Hamming it up


The most popular Easter meal in North America usually focuses on ham as the main event. Ham an extremely versatile meat that can pairs well with white, rosé, and a few red wines. Ham has delicious, delicate flavors and is almost always salty. In order to balance the saltiness, it is common to add some sweetness to the dish in the form of brown sugar, honey, pineapples, or cloves. 

Modern hams have an inherent sweetness, while traditional hams, like those from Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, are drier and smokier.

The best wines to pair with ham are light, fruity, and, if  red, low in tannins. When in doubt remember that because ham is pink, the wine can be, too—in the form of a dry Rosé.  

The sweetness of the ham and its lighter red-meat flavors make it ideal for Cabernet Franc-based Rosés from the Loire Valley and lighter Pinot Noirs.

If glazed ham is on your menu, lean toward Rieslings, especially a German Kabinett Riesling. The go-to perfect pairing for a baked Southern-style ham is a German Riesling. If you add cloves to your ham, Gewürztraminers makes for a good pairing because it offers up a hint of spiciness. 

For a German Riesling , look for a Josef Leitz Riesling, either Kabinett level or a halb-trocken style. This nice, delicately sweet Riesling with lots of underlying acidity will cut through the richness of the ham, while providing a nice counterpoint to the saltiness.  

If you’d like to try a Gewürztraminer, Gundlach Bundschu Estate from the Sonoma Coast, offers the perfect balance of fruit and spice and is able to perfectly pair with the variety of dishes one might indulge in during the Easter holiday. This Gewürtz is a dry style with bright acidity, that complements the sweet and salty components in a traditional ham dinner.

Both Riesling and Gewürztraminer offer good fruit flavors of of apple and pear, and hints of orange, which pair nicely with the ham and and the abundant acidity of both will counterbalance the pork’s saltiness.

Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir also work well with Easter ham, scalloped potatoes, and other rich foods as they both have enough body to stand up to the food without overwhelming them. 

A lightly oaked Chardonnay is perfect whenserved with pineapple-topped ham. The light oak can match the slight smokiness of the ham and the wine’s fruit flavors will complement the pineapple. 

Glazed ham is synonymous with sweet-and-sour flavors, and Pinot Noir with low tannins and high acid., with a little cherry fruit on the nose and a little spice on the palate would also make a perfect pairing. 

O’Reillys Pinot Noir, Oregon opens with a lovely nose of dried lavender and candied red fruit, with a hint of of forest floor and toasty oak. Bright red cherries fuse with jammy raspberry notes carrying through to a soft finish. Raspberry, loganberry, strawberry – juicy and fresh. Very subtle cinnamon stick accents carry through on the finish. This is a wonderful food-friendly wine with acidity and earthy character that you will come to love.

If you prefer a red wine other than Pinot Noir, to accompany the ham, softer, fruit-driven, less tannic or less acidic wines are the way to go. Since ham’s primary flavor is salt, the key to matching a wine to ham is to put the fruit back in. Remember to  look for the lighter version reds with vibrant fruit flavors and a touch of spice—think American Zinfandels, Barbera wines from the Piedmont region of Italy, Nero d’Avola wines from Sicily and French Beaujolais— all will pair well with ham. 

Speaking of Beaujolais, Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais ‘Vieilles Vignes’  goes with just about everything, thanks to its pleasing fruitiness, low tannins, and vibrant acidity. Vissoux’s Vieilles Vignes cuvée is seriously good wine, without losing any of Beaujolais’s essential fun-to-drink character. 

Wines to Pair with Easter Lamb


Lamb is synonymous with springtime and is another popular Easter entrée. Lamb is characteristically both fatty  and robust in flavor. To stand up to this combination, a big, bold and tannic wine is in order and the tannins found in Cabernets will help cleanse your palate, by cutting through the fatty flavor of this meat, allowing you enjoy the other side dishes of your dinner.

Red wines from the classic varieties are a wonderful, natural match with lamb. But to get the finest wine matching combination, you’ll have to pay close attention to the cut of meat you’ve acquired, how you are going to cook it and with what. Traditionally, lamb shares the table with red Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Côtes du Rhône. Those familiar varieties are tried-and-true pairings, but there are plenty of affordable, lesser-known–and truly delicious–options.

Lamb is traditionally–and symbolically–the main dish at Easter dinner. But most Americans haven’t tried this luscious cut of meat. Lighter, tender lamb meat tastes milder and less gamey, but still delivers a richness that rivals steak. This meat requires a wine that will not swamp and overpower the delicate flavors and texture. This means it is ideal for dry, fruit-forward red wines—if you reach for a full bodied red, you run the risk of ruining your meat.

Cooler climate styles of Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Germany, New Zealand or Oregon offer good value options.

If you’d rather not do red but a fabulous rosé, reach for a weighty rosé such as Tavel or Bandol from the South of France.

If you’re feeling extravagant, a pink, tender lamb and a great vintage rosé Champagne is something everyone must try once, such as the Veuve Clicquot, Rosé, Moet & Chandon, Rosé or Californias sparkler,Schramsberg Vineyards North Coast Brut Rosé.

The most popular cooking style for lamb for Easter is roasted and medium to well-done at that. The meat is fuller in flavor, but not quite as tender; therefore, it can handle a fuller red wine. Bordeaux blends are made for roast lamb. The young Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines of the left bank are fruit forward with a smattering of spiciness and oak. These combine to add an extra dimension to the meat  and the tannin will make the lamb meat feel more tender.

Your choice doesn’t need to be a Bordeaux. A good Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot affordable blend can be found from almost every region. A rich California Cab, like Beaulieu Vineyard’s Cabernet from Rutherford, California is a good pairing.  Lamb is strong in flavor and supports tannic, full-bodied red wines. Whether it is a mild spring day or a little bit chilly, Cabernet Sauvignon is a great option. Other regions with great choices include: Hawkes Bay, New Zealand; Coonawarra and Margaret River, Australia; Stellenbosch, South Africa; Argentina and Chile.

If you’re not keen on Cab, opt for a good Rioja Reserva Tempranillo. Its welcome acidity with hints of berries and balsamic and supple tannins complement the roasted red meat. Plus, the silky mouthfeel makes it a pleasure to drink long after the meal is done.

A roasted bone-in leg of lamb stays extra juicy and looks impressive on the Easter table. The classic garlic-rosemary combination, when paired with an Oregon Pinot Noir  earthy notes in both the food and wine with appear. Roasted lamb offers a much wider variety of wine from which one can choose, including Syrah, Malbec and Brunello. 

If you’ve gone for a shoulder from an older lamb, you’ll be cooking with a lot more fat content on the meat, which holds and seals in the flavor fantastically. You’ll gain a pronounced, gamey flavor to your roast. Tannin, acidity and a little bottle age to draw out secondary flavours in wine are what we are looking for.

A southern Rhône with bottle age would fit the bill, along with muscular Gevrey-Chambertin, Ribera del Duero or a younger Brunello di Montalicino from Tuscany. Brunello needs at least two years in oak and a minimum of four months in bottle, giving the wine the age it needs to compliment the older lamb, the tannin to soften meat and the acidity to cut through the extra layers of fat on show.

