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.

 

 

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.

April in Provence


Ted Friedli of Excel Travel  whose company slogan is “Make us happy, go away!” is asking people to do just that on a cruise through the heart of Burgundy and Provence in April 2013. He says a river cruise in France is the perfect way to enjoy springtime weather.

He says he is planning an eight-day, seven-night cruise aboard the River Royale  to sail through France’s legendary Provence and Burgundy regions April 14-21, 2013.
The river cruising portion of the trip begins in Marseille with a transfer to the River Royale docked in Arles. As many art lovers know, Vincent van Gogh found inspiration in the Provençal light and the vivid colors of Arles, he spent a period of intense and impassioned work under these bright sunny skies.

From Arles, the River Royale will sail past quaint hilltop cities and lively towns, lush vineyards, fields of flowers, and sun-drenched vistas while making stops at the well-preserved Medieval city of Avignon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, brimming with history and the Popes’ Palace Square for an inside view of the maze of galleries, chambers, and chapels that make up the grand Palace of the Popes—seven 14th-century popes resided here during a turbulent period in church history.
Then the River Royale sails to lovely Viviers, and Tournon/Tain l’Hermitage. Nestled among famous vineyards, the twin cities of Tournon/Tain l’Hermitage are an ideal location for a Côtes du Rhône wine tasting. Friedli says the travelers will be able to indulge in some beautifully made mid-valley Côtes du Rhône wines. From Tain l’Hermitage the next stop is the gastronomic capital of France: Lyon.

The cruise includes shopping at open-air food markets, a Crêpes Suzette-making demonstration and tasting and a special wine and food pairing dinner along with eight excursions and several choice is yours options which include your choice of going “active”, “gentle walking”, or use of bicycles for exploring the countryside.
The cruise includes all meals onboard (7 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 7 dinners), prepared using the finest and freshest ingredients; complimentary fine wine, beer, and soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard; bottled water replenished daily in your stateroom; and 24-hour specialty coffee and tea station as well as onboard local entertainment;  “Vincent van Gogh’s Troubled Destiny” lecture and the exclusive Epicurean Adventurer Program.™

Provence to Burgundy_550x445Because it’s on a cruise ship availability is limited so if you’re interested contact Ted today at 732-571-1960 to make your reservation. Outside cabin pricing starts at $2999 per person. Paris add-ons and flights are also available through Excel Travel. Excel Travel is located at 50 Atlantic Avenue, Long Branch NJ 07740. Phone: 732-571-1960.

Barbecue Wine Time


There’s something about the outdoor setting, the open fire, and the masculine image of the grill that, for many, says this is no time to be foolin’ with corkscrews and wine glasses. The casual setting aside, wine is no doubt the greatest barbecue beverage. I have never understood how wine became associated with pretense, because it can be the perfect accompaniment to a barbecue—not so filling as beer, nor so potentially embarrassing as multiple margaritas.

Let’s face it, wine pairs with anything that you want to throw on the grill — from burgers to barbecued chicken sandwiches to leg of lamb—wine is the ultimate condiment, working like a spice, helping to enhance the flavors of grilled food.

Wines for barbecue must support succulent slow-cooked meats and not be overwhelmed by or compete with the piquancy and sweetness of the sauce. An overly tannic, tight red is probably not the best choice. Casual wines with no pretense may be the norm for a barbecue, but don’t hesitate to pull out wines with pedigree either. Both styles will shine around the grill.

When selecting wines for barbecue, the ideal choice is a medium-bodied wine with enough personality to stand up to the myriad different flavors. You may want to try one that is fruitier or less dry one than you might normally drink.

A good rule of thumb for any barbecue wine is BBQ:

  • Big, full-bodied, with plenty of fruit extract and an alcohol content of around 13%.
  • Bold and assertive with forward fruit flavor, spice, and pepper along with good acidity.
  • Quaffable—smooth, delicious, easy to drink— in other words, gulpable.

The best barbecue reds are big, well-balanced, smooth and not over the top in alcohol, with great fruit and balanced acidity. Think luscious, ripe berry flavors and complex spice and you have an interesting counterpoint to barbecue. Try to avoid wines over 14.5%, as they are often “hot” and they open your taste buds up wide and then the heat from the spice becomes very prominent and overwhelms other flavors.

Sometimes, I think people only invite me to barbecues because they know I’ll bring the wine.

So, what do I bring? This time of year, an all-purpose barbecue favorite: dry rosé, it truly is a summertime treat.

Think Pink
Rosé is an ideal barbecue wine. Good rosés combine the crispness and refreshment of white wine (serve chilled) with intriguing flavors—some of the red fruits typical of red wine, but also notes of tea, orange rind, strawberries and watermelon. Too long out of fashion because of their association with cheap, sweet blush wines, the new generation of rosés are stronger, darker, drier, more intensely fruity and, for me, perfect summer wines.

Look for rosés from the southern Rhone, Languedoc, and Provence in France, Rioja in Spain, or such American examples as King Estate’s Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Bring White
One thing about barbecues: almost no one brings white wine! Everyone thinks about the meat; but who thinks about the heat? It’s hot outside! You may not like to drink white wine with red meat, but how much time do you spend eating as opposed to time spent chatting and waiting for the meat to be ready? So, it’s a good idea to bring a bottle of white that’s crisp and lean and lower in alcohol. Muscadet, Albarino, Vermentino, or Assyrtiko from Santorini are all good candidates for higher temperatures. These same wines often have the added benefit of being inexpensive.

Crisp, intensely aromatic high-acid white wines, like my old stand-by favorite, Sauvignon Blanc, work very well with grilled flavors. If you know me, I always have a Sauvignon Blanc on hand, it’s so versatile: great with grilled vegetables and shrimp, and is the best wine with tomatoes. Off-dry (slightly sweet) Rieslings and Gewürztraminers pair nicely with spicier and sweeter barbecue flavors, as sweet wines are particularly good at taking the heat out of spicy foods. Chardonnay, however, is probably best left for another day.

Try Cru Beaujolais
Okay, you may not want to eat burgers with a bottle of white wine. Then, think cru Beaujolais. Asking for cru Beaujolais is a polite way to say, “I want a better Beaujolais,” because basic Beaujolais covers a lot of ground and you could end up with a mediocre bottle. Cru Beajoulais comes from one of ten specific villages and being specific can help you get what you want. Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-a-Vent are village names to look for on the label—they combine accessible fruit with a refreshing acidity that pairs beautifully with barbecue.

Go Cab Franc
If you desire wine with more heft, then consider the Cabernet Franc grape variety from Chinon and Bourgueil in the Loire Valley. Or go local with Monmouth County’s own Four JGs Cabernet Franc. These wines are full of steak-friendly flavors. Meat that is charred and just off the grill goes great with the firm tannins you find in most Cabernet Franc wines.

