Transitioning to fall with Spanish Wines

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

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

Finca Feroes “Roble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Intriguing wines to drink this Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.
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!

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.

School Days: September’s Back to School Wines

Okay, the kids are back in school and the “Bennies” with packed SUVs are on their homeward migration paths which tells me that fall is on the horizon.  Soon, the leagues and business networking groups will be back in full swing, and the temperatures and leaves will both begin to drop­—telling me that it’s time to leave the light summer wines behind and head for something more “fall-ish”—in other words, red wine is back in style and on the table.

Fall reds are generally somewhat lighter as the weather is still a little too warm to enjoy the big hearty reds that are waiting in the wings. We want deeper hued wines, yet we want them to be more transitional to blend in with the change in diet and habit. For our salute to back-to-school month, you’ll see the wines have a theme—most have the word “School” in the title—and, because September has been designated as California Wine Month by no other than the Golden State’s esteemed governor, most of the wines hail from California.

Two popular reds that go right to the head of the class come from Liberty School. Liberty School wines are actually part of The Hope Family Wines portfolio. Located in Paso Robles in central California, the Hope Family has five separate and distinct brands: Liberty School, Treana, Candor, Troublemaker and Austin Hope; but they have been producing Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon since 1990.

Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this medium-bodied red offers aromas of ripe red fruit, dark cherry, blackberry, chocolate and cassis with a touch of cedar that are followed by vibrant and rich currant, blackberry, and cherry flavors. Silky and supple  tannins lend excellent structure, while maintaining the soft approachability of a Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has a ripe finish echoing flavors of bell pepper, with hints of ginger, oak, and vanilla throughout its long finish. At 13.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) it’s fruit-driven style lends ease to food-pairing as well as casual sipping; it’s an excellent choice for grilled, braised or roasted meats and semi-aged cheeses. (about $15)

Liberty School Cuvée 2009. This Central Coast Cuvée is a full, smooth, crisp Syrah-based Rhône blend of 85% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah, 3% Grenache, and 2% Viognier. Currants, cherries, raspberry, strawberry and smoke backed by floral notes greet you from this glass. With accents of smoke and pepper, this fruit-forward blend shows fine tannins—reminiscent of wines from the southern Rhône Valley. The predominant grape, Syrah, shows off jammy, strawberry and plum-like flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon adds leather notes and firm tannins. Petite Sirah adds deep color and provides structure. Not only does the Grenache soften the wine and add needed balance, it brings an element of spice to the blend. Viognier (yes, it is white) adds floral aromatics and a bit of roundness. This is one full-bodied, balanced, complex wine with a velvety mid-palate and an excellent finish.  (about $15)

If you’re in the mood for a good bottle of California Merlot, look no further than this Clarksburg find:
Tortoise Creek’s Schoolhouse Cuvée. This affordable red will have you smiling after one silky sip. Schoolhouse Cuvée is made with 100% Merlot sourced from a large single sustainably-farmed vineyard block in the newer Clarksburg AVA that sits within the larger Lodi AVA; and the name refers to the old schoolhouse built by Clarksburg’s Mokelumme settlers in 1859.

This balanced Merlot is full of fresh, bright aromas and flavors without resorting to over-extraction. The flavors are classic Merlot: jammy blackberry, black cherry, cassis, black olive, cafe au lait, mocha, bay leaf, blueberry, peppercorns, dill, and cola, laced with lead pencil, wood smoke, a touch of leather and stone notes. Like most Lodi wines, it is generous and graciously expands and softens as it breathes. There is a graceful balance of acids and soft tannins, a lovely smooth texture, and judicious use of oak. Try pairing this wine with grilled or smoked meats, burgers and pastas. (about $15)

School House Mescolanza 2007. This next red blend of  76% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah and 7% Carignane comes from the Spring Mountain District in Napa Valley. Mescolanza is a Spanish word for “medley.” and is a direct link to Napa Valley’s frontier days as a wine region. Produced from a one-acre parcel that represents the oldest vines on Spring Mountain—some of the vines are well over 100 years old—this wine is Zinfandel-based with Petite Sirah and Carignane lending support. It is a concentrated. elegant and spicy presentation of ripe red berries, sweet bramble berries, rhubarb and spice. It is a intense wine with balanced acidity, a firm tannic backbone and a lengthy delicious finish. This robust wine will make a perfect pairing with rich, well-flavored foods. Only 20 barrels were produced, so you may have to ask for this one. (about $46)

For Pinot Noir lovers, we have find for you! A wonderful, earthy and mushroomy classic French style Pinot Noir: School House Vineyard Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2008.