We like Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2001. This wine may be on the pricey side, but it is a robust full-bodied wine. There is a beautiful layering of blackberry, currant and cherry over  spicy anise, cedar and toasted oak. There is minerality and a smmokiness that underlies the ripe, unctous fruitiness. Big and rich , there is depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering finish. it is no surprise that  Wine Spectator gave it a score of 93 or that Wine Enthusiast scored it at  91. 

Rack of lamb is always a treat. Add an olive crust and it becomes as refined as a restaurant dish. The briny crunch of the crust fuses into the tender meat and smells phenomenal coming out of the oven. A similar meaty olive scent comes through in an intensely spicy Syrah. Rhône Syrahs are wines with big flavors–black pepper, black fruits–and Syrah can handle the intense savory elements of rack of lamb perfectly.

A Bouquet of Easter Rosé


This year, Rosés are hot and for this season of youth and renewal pink wines and parklers set a mood of festiveness and joy. They also clear the palate and prepare it for the sensory experience to come.

Although most Rosés are dry, most folks shy away from  these pink or “blush” wines because they associate it with the sweeter incarnations of  white Zinfandel.  There are variations of Rosé wines that have only a hint of sweetness to some that are very dry. To make certain your Rosé is dry, choose one with at least 12 percent alcohol. 

Rosé wines are a great alternative to the various white and red wines and most often white and red wine drinkers can agree that  they have the light crispness of a white with the complex body of a red, without the tannins…and they are pretty. 

Gruet Brut Sparkling Rosé, New Mexico.

This brilliantly-hued pink is both fun and serious. It is creamy with a hint of strawberries in the aroma, but with the structure, acidity and a crisp finish that can stand up to most foods, especially Easter ham.

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto, Piedmont.

This is a unique vivacious and festive red sparkling wine that is delightfully sweet and subtle with the lush flavors of ripe raspberry and juicy strawberry. Aromatic with a hint of rose petals and raspberries, it has a fruity character and gentle acitity that  extends across all  occasions and food pairings, from savory to sweet. On its own Rosa Regale is an elegant aperitif, it tempers the heat of spicy Asian and Latino fare, and  is an ideal foil to the piquant richness of goat cheese, especially in a spring mix salad with almonds and cranberries. Easter quiches, glazed hams, beets, vichyssoise, dark chocolate, pair enchantingly with Rosa Regale.

Etude Rosé of Pinot Noir, USA.

This salmon pink Rosé  offers vibrant aromas of fresh raspberries, strawberries, red cherries and sweet blood oranges. Flavors of strawberry rhubarb and cherry persist on the palate and combine with a pleasing note of minerality. The perfectly-balanced acidity makes this wine a wonderful complement to many foods.

Mayne Sansac Rosé Bordeaux.  

As with most Rosés from Bordeaux, this wine has has a central core of Merlot (80%), which contributes a rich fruitiness to the wine. Providing structure, the 20% Cabernet Sauvignon  exchanges its formidable tannin for a lovely fruitiness with a fine savory edge. This Rose makes a perfect alternative to red throughout the year, and when paired with the right food it absolutely comew alive. If you love the classic pairing of lamb and red Bordeaux, this  rose would be ideal for pairing for any lightened-up lamb dish or sautéed mushrooms.  This is a power Rosé. 

Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec, Argentina. 

This wine is a beautiful, deep, vibrant rosé color with a surprising amount of body. It exudes beautiful aromas of fresh, ripe wild strawberries with hints of spice. The fresh jammy flavors of strawberries and young cherries come rushing over your tongue, accompanied by spice notes and a clean, dry finish. This is the perfect chicken wine and a charming companion to mildly spicy Asian cuisine or  light snacks and cheeses. 

Jaboulet Parallele 45 Rosé, Côtes du Rhône, France.

This fresh, dry French Rosé has plenty of power and balanced lip-smacking fruit characteristics. This is a charming blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 10% Syrah full of floral and crushed red cherry aromas. It’s full-bodied, ripe, mineral-driven fruit on the palate, with tangy undertones and a note of white pepper.  The wine has acidity and tannins that are ripe but firm; this is no wimpy rosé. The wine has an easygoing, uncomplicated nature that makes it pair well with a variety of dishes salads, quiche, grilled vegetables, fish, chicken, and Asian cuisine. 

Guigal Cotes du Rhône Rosé,  France.

A consistent and elegant Rosé that is balanced and fresh with an expressive nose of redcurrants, raspberries and citrus. This is a complex, perfumed wine that is dry yet flavorful  with spicy red fruits, white pepper and blood orange. It has a firm memorable finish it easily pairs with  Easter ham, roast chicken or vegetarian. 

Don’t be afraid to drink pink this Easter, the Easter bunny will love you for it.

So what is it about Port?


Port has a reputation for being higher in alcohol, noticeably sweeter, with more body and palate density than other still wines. Made for centuries in the rugged region of northwest Portugal’s Douro Valley, Port is a fortified wine that leans heavily on the sweeter spectrum. Fortification means it is a wine with the addition of a stronger, higher-in-alcohol neutral spirit, generally aged, and because it is rich and sweet, is often sipped out of special little dessert glasses.

Fans of rich cheese and decadent desserts appreciate Ports pairing versatility as it is a popular addition to chocolate cakes, sweet gooey chocolate sauces and even used as a reduction for savory dishes like steak (especially a blue cheese topped steak). Often Port is simmered until it becomes a thich syrupy sauce which is added to recipes or just drizzled it over a dish, much like a balsamic glaze. Port is a great flavorful alternative to brown sugar or maple syrup.

Today, various renditions of Port are made outside of Portugal in places like California and Australia to name two. However, real Port Wine can only be made in Portugal. Non-Portuguese Ports are typically made from raisined grapes and often lack the depth and remarkable acidity that comes with the original.

True Port is the unique blend of the Portuguese indigenous grapes like Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão, and there are said to be at least 52 varieties! Each grape adds a unique flavor to the blend. For example, Touriga Nacional adds blueberry and vanilla notes, and Touriga Franca adds raspberry and cinnamon notes. Additionally, when picking up a bottle, authentic Portuguese Port has the designation of “Porto” on the bottle’s label.

While much of the Port we see in the supermarket is of average quality, there are fine Ports that are highly treasured for sipping and can cost several hundred dollars.

In broad terms, Port can be split into two distinct categories: Wood Aged or Bottle Aged. Wood-aged Ports are typically ready for early enjoyment, designed to be consumed while still relatively young. The bottle-aged beauties, like Vintage Port, are built to go the distance, often requiring another decade or two to reach full maturity.

As it’s already been mentioned, Port is a sweet wine with flavors of raspberry, blackberry, caramel, cinnamon and chocolate sauce. There are several different kinds of port, but the primary styles of Port include a red Port with more berry and chocolate flavors (and slightly less sweetness), and a tawny-colored Port with more caramel and nut flavors (and more sweetness).  Fine aged Vintage Port or 30+ year Tawny Port have an even wider array of subtle flavors including graphite, green peppercorn, hazelnut, almond, butterscotch and graham cracker.

