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.

Cool Sippers for Spring 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

New World Chardonnay revival

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

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

Champagne isn’t the only Bubbly of choice

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

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

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

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

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

It’s in the Blends

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

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

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

Stocking up for the Holidays


The holiday season is rushing toward us faster than Santa’s sleigh and before you can say “Ho Ho Ho” it will be that time of year – the time for giving, the time for family, and of course, the time for parties! If you are one who spends most of the holiday season careening between family get-togethers, friends’ parties and other festivities, chances are you know it’s the time of year  to make sure you have a fully stocked bar and wine cellar.

If you’re hosting a holiday dinner party you will likely be having wine with dinner choosing something low in alcohol to start is a good idea. Sparkling Moscato with a slice of orange, or fresh Bellinis (typically peach juice or peach puree with Prosecco) will “set the mood just right for a special occasion, but not overpower the palate with alcohol before a lovely meal.

Cocktail parties call for a bit more in your bar and you’ll need to stock up. There are no rules when it comes to stocking a bar, and stocking up doesn’t have to break the bank.  Follow your preferences and those of your most frequent guests, then stock your bar with the basics, and you should be able to handle any occasion.

What to stock

Vodka
When it comes to Vodka, you can afford to go by price. Lower-priced vodkas don’t impart bad harsh flavors the way other cheaper liquors might.  Good bets for 750 milliliter bottles are Absolut ($25) and Sobieski ($14) if you prefer a 1.75 bottle try Svedka ($20) It’s a great deal.

Gin
There’s no need to spend a lot on tasty gin, since this liquor is usually combined with other ingredients, like tonic. Just don’t go so cheap that you wind up sipping one with an artificial-juniper flavor. Here, go for Gordon’s ($10), Hendricks ($36) or Bulldog ($24.)

Bourbon
When it comes to bourbon it’s better to spend a little more. Less expensive bourbons tend to give you the burn without the flavor. Two good choices are Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek, both $35 for 750 milliliters. Willett in the pot still bottle sells for around $43 and is really fantastic. If you have a real bourbon afficianado, try Booker’s Bourbon; $60 for 750 milliliters.

Rum
Rum is another spirit where you shouldn’t pinch pennies. Rum should bring a rich sugarcane flavor to drinks, however, a low-end rum can totally miss on those rich sugar and molasses flavors leaving you to wonder what happened. Good choices include Mount Gay Eclipse ($38), Kirk & Sweeney 12-year ($30) for 750 milliliters, or Brugal Extra Viejo ($29).

Tequila
Many cocktail lovers steer clear of this spirit in winter. But true tequila lovers know you need 100 percent blue agave tequila, nothing else will do, because many cheap tequilas contain corn syrup, coloring and grain alcohol, which are code words for “hangover.”  Here, look for Patrón Silver ($35), Karma Añejo ($36) or  Cazadores Reposado ($46.)

Whiskey and Scotch
This is one area you definitely cannot afford to scrimp. Since most party-goers seem to prefer to drink whiskey on the rocks, straight or with a “wee drop of water”, it’s worth the expense. A favorite is Glenmorangie Single Malt ($40), Bunnahabhain ($50), Pig’s Nose (a blended Scotch at $29) and—for Irish Whiskey lovers—Concannon Irish Whiskey $22  for 750 milliliters.

Don’t forget the Mixers like Club Soda and Tonic! Going budget on these only offers minimal savings as many store brands tend to go flat more quickly, and cheaper tonics can have an overpowering artificial taste. so opt for your favorite here.

When it comes to fruit juices, home-squeezed juices make all the difference. (Buy 25 lemons, 25 limes, and 15 oranges for every 50 guests.) If that’s not possible go with your favorite brand that you like to drink.