More critical than the color of the wine, however, is how you serve it. Any wine—even red wine—benefits from being chilled in hot weather which explains why it’s not worth opening a wine of any great age or complexity for the average barbecue.

So chill them down to around 56° and have a good time in a casual relaxed atmosphere of someone’s backyard, and remember, I’ll bring the wine.

Eight Great Barbecue choices:

Think Pink
King Estate Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2011, Oregon, USA
This Rosé is the color of pink lemonade. Aromas include kiwi, watermelon and lychee. Fruity flavors of raspberries, pomegranates and plums accompany a viscous round mouth feel with a long, dry finish.

Chateau Routas Rouviere Rosé, Provence, France 2011
A blend of 55% Cinsault, 23% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, Rouvière Rosé is the quintessential, estate-produced Rosé. All of the Syrah and half of the Cabernet Sauvignon go straight into neutral barrels for primary and malolactic fermentation. The remaining Grenache and Cinsault are fermented in stainless steel tanks and blocked from malolactic fermentation. The two different lots are aged separately for five months and blended prior to bottling.One sip and it’s easy to see why this wine was rated 90 Points and given a 100 Best Buys of the Year Selection from Wine & Spirits magazine .

Bring White
Paco & Lola, Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2010
Clean and textured. Seductive exotic palate of pineapple and mango intermingled with refreshing citrus flavors amplified by minerally accents. Silky, but yet full bodied, with long lingering finish. Round and very tasty.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling, 2011 Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
This Riesling exhibits aromas and flavors of white peach, grapefruit and sweet lime with subtle mineral notes. The mouth-watering acidity is beautifully balanced by beautiful bright fruit and flavorful Washington Riesling fruit with crisp acidity and enhanced mineralilty.

Cru Beaujolais
Potel Aviron Fleurie Vieilles Vignes 2009
Ripe, gorgeously feminine, silky and pure, Fleurie is the quintessential Cru Beaujolais. This wine is very fruity and floral while keeping great structure.  Berry and flower aromas are followed by strawberry, black raspberry, mineral and dried flower flavors with a meaty savory character and gritty tannins.

Cabernet Franc
Guy Saget Chinon Marie de Beauregard 2009, Loire Valley, France
Marie de Beauregard Chinon is a deep ruby wine that offers black fruits (blackberry, blueberry, blackcurrant) delicately shaded by leather and vanilla. Powerful and racy, it offers modern-style toast, with dark cocoa and graphite notes folowed by a core of sweet plum, cassis, bitter cherry, with smoldering tobacco and tapenade notes.

Four JGs Cabernet Franc 2008, Outer coastal Plain, Colts Neck, NJ, USA
Four JGs Cabernet Franc 2008 has a spicy aroma reminiscent of plums and spices. The grapes were grown during the dry, hot summer of 2008 on the Four JG Vineyards in Colts Neck, New Jersey.  After fermentation, the wine was stored in American Oak barrels for 9 months adding a hint of chocolate

Just Red
Tir Na Nog Old Vines Grenache 2008, McLaren Vale Australia
This medium- to full-bodied Grenache has intense aromas of mulberries, figs and kirsch over touches of baking spices, game and Ceylon tea. Fleshy black raspberry and boysenberry preserves are followed by cola flavors show a good backbone of medium level silky tannins and crisp acid. Finishes velvety and sweet, with lingering spiciness.

Wines with a spring in their sip


Spring is here, and it’s time to start shifting from heavy winter red wines and Ports to light, refreshing white wines  that would reflect the seasons crisp breezes, green lawns, budding flowers, and sunny days as well as its rainy ones.
But, how do you break away from the same old, tried-and-true, go-to wines? One way is to make a pact with yourself to try at least one new grape varietal each month. Or revisit wines you have not sampled in a long time.
Personally, as soon as the weather warms up I slowly wean myself away from big and hearty dark reds to fabulous Rosé.

A current favorite everyday Rosé is Chateau Routas Rouvière Rosé from Provence.  A blend of 55% Cinsault, 23% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, it boasts a beautiful deep rose color and a wonderfully floral nose. The mouth feel and body are outstanding due to the skin contact used during the fermentation process (which also provides the great color). Super juicy berry taste coupled with great acidity balance this wine perfectly.  A natural for a bacon-infused risotto or grilled fish with an herb rub.

Another favorite is Pedroncelli’s Dry Rose of Zinfandel. Pedroncelli  is a fourth-generation California winemaker, and the family takes great care with what it does—supplying quality wine at good prices—and this wine is no exception. This Rosé is a terrific choice because it’s got some heft, as it’s made with 100% Zinfandel, yet it’s fun and fruity and easy drinking all the same.  It is dry and crisp, with some minerality.  It has a slight floral nose, heightened by aromas of just-picked strawberries followed by a sort of savory, herby element. Juicy berry flavors of red raspberry, currant and plum with a hint of watermelon are highlighted in this crisp, enjoyable wine. Chill this (especially this summer) and drink it on its own or with any summer food—burgers and barbecued chicken, roast chicken or grilled salmon, it’s perfect.

Of course, my first wine choice for this article was Sauvignon Blanc. There’s something innately Spring-like in the herbaceous aromas and zingy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Dry and crisp, with a herbaceous, grassy nose and flavors of citrus, vanilla, and melon can complement almost any warm weather menu.

Sauvignon Blanc is grown in many wine areas of the world. Interestingly, its grassy, herbaceous, and crisp characteristics are almost always present regardless of where it is grown. (The name “Sauvignon” is derived from the French “sauvage” meaning “wild.” Say Sauvignon Blanc to many a wine lover, and New Zealand or the Loire’s Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé come to mind.

In France,  the grape is aromatic and fresh in the Sancerres and Pouilly Fumes of the Loire Valley. Pouilly-Fume is the firmer, drier and more elegant of the two and Sancerre is a little more fruity. A favoriet Sancerre is Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Chateau du Nozay 2010. Chateau du Nozay is one of the most storied properties in Sancerre. Pascal Jolivet is the sole producer of this domaine. grapes a distinct characteristic of smoothness and elegance. This single estate wine combines softness, roundness, generosity and mellow exotic fruit. Due to its great aptitude for ageing, the wines of Nozay will only improve with time.

Sauvignon Blanc is also grown in Bordeaux, where it is often blended with Semillon. An inexpensive choice would be Mayne Sansac, Bordeaux, which is a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc,  25% Semillon and 25% Muscadelle.  It has all the elegance and finesse of the best wines from the most  famous vineyards in the world. It is the perfect expression of the best soil and premium varieties of Bordeaux.t is obvious that this wine has been extremely well made and aged. Brilliant color, fruity, floral bouquet and excellent balance on the palate. Starts out crisp and fresh.   This full-bodied white wine has a brilliant color, a fruity, floral bouquet and excellent balance on the palate.