When serving Port, try to keep the serving temperature just below room temperature, right around 60°F degrees (16 °C). Serving Port wine with a slight chill will lift the aromatics and focus the innate fruit and flavor components. Use a  Port wine glass which smaller than a regular wine glass or brandy snifter and it is designed to hold the standard serving size of approximately 3 ounces. Once opened Ports can last from a day (Vintage Port) to several weeks for Ruby Ports and several months for Tawny Ports.

Port wine pairs wonderfully with richly flavored cheeses (including blue cheese and washed-rind cheeses), chocolate and caramel desserts, salted and smoked nuts, and even sweet-smoky meats (barbecue anyone?)  A popular way to serve Ruby Port in the summer (with a meal) is on the rocks with a peel of lime!

Port also makes a fine holiday gift for a wine or liqueur dirnker it’s richer texture and flavor profile makes it a special gift, not to mention it curls up niely  with you in front of a roaring fire!

What is Ruby Port? 

When someone says any Port in a storm, thoughts immediately turn to a Ruby Port and a cozy fire. There are many different official categories of Port with Ruby being the most common.

Ruby Port gets its name for its distinct ruby color. These Ports are young, approachable wines with fresh, fruit-filled aromas and an equally nimble palate presence. These wines are wallet-friendly, entry-level Ports, made from a mix of both grapes and vintages, aged for a total of three years and are quite popular.

They are intended to be consumed young and enjoy a remarkable food-pairing versatility, especially with bleu cheese, milk chocolate, and berry-based desserts. Non-vintage Ruby Ports are actually sent to age for a few years in a wood vessel, then bottled for immediate drinking, resulting in juicy, fruity ports that are also great as aperitifs. Some good Ruby Port producers include: Cockburn, Croft, Graham’s Six Grapes, Nieport, Taylor Fladgate, and Warre’s.

Deeply-colored Ruby Port includes four main categories: Ruby, Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), and Crusted, along with many price tags. And do make great holiday gift ideas.

Vintage Port is at the top of the range where price, aging potential and prestige are concerned. It’s made only from the best grapes of a single vintage, and only in years that have been “declared” vintage-worthy, which usually happens just a few times a decade. Beyond that, the wines are made similarly to other Ports, fortified with spirits to arrest fermentation and preserve residual sugar. Vintage Port sees only two years of aging at the winery before each producer decides on its own whether to declare a vintage. Because the wines are so young upon release, they are usually tucked away in cellars for many years until they mellow and mature into their potential.

“Late-Bottled Vintage” or “LBV” Ports aren’t bottled until up to four to six years from the vintage date. Late means that, unlike true vintage Port (aged two years before bottling and released to be aged much longer), producers release LBV four to six years after the vintage. This means they spend about twice as long in wood as Vintage Ports, and so they’re usually more accessible at an early age. Some producers cold-stabilize and filter their LBVs, which is supposed to eliminate the need to decant the wine, but that can strip away the flavors. If you’re looking for LBVs made more like Vintage Ports, look for the word “Traditional” on the label. LBVs were originally intended to offer an experience comparable to Vintage Port but at a much lower cost. Many deliver the goods, but some of them can be just shadows of the real thing.

LBV Ports are also differentiated by style and each producer leans toward a particular style, so if you are looking for something young and fruity, ready to drink, select Cockburn’s, Càlem, Ramos Pinto or Sandeman. If you want something more mature, wood-aged, and ready to drink now, look for: Churchill Graham, Dow’s, W & J Graham and Taylor Fladgate. If you want to give a commemorative gift, one that’s truly worth aging, look for the following brands: Ferreira, Fonseca, Smith Woodhouse or Warre’s.

Crusted Ports are not made from wines of a single year but, like Vintage Ports, are capable of maturing in bottle. Also like Vintage Ports, they are not filtered before bottling and will form a ‘crust’ (natural sediment) in the bottle as they age.

When you are cooking and your recipe calls for Port, reemember most recipes call for the more affordable Ruby Port. This style is red and will impart red berry and cinnamon-like flavors into your sauce. You do not need a Vintage, LBV or Crusted Port when cooking. Remember, a true Portuguese Ruby Port may cost $6–10 a bottle, but will last a long time. If you don’t want to use your bottle for cooking (we understand that!) You can, in a pinch, use two parts dry bold red wine, one part alcohol (brandy or vodka) and about one-quarter part sugar. It won’t be ideal, but it is better than just using red wine!

Once opened, a Ruby-style Port will stay fresh for about 2 weeks (a month if preserved properly in your fridge)

What is a Tawny Port? 

Tawny Ports are aged in casks rather than large tanks or bottles like their Ruby counterparts. They are sweet wines with oxidative nut and caramel flavors, great acidity, easy to drink, silkier and lighter (in both body and color) than Vintage Ports. Tawnies can sometimes offer a broader, subtler array of flavors than their fruity and powerful Vintage Port relations, but both are connoisseurs’ wines.

Tawnies, like all Ports, are made primarily from Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes, grown on the dramatically vertical slopes of the Douro River. They are produced, as all Ports are, by stopping fermentation with the addition of brandy. The only difference between Tawny Ports and Ruby Ports is in the longer aging in barrel—a Tawny may age for decades.  A Tawny that is aged in the hot, dry climate of the Douro Valley is more likely to have a burnt character, rather than the more fruit-driven style of the wines aged in the cooler, moist air of Oporto right by the ocean.

A Tawny Port is a blend of older vintage wines, displaying a rich amber color. Their distinguishing feature is oxidation. Tawnies are typically slightly sweeter,  paler and browner than traditional Ports. They have a mellow, nutty, slightly woody, dried-fruit character, derived from contact with air during long maturation in porous wooden casks. As a Tawny Port spends more time in oak, its color starts to fade from ruby red to more orangey-brick, to a deep amber/mahogany color at maturity. As the aging process continues, a Tawny’s taste will become even more nuttier and it develops deliciously rich flavors of caramelized figs, dates and prunes. The older the Tawny Port, the more wood character you’ll get, which is why Tawny Port (as opposed to Vintage) is the more intense differentiation—woody, sweet, with notes of lighter dried fruit.

These wines pair beautifully with aged cheddar cheese, caramel apples or apple pie, dried fruit, milk or dark chocolate, cheesecake, tiramisu, pumpkin or pecan pie.

There are two major types of Tawny: the first is a blend of several recent vintages with no specific statement of age – known as basic Tawny Port. The second consists of older-aged Tawnies, marked as 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.

Tawny Ports come in three different styles: Colheita, Crusted or Indicated Age.

A Colheita Port is considered a Tawny Port that is made from grapes that all share the same single vintage year, and may have spent 20 years or more in barrel before it was released.

A Crusted Port is an unfiltered tawny that develops visible sediment, “crust,” and needs decanting before serving.