Because it is the holiday season, splurge and dress up your basic cocktail with plenty of fun, festive garnishes. Some of the more popular ones are olives, cocktail onions, lemons, limes, and Maraschino cherries, so try to keep them handy. You may want to add a few new and different bright, thin-skinned fruits like kumquats, key limes, Meyer lemons, tangerines, blood oranges, star fruit, pineapple and apple. For more savory flavorings, stock up on mint, basil, celery, cucumber and jalapeño. Seasonal berries, like raspberries and cranberries or currants, are perfect for floating in a glass of champagne or another bubbly cocktail. Pomegranate seeds and fresh mint make for pretty, aromatic garnishes, while edible gold and silver are perfect for adding a holiday sparkle,

Party Drinks
If you’re hosting a holiday open house or any other large gathering, think about serving a seasonal drink in a large format. Not only does serving a punch, mulled wine, or a batch of eggnog make getting a drink easy for any guest, it also enables you to make something more elaborate ahead of time (instead of mixing and re-mixing the same cocktail all evening). Here’s a helpful hint: freeze a large block of ice (using filtered water in a Tupperware container), to put in your punch so that it doesn’t get watered down too fast. Our personal favorites are Planters Punch and Homemade Eggnog, but you may want to try a tradional Mulled Wine or a warm Cider libation. Other drinks that are often in high demand are winter wines (Think Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Shiraz).

For Mulled Wine, start with a rich red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot work best and it doesn’t neet to be expensive (just good) Here, we recommend Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon (California at $8.99) and add orange, brandy—or try Gran Gala Orange Liqueuer ($22) instead of orange and brandy— with cloves, honey, cinnamon & ginger and you have one delicious drink to warm everyone.

Of course, traditional home made Eggnog calls for Eggs, milk, cream, bourbon, sugar, brandy, fresh nutmeg and cinnamon. In our world, grating fresh whole nutmeg and Four Roses Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($21) are de rigueur, making this one special.

With Cider, opt for local favorites like Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy ($25) and Delicious Orchards Apple Cider blended with honey, cinnamon, orange juice, spices and lemon. You’ll feel so “revolutionary”.

For New Year’s Eve, it’s easy. Just add a touch of sparkle to everything with Champagne, even your favorite cocktails. Use edible gold and silver flakes for a sparkly finish to any drink. You can never have too much fun — or be too creative — when creating festive cocktails during the holidays.

All of the prices quoted are from Circus Wines,  Route 35 North,  Middletown, NJ  and Spirits Unlimited, Newman Springs Road, Red Bank, NJ.

Reliable go-to wines for Fall


Every now and then I’m asked to recommend wines that are considered well-known, a good value, readily available and consistent from year to year.
In today’s economy it’s easy to understand wanting good, value-priced wines—we all want to get the most for our money, and why should wines be an exception? Unfortunately, when you set out to find “bargain wines,” the bargain most often being made is to drink something that’s wet and grape-based, and not much more.

Don’t you think you deserve better?

In my book, the best value wines aren’t necessarily the cheapest — but wines that display superior taste and complexity for their price range. They aren’t necessarily bargains but they are good values. Some may sound unfamiliar, but to find value in wine today, we often have to look for interesting, distinctive bottles from around the world that you can put on your table with pride.

I have listed these wines without vintage information because these wines are consistent from year to year and you should be able to buy them reliably across vintages.

Light Sparkling
Vietti Moscato d’Asti Cascinetta, Piedmont, Italy
From one of Piedmont’s most celebrated producers, Veitti’s Moscato is wonderfully pleasant. The nose is captivating with gentle aromas of white peach, ginger ale, and roses. On the palate, the creamy mousse delicately tickles the palate with the expected slight sweetness and fizz. At just 5.5 percent alcohol, this wonderfully refreshing and bursting with bright, flavors of freshly picked apricots, peaches and nectarines and just a shade of spice, it is perfect as an aperitif. It can be found for around $14 at Circus Wines in Middletown as well as most wine shops.

Rosé
Ménage à Trois Rosé, California
Good rosé is like a carnival in your mouth, and this interesting aromatic and fruity blend of Merlot, Syrah and Gewürztraminer offers a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. This is a very good fruit-laden rosé full of raspberries, strawberries, lychee nut flavors and flowery aromas.  I found this one at Spirit of ‘76 Liquors for around $10.

White
Domaine Chandon Carneros Chardonnay, Carneros, California
Full-bodied and fruity, this creamy Chardonnay shows the dual properties of ripe, delicious fruit and acidic, minerally earthiness. The flavors are of citrus and tropical fruits, while oak brings lovely notes of vanilla and buttered brioche. This wine proves that Chandon can make still wines at least as good as its better-known sparklers. Shop Rite Wines & Spirits offers this wine around $26.