School House Pinot Noir has been  produced since 1957. Aromas of cherry with hints of tea leaf and oak waft from the glass. The wine enters your mouth softly, and develops full Pinot richness that lingers on your palate. Impressively flavorful with dried  cherries and plums, cherry compote, baking spice and green leaf, with notes of raisin, prune, herbs and a wonderful minerality braced by a moderately firm tannic backbone. The finish is unbelievably long finish. Only Eleven barrels of this delicious wine were produced. (about $90)

For those of you who are old school and prefer to drink French wines, here are two Old School wines from the South of France, the first is a rosé, a perfect seasonal transition wine and the second ia a Rhône-style blend.

Château Maris Old School Rosé Minervois-La Livinière 2011. Sourced from an Old School vineyard planted in 1959 in AOC Minervois, this Rosé de Presse is 100% Cinsault. There aren’t many rosés that come from certified biodynamic vineyards, and this is a beautifully delicious one. Old School Rosé is salmon in color but dry, crisp and refreshing. The wine offers an aromatic and lively bouquet of red currants, spiced cherries, salty minerality, and hints of rose petal. The flavors are straightforward rosé: berry, spice, strawberry, orange zest and candy followed by a round, harmonious and seamless palate.

It is Provençal in style, elegant and light with a medium-bodied texture, racy acidity, and a clean finish balanced with nice minerality and a touch of  orange zest. Cinsault lends itself particularly well to the production of rosé, and this version can be enjoyed as an aperitif or with a wide range of Mediterranean dishes. Only 488 cases were made. (about $16)

Old School Rouge AOP Minervois 2011. Old School Rouge is a blend of 90% certified organic young vine Syrah with 10% estate-grown certified biodynamic Grenache. Located in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of the Southern France, this estate is a stone’s throw away from the Mediterranean sea. Their slogan, “By any (natural) means necessary”reinforces the fact that the estate is committed to natural and sustainable practices in the vineyard, winemaking, and all aspects of operation—from working with plough horses, to a winery built to run with zero carbon emission, to bottles made of recycled glass and labelled with recycled paper.

Old School Rouge explodes with aromas of black plums, tar, pepper, mocha, tobacco and leather. Velvety and round in the mouth, it coats the palate with waves of blackberry, cassis and plum complemented by accents of herbs, black pepper, mushrooms, tobacco and licorice. Long and lingering, it finishes with earthy, plummy fruit, tobacco and herbal notes. This is the wine to pair with grilled eggplant, your first beef stew of the season, roast leg of lamb and hearty pâtés. (about $12)

At this point, you white wine lovers are probably asking, “What about white wine?”

Well, not to worry, Chardonnay is a great fall weather wine.

Liberty School Chardonnay. This Chardonnay is a blend of 94% Chardonnay and 6% Viognier from the cool Monterey and the warm Santa Barbara regions of California’s Central Coast. Fruit-driven in style, the wine offers aromas of crisp green apple and full citrus blossom. The flavors lean to fresh fruit — pears, red apples, quince, citrus, pineapple, caramel and honey. There is a subtle hint of toasted oak and vanilla on the rich md-palate that is balanced by a clean, crisp, flinty/mineral finish. Try pairing this with grilled crab, shrimp or white fish, pastas in olive oil, mild cheeses and fresh tart fruits—or even pears. This Chardonnay reminds you that a good Chardonnay is not a light, mindless wine. (about $14)
Another white I love this time of year is Chenin Blanc, the great grape of the French Loire Valley. Okay, I admit I love this wine any time of the year, but while it can make light, refreshing, summery wines, its best iterations have more body, either through bottle aging or aging in large wooden casks at the winery. My favorite Chenin comes from the Loire’s Savenièrres appellation, so in looking for a California Chenin Blanc I look for ones that try to capture the wonderful notes of apricots, peaches, lanolin, and beeswax prevalent in the French version.

Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2009. This white is 100% Chenin Blanc and certified 100% organic.  Heller Estate Chenin Blanc  balances the grape’s rich, fruit-driven apricot nature with Carmel Valley’s mineral quality, crafting a wine that is at once bright and flavorful yet refreshingly dry and crisp. Fragrant floral aromas of pineapple, white peach, melon and citrus leap from the glass.  A few swirls reveal an underlying minerality, even some chalky notes, which are an ode to the variety’s Loire Valley roots. Rich and round, the wine is at once lovely, soft and flavorful. The palate expresses soft apple characteristics, zesty citrus, muted apricot and a wonderful sense of balance and freshness  followed by a crisp minerally finish. The well-balanced acidity and a crisp finish make this wine a perfect patio sipper as well as a perfect match for spicy dishes, grilled seafood, cheeses and fruit plates. (about $20)

The key to switching from summer white wines to fall wines is to look for wines that are a little richer, fuller and rounder than the wines you have been happily sipping this past summer. That means look for whites that have a touch of oak for falls cooler days and evenings and get ready to break out the red for the fall semester.

Fall’s top ten wines

Fall has arrived! There’s a nip in the air, and that means it’s time to shift our focus toward the fall, cooler days, cooler nights and red wine.

My light and bright summer whites are making room for my richer and more full-bodied wines—both white and red. It’s time to head down to the wine cellar to begin the transition to medium-bodied wines, ones that work well with autumn’s erratic temperatures and seasonal foods. This month we share ten easy drinking favorites that pair beautifully with fall menus. All were selected because we love them, not according to price so you will find an organic Argentine Malbec that retails $10 or less to a $50+ (gasp!) Chardonnay.

My first selection is reltively inexpensive, Cantele’s Salice Salentino Riserva—an easy drinking red blend of  Negroamaro (85%) and Malvasia Nera (15%) from Puglia, Italy. Ripe fruit and a firm sense of structure come together beautifully in this expressive, mid-weight red. This wine  possesses textbook aromas sweet, perfumed herbs and black cherries. The flavors are dense wild cherries, sweet herbs, licorice and new saddle leather. The wine seems to gain depth with air, melding vibrant tones of spice and fruity richness with vibrant acidity and a long, finessed finish. This generous, inviting wine offers incredible quality for the money, not to mention plain deliciousness. A good tailgating wine, it’s perfect to drink with almost anything from pizza to stew to steak!

Next on our list is Poggio del Sasso from Cantina di Montalcino, a small 250-member cooperative in Tuscany. Poggio del Sasso is a new-age style Sangiovese—young and lush with rich cherry and berry-like fruit. Clear and ruby red in color, this well-structured wine shows cherries and plums, followed by spicy vanilla and clove aromas. It’s lively and fresh with soft, rounded tannins. The fine intensity and long finish make it a perfect pairing for so many dishes—chicken, red meat, lamb, pork, pastas, stews or well-aged cheeses.

What’s fall without harvest soups and stews? What’s a stew without a Burgundy?

Domaine Jacques Prieur Chambertin Grand Cru 2007. This is a medium red and is, as are all red Burgundies, made from 100% Pinot Noir. Complex aromas of raspberry, red licorice, earth and smoked meat presage a stewed-fruit palate that’s rich and creamy. Pungent earth tones and a wonderfully enveloping texture enhances the suave, ripe tannins. It’s perfect for all things Burgundian: Bourguignon, duck with raspberries, salmon Dijon, beef stroganoff, or anything in a creamy mushroom sauce.

El Coto de Rioja Crianza from Spain  is a perfect addition to fall. This Crianza is the classic Rioja marriage of wine and wood. Made from 100% Tempranillo from Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja, this sleek red is created in a modern-style, with intense red fruit that combines the fresh, crushed strawberry and red cherry flavors typical of Tempranillo with expressive hints of vanilla and oak. It’s spicy, with gentle tannins and bright acidity, offering a rich, ripe finish. This style of wine just calls out for hearty beef—covered with black pepper, grilled or braised. Paired with “game birds”, paella, Parmigiano Reggiano or asiago chese it’s spectacular, but it’s also an easy drinking wine to to pair with a “the works” pizza and football on the side.

Cuma Malbec, a certified organic wine produced by Michel Torino Estate in Cafayate Valley, Argentina was hidden in the southern hemisphere section of the cellar. Cuma means “pure and clear” in Aymará, the language of a tribe who once inhabited the region. This lively red-violet wine exhibits opulent aromas of bright cherry and plum jam, with raisin, vanilla and rosemary notes. There is plenty of ripe fruit, date-raisin flavors, and soft, sweet tannins. There’s a trace of nuts and spice on the long finish. This is the red wine lover’s wine to pair with chicken—barbecued, baked, broiled, roasted, or sauced like Chicken Cacciatore. A perfect party or get-together red, it also pairs well with pork, sausages, hard and semi-hard cheeses, calzone, burgers, cheesesteaks, cold cuts, and lasagna. Pastas with meat, vegetable, tomato, pesto or marinara sauces love this wine.  This should become a staple in your wine collection as it is in mine.