Tawny Ports that are made from grape blends that are older in average age are referred to as Indicated Age Tawny Port. Aged Tawny Ports are released in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year-old versions (the age refers to the time spent in wood). The tricky thing about Tawnies is that you never know how old they really are. When applied to Tawny Ports, the terms “10-year-old” and “20-year-old” are not intended to denote exact age. These year designations are the average compilation of various vintages used in the Tawny Port blend, not the exact years the wine has been aged as a whole. That’s not to say that you can’t tell the difference between Tawnies that are labeled 10-year-old and those that are 40-year-old. Tawnies of different ages do have distinct characteristics. Some people prefer the younger, more fruity style of 10-year-olds, while others want less fruit and more complexity. During aging, there is an evaporation of alcohol and water, so that the older the Tawny, the more concentrated it is, and the intensity of flavor becomes greater. Most Tawny lovers  prefer the 20-year-old, believing it strikes the right balance between aged character and vitality.

The most drinkable of fortified wines, they’re packed with flavor, but are always soft, rich and seductive. For many Port lovers, the idea of drinking chilled, aged Tawny is good news, as chilling helps open the flavors. Try keeping it in the fridge door or put the bottle in an ice bucket for 20 minutes before pouring.

Another of the many pleasures associated with aged tawny is that the bottle, once open, doesn’t deteriorate for several weeks and can  stay fresh for as many as three months. Keep wines longer by storing your wine in a cool dark place and using a vacuum preserver to remove oxygen.

When buying Tawny Port look for the following producers: Cockburn’s 20 Years, Dow’s 10 Year, Graham’s 20 Year, Taylor Fladgate’s 10 Year, Warre’s Otima 10 Year.

.

Going Vintage

Historically, Vintage Ports are only declared every three out of ten years on average.  A Vintage Port is a Port that is made of from a blend of grapes—mainly Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão and Tinta Barocca—grown in selected vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley, usually which are all from the same vintage year. That means only the best grapes, from the best vineyards in the best years, come together to create a quality Vintage Port.

Vintage Port is designed to age a long, long time. A Vintage Ports typically spends about six months in oak and is then bottled, unfiltered, for further aging. This extended aging is typical and it can be for 20 years or more. There are some highly-prized Vintage Ports that are more than 100 years old! Of course, a direct result of long-term aging is that a layer of sediment forms in the bottle. This is why Vintage Ports require decanting and a bit of aeration prior to consumption.

Look at it this way, if Ruby Ports are the entry-level Port, then Vintage Ports represent the upper echelon both in style and cost. A classification that is common to mistake with the “Vintage Port” designation is the “Late Bottled Vintage” Port (LBV).  Vintage port is easy to figure out—if a vintage was great, the port is bottled and sold, the idea being it should be aged in the bottle by the consumer (it isn’t wood-aging, but  it theoretically allows the aromatic and flavorful complexity of the port to coalesce into a rich, sophisticated, delicious liquid).

In the past, young vintage Port was tough, tannic and not worth serving. It needed years —if not decades—to soften and mature. Today’s vintage Port is different. It’s rich and fruity, with tannins so finely married to the ripe texture that you can start drinking it after only about five years.

Since Vintage Port is a red wine, don’t be afraid to serve it in the same way as a California Zinfandel. Young, fruity Vintage Ports are delicious with a steak with pepper sauce, or with sausage, especially spicy sausage. For holiday celebrations, a simple platter of smoked meats paired with young Vintage Port is a perfect starter. A mature—20 years or older—Vintage Port is best with a blue cheese, like Stilton, and don’t forget to add the almonds, walnuts and chocolates! Very dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher) and rich cheeses show all the richness, body and complexity and flavor that defines mature Vintage Port, but tropical fruits and blueberries are surprisingly successful pairings as well.

You can drink Vintage Port while dining on the patio in the summer, sitting around a log fire or at a restaurant. Because of its potency, Vintage Port is best served in small glasses that are large enough to swirl the typical three-ounce pour, because Vintage Port is fine wine it will give as much pleasure from its aromas as its taste.

Store Vintage Ports on their sides, in a dark, cool environment just like any fine wine. Once opened, Port can last two or three days, sometimes longer if it’s stored in a cool place. Treat vintage Port like a red wine, and you’ll be fine. Remember, there are only six to eight glasses of Vintage Port in a bottle, so it shouldn’t take too long to finish it.

If you plan on gifting a bottle of Vintage Port, look for the following Producers:Cockburn, Churchill, Dow, Fonseca, Graham, Sandeman, Taylor Fladgate, and Warres.

A Christmas White Port: 

While some people scratch their heads in complete bewilderment when wine talk turns to White Port, we can say white port is not only a real thing but has been around for a very long time. Port fans barely recognize it as a drink. But if you allow white Port to stand on its own as a simple, enjoyable summer apéritif instead of measuring it against its complex, nuanced red cousin, you might be pleasantly surprised. Made in Portugal from indigenous white grapes, white Port is a fortified wine around 18 to 20 percent alcohol.

In Europe, White Port is considered one of the great summer refreshers, served just as it is in Portugal’s Douro Valley: poured into an ice-filled tumbler, topped off with cold tonic, bruised mint sprigs and a lemon slice—the subtle flavors of creamy nuts, lemon and orange peel and white pepper are certainly different and a treat for your tastebuds.

In fact, as the name implies, the only major difference is that White Port is derived from indigenous white grape varietals —Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio (a.k.a. Verdelho), Malvasia and the prolific Codega (the most widely planted white grape in the Douro) to name a few—and can be made in both the very dry to semi- sweet styles. White Port is fortified like all other styles of Porto, but vinified like a Tawny and aged for a year in huge oak tanks before further aging in “Pipes” (550 liter oak casks) prior to bottling. The wines range in color from that of a pale straw gold to a beautiful salmon and those aged for extended periods in wood that resemble the amber tones of ancient Tawnies.

White Port is typically fruitier on the palate and a bit fuller-bodied than other fortified white wines, and their styles are segregated by sweetness level; they can be either sweet or dry, or somewhere in between. Another point of differentiation is the length of aging time.

White Port or “Porto Branco” in Portuguese is an uncommon category of Port and is most often served as a chilled aperitif.

Leve Seco”, a light dry White Porto, has a lower alcohol content of 16.5%. Dry white Ports are fermented longer in tanks and usually in oak between 5 – 10 years and gains complexity like a Sherry or Tawny Port while losing its residual sugar as it ages. This Port has a hint of sweetness and a nutty finish. Often served as an aperitif, this particular Port has found favor as a “gin” replacement when served as a “Port and Tonic” on the rocks. This version also pairs well with almonds, hard cheese, stone fruits, pâté or sushi.

Medium Sweet White Porto ages in wood for at least three years and shows more color definition and body than Leve Seco. Drink chilled, straight up in a white wine glass, or pour equal parts white Port and tonic or soda water in a cocktail glass and garnish with lime.

Lágrima” is the sweetest White Porto. It is aged in oak for three to five years  and the wine is produced utilizing free run juice from a variety of white grapes. This sweet style is very different and the flavors range from honey nectar to caramel and hazelnut. It can also double as a dessert wine as it pairs well with a variety of cheeses.

Medium Sweet and Lágrima Ports also pair incredibly well with a light dessert such as sponge cake or a meringue shell filled with fresh fruit. Both styles of White Port are also ideal for sangria—macerate the fruit in white Port before mixing with a bottle of white wine, or simply substitute White Port for the wine.