Sauvignon Blanc wine is perfect for just sipping by itself on the deck and Chile and New Zealand offer plenty of great value wines. Look for Marlborough on the label of Kiwi wines and the Casablanca Valley on Chilean wines. These are the most respected regions.

If you’re ever craving a strong, acidic wine with some serious backbone, give Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011 a try. With intense passion fruit and gooseberry fruit characters, this wine is a classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is dry and crisp acid full of lime, grapefruit, and underlying rich tropical fruit flavors that lead to a sharp and fruity finish. (About $17)

From Casablanca, Chile there is Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc  2010  This wine also has intense grassy and citrusy notes on the nose. The  palate is juicy, crisp and zesty, with flavors of fresh lettuce, lime, grapefruit  and green herbs leading to pure flavors of nectarine and white peach. It has a light and delicate finish. (About $9.99)

you fancy a change from the Sauvignon norm, sniff out a bottle of Assyrtiko (a-SEER-ti-ko) from the Greek Island of Santorini (Around $16). Banish all thoughts of evil Retsina and open your mind to the zesty, mineral intensity that the Assyrtiko grape produces on Santorini’s volcanic soils. Racing, even austere in its minerality when young, Assyrtiko gains secondary flavors and aromas that lean towards petrol, paraffin, and other phenolics over time. Santo Wines Santorini Assyrtiko White is light gold in the glass, with aromas of lemon zest, wet stones, and hints of baked apples. In the mouth the wine is zingy and bright with lemon pith and super juicy acidity. Notes of wet chalkboard linger in the finish. Bright and crisp and quite refreshing, in a way that belies its 15% alcohol. This is always a good one to taste blind and to play “guess the country”.

Feelin’ groovy with Grüner Veltliner.

This is a white grape primarily grown in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Grüner, GV or Groovie, as wine lovers call it, is made in both dry and sweet styles. It features lemon-lime and peach flavors joined with occasional notes of white pepper and vegetal tastes, such as green beans and celery root.

Grüner’s signature is a spicy, peppery nose, and its high-acid and refreshing flavors will knock your socks off with asparagus, artichokes, vegetable dishes and vinaigrettes on salads. Or drink it by itself, as it’s nowhere as heavy as Chardonnay and has a tad more personality than Sauvignon Blanc.

Laurenz V. und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner  This is ultra-refreshing with zesty lemon-lime flavors, along with notes of green beans and delicate white pepper. With the high acid in the wine, you’ll find a perfect food partner for fish, veggies, pastas and most appetizers. The grapes for the Singing Grüner come predominantly from the  Kremstal area of lower Austria with a portion of the grapes coming from the Weinviertel region. The first sip of this dry,  light to medium bodied  white yields apple, peach and citrus flavors along with a typical Veltliner spiciness and, most notably, hints of white pepper. The soft and juicy palate is supported by fine acidity.

A soave little wine: Soave
In years past my experience with Soave was a tart-lemon dry wine with a bitter almond taste that was just wretched. Today, this lovely, lively dry white wine is made from Garganega grape (at least 70 percent in the wine), plus Trebbiano di Soave and Nestrano grapes grown in the Veneto region and province of Verona in northern Italy. Soaves are generally light-bodied and straw-colored with flavors of pear, lemon and green apple; notes of floral; and a hint of almond.

Allegrini Soave 2010 , Veneto, Italy (About $16.99) has soft aromas of wild flowers, pink grapefruit and lime. It is supple and elegant on the palate, with light minerality and an aromatic finish that suggests good ageing potential. This is a smooth and graceful wine, releasing a sensation of freshness and persistent aromatic notes. Ideal as an aperitif wine, this bright, straw yellow wine pairs well with raw fish dishes, tempura, sushi and sashimi, as well as spicy and sweet and sour dishes typical of Asian cuisine. Try this with an antipasto platter, a big bowl of mussels in white wine sauce, grilled seafood and shellfish.  The best way to appear suave is to drink Soave.

Now for a grape you will surely want to add it to your list of regular wines: Riesling. No, it’s not all sweet; in fact, most of the Riesling produced in Germany is dry, and most of this dry Riesling is kept in the country for the citizens’ consumption. I absolutely adore German and Alsatian Rieslings for their bracingly high acidity; slate and mineral notes; and flavors of peaches, green apple, sweet pear, apricot and lemon-lime. Dry Riesling is the most food-friendly style of wine found anywhere…and the best value.

Often German Rieslings can have a touch of sweetness, even at QbA level, and pair well with spicy food.  But more and more, dry German Riesling, known as Trocken, Kabinett Trocken or Spätlese Trocken versus just plain Kabinett or Spätlese, which are off-dry (slightly sweet) styles. Sweet Rieslings work beautifully with rich foods, such as foie gras, or spicy foods, but they don’t work with every food item on a restaurant’s dinner menu like dry Rieslings do. Dry Rieslings even have enough body to hold up to beef in the scheme of food and wine pairing.

Hugel’s “Classic” Riesling  2010 comes from Alsace. Etienne Hugel is one of Alsace’s most renowned producers. Zesty, refreshing, full-bodied and loaded with flavors of apples and pears, this dry, elegant, fresh wine is lively, frank and refreshingly quaffable, ideal for all those who appreciate classic Riesling.  You will love the fruit character of green apple, white peach, citrus, grapefruit and spring blossom agains the limestone, slate and minerals background. The wine is jam-packed with minerality, rich with ripe fruit and has searingly high acid. Think of this white wine as your squeeze of lemon over broiled fish. It’s perfect as an aperitif, with oysters, seafood, smoked fish and cheese. (About $21)

A less expensive and sweeter option is Fünf 5 Riesling “Sassy White” (About $8). Fünf 5 Riesling is a deliciously sweet white that always proves to be a crowd pleaser. Light, crisp and refreshing with a fruity, green apple taste, this bottle is great for spring time outside.

Gewürztraminer (geh-vertz-tram-eener) is under-rated, it’s partly to do with the tricky pronunciation of the grape. But don’t let that put you off because these can be sublime, especially from Alsace. They can be very floral and tropical, smelling of roses and exotic fruits, and usually full-bodied and heady.

Hugel’s “Classic” Gewürztraminer 2010 is a tangy white wine with apricot and spice notes. The aromas are floral—think honeysuckle, rose, and orange blossom—with a hint of the oriental. The flavors follow with orange blossom, tangerine, lychee and hint of pear. On the palate, the wine is dry, yet rich, fine and elegant, with excellent balance. It’s perfect for warmer weather and pairs beautifully with food (about $21)

Pinot Grigio from Italy will usually run you less than $20 a bottle and these are easy drinking wines. They mainly come from the cooler reaches of northern Italy, in Trentino Alto Adidge and Friuli. They are dry, light to medium in body and always marked by crisp refreshing acidity. Try them with scallops and crab cakes, or simply on their own. Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, tends to be full-bodied and unctuous, full of spice notes and peach and apricot flavors; Northern Italian Pinot Grigios are bright, light and zippy, with white peach or nectarine flavors and tingly acidity. New World versions are essentially divided into these two styles, and the wines tend to be labeled Gris or Grigio accordingly.