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Central Coast
It is amazing that, year after year, Kendall-Jackson can produce a flavorful Chardonnay at a retail price under $20. Elegantly layered, this wine exhibits rich tropical fruit, grapefruit, lemon and lime peel with a hint of buttered vanilla, toast and cinnamon spice to round out the lush texture, firm backbone and long, creamy lingering finish of fleshy fruit and butterscotch. This wine runs around $17 at Circus Wines and around $18 at Spring Lake Bottle Shop.

Joel Gott Unoaked Chardonnay, California
California Chardonnay is often marked by the influence of oak aging, offering flavors of buttered toast, caramel and crème brûlée flavors. When the use of oak is bypassed, the grape’s true personality has a chance to shine. This Chardonnay has bright citrus aromas of pineapple, mandarin, tangerine, Meyer lemon and lime lead to more floral aromas of vanilla and honeysuckle. Stone fruit, dried peach and ripe apple flavors are balanced by a clean, bright acid backbone and minerality on the finish. It’s so good all by itself. With its dry, crisp Monterey acidity, it’s so good all by itself and will satisfy your Chardonnay tooth. I found this for $15 at Spring Lake Bottle Shop.
Red
When it comes to reds, I like to start with a Pinot Noir, but for most of us, it can be a budgetary nightmare. Pinot is a finicky grape, difficult to grow, and expensive on the shelves, but here are two that run just below and slightly over $20.

Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir, Monterey, Central Coast
This wine is made of 100% Pinot Noir and aged in 98% French oak and 2% American oak. It is balanced and bright with crushed blackberry, ripe strawberries and refreshing red fruit complemented by lovely spice and deep earthy notes. The palate echoes the nose, with vibrant acidity balanced by supple texture on a long, velvety finish. Look for rich flavors, firm acidity and bright Pinot Noir fruit flavors.  It runs around $22 and I found this at many of my favorite shops.

Mark West Estate Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, California
This medium-bodied Pinot Noir is entertaining and perfect for drinking on its own. Aromas and flavors of rose petals, cola, raspberry and cherry, are touched by bright spice, and a bit of oak and minerality. It’s definitely not your father’s light, see-through Pinot Noir. As one friend says, it has a high “smile factor” as this wine delivers an “alcohol” punch in the mouth. This is a $16 find at Rumson Wine & Spirits.

No shortlist can be considered complete without a Merlot and a Cabernet, and the next two wines are well-known, good-value quality wines.

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Merlot, Sonoma County, California
This wine opens with black raspberry and menthol with a hint of red currant, olive, and pepper—a favorite dark fruit and spice combination. This juicy Merlot has a little bit of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon added for balance, resulting in a dark black raspberry flavored wine with notes of oak, dark chocolate and black plum. Medium-bodied, it’s slightly acidic with soft round tannins that are slightly prolonged on the dry finish. About $23 almost every wine shop in the area.

Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon
This 100% California Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Lodi, Lake County and Mendocino. It begins with aromas of plum, cherry, blackberry, cinnamon spice, a little leather, vanilla toast and anise. This smooth, medium-bodied wine has great structure and soft silky tannins. Flavorwise, the wine features cola notes, plenty of dark fruit and some dried herbs. Ther oaky accents are well-integrated in the form of dark chocolate and spice. The soft finish is dry with a rich, dark fruit burst of spice and lingering minerality. About $15 – $16 at Circus Wines.
All of these wines can be easily found in most Jersey Shore wine shops and liquor stores. The best part is they are all delicious and they make a great first impression for fall. Enjoy!

Late Summer Whites


The sun is shining, and the idea of summer entertaining and weekend get-togethers are still a hot topic for many a wine drinker. We all know nothing suits late summer like fresh produce: garden tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, and watermelon dripping down your chin on the back porch,

For the past few years, oaky Chardonnays have been taking a backseat to trendier, unoaked versions, which I personally happen to prefer. Some aficionados argue that this is happening because American tastes are changing, but, the argument could be made that the change could driven by cost—the production of oak barrels and subsequent aging in them is expensive, and this could be a method for wineries to cut costs.