Ramos Pinto, Niepoort and Sandeman make good dry versions for drinking. When cooking, and the recipe calls for white wine, add Churchill’s Dry it’s aged longer and is darker, nuttier and a good addition to soup. You can add any dry White Port to potato or seafood chowder or in place of white wine in any recipe to add depth and a nutty flavor. Use sweet white Port for desserts and sauces the flavors they add are amazing.

Unopened white Port will keep a few years, or opened and refrigerated up to a month.

It’s all rosey: Rosé Port: 

This style is one of the new wines from the demarcated region of the Douro, in northern Portugal—it was introduced by Croft in 2008. When it was first released the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) initially classed the style as “light ruby”. As the name suggests, this highly aromatic style of Port has a distinctive pink hue and typically displays notes of cherry, raspberry, strawberry,  violets and caramel.

Like other Port wines, Rosé Port can be a blend of grape varieties. The most commonly used, however, are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. These are vinified with minimal skin contact, creating the rosé color, and reducing the amount of tannin in the wine.

Rosé Port’s distinctive freshness and soft, pleasant flavor is enhanced further with the application of cold settling prior to cool fermentation. As with other Ports, the fermentation process is halted with the addition of high-proof grape brandy that kills the yeast cells. This also has the added effect of raising the alcohol strength to approximately 19 percent ABV. In a departure from older, more traditional Port styles, Rosé Port is not aged.

Served cold or with ice, it goes well with dried fruits, something sweet or a red fruit tart. It is a great appetizer accompaniment and is nearly irresistable with light fish dishes or salads. It is also an ideal partner to savor in various cocktails on hot summer days or cozy winter evenings.

Rosé Port should be stored with the bottle in a vertical position, in cool and dry place (ideal temperature 59º F).

Rosé are wines that should be consumed within two to four  months after opening the bottle,.These wines should, by their character, be served cold, at temperatures between 46° and 50° F, or with ice. Try this young and unique wine – a real temptation. It also makes a pretty gift!

Our Thanksgiving Wine List


We are so ready for our Thanksgiving meal!

Our menu is planned and wines are all pre-selected because we believe the wine should enhance food and food should enhance wine; creating a symbiotic relationship improving our holiday dining experience.

The key to a successful wine pairing at Thanksgiving is versatility. Why? Well, we don’t serve Thanksgiving Day dinner as individual courses each paired with a different wine, followed by the next course and wine (although it would be nice). Our table is already set with the lovely presentation of yummy side dishes and condiments when the turkey shows up in all its glory ready to be served. We pass the plate and load up on a little bit of everything—knowing that at the end of dinner belts will be too tight and we will be as stuffed as the turkey was. This is the time to serve your wines ‘family style, the same way you serve your meal — just open your selections and let your guests help themselves to their favorite.

To do this, we avoid the extremes and stay balanced—low to mid alcohol levels (11-13.5 percent), good acidity (not too ripe or too green), minimal to moderate complexity and no huge tannins — lower tannin levels are better suited to the vast array of flavors the wines are meant to complement. From appetizers, to white and dark turkey meat, mashed potatoes, yams, herb-filled stuffing, cranberry relish, pickled this and peppered that, all the way to pie — wine selection is largely a matter of personal preference.

Just remember, with Thanksgiving wines, think balance, balance, balance!

Here are some of my favorites for my Thanksgiving table

Gruet Non-Vintage (NV) Brut, Albuquerque, New Mexico. This wine is a terrific example of an American sparkling wine from New Mexico. It’s balanced, has great acidity and flavor, and the citrus/yeast elements complement each other nicely. The higher acidity in the wine lets it pair with heavier, starchier foods like potatoes and turkey with dressing. The lower alcohol doesn’t over-exert itself and mask the flavors of the food like a high-alcohol wine would do. A favorite reason for having this bottle on the table: the bubbles are a nice palate cleanser between eating the different food selections.

Girard Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California  is one of my all-time favorites and a crisp white wine that is noted for its bright flavors – a prime candidate specifically for turkey and herb-filled stuffing. (Let’s face it, this one comes to dinners, parties and snacks a lot!)

Freemark Abbey Viognier, Napa Valley, California is a white wine with low levels of acidity and characterized by light floral flavors often surrounded by delicate touches of peaches and pears. A good choice for the non-Sauvignon Blanc drinkers at my table.

Riesling is  a white wine that may either be bone dry or fairly sweet, and it is excellent with any dishes that may have a bit of spice to them. The low alcohol and well-balanced acidity are evident in Hogue Cellars Terroir Dry Riesling (Yakima Valley, WA) — a great Thanksgiving wine exhibiting subliminal sweetness, nice flavors of petrol, tart apple and touches of steely minerality.

I also like to keep another white on hand: Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer be dry or sweet, depending on the style. Hogue Cellars Gewürztraminer (Columbia Valley, WA) has a zestiness that allows it to pair nicely with side dishes that may have a bit more kick to them, but also settles well with a variety of dessert options. This wine has an excellent balance of acidity with a slight minerality. Low alcohol, restrained and off-dry, it offers an abundance of great flavors: spiced apple, floral, and warm spices.

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Los Carneros Rosé, California. We always need a “pink” and a Pinot Noir and this fits the bill. This is a wonderful Rosé. This wine offers zippy acidity and heady wild strawberry and white peach fruit aromas and matchinng flavors combined with rose petals and candied cherry on a long finish — a fabulous Thanksgiving wine!

Speaking of Pinot Noir, you know it’s a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. It is easy going enough to complement just about any flavor you can throw at it.

We like to serve American wine at Thanksgiving, and Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County, CA) is the perfect bottle. This wine shows how amazing California Pinot Noir can be — this wonderful vintage is a great value for a stunning California Pinot. It offers delicious floral aromas combined with a bright cherry palate filled with flavors of strawberries and raspberries joined by anise and clove that all mesh beautifully with every dish on the table — including the classic cranberry sauce.

For my dining companions who like their wines a little bolder and more fruit forward, I have Frog’s Leap Zinfandel, (Napa Valley, CA.) Made in the classic field blend style with significant portions of Petite Sirah and Carignan, the flavors are vibrant and perfectly balanced with bright, tart-cherry aromas and a hint of baking spices. This garnet colored red ups the intensity from a Pinot Noir, but still maintains a balancing effect on many traditional side dishes. This is always a great pick for those looking for a heartier wine with deeper flavors.

We have one person who only drinks Syrah at Thanksgiving and for him I have a Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Syrah, California. This another red wine that picks up the intensity and flavor, yet graciously handles the cornucopia of flavors in a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, smoke, dried tobacco and anise explode from the glass while flavors of black cherry, plum, dark chocolate, dried herbs, and smoked meat coat the palate. The peppery herbal notes accent a flavorful helping of stuffing as well as both the white and dark turkey meats.

It may seem a little played out, but Beaujolais Nouveau still remains a great Thanksgiving wine. Especially for our traditionalists at the table. Beaujolais Nouveau is a light, fruity, juicy and refreshing red wine that pairs well with turkey and all of the fixings. It’s an easily affordable wine and if you’re going to be enjoying wine all day long, this is something that won’t weigh down your palate.