One New world Version to try is Bethel Heights Pinot Gris. This Pinot Gris is dry, with a strong citrus backbone. There are fruit forward citrus aromas of Meyer lemons, mandarin, and lime blossom. The palate showcases a refreshing focused core of citrus fruits over bright acidity, carrying the wine to a long finish. This wine exhibits grace and it’s perfect for warmer weather.

What about reds?
Very light reds, like Beaujolais, which work really well slightly chilled, are all about Summer drinking, but Pinot Noir is a supremely flexible grape which can suit many different foods and occasions. 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.

A Pinot that recently came into my glass is Astrolabe Pinot Noir, from Marlborough, New Zealand and it’s  is certainly worth a try. It’s a bright medium red offering up inviting red currant, raspberry and spice aromas on the nose. It is sweet and plush, but with a firm shape to its red berry and cinnamon flavors. There is a light dusting of tannins and persistent fruity finish (About $20).

For a fun summer red, try Pedroncelli Friends.Red it is a lovely red table wine to share with friends and family. A proprietary blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sangiovese, this red shows soft, rounded and tasty fruit notes. Black cherry and vanilla aromas are followed firm plum and toasty oak flavors that lead to an enjoyable finish. This is a graceful and well-balanced wine, that will pair beautifully with braised lamb shanks, seared salmon with balsamic sauce, barbeque chicken, couscous salads or simply your favorite appetizer.

The list could go on, given the multitude of other varietals that are available, and more importantly, enjoyable, but we’ll leave the rest for another time. So, whether cooking at home or visiting a local restaurant, try some adventure by ordering wine a little off the beaten path. It may be a home run.

Winter wines for winter warmth


Seasons change, and when they do, so do the wines we drink.  Cold winter weather calls for scarves and mittens, warming fires in the fireplace and bold, flavorful red wines in our glasses. This isn’t the time of year when our palates crave wines that are crisp and refreshing – our palates want body and soul!

The idea of “winter wines” is not so much about specific vintages being appropriate in one season and unacceptable in another. Rather, it is about which characteristics of certain wines not only match well with the season, but more importantly, with the foods we associate with the season.

Winter is the traditional time  to eat a lot of thick, hearty soups, stews, or roasts given the need to warm up when the temperature dips and to get some meat on your bones. Gatherings are planned and meals are cooked in the kitchen—that means winter food: hot, casseroles, meat dishes, heavier foods with rich texture and they all need  a warming, stimulating wine to go along with the meal.

Reds and heavy whites are the preferred choice, usually high in alcohol and served at room temperature. Winter wines are heavier and more complex, less acidic, and often more heavy oaked. Save those expensive Burgundy wines for the winter, they are wines designed serve with a rich meat stew or a heavy steak.

Winter warmers are full bodied wines that are a pleasure to have by the fire when there is a chill in the air and they are often the perfect mach for winter foods.

Sometimes, pairing wines with a particular food item can be difficult. However, there are a few classic pairings: chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon, duck and Pinot Noir, Stilton or any blue-veined cheese and Port, foie gras and Sauternes.

Here are some good selections worthy of your consideration to pair certain wines with these classic cold weather staples.

Splurge a little reds:

Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon The Coffeestone 2006
For an interesting Cabernet Sauvignon from Franschhoek Valley, South Africa South Africa, try The Coffestone. Cedarwood and cigarbox flavors combined with rich dark berry fruit on the nose. There are complex and ripe cassis, mulberry, spices and rich chocolate flavors on the palate. This is a full-bodied, firmly structured wine with concentrated fruit, a balanced mouthfeel and long extended finish. This wine is excellent to pair with hearty stews, North African dishes and risotto. (around $30 splurge)

Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva
From the heart of La Rioja, Spain comes an absolute star: Campo Viejo Gran Reserva. This wine represents some of the best in Rioja quality and is sure to conjure up compliments at the dinner table. There is intense fruit concentration, both in the aroma and on the palate. The texture is glossy, and storage in American oak gives the wine a conspicuous hint of vanilla. The concurrent use of French oak wines brings some spice to the party as well, with other flavors like burnt toast and even coconut. The wine pairs well with fiery and peppery foods, such as chorizo or paella.  (about $20 splurge)

Mont Tauch Terroir d’Altitude Vielles Vignes, Fitou Rouge
The Languedoc region of France has long been a favorite  and Fitou is the epitome of Languedoc wines. This is a   juicy, spicy and full-bodied red.  This Fitou  is is a supple blend of  Carignane Grenache and  Syrah grapes picked from 100-year-old vines growing high up on the hillsides of Languedoc. A veritable bargain, this wine is intense with dark fruit and herbs with a rich body of syrupy dark cherry fruit, it is ideal for cold weather. It is seductive, stylish red, rich in blackberry fruit and spice, with a hint of vanilla. Oaky and full-bodied, it is perfect  with sausages, venison, or wild boar.  (about $20 splurge)

Mid-range reds

Boschendal Shiraz  Stellenbosch
The emergence of this region of South Africa as a superior wine producer has been a boon to wine enthusiasts and this wine is a great example of a South African robust red. Dark mulberry in color, this youthful wine is a true South African Shiraz. there is luxurious fruit with aromas of cassis, blackberry, pepper and licorice. It is elegant and complex, with well-integrated wood and soft tannins on the palate. This wine is definitely made for food and hearty meat recipes at that: beef, ostrich, rabbit, portk and veal. (around $15)

Santi Solane Valpolicella Ripasso
For a wine that can be paired with any food, the Valpolicella Ripasso is a delicious red. The slightly spicy Italian wine is wonderful with meaty dishes like spaghetti and lasagna, but smooth enough to sip on its own. (around $15)

Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec
This is a 100% Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. The aromas are a mix of freshly crushed black cherries and toasty smoky oak—just enough to frame the exuberant fruit. On the palate, the flavors of cherries and spice are obvious, and the jammy fruit quality just keeps coming on strong, with hints of spice and sandalwood lurking in the background. Perfect for a fancy dinner party, or just curled up on the couch in front of a movie. (around $15)

Easy on the wallet reds

Chateau Autauron 2005
This fiesty little Bordeaux has a complex finish with black cherry, earthy, peppery qualities.  Chateau Autauron comes from Fronsac an area that seems to  produce the best values in all of Bordeaux. It is reminiscent of drinking much older and expensive Bordeaux wine. For the price this is a wonderful “drink now” wine. It should get a little more depth with age, but you simply can’t beat it with a fillet with port reduction sauce or lamb. A real treat, especially if you enjoy the Fronsac earthiness. (around $10 save)