Some winemakers have resorted to inserting oak staves or oak chips, while others have used a “dusting” of oak in the Chardonnay to impart the creamier textures and buttery nuances that oaky style Chardonnay lovers prefer. Whatever the case, it is sometimes better to avoid oaky Chardonnays under $10. Many a Baby Boomer still loves oaky Chardonnays, but the Millennials seem to prefer sleeker, racier Chardonnays with little or no butter or barrel flavors. This burgeoning popularity of unoaked white wines seems to be igniting a larger trend toward aromatic varieties.
So, when it comes to wine, nothing screams summer to me quite like a super aromatic white gem with high acidity like a Riesling, Muscadet, Verdejo or Falanghina. These wines pair well with a wide range of food and are usually affordable. With these off-the-beaten-track wines, you’ll be able to expose your guests to a wine they may never have tried, making it an occasion they will always remember.

If you want a wine with high acidity, start with Riesling. Riesling is juicy, light to medium in body, refreshing and lower in alcohol. Its tangy acidity makes it a perfect accompaniment for all occasions— enjoy it before dinner, as an aperitif or with a meal. Today most German Rieslings are made in a dry style—bone dry—with bracing acidity. With German Rieslings, it is easy to identify which ones the driest, look for the German word: “trocken.” Other terms indicating drier versions of Riesling are halbtrocken (“half dry”) and the unofficial but widely used “feinherb”, meaning “fine dry.”

One bottle I always reach for when I’m looking for a fun label is Selbach Riesling Dry Fish Label 2012 from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. It has the classic aromas of orange blossoms, peaches and mangoes blended with a whiff of ripe strawberries. The bright and fresh flavors of tart green-apple, a bit of apricot and peach are met with steely acidity. The finish is dry and long, offering just the right balance between sweet and tart.

Another German region known for good Riesling is the Rheingau and Josef Leitz Rudesheimer Riesling Trocken 2012 is a well-rounded, fruity and fresh mouthful. This medium-to-almost-full-bodied wine offers good acidity, appealing lemony fruit, tart pear and a nice minerally balance from the pure slate soils. It has a solid fruity/minerally finish.

If you’d like something a little less aromatic, try Muscadet. I love Muscadet. Light-bodied, mineral-edged and made with the white Melon de Bourgogne grape, Muscadet is an amazing food-pairing wine. The Muscadet appellation, mostly south of the city of Nantes on France’s Atlantic coast, is one of the largest in the country; the proximity to the sea moderates the region’s summer temperatures, making the wines lighter and lower in alcohol than those produced inland. Where in the rest of the Loire the dominant white grape is Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet relies on the obscure Melon de Bourgogne.

Lean and acidic from France’s Loire Valley, it’s known for glorious pairings with oysters, but it often pairs just as gloriously with ribs, fried chicken and barbecue. Muscadet works well with spicy foods like those loaded with cayenne pepper because of its non-fruit characteristics: refreshing, citrusy acidity and lower alcohol level. Higher alcohol wines intensify spiciness. Plus, the wine’s flinty notes seemed to intensify smokiness of barbecue and the grill. Keep the bottle nicely chilled, and you’ll find many a match made in heaven.

Two to try are: Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2011 and Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet de Sevre-Et-Maine Sur Lie Selection Vieilles Vignes 2011.

Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2011. This small, family-owned estate located in the village of Muscadet has been organically farmed since 1999 and in 2002, was awarded official certification by ECOCERT. Scents of white blossoms and apple along with saline and herbal aromas are characteristic of Muscadet. The electric acidity makes it incredibly fresh and crisp with a lime and briny, mineral-laden flavor profile.

Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet de Sevre-Et-Maine Sur Lie Selection Vieilles Vignes 2011. From a large estate founded sometime in the 14th century, this light-bodied, lime-scented, wine is crisp and balanced. It also offers a creamier mouth feel than standard Muscadet as a result of extended lees contact. There are subtle apple and citrus aromas followed by a gentle hint of white pepper and a slight salinity. The flavors are a minerally blend of apple and lime that take this food friendly wine clear through the dry finish.