Well, that’s what we’re serving, what are you planning to serve?

Transitioning to fall with Spanish Wines


More and more, wine drinkers are discovering Spain’s stylish mix of the traditional and modern wines of Ribera del Duero, an important wine-producing area in Castilla y Leon in northern Spain.

Ribera Del Duero is one of Spain’s truly legendary wine regions, known for produceing some of the world’s best and most exclusive red wines. Most of which are high-quality red Tempranillo-based wines. Tempranillo wines are delicious wines for transitioning into the fall and winter season.

Finca Feroes “Roble

100% Tempranillo | D.O Ribera Del Duero, Spain | ABV: 13.5%

If you’ve never tried Tempranillo, a good entry-level example is the Finca Feroes “Roble,” a  red wine that seamlessly melds fruit and oak-influenced flavors in a cuvée that delights the senses with its engaging aroma, complex flavor spectrum and elegant finish. The winemaker uses 100% sustainable old-world winemaking practices that are free of chemicals. The grapes are grown within a natural reserve in the Duero River Valley that has alluvial, pebbly soil and a continental climate perfect for traditional winemaking

The color is a deep cherry and the aromas and flavors combine elements of berry fruit, herbs, vanilla, coffee, licorice, oak and an earthy-leathery minerality.

The palate is delicate and well structured with rich red and black cherry notes followed by smoky spicy tobacco and hints of wood, vanilla and roasted coffee. Six months aging in American oak, imparts a savory oak flavor profile and the full-bodied tannins makes for a lingering finish.

This wine makes an excellent pairing with red meats, roast beef and smoky barbecue stews, lamb chops with rosemary and garlic or a grilled steak with green beans, buttered potatoes and sauce bearnaise.

Definitely serve  this wine in large glass at a serving temperature of 16° – 18°C / 50°- 64°F.

Finca Feroes Rueda
100% Verdejo | Rueda, Spain | ABV: 13%

When it comes to white wine, Verdejo is Spain’s signature white grape. The Rueda region, a atchwork of vineyards on the flat high plains south of Valladolid, produces some of the most amazing Verdejo wines.

Verdejo wines are refreshing and aromatic and sustainably-made Finca Feroes Rueda is a traditional medium-bodied style. Visually, this wine is a vivid wine, a shiny pale yellow with glints of green. The nose offers up fresh intense aromas of fresh citrus, green apple, peach and pineapple.

Expect deliciously fresh and bright acidity with racy, focused flavors of lemon rind, green apple, melon, pineapple, kiwi and pear. It also deliver notes of minerals and a hint of grass.

With its good length and a refreshing finish, this a beautiful white to enjoy with an aperitif or to accompany a seafood. This wine pairs really well with poached proteins, cured meats and pork dishes. With vegetarian dishes and salads, the acidity cuts through and compliments asparagus, tomatoes, olives, and greens with vinaigrette dressing.

The wine is light, dry, fresh and elegant  wine with tasty acidity and a delightful finish. It should be served chilled at  9ºC / 48°F. The wine isn’t known for longevity and should be consumed within 3-4 years of bottling.

These wines are truly inexpensive and affordable—please don’t let the price fool you into thinking that these wines aren’t special!

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.

 

 

Ten Bottles for the Holidays


The holiday season is all about spending time with family and friends, basking in the warm glow of hearth and family. This is the time when you want to drink or give something that will make the occasion special. After all, any drinker can treat himself to a bottle of Makers’ 46 or Tanqueray 10 on payday, but a gift of spirits should something a friend might not think to try on his own.
In any decent spirits shop, there’s no shortage of bottles worth giving as a gift. If you decide to stick with the tried and true—the big brands—look for items like Crown Royal Monarch, a limited edition of the wildly popular Canadian whiskey; Johnnie Walker Platinum 18 Year Old Blended Scotch; and the remarkable Wild Turkey American Spirit—these are all exceptional “a step above” choices, but if you want to try something a little different, try one of the following ten gift suggestions.
• Angel’s Envy: Woodford Reserve makes one of the best bourbons around—when they announced a new American whiskey, we couldn’t wait to try it. This bourbon small-batch spirit is the a result of extra aging in port wine casks. The result is a finely-balanced liquor with the flavor of wine-soaked cherries. It’s just heavenly.
• Jim Beam Devil’s Cut: This bourbon from the Jim Beam distillery plays off the idea of the angel’s share—the portion of the bourbon that evaporates from the barrel as it ages—by offering you the darker alternative: the Devil’s Cut. When a bourbon is finished aging, some of the liquid remains trapped in the wood. Beam distillers figured out how to extracted that liquid and incorporate it back into the liquor, for a richer drink. The vanilla and wood flavors are more pronounced, while remaining exquisitely smooth. This is devilishly delicious.
• Brugal 1888: Brugal is the Dominican Republic’s biggest rum producer. A unique rum, it has the seriousness of a fine scotch. It’s aged twice, first in medium-toasted American white oak casks (previously used for bourbon) for a minimum of six years, followed by a second maturation lasting two to four more years in Sherry oak casks to bring out a level of oakiness similar to bourbons or single malts.Drink it neat to better taste the notes of chocolate, roasted coffee beans, hints of cinnamon and dried fruit.
Cognac is regarded as the finest of all the spirits distilled from grapes. It has an abundance of incomparable qualities: fruitiness, subtle bouquet, intensity, warmth and complexity. You could opt for one from one of the ‘big four’ Cognac houses (Rémy Martin, Hennessey, Martell and Courvoisier), or try a delicious alternative from Tesseron.
• Cognac Tesseron Lot No. 90 XO Selection Cognac is made 100% from Ugni blanc (aka Trebbiano). This honey-colored libation offers lively aromas of oak, pear and apple, which subtly change to delicate maple and banana as it aerates. The flavors are honeyed tropical fruit from first sip through the satiny-smooth sweet, medium-long finish. ($69.99, Bottle Shop, Spring Lake)
If Cognac isn’t your cup of brandy, you may want to try Calvados. More rustic by nature than Cognac or Armagnac, it’s distilled from cider rather than from wine, it can defy brandy expectations.
• Norois Calvados ‘Trois Pommes’ is a blend of bitter and bittersweet apple ciders and a good introduction to the intense and natural apple characteristics of the Calvados AOC Pays d’Auge. Apple aromas and flavors burst vividly from the glass, in jagged flashes that seem to penetrate deeply into the complex essence of an apple. Clarity, purity, tart citrus, cinnamon spice, earthiness, mintiness: are just some of the sensations you can experience this glass.
Sometimes you just want to introduce new flavors for after dinner sipping or a new favorite cocktail. Some of the current favorite flavors are the tasty Castries Peanut Rum Cream liqueur, a combo of rum and peanut butter cream; the cinnamon-y and creamy RumChata;  or Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice. For something different consider the following:
• Kahlua Cinnamon Spice. If you’re making a White Russian, you’ll need Kahlua, the Mexican coffee liqueur. This new flavor takes Christmas cookies and crunches them into your White Russian, So yummy.
• Amarula Cream Liqueur is made from the yellow berry fruit of the marula tree. Marula trees are found mainly in the warm, frost-free regions of sub-equatorial Africa, and the vitamin-C-rich fruit belongs to the same family as the mango, sumac, cashew and pistachio. This cream liqueur is the result of the fruit being pulped, sweetened, fermented, aged in oak casks for two years, and blended with fresh cream. The caramel-like flavor is sweet but not cloying, and is enjoyable straight from a refrigerated bottle, on the rocks, in coffee or try it as a dessert.
• Mama Micha Orange Dream Cream Liqueur. Mama Micha is a new product on the market created by a New Jersey-based, mother-daughter team who decided to pursue their dream of making delicious desserts you can drink. Take a sip and you’ll notice it tastes surprisingly like an orange Creamsicle. There is no overpowering alcohol taste (although it does contain vodka) and the combination of orange and vanilla is perfect. If you love Dreamsicles, you will love this bit of dessert decadence!
• Mama Micha Dark Silk Chocolate Liqueur. This is a perfect blend of creamy texture and explosive chocolate flavor. It’s like taking a bite out of a silky smooth dark chocolate candy bar. Full-bodied and delicately sweet with a hint of bitterness, it can be enjoyed on the rocks, in cocktails, added to coffee or hot chocolate and is particularly satisfying over ice-cream.
• Chartreuse. Why are we including “old-fashioned” Chartreuse? Because this green liquid is the perfect gift for the vodka or gin drinker in your life. Made from 130 herbs, plants and flowers gathered in the French Alps by the Carthusian monks, the mixture is macerated with a neutral alcohol spirit and distilled before being aged in oak casks for about five years. Chartreuse is the only liqueur to give its name to a color (my favorite color, too!) Look for intensely floral and herbal aromas followed by cloves, fennel, citrus, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, pine…each sip brings something new! Chartreuse is best served neat, but it’s quite delicious as a Chartreuse gimlet or served with chocolate creme brulée or mixed berries, whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
Happy Holiday drinking!