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot
Washington State has a serious producer with  Columbia Crest, in the Columbia Valley area.  Trace amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon add a layer of depth to the wine. The tannin level is medium, and a wonderful raspberry aroma and taste rise to greet the palate. Drink it now with pasta and tomato sauce, game, and sharp cheese casseroles.  (around $11)

Root 1 Cabernet Sauvignon
The hot and dry climate of Chile’s  Colchagua Valley is world-renowned for producing concentrated Cabernets and this wine is no exception. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah, this elegant, lush, rich red wine oozes with ripe fruit flavors of black currant, mocha and chocolate. Silky tannins and good structure lead to a long and complex finish accented with vanilla and toffee notes. It is an exceptional match with full-flavored cheeses, brie, gruyere, pasta with red sauce, steak, ribs, and chocolate or just sipped alone in front of a toasty fire.  (around $10)

Splurge a little white:

Francois Baur Gewürztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim
Many white wines are too light for the dreary winter months, but a this biodynamic Gewürztraminer is bold enough to brighten any winter day. Gewürztraminer is considered the wine world’s most charismatic grape because of its exciting mix of the exotic and sensual with seductively sweet aromas and flavors of lychee and rose water. The wine is off-dry with enough strong fruits and spices to bring new life to any heavy chicken or fish dish. It also pairs beautifully with cured salmon or crab, smoked fish pickled herring, Muenster cheese, and smoked meats. The wine is also perfect for spicy Asian food.  (around $30 splurge)

Mid-range white:

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio
A rare white wine makes an appearance on this list of winter favorites because of one dish: risotto, the Italian soul food staple. It is an ideal dish on a chilly night, and the Tiefenbrunner from the Trentino-Alto Adige region on the German border is a great partner. This cool weather region produces some spectacular wines that are very suitable to cold climate weather. In particular, this intense Pinot Grigio resonates with pear on the palate and has a good acidity balance going on. (around $15)

Easy on the wallet white:

The Covey Run 2009 Quail Series Gewürztraminer
This Washington State off-dry Gewurztraminer enjoys high-powered honeysuckle aromas, with delicious citrus fruit and a good splash of spice. Floral and aromatic in the nose with flavors of lychee, rose, and sugared pear on the palate, this refreshing, spicy white wine with plenty of delicious fruit to jazz up many a meal. This  wine can be enjoyed on its own or with  spicy foods and Asian cuisine as it cools the heat of the food and complements the intense and exotic flavors. Perfect pairings include sushi, Thai food and Asian fare with a spicy kick. There is enough sweet in this wine to cut the heat of red pepper spice. (around $10)

…for after dinner or in front of the fire:

Churchill’s Late Bottle Vintage
A wonderful Port to drink either as an aperitif or as a dessert. Ports are usually rich and sweet, with a higher alcohol content that is sure to warm you from the inside out. Churchill’s Late Bottle Vintage has a caramel taste to it that is reminiscent of a Heath candy bar. (around $35 splurge)

The Royal Oporto Ruby Port
Another wonderful Port. Just as sweet as the Churchill’s, the Royal Oporto taste is less like a candy bar and more like jam with rich, wild berry flavors.  (around $12)

There you have it: fourteen strong winter wine contenders at various price points. Taste them with care, scrutinize their characteristics, and decide for yourself whether they warrant your special consideration this winter.

Time to entertain with wine


For many a host or hostess, holiday entertaining can be as daunting as it is delightful. Whether your tradition is a casual buffet or a sit-down feast, selecting and serving wines to complement Christmas dinner need not be daunting.

You will be able to reduce your stress and potential disasters by following these simple tips and words of advice: Have a flexible plan, make it fun — but most importantly, serve wine.

Picking wines to accompany a meal is a straightforward process. After all, wine is the perfect beverage solution because it’s easy and there is something for everyone.

First thing to do is to create a budget and stick to it. Wine doesn’t need to cost a lot to be good—there are plenty of delicious wines that cost less than $10 a bottle, and you don’t need to open the most expensive bottles to impress your guests.  Take comfort in knowing that terrific wines to go with your soireé are available in every price range.

Greet guests with a glass of bubbly. No matter the size or scope of your party, sparkling wine is the perfect aperitif, it’s fun, and many believe that bubbles serve to stimulate the appetite. There’s no need to get hung up on the formality of Champagne—there’s an abundance of sparklers and often best values can be found in an Italian Prosecco or a Spanish Cava.

Unless you know your guests’ preferences, look for food-friendly wines that pair well with a variety of foods. While you may have moved on from White Zinfandel and would love to serve a red Bordeaux, there are some people who simply don’t enjoy red wine, no matter how good it is;  so make sure that you have at least one red wine and one white wine available. Look for easy-sipping versions of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Merlot.

If you have guests who insist on drinking wines you don’t care for, such as White Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, or Merlot and only drink one glass at that, no worries.These wines are often available in four-packs of single-serving bottles, so you can graciously serve a glass without opening a full bottle. (You will then have wine for their next visit as well.)

Determining how much wine to have on hand can seem like a shot in the dark. Plan on three glasses of wine per person when wine is the principal beverage being served and estimate five glasses per bottle. It’s best not to get carried away with too many wines and it’s best to purchase wine, using this formula: 60 percent white wine / 40 percent red wine. Think of your event as a great opportunity for guests to try new wines.

When serving wine, serve it at the right temperature. Most people serve their whites too cold and their reds too warm. To attain the correct temperature, remember the 20/20 rule: Chill red wines for 20 minutes before serving; and remove whites from the fridge 20 minutes before serving. That way, the reds won’t be too warm and the whites won’t be too cold.

When serving wine with dinner, your options might include a white with the first courses, red with your main courses and a sparkling or dessert wine to complete the meal.

Offer snacks that are high in fat and protein, to help guests moderate their drinking.  The cardinal rule of food and wine pairing is not so much as what you’re serving as how it’s being prepared. Pair wine to the seasonings and cooking method as opposed to simply the starch or protein.

No matter how much you want to share a special bottle with friends, if one of your guests declines a glass, respect that decision and offer either chilled water or a selection of non-alcoholic beverages.

Don’t worry about having enough pieces of stemware to accommodate your guest list. Any glass can be a wine glass., but if you really want wine glasses, you may want to consider renting. Glasses come to your house clean and go away dirty; need we say more?

Guests might enjoy knowing a little about that special bottle you’re pouring, but avoid a lecture. Don’t call attention to the price or the difficulty you had in obtaining it, and don’t brag about your great taste. Simply pour, sip, let the wine speak for itself and relax, it’s going to be a great evening!

Wine for Fall Get-Togethers


Tailgaiting

These nine wines are always crowd-pleasers.