Pumphouse Shiraz 2007 hails from Backsberg Estate in Paarl, South Africa. This Malbec (12%) and Shiraz (88%)  blend is a bold, full-bodied Shiraz.  It’s distinctive with roasted mesquite flavorings, and lots of mouth-watering black cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and black currant fruit blending with anise, vanilla, and a graphite notes. The long, smoky finish lets an espresso hint linger, allowing the wine to pair very well with dark chocolate. For more substantial pairings, steak, lamb, venison, or chili make for a nice meal. For snacking, cheesy dishes, Parmesan, asiago, Gorgonzola or blue cheese with prosciutto are magically delicious with this wine.

Bell Winery Estate’s  Big Guy, Red Wine, California, 2007 is a blend of California appellations using Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec) blended with Syrah (a Rhône varietal). Big Guy  displays lively fruit aromas and flavors. Enjoyable while young, the tannin structures will allow the wine to develop gracefully for several years. It’s delicious easy to drink and can hold its own with bleu cheese and filet mignon.

One Napa Valley favorite to pair with nearly everything is Summers Charbono Napa 2007. There is a real juiciness in this dark purple, almost black wine. The rich, ripe berry and plum flavors are combined with a pleasant minerally earthiness. This wine is big with high acid and soft and fleshy tannins. This is what makes the wine so drinkable and so easy to pair with food. When in doubt, pull out a Summers Charbono, it serves well alongside fattier proteins like  “wild game”. For vegetarians the earthy flavors found in fennel, spinach, and mushrooms make for a pleasant pairing. Lovers of Italian comfort food, this wine pairs marvelously with hearty lasagna.

Even though it’s the start of the red wine season, we still need to keep a few whites with “old world” richness to pair with our cooler weather menus.

Hugel Pinot Gris 2006 is a rich, yet bone-dry wine that is savory and creamy on the palate and has generous acidity to balance its fullness. The aromas are fresh floral and spice with a bit of earth.  There are apple-pie and lemon curd notes, sidling up to aromas of pear, jasmine, lime blossoms and smoky hints of moss, fern, and mushrooms. Full-bodied, balanced, and nicely structured, its a vivid, fruit-driven wine with delicious acidity.  The lively, juicy fruit flavors offer a hint of sweetness. Ripe pears orbit around citrus and peach notes that make for solid pairing potential with seafood, poultry, veal, or mushroom risotto. The wine’s cinnamon and cardamom notes will bring out the savory side of autumn pumpkins and apples.

Nothing says fall like a good white burgundy. Even the “anything-but-chardonnay” types will find Olivier Leflaive Meursault Premier Cru Charmes 2006 something special. Yes it’s pricey, but for a special meal, Meursault is a delight.  It is a rich, round, elegant and powerful wine, with a ripe nose of white flowers, peach, pear and apricot. There is a hint of brioche that serves as a refined introduction to the clean, crisp and naturally pure sweet flavors that this generous medium-bodied wine offers.  The excellent vibrancy and a silky texture displays plenty of citrus-like acidity and finesse. This is  a perfect accompaniment to calf’s sweetbread (yes, liver), lobster or cream dishes, and can be served with all kind of cheeses, fish, poultry and any white meat with cream. This is a charming, enjoyable wine that’s definitely worth the price.

Our final wine is a sparkling or “frizzante” wine from Piedmonte, Italy— Marenco’s Pineto Brachetto d’Acqui. Made from 100% Brachetto, is a  medium-bodied, reddish-pink wine offering a trace of sweetness  making it perfect for toasts, desserts or as an aperitif. Brachetto has wonderful aromas of black raspberry and black cherry with notes of tar, clove, rose, and violets. It is a cheerful treat; mild, soft and delicate on the palate. Combine the moderate alcohol (5.5%) along with the fresh, fruity, floral aromas and you have a wine that is perfect with fresh fruit, sweets, fruit cakes, or chocolate as an after-dinner treat.

Do yourself a favor give some of these a try.