7 Intriguing wines to drink this Fall


There is a special smell in the air that’s crisp but still dusty from summer—fall brings the feeling of completeness of a season and thoughts of red wine. Wine is an all-seasons beverage, but if you’re eating seasonally, it makes sense to be drinking seasonally. It’s time to begin thinking about richer whites and more robust reds for the coming cold season.
It’s time to look for reds are light- to medium-bodied and have a range of spicy flavors that pair well with autumn fare. Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Syrah- and Grenache-based wines always feel more autumnal, similarly, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, or Chardonnay are wonderful for fall.
Here are a few wines that are a bit off the beaten path but will fill out your autumn cellar beautifully.

1. Garnacha/Grenache.
Ranging from rustic-and-leathery to vanilla-fruit-bomb, this is a flamboyant grape. It has brilliant, red fruit flavors (strawberry/raspberry) and offers some of the highest natural alcohol levels (just behind Zinfandel). It matches up to any fall squash recipes you throw its way.
Altovinum Evodia Old Vine Garnacha, Calatayud,  Spain.
This is 100% Garnacha sourced from the highest elevation vineyards of Garnacha of any DO in Spain. It has a slightly exotic nose of earthy minerality, mocha, black cherry, and black raspberry. Savory and concentrated, this medium-bodied wine is very much fruit-forward personality. A great value wine. Aficionados familiar with the wines of the Priorat and the Roussillon will enjoy this delicious Spanish red. (Gerard’s Wine & Spirits, $9.99)

2. Carignan/Cariñena.
If you love savory wines, then this is definitely something that you need to have in your cellar. Good Carignan is bold and gamy with smooth tannins. Carignan’s red fruit-driven flavors pair wonderfully with any turkey or poultry dish.(Thanksgiving anyone?)
Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa 2011
This 100% Carignano wine is from the southern Sulcis region in Sardinia. The nose is intense with hints of licorice, pepper and earth. Red fruit flavors just ooze from this elegant, medium-bodied, silky-textured wine. As it is food-friendly with a wonderful acidity, it’s perfect for pairing with red meat, cheeses and dark olives. (Spring Lake Bottle Shop, $16.99)

3. Nero d’Avola & Nerello Mascalese from Sicily
This blend is so perfect for fall. Sicily was reinvigorated with Nero d’Avola, yet there is another delicious red: Nerello Mascalese. Lighter than Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese is similar to the delicacy of Pinot Noir, with a distinct smoky volcanic aroma along with a fruity-flower basket of cherry, raspberry, plum, rose and violet flavors that tends to sway on the more plush, end of the ‘pinot noir-like’ spectrum.
Corvo Rosso, Sicilia
This classic Sicilian wine is aged in oak barrels. Full-bodied and high in acidity, it’s not quite as overpowering as other high-octane reds like Zinfandel or Syrah.  Intensely aromatic, with powerful, seductive aromas of blackberry, black cherry, raspberry and spice that practically billow out of the glass. Soft and approachable, it has a  friendly, easy-drinking style. Extremely versatile, it’s perfect for everyday dinners and informal occasions as it goes well with grilled and roast meats and medium-aged cheeses. (Circus Wines, $10.99)

4. GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre)
GSM as in Garnacha, Syrah and Mourvèdre—the three classic varieties in a southern Côtes du Rhône red wine. Since it’s a blend of grapes, expect a mix of red and black fruit flavors. The wines from the Old World countries tend to have this tart herbaceous note, while New World versions tend to be juicier and more pure in their fruit flavors.
Schild GMS, Barossa Valley, Australia 2011
This red is a mouthful of juicy, ripe red cherries and spice. Grenache’s blackberry and cherry flavors appear on the front palate while Mourvedre and Shiraz provide structure, concentration and depth. White pepper and spice are evident with a soft tannin framework ensuring a supple, soft texture to finish. (Circus Wines, $11.99)

5. Carignan, Grenache, Syrah blend
M. Chapoutier Cotes du Roussillon Villages les Vignes de Bila Haut 2012
This French red from Languedoc-Roussillon is a blend of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and is a wine that will top anyone’s value list. Fleshy and well-structured, this red is medium to full-bodied, concentrated and balanced, with impressive amounts of blackberry and currant-styled fruit, herbs, pepper and smoked earth aromas and flavors. Showing more minerality with air, this powerful red offers concentrated cherry, plum tart and blackberry flavors that feature plenty of spicy notes. A dark chocolate accent lingers on the firm, moderately tannic finish. (Circus Wines, $10.99)

6. Pinot Blanc from Alsace.
It may seem a strange pick for fall until you realize it’s a surprisingly awesome match with shrimp and curry dishes. The flavor of Pinot Blanc can range from fruity pineapple and white peach flavors to green apple and sage with lots of minerals. These wines have high acidity and the best versions offer a rich, haunting honeycomb-like aroma, yet it’s perfectly dry.
Alsace Willm Pinot Blanc 2011
This golden white wine is fresh, fruity, subtle and balanced. It is a crisp wine with a delicate nose that opens with lime, golden apple and almond blossom. The flavors are fine crisp apples with hints of citrus, honeydew melon and limestone. A great wine for sipping or pairing with spicier dishes and vegetable-based meals. (Circus Wines, $10.99)