Fall brings get-togethers and whether your gathering is centered around football, baseball, basketball or any other spectator sport, or a family and frends social, wine is a natural for entertaining. On-the-fly get togethers or sporting events are no longer classified as “beer only” occasions, because more and more Americans are opting to sip wine on the sidelines and at the table.

Wine is a real crowd-pleaser – and scores big points for its versatility. Wine teams up with chips and dip at a lively game day party as well as it does with beef tenderloin at a sit-down dinner. It is easy to find great wine at most wine shops for under $20, or under $15 which means wine is perfect for all types of entertaining occasions. You can stick to pretzels and pizza or opt for a full-blown tailgate party, there is a wine for everything and everyone.

You needn’t stress about selecting wines to serve at your gathering. The best advice I can offer is to stick to what YOU like and choose food-friendly wines in both red and white and you will be the hero.  To compliment the range of spiciness often found in party foods, try lighter wines, typically higher in acid and often with sweet, spicy or fruity characteristics. Winning white wines include bright Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay. For red wine fans, you might want to lean toward a lightly spicy Pinot Noir or fruity Beaujolais.

If you are serving everyone’s favorite fast food, pizza you will have an easy match. With so many variations in toppings, pizza matches well with so many wines. Keep with the Italian theme and go for Chianti. Chianti’s tart ,cherry flavor and bright acidity meld well with any pizza’s tomato sauce. You might want to try Melini Chianti ‘Borghi d’Elsa.  Melini Chianti ‘Borghi d’Elsa is vinified in a traditional Tuscan style, so it is fragrant with intense and elegant aromas of blackberries and raspberries, with violet notes. It is a dry, full-bodied red that is slightly tannic,  with an elegant aftertaste of toasted almond.

Sometimes, you just want a something other than Chianti, that’s when you might want to venture to Italy’s Piedmont region and the Barbera grape, which also has a nice tang to accompany pepperoni or sausage. Marchesi di Barolo Barbera del Monferrato Maraia 2008 is a blend of 90% Barbera and 10% Dolcetto. This wine has the typical aromas of rose, wild berries, and sour black cherry. Fresh and clean, the flavors are intensely powerful,with a light hint of vanilla and toasted oak. This full-bodied, pleasant, and balanced wine is a perfect match with traditional recipes, meats,  and barbecue.

This time of year, a lot of crock pots get pulled out of storage and two quintessential American foods—Chili and Sloppy Joes—are back on many a gathering menu, especially after a day of raking leaves. These foods call for quintessential American wines. Right now a current favorite get-together wine is Pedroncelli’s Friends.Red from Sonoma. Friends.Red is a young and zesty, proprietary blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sangiovese. At around $10, this wine is full of lively black cherry and vanilla aromas and firm plum and toasty oak flavors and a true crowd-pleaser—not to mention a great value.

You might want to try a lush, fruit-forward Zinfandel with a sloppy joe, the bright berry flavors will have affinity for the sweet, tomato flavors. For around $15, Rosenblum Vintners Cuvée XXXIII Zinfandel, from California has a super-rich fruit intensity. It opens with a mélange of raspberry, plum, and Bing cherry aromas, followed by sweet mocha and vanilla spices and red stone fruits on the medium-bodied palate. This vibrant, well-balanced wine has good acidity and fine tannins making it suited for all occasions, as it also pairs well with barbecued meats, pizza or pastas.

When it comes to Chili, I like opening a bottle of Rioja from Spain (with flavors of the Tempranillo grape) works wonders, as these wines have the same earthy and meaty characteristics. Lan Crianza Rioja is 100% Tempranillo. This little wine that often runs around $12 garnered 90 points and #44 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2010. As this fruity wine has always been on my Top 100 list, I worried that Wine Spectator’s rating would create a run on this wine. This wine has a lot to love about it: smooth, fruit-forward nose of dark cherries, with minimal oak influence, crisp acidity, medium drying tannins, and a long finish. Lan has a bright palate of dusty berry flavors, cranberry, and spice and a velvety, mouth-filling texture. Lan also gets better the longer it is open, so open it at least 20 minutes before you plan to drink it, if you can.

With Nachos and Quesadillas, I have to say one of the best matches for anything with corn, such as chips or tortillas, is Chardonnay because the Chardonnay will compliment creamy cheeses and counterpoint the salsa. Here, I would opt for a California chardonnay like Bogle with its tantalizing aromas  of fruit and spice. The flavors of green apples and juicy pears give way to elegant hints of Meyer lemons, and sink softly into spicy vanilla notes of American oak. This ripe and refreshing wine offers a rich and velvety mouthfeel and the finish perfectly balances the wine’s creaminess and acidity.

In the red category, Zinfandel joyfully accompanies spicy salsa and Merlot can have a cooling effect. Currently, my favorite Merlot is California’s Twomey Merlot 2007 Napa Valley Merlot; it’s a blend of 94% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s supple, complex and has a great expression of berry fruit. It has a a nose of fresh, ripe black cherry and blackberry, dark chocolate and the alluring smell of roasting coffee. On the palate, it is savory and full of explosive fruit and violets. The long finish echoes berry fruit and chocolate and grainy well-integrated tannins. I recommend drinking the reds slightly chilled around 50 – 56°.

I know a lot of parties offer those tasty, yet often messy, Buffalo wings. Piquant and vinegary wings need a white wine with loads of acidity like Columbia Crest’s Two Vines Sauvignon Blanc. This fresh, lively Sauvignon Blanc opens with the typical aromas of lemon zest, honeydew melon, dried herbs and a hint of freshly cut grass followed by juicy melon, gooseberry and kiwi flavors.This affordable wine from Washington state has a lengthy, bright citrus-like finish that compliments wings.

A Spanish Albarino like the seductive Paco & Lola offers a rich, exotic palate of pineapple and mango intermingled with refreshing citrus flavors amplified by minerally accents that stand up to the sharpness of the flavors or wings.

If the wings are exceptionally spicy, an off-dry Columbia Crest Two Vines Riesling could be the ticket to tame the heat. This unrestrained Riesling has aromas of guava, lime zest and honeysuckle, followed by intense nectarine, apricot and mandarin orange flavors resting on a lively acid structure balancing an early sweetness, and ending in a candy-like finish.

If you’re sticking to something slightly lower in calories, veggies, you need to remember crispy and crunchy crudités call for a fresh, zippy white like a Sauvignon Blanc. A current favorite that seems to appeal to everyone is The Beach House from from South Africa’s Douglas Green Winery. The Beach House is a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend and is an easy sipping, crowd-pleaser.

Not in the mood for a Sauv Blanc? Well, the South African Brampton Chardonnay is an unoaked Chard that shows fresh tropical notes on the nose. The palate shows great density and richness well balanced by vibrantly delicious peach fruit and and a crisp clean citrus finish.This wine is also a perfect companion to pears and blue cheese.

