dips below freezing, it’s the perfect time to stay indoors and seek the warmth and comfort of our favorite winter treats. Whether it’s your special chili, the slow-cooked crockpot  beef stew, a prime rib roast or braised short ribs that fall off the bone with barely a touch, winter comfort foods aren’t wimpy!
Winter meals need wines that will stand up to them. Sauvignon Blanc with subtle lemon will fade to nothingness when served alongside spicy chili with cheese. Now is the time to think rich and powerful: luscious Cabernet Sauvignon, robust Syrah, a powerhouse Petite Sirah or a zingy Zinfandel. It makes perfect sense to pair certain wines with classic cold weather staples.

First up is Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the considered “king of reds”, and it is definitely one sought by wine collectors. It’s famous for its role in traditional Old World Bordeaux wines such as Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Latour, and Château Margaux, as well as New World wines from California like Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, Colgin—some of the most sought after wines in the world.

Basically, a typical Cabernet posesses dark fruit (think plum, cassis, blackberry, boysenberry) aromas and flavors. What sets this wine apart from other reds is the earthy, vegetal nuances and sweet green pepper aromas that appear in the bouquet and add to the wine’s complexity. Because Cab spends more time in oak than most wines, the oak-derived aromas are deep and integrated, including vanilla, coffee, chocolate, toast, butterscotch—making for a deep, dark, complex wine.

As far as a food pairing, the classic one is steak. Beef. Think “Cab and cow”—a good fillet mignon seared just right with the perfect Cabernet is almost unbeatable.
Cabernet Sauvignon has a reputation for being an expensive wine. Fortunately, you don’t have to mortgage the house to buy a good Cab.

Root 1: This Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon made by the Viña Ventisquero winery has highly concentrated lush fruit flavors born of a hot, dry climate. It’s a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. The description on the back of the label is accurate, “rich red wine with black currant, mocha & cherry flavors”. This wine pours a dark ruby and has aromas of black cherry, plum, and mocha.  Easy-drinking   it offers flavors of cherry, blackberry, and a touch of oak.  It is full-bodied, with medium tannins and acidity. Around $10.

14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon: This one is a must try for cab lovers who value supple tannins. This Washington State wine celebrates the spirit of the wild horses (actually ponies) in the hills of the Columbia river valley. The blend is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and a few other select red varieties added for good measure. Aromas of allspice, cherries and oak meld with the distinctive Washington State flavors of chocolate, mocha and cherries. to make an easily drinkable, velvety wine with a long, soft finish. This wine is a gem at around $12.

Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: This Cabernet Sauvignon explodes with dark red fruit (black cherry, plum and black current), smoke, licorice and tar aromas. The blend is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, and it’s sleek, elegant and refined. The flavors begin with soft black currant, blueberry and black cherry, balanced with a backbone of acidity with hints of red currant, red cherry and blackberry pie and end with subtle touches of earth and cedar. This is an incredible wine! Around $75.

Another great winter choice is Syrah, it’s flavorful and it has its origins in France’s Rhône Valley. This wine is unmistakable, with notes of cured meats, smoke, coffee, blueberry and iron oxide. Syrahs need flavorful food. This is a wonderful pairing for everything sheep—such as a leg of lamb, lamb stew or lamb riblets. If you’re a vegetarian, try some braised Shitake mushrooms with a little savory and thyme. If you want a traditional Rhône Valley wine, look for Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, or St. Joseph. For a more new world flavor, opt for something from California’s Central Coast or Australia (where they call it Shiraz).

McManis Family Vineyards Syrah 2011: This big rich California wine has dense, big jammy fruit aromas of raspberries, plums and sweet vanilla. Succulent blackberry and cassis flavors lead to a toasty vanilla oak midpalate with hints if clove and cinnamon. The lingering finish is fruity with hints of cocoa and licorice. It has a tight finish with modest tannins. This jammy wine pairs well with lighter fare or spicy food. A good budget wine for buyers looking for value and consistency. Around $10.