7. Viognier
Viognier is capable of producing extraordinary wines. Flavors are dry, luscious peach, apricots and apple fruit, nuttiness and undertones of spice. At its best, it is alluring, lush, aromatic and rich with amazing complexity and a wonderful alternative to Chardonnay.
Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2012, South Australia
This white has aromas that typify this exotic variety: honeysuckle, candied ginger and glacé pineapple. The dry and medium-bodied palate is rich in texture, with lots of soft fruit flavors that make it a pleasure to drink.
Fresh, refreshing and expressive, packed with pineapple, pear and spice, the wine smells sweet but finishes dry and silky with flavors of fresh pineapple and lychee. Perfect with white meats, freshwater fish and mild cheeses. (Spirit of 76 Wines & Liquors, $12.99)

Wine Cocktails for Summer


Now that it’s unofficially summer, it’s time to think about a few delicious wine cocktails.
While cocktails made with wine are by no means a new creation, they are enjoying a healthy revival as mixologists continue to craft better beverages and experiment with a variety of spirits, including wine as a direct route to making the traditional cocktail more food-friendly.

Amazingly, wine cocktails were at their height in the early 1900s with both table and fortified wines used as the drink base. That is until Prohibition took its toll on cocktails of all varieties. Today, these wine concoctions pair deliciously with food, friends, and festivities of all kinds. Plus, wine cocktails are inherently more relaxed because you can drink them from a straw. Even a bendy straw.

Sparkling wine cocktails tend to be all-time favorites with practically everyone. Typically they are a snap to make, bring festive bubbles to the mix, pair well with a variety of food and are just downright delicious.

There is the traditional Mimosa, a brunch cocktail, made with champagne or sparkling wine and orange juice, or the Bellini. The Bellini is perhaps Italy’s most famous wine cocktail, based on Prosecco and white peach nectar. Peaches and Prosecco, it doesn’t get much easier (or yummier) than this.

For a twist on sparkling cocktails, give this Gewürztraminer Agave Ginger Ale a try. Your mouth will explode with flavor when you use fresh ginger. Perfect wine cocktails balance sweet, spice, sour and savory. For this one we selected wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley, Washington. This wine is a beautiful blush sparkling wine, with essences of berries in the nose and on the palate. The initial impression is dry with a soft and fruity aftertaste. The Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer is also n lush wine with expressive fruit and clove spice. It also has a lot of floral character, while maintaining the grape’s natural crisp acidity.

Gewürztraminer Agave Ginger Ale
Ingredients
3 oz. Chateau St. Michelle Gewürztraminer
3 oz. Chateau Ste. Michelle Rosé
1 tsp of muddled ginger
3/4 oz. agave syrup
Optional: 1-2 dashes of tabasco
Preparation
Put sliced ginger and agave in a cocktail glass and muddle with a wooden spoon until ginger pieces are fragrant.
Add 3 oz Gewürztraminer. Stir. Strain into a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass with ice. Top with Ste. Michelle Rosé Brut.

If you are a Margarita lover, a Pinot-Grita is the perfect sip to kick-start the spring into summer season. This unique twist on the traditional margarita adds a kick of bright lime to the Pinot Grigio’s clean citrus flavor. With aromas of nectarine and fresh peach, this Pinot Grigio is crisp and refreshing, creating a light and invigorating cocktail perfect to enjoy with friends and family on a warm and sunny afternoon.

Pinot-Grita
Makes four servings
Ingredients:
3 cups Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Pinot Grigio
¾ cup frozen limeade concentrate
½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 cups ice
Lime wedges, to garnish
Salt, to garnish
Preparation:
Combine Pinot Grigio, limeade and orange juice in blender
Slowly add ice until all ingredients are well-combined
Pour into 4 salt-rimmed glasses, and garnish with lime wedge (optional)

For the Ecco Frutta, we used Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. Ecco Domani translates to “Here’s tomorrow” in Italian, and this IGT Pinot Grigio’s light citrus and delicate floral aromas,tropical fruit flavors and a crisp, refreshing finish are perfect for the Ecco Frutta—a white wine cocktail where mango and kiwi marry  for summer sipping.

Ecco Frutta Wine Cocktail
Ingredients:
1 kiwi
2 tbsp Mango chutney
Ecooc Domani Pinot Grigio
Preparation
Muddle 1 peeled kiwi
Add 2 tablespoons of mango chutney (may substitute with 2 oz. mango juice)
Add 1 tablespoon of sweet basil
Add 2 oz. of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio
Pour into a shaker and shake vigorously
Pour into a highball glass
Garnish with a kiwi slice

Not into super-sweet? We love this cucumber wine cocktail. It’s both refreshing and savory because the mint and lime add a slightly sour balance the drink. For this drink we used Robert Mondavi ‘s Fume Blanc, a blend of 87% Sauvignon Blanc and 13% Semillon. This wine is very aromatic with lush, floral and tropical notes ntertwined with lime zest, wet stones, fresh herbs and lemon curd. It has an intriguing, textured minerality, with lingering fresh lime and lemon verbena finish making it a perfect wine for this cocktail.

Cucumber Mint Fume Blanc Fizz
Ingredients
3 oz Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc  (or other Sauvignon Blanc)
3 oz Cristalino Brut Cava (or other sparkling wine)
1 oz cucumber water
1/2 oz lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar
pinch coarsely chopped mint
Preparation:
Make cucumber water by grating, blending and straining a cucumber. Add cucumber water, Fume blanc, lime juice, sugar and mint to a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice. Strain into a serving glass and top with 3 ounces sparkling wine.

For the Strawberry lemonade lover, we offer the Strawberry Basil Moscato Lemonade,
Here again, we went with an affordable Moscato because of its aromatic floral scents, and the light, sweet flavors of orange marmalade and marzipan. Normally, Moscato pairs nicely alongside cheeses and lightly sweet desserts, including creamy brie or ripe figs with honey. With the addition of Basil the drink becomes a bit more savory.

Strawberry Basil Moscato Lemonade
Ingredients
6 oz Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato
4 Strawberries
1 teaspoon sugar
1 sprig basil
1 ounce lemon juice
Preparation
Blend all ingredients, except wine, together. Strain into tall glass with ice. Pour over moscato. Add a bendy straw.

Okay beer lovers, If you feel it’s just not a cookout without the beer, don’t fret. Here’ a refreshing summer drink for you: the Ginger Shandy.

Ginger Shandy
Ingredients
Mint springs, for garnish
One 12-ounce bottle chilled ginger beer
1 thinly sliced lemon
Three 11.2 ounce bottles of chilled image002 beer
In a large pitcher, combine the Hoegaarden with the ginger beer. Stir in most of the lemon slices and mint springs. Fill 6 rocks glasses with ice. Add the remaining lemon slices to the glasses and pour in the shandy. Garnish each drink with a mint sprig and serve.

As you can see, the best summer drinks are full of flavor — they can be subtle, fruity, or just plain refreshing. Enjoy these alcohol-enhanced summer cocktails and drinks during parties, weekend cookouts, or while hanging out with a friend.