Okay, red-only drinkers you might want to try something light and fruity like a chilled Beaujolais or  Pinot Noir from Oregon with those veggies. Cloudline Pinot Noir has fresh aromatic nuances of raspberry, violets and a touch of spice. On the palate, the wine is all cherries and red fruits. The tannins are soft, and balanced with a long finish.

For your gathering you can use these suggestions or make up your own, whatever you decide, have fun with your wine choices, and encourage your guests to do the same.

Oyster season begins


Every mermaid knows when oyster season begins
Jonathan Swift is quoted as having said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” But any oyster lover will tell you they are absolutely delicious.

In the early 19th century, oysters were cheap and mainly eaten by the working class. In New York, oystermen were skilled cultivators of their beds, which provided employment for hundreds of workers and nutritious food for thousands. Eventually, rising demand exhausted many of the beds. To increase production, they introduced foreign species, which brought disease, and when combined with erosion and other environmental factors, most of the beds were destroyed by the early 20th century. This scarcity increased prices, converting them from their original role as working class food to their current status as an expensive delicacy.

The old adage says to never eat oysters in months without an “R” in them, primarily, the warmer summer months—May through August. If you are a fresh oyster lover and haven’t had nary a one since last April, you should know the old saying is a myth whose basis in truth is that oysters are much more likely to spoil in May, June, July, and August. Plus, the summer months are the time of year they devote their energy for reproduction and become less meaty and less tasty. During summer or spawning season, the oyster becomes slimy and milky.  They are still edible but the taste and texture are quite unappealing.

Since September is the first month with an “R” and it has been designated National Oyster Month, and, if you’ve been paying attention, oyster season has already begun on the Shore, with both Asbury Park and Red Bank hosting oyster festivals.

So, what is it about these little bivalve critters that people love so much?

Well, oysters are an excellent source of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium as well as Vitamin A and Vitamin B12. Oysters are low in calories; one dozen raw oysters contain approximately 110 calories, and are considered the healthiest when eaten raw on the half shell.

Okay, you’ve probably heard oysters are considered to be an aphrodisiac. That “myth” may not bee too far from the truth, American and Italian researchers found oysters were rich in amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones and the high zinc content aids the production of testosterone.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all oysters are created equal (there are several species of oyster) nor do they all taste the same. Some are brinier, some are creamier, some are leaner, some are fatter, and some even have a “fruity” taste, vaguely suggestive of cucumber and melons. Some of the differences in taste have to do with the species, but it primarily has more to do with the temperature of the waters in which they are harvested; as well as the oyster’s fabled muscle, which constantly opens and closes to allow a flow of water and nutrients.

Perhaps the best known oysters in this area are East Coast Bluepoints (although Bluepoints technically come only from New York’s Long Island). These oysters can be found from Nova Scotia all the way down to the gulfstream waters of Florida and Texas. Northeast coastal oysters tend to have a longer shaped shell and belong to the Crassostrea virginica family. You will find these oysters are leaner in meatiness, with a moderately briny, salty, steely flavor, delicious for eating raw or with no more than a squeeze of lemon or splash of Mignonette sauce (a blend of fresh chopped shallot, mixed peppercorn, dry white wine and lemon juice or sherry vinegar).

In restaurants and markets these oysters are commonly sold by their points of origin—such as Long Islands (the original Bluepoints), Wellfleets (from Cape Cod), Delawares and Bristols (Maine). You might even find oysters that are similar to these from the coast off Eastern Canada sold by place names such as “Novys” (from Nova Scotia), Malpecques (Prince Edward Island) and Caraquets (New Brunswick).

Due to their lean and minerally taste, the easiest wine match for Northeastern oysters is probably any bone dry white with perceptively minerally or flinty qualities: ideally, the pure Sauvignon Blancs from France’s Loire River, most commonly bottled as Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé, and sometimes as Cheverny, Quincy or Menetou-Salon. Two good choices to look for are:

Chateau de Sancerre Sancerre this has the typical Sauvignon Blanc nose with floral accents and smokey, flinty nuances. The flavors are crisp and fresh with distinctive, subtle citrusy fruit.

Pascal Jolivet Chateau du Nozay is one of the most storied properties in Sancerre. This wine combines minerality, softness, roundness, generosity and exotic fruit making it a wonderful accompaniment to fish, seafood, white meat (chicken, veal) and goat cheese.

While they are certainly acidic enough, Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand and California are not quite as ideal since they tend to be fruitier and not as stony, minerally or flinty in flavor. One of the best and lower-priced alternatives to Loire River Sauvignon Blancs is  from the Western Loire Valley around the city of Nantes: the light and crisply dry Muscadet Sèvre et Maine such as the Chereau-Carre Chateau de Chasseloir Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie. It is a mouthful, but what a delicious one with its lemon peel, honeysuckle and mineral flavors. With its nice tangy finish, this $10 wine a fine companion to shellfish and oysters in particular.  You may have to search a little harder to find it locally, but it is a true delight.

Other great French classic choices include Chablis such as Olivier Leflaive Chablis AC Les Deux Rives. The signature cuvée Chablis is an outstanding value true to the character of Chablis with all of the mineral and flint characteristics of a more expensive Chablis. Or you can try a Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru with mouth-filling white peach, tangerine, lemon, and minerals flavors. This is an affordable 93 point Premier Cru white Burgundy that is just lovely.

If Chablis is a little above the price range, a white Burgundy such as Macon Villages or Pouilly Fuisse could be just right. The Louis Jadot Macon – Villages 2010 is quite lively, dry and easy to drink. It is a charming fruity wine with a floral scent and a hint of lemon. Drink it chilled with a range of foods including hors d’oeuvres, oysters, fried or grilled fish, sea food, goat’s milk cheese or poultry.

Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuisse 2009 has floral and fruity aromas dominated by almond and ripe grapes. This wine is refreshingly pleasant, ethereal in its lightness and marries well with hors d’oeuvres, delicately flavored charcuterie, oysters, mussels and any other shellfish.

If you don’t want a French wine. look for a wine with the word  trocken (“dry”) or halbtrocken (“half dry”) on the label. These white wines are made from Germany’s Riesling grape, which can retain a zesty, slatey-mineral flavor. At only 9% to 11% alcohol, these Rieslings sweep across the palate like a light, lilting, perfumey breeze, sweetening the taste of oysters with their natural lemon-lime acidity. One inexpensive bone-dry Riesling to look for is the Selbach Riesling Dry (Fish Label), from the Mosel region of Germany. The little orange-red fish on the label is there to show it pairs well with seafood. The flavors are classic: bright and fresh green-apple with a long and tart dry finish.

Other good choices for long and lean Northeastern oysters are Spain’s flowery and flinty dry whites made from the Albarino grape like: Paco & Lola Albarino 2010 from Rias Baixas. This wine is clean and textured with an exotic palate of pineapple and mango intermingled with refreshing citrus flavors amplified by minerally accents. This is a silky-smooth, full-bodied wine with a long, lingering finish.