Alexander Valley Vineyards Syrah 2007: This is a polished and approachable purple Syrah with layers of aromas and flavors. It is a blend of Syrah, with a bit of Viognier and Grenache. Grenache adds depth with notes of wild strawberries, while Viognier brightens the color and contributes floral notes and softens the tannins. The wine exudes aromas of plum, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and violet nuances, all framed by white pepper with hints of stones, minerals and a touch of vanilla oak. Flavors of blackberry jam, black cherry and vanilla are unveiled as you sip this wine and those notes stay in all the way through the lengthy finish. You’ll enjoy the firm well-integrated tannins. Around $15.

Elderton Shiraz 2010: This rich full-bodied classic is from one of Australia’s great Barossa valley Shiraz producers, and it’s brimming with ripe juicy plum and chocolate flavors—think Black Forest cake. The aromas echo black forest fruits, chocolate, and vanilla. Flavors of blackberry, chocolate, and spice follow the nose. The wine is medium-bodied, lively and fresh, engagingly delicious. A very good value. Around $20.

For a chunky, earthy, spicy red wine that delivers good value, think Côtes du Rhône. Côtes du Rhône wines exhibit spicy, cherry flavors and aromas along with kirsch, and sometimes offer up earthy, funky tones. The spice flavors often include thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and cloves. These wines go great with a variety of foods, including pasta with rich sauces, pizza and a variety of meats. They range from lighter, fruitier styles, to more full-bodied, complex wines that can age for several years. There are modern and more traditional styles. The common denominator is that the wines are unpretentious, hearty and satisfying.

Guigal’s Côtes du Rhone 2009 is a large production wine that you’ll find easily, and for good reason. It has a smoky nose with cherry, a hint of thyme and other Provençal spices. The silky medium-bodied palate offers a plump cherry flavors, spice, good structure and balanced tannins.  About $12.

Paul Jaboulet Aine St. Joseph le Grand Pompee 2009: Paul Jaboulet has owned vineyards in the Rhône Valley since 1834, and Le Grand Pompee is full and fruit-forward, ripe with raspberry, blackberry, and plum complemented by a dash of cracked pepper. The nose is rich and concentrated ripe red fruits, sweet spice and licorice. This delicious red has firm rounded tannins.  About $30.

For something a little bigger and more in your mouth, go for a Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is often referred to as a rich, big, dark, and brooding wine. The tannin content is very high, given its juice to skin ratio, which means that this wine needs big food. The wine itself actually looks like ink and this dark purpleness will stain stain your teeth and anything else it splashes on. All this color portends the lusciousness in the glass: flavors of plum, dark cassis, prune, hints of coffee and dark chocolate that will make your mouth water.

Pair Petite Sirah with braised meats served in their own reduction stock, hearty beef stew or that hearty meal that’s been cooking in the crock pot all day. A handy cooking tip: this wine is perfect to use when you want to darken a sauce.

Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah 2010: This red makes a great companion to lamb, pork or game in rich sauces. The nose exhibits aromas of ripe blackberry, plum and boysenberry with a dash of cracked pepper and fresh herbs. The full palate is runs rampant with ripe blackberries and plums highlighted by spice notes, supple leather and a toasty hint of oak followed by caramel and vanilla. This jammy wine offers layer upon layer of complexity. Around $10.

Another great winter red  is Zinfandel. It’s hard to pass up all the fresh, ripe, jammy fruit in a Zin. Zinfandels can run the gamut…from fresh and fruity, low alcohol and red raspberry to ultra-ripe, jammy and sweet. For savory dishes you’ll want the lighter style Zins. The lower alcohol content pairs nicely with a large variety of food, but Italian red sauces do especially well—eggplant parmesan, meatballs, or plain old spaghetti makes a wonderful pairing. The fresh fruit just brings out the tangy acid in the tomato-based sauces.

On the other hand, the sweeter, gooey zins will pair well with cheeses and chocolate desserts…so whichever you choose, you will have a winner.

Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel Amador 2010: This Amador County, California blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah offers aromas of ripe black cherry, a little blueberry, licorice and brown sugar. Rich raspberry, black cherry and soft chocolate flavors linger on the palate, mingling with soft tannins and spice.  About $12.
Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Rockpile 2010 is an intense and smokey Zinfandel that begs to be paired with lamb. Aromas of spice box and red fruit are prominent. This wine is bold and intense, briary with cherry, currant, candied apple, and raspberry flavors, followed by smoke and spice. It’s perfectly balanced and flavorful with focused acidity and an extremely long finish. Around $30.