Probably one of the best values for a great white warm weather wine is one of Spain’s most often ignored wines: Verdejo. At its best Verdejo combines richness, freshness and lovely acidity while delivering almond-scented wines that offer a fine blend of near tropical orchard fruits with a fresh zesty edge. This is they type of crisp white I often crave, not only in summer but year-round, for its body and rich flavor. Verdejo makes a terrific food wine. Its citrusy notes and aroma—very similar to Sauvignon Blanc—pair particularly well with salads and grilled foods and it’s a must try for Sauvignon Blanc fans looking for something new.

One thing to note is that Verdejo can vary in style depending on designation. If it is simply labeled “Rueda” it must contain 50 percent Verdejo, and it is typically blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Macabeo, giving it a lighter-bodied and refreshing characteristic. It is fresh, smooth and floral, with a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.

If the wine is labeled “Rueda Verdejo” it must contain a minimum of 85 percent Verdejo, but it’s usually 100 percent Verdejo. These wines offer great aromatics and elegant fruity aromas with hints of anisette and fennel. The primary characteristics are fruitiness with a bitter touch. These are dry wines with a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent. Both styles have a soft waxy texture on the palate and are often fuller-bodied. What food you’re pairing it with will determine which style you choose for your menu.

Bodegas Protos Rueda 2009 is made ​​from 100% Verdejo. Fresh and appealing, the wine is fragrant with tart, lemony, green apples, touches of fennel and fresh cut grass aromas. There is a distinctly mineral quality on the tongue followed by a pleasant lemon-lime underlay that provide a slightly bitter almond aftertaste. Dry and lively acidity gives added freshness to this full-bodied and well-structured white. Serve with grilled shrimp, fried haddock, fried chicken.

Bodegas Y Vinedos Shaya Verdejo Shaya 2011. Named for Shaya deer that are native to the vineyards in Rueda, Spain, this value-priced Rueda has the typical tropical touches of pineapple and slightly green aromas we seek. Exotic aromas of mango, melon and gooseberry touched with a “grapefruit zest” are followed by the riper, aromas of baking spices, spring flowers, peach and minerals. The flavors tease the taste-buds first with grapefruit, a touch of peach, some tropical fruit followed by spice flavors with a bit of stony minerality. There is a creaminess to the texture, vibrant acidity, and intense flavors that lead to a lengthy, fruit-filled finish and slightly bitter finish.

You may be familiar with Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo from Campania, Italy, but there is a third white grape varietal from Campania: Falanghina. Although I enjoy both Fiano and Greco, this medium-bodied wine offers such a fresh, clean, dry taste, great acidity, and a long and floral finish. It’s almost like it was made for summer weather–the typical flavor profile is ripe fruit in the peach/lemon/pineapple realm with good acidity—more ripe and “tropical” than many wines from Friuli and Alto-Adige regions.

Cantine del Taburno Falanghina 2011 comes from the D.O.C. Taburno zone of Campania in Southern Italy. This refreshingly crisp wine sees no oak and shows citrus notes of lemon and lime, with green apple and almond tones adding complexity. Aromas of white blossoms, peach, melon and citrus are followed by more stone fruit on the palate, with apricots, almond flavors, tart apple, lemon rind, a touch of honey and a stony minerality. It is well-rounded and has great acidity and a long, clean finish. Serve well-chilled as an aperitif or with mussels, antipasto, fish, shellfish, roasted vegetables, lemon roasted chicken, pork and a variety of Italian dishes.

Capolino Perlingieri Sannio Falanghina Preta 2010. This easygoing wine is a lean, compact expression of Falanghina, opening with bright citrusy lemon, pear and kiwi aromas with the slightest a hint of banana. The flavors are full of sweet tropical fruit, peach, lemon and banana, but there is a lot of fresh focused acidity and it delivers a classy minerality on the surprisingly long finish.

There you have it, eight fun, whites to coolly sip through to the end of summer, and a perfect fit for lighter and transitional dishes this time of year. Just remember these food-pairing, aperitif wines skip desserts, sweetness is always a problem for these high-acid whites, as it makes them taste thin and aggressively sharp and not much fun at all.

Cheers.

September wines


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grab your charcoal and your corkscrew, grilling season has arrived


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Warm weather wines under $15


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, so what reds are just right for Spring?

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

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

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

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.