Where Paco & Lola is full-bodied and seductive, Burgans Albarino borders on opulence. It has a lovely bouquet of white flowers, hazelnut, peach pit, and mineral with a surprisingly complex palate for the price.

The lean, briny oysters of the Northeast, however, are not to be confused with those of the decidedly warmer South East and Gulf Coast waters — where that muscle is most put to work. All that exercise makes the American East and Gulf Coast oysters the leanest in meatiness, with less of that creamy, fruity taste savored by true-blue oyster lovers. Florida’s Apalachicolas and Mississippi’s Emerald Points are not only leaner, but also duller, flabbier or “swampy” tasting — better suited for use in cooked oyster dishes like: Oysters Rockefeller; oyster po’ boys or stuffed into “carpetbagger” steaks, than eating raw.

The oysters found off the Western coasts of Canada and the American Northwest, in the coldest waters, live a more contented life, working that muscle much less and thereby developing a plumper, juicier, fruitier taste mingling with more distinctively briny, flinty flavors. These little guys would love to be paired with a Jorge Ordonez Botani. Botani is moscatel from Andalusia, Spain and this delightfully aromatic white displays a nose of mineral, spring flowers, acacia, and a hint of tropical aromas. Although the aromatics suggest sweetness, the wine is very dry, and very fruity. There are citrus and fine herbaceous notes and an unexpected mineral edge that is so refreshing. The finish is exceptionally fine and lingering and fresh.

Remember the bivalves are available all year, but they’re best eaten in the colder months from September to April and, like fine wine, raw oysters have complex flavors that vary greatly among varieties and regions: sweet, salty, earthy, or even melon. The texture is soft and fleshy, but crisp on the palate.

When buying oysters, avoid ones that are open or don’t close right away after you lightly tap them on a surface. That means the oysters are dead. Make sure live oysters smell like the sea and prepare them your favorite way.

So, whether you have them raw, steamed, fried, baked, stuffed or made into a sandwich, or topped with Tobasco sauce, cocktail sauce, butter and lemon, garlic or vinegar, oysters are always satisfying. Most people either love them or hate them, but they’ve definitely got something going for them if they’ve been around for so long.

Gin goes to the dogs—Bulldog Gin, that is.


Once the weather warms up you start seeing white everywhere and as the patios at eating and drinking establishments fill with thirsty customers, the drinks run clear.

Gin tends to be the one spirit that spikes during hot weather. It’s no wonder – the light- bodied spirit flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals pairs amazingly well with citrus and plays the starring role in many a crisp and refreshing cocktail: The Martini, the Tom Collins and the Negroni, plus countless others.

The common ingredient, gin, comes in a variety of styles – from London Dry Gin to Old Tom Gin, which is lightly sweetened and rarely available since its popularity tanked in the 19th century. Gin s a spirit that has been around for a long time, in the 11th century, monks were using juniper berries to flavor distilled spirits. But gin in the recognizable form of today wasn’t produced until the 17th century in England and was named for either the French or Dutch words for juniper (it depends on who you ask).

However, gin didn’t really come into its own until some mad, thirsty British soldier stationed in the tropics paired it with tonic in the 1700s to mask the bitter flavor of the tonic water they drank to ward off malaria. The bitter quinine in tonic water and the herbal, almost green notes of the gin are the perfect blend of flavors.

Brightened by a little lime, gin can be the start of a perfect drink to sip in the sun, waiting for your burger at a barbecue or picnic, sitting on that beach chair or enjoying happy hour. It’s been said that this drink does its part to  ward off scurvy and deadly mosquito-borne illnesses while tasting   like liquid summer in a tall glass.

While the juniper spirit has always been a bestseller—even through prohibition, when it was produced in bathtubs across the country—the rebirth of the cocktail has spawned literally hundreds of different gins on the market, running the gamut fromclaiming deep cultural heritage and tradition to the irreverent. Some gins are distilled in the traditional manner – starting as grain alcohol and going through a second distillation with the juniper berries and botanicals used as flavoring. Cheaper “compound gins” don’t go through this second distillation and are just flavored with botanical essences.

Basically there are three types: Traditional, Old World and Modern—each refers to a different style of Gin.

Traditional Gins include Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray and Plymouth. These spirits are infused with a range of botanicals, and usually include: orris root, citrus peels, angelica and, of course, juniper berries, which provide the primary flavor.

Old-World Gins are based on the centuries-old malty Dutch genever. Genever on its own is hard to find these days but it is the base of many of the recipes now associated with dry British gin.

Modern Gins must, by law,  incorporate juniper, but many distillers today are using a host of exotic ingredients to accent the juniper berry. The Scottish Hendrick’s is perhaps the most famous, with its blend of cucumber and rose, while the French Citadelle uses 19 different botanicals, including nutmeg, cumin and cardamom. Beefeater 24’s recipe features both Chinese and Japanese green teas. But one of the most intriguing gins on the market today, is Bulldog.

Bulldog Gin
Gin is a perennial summer favorite and Bulldog gin is more exotic and smoother than many currently on the market.

Bulldog Gin is quadruple distilled in London and flavored with the usual juniper berries and traditional botanicals, but the list continues with: Dragon eye, lotus, poppy, coriander, almond, licorice, cassia, lemon, angelica, and a slew of herbs and spices. It is amazingly smooth and balanced, and the assorted flavors work in combination to deliver an herbal tone that shines through tonic and lime for beauteous a drink.

Anshuman Vohra, CEO and founder of Bulldog,  says the attention of mixologists is key to any gin’s success: “The creative cocktail movement allows people to be introduced to gin’s versatility and experience it as an alternative to other spirits. In fact, our suggested spring/summer cocktails feature a bevy of ways to spice up the gin & tonic using ingredients such as lemon curd, licorice or lavender—each represents a different botanical infused in Bulldog Gin—which helps expand the consumer’s palate for drinking gin.”

John Castiglione who represents Bulldog in New Jersey says that “Bulldog is a classier, smoother gin that mixes into more than martinis.”

He recommends a perrennial summer favorite: London Lemonade. An incredibly simple and delicious drink to make for summer lounging. Simply take 2 oz. Bulldog Gin and  4 oz. Fresh Lemonade and combine the two ingredients in a cocktail glass with ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge and sit back to sip and enjoy.

If you are in the mood for something a little more classic, he says you can’t go more classic than a Bulldog Gimlet. For this drink you will need to blend 1-1/2 oz. Bulldog Gin with 1 oz. Lime Juice and a  1/2 oz. Simple Syrup. Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice and enjoy.

Bulldog gin also knows how to turn a phrase, with delicious drinks sporting names like Plumdog Millionaire, Kir Monarcy or Rhubarb Tuesday, to name a few, you’re certain to enjoy a evening party or picnic with Bulldog and friends.