There you have it: several strong winter wine contenders at a variety of price points. Taste them with care, scrutinize their characteristics, and decide for yourself whether they warrant special consideration this winter. Remember, the beauty of wine is that no two bottles, or palates for that matter, are identical.

You may not make perfect pairings all the time. But, with practice you will have an arsenal full of hearty winter wines for your winter hearty dishes. Enjoy!

Drinking inside the Box: Black Box Merlot


Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.
Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.

When you are on a budget, as many people are these days, and you want a decent win for festive gatherings or proper hostess gifts. It’s time to let the Merlot out of the box. Yes, out of the box.

You see, Back Box Merlot arrived on the doorstep in little boxes that looked a bit like the juice boxes that often accompany my lunches to work. However, these were 500ml Tetra Paks, larger than a juice box and able to provide two large glasses or three “normal” glasses of wine.

So what did we do? Since it was now “wine time” we just had to try it.

The wine was definitely a Merlot enhanced with some Syrah, Petite Syrah and a touch of Sangiovese, and the four of us, Khadija, Karl, Beverly and I, were delighted by this unexpected treasure.

We found it to be a soft, easy-drinking, medium-bodied red wine, with rich aromas of plum and black cherry followed by some spice nuances, and a hint of cinnamon in the oak.

Khadija, fellow sommelier who works for Joe Canal’s in Marlton, said “It has a nose of cherries, cedar, spice and a hint of vanilla.” All four of us agreed about the delicious come hither “cinnamon-leather-oakiness” that made our mouths drool to try it.

The palate was rich and lavish with juicy fruit flavors of ripe plum, black currant and black cherries followed by some spiciness and chocolate notes. Khadija noted smoky vanilla and cinnamon, while Beverly noted a slight oakiness and strawberry flavors.

Karl, a romantic at heart, commented on the “subtle tannins that gave the wine its soft, velvety and voluptuous texture.”

It offered a long, warm finish tinged with sweet red currant and a lingering hint of chocolate. Simply put, you can’t go wrong with this easy-drinking red.

We all agreed that this would make an excellent “porch pounder” and holiday party wine, but it’s versatile enough to pair with almost any meal—poultry, red meat, pork, pastas or salads. It was delicious with our tasting platter of Gruyère, Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Muenster cheeses, proscuitto, salami, and mushrooms; and it would work well with a range of Italian dishes, savory roast chicken, steak in a red wine sauce or with casseroles. Speaking of sauces, this wine would make a rich base for red wine sauces.

Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.

As for the packaging, Black Box Tetra Paks are shatterproof, lightweight and portable so they’re great for taking anywhere—without having to worry about a corkscrew or broken glass around the pool, the beach or on the boat. The mini carton serving size is perfect for one or two.

In addition to the cute little Tetra Pak, Black Box wines come in a nice 3-liter sized box (equivalent to four 750ml bottles), perfect for standing neatly on the refrigerator shelf—no spillage can occur like it can with a corked bottle. besides, aving the box in your fridge makes it easier to pour that glass of wine while you’re in the kichen preparing dinner. In fact, it’s perfect for when you need to add wine to a recipe—it’s ready and waiting.

The best part of the big Black Box is that it stays fresh for about a month, so you don’t have to worry about opening a bottle for just one glass and having leftover wine (I know, who has leftover wine?)

Plus, the environmental benefit of this eco-friendly packaging is impressive: a 12-bottle case of wine weighs 40 pounds and holds 9 liters of wine, while a Tetra Pak case weighs 26 pounds and holds 12 liters of wine. This means packaging costs are reduced and more wine can be shipped while using less fossil fuel.

Besides Merlot, Black Box Wines also offers Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the 500ml Tetra Pak cartons. The wines are available here at the Shore for around $5 for the 500ml and around $25 for the 3-liter box at Gerards Wine & Spirits in Point Pleasant. These budget-friendly boxes are definitely worth a try.