So what is it about Port?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Ruby Port? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a Tawny Port? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

Going Vintage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas White Port: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all rosey: Rosé Port: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

April in Provence


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

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

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

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

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

Barbecue Wine Time


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Great Barbecue choices:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine for Fall Get-Togethers


Tailgaiting

These nine wines are always crowd-pleasers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011 the year of the comeback


What are the new trends for wine in 2011?

Well, let’s begin with the fact consumers are still looking for quality and are willing to pay for it, but value is more important. Many wine directors are heeding customer suggestions and are highlighting value rather than price on their lists.

So with this concern for value, what will we be hearing more about in 2011?

The next great frontier: Malbec.

Discovering value wines is always popular, this year look for robust wines from Chile, Argentina and even Uruguay—these wines are not only getting better, they’re getting cheaper. In fact some great “discoveries” are coming out of he foothills of Argentina’s Andes Mountains. Malbec is the new darling of the red set—some call it the new Cabernet. It’s soft and supple like Merlot, but with the bigger and more complex Cabernet taste profile. In fact, Malbec has a big, smoky, flavorful taste profile that Americans want, while delivering exceptional depth and structure . Plus, it offers huge value for the money. Think of it as a less expensive alternative to Cabernet Sauvigon, falling somewhere between a fruit-forward new-world wine and a classic, more structured old-world. Since a good California Cabernet Sauvignon under $40 is becoming harder to find,  an easy to find good Malbec under $20 can be just the ticket.

iPad Wine Lists will become more prevalent.

The latest “sommeliers toy” is an iPad wine list. Digital wine list tablets are adding a dynamic twist to learning about wine in a restaurant setting. It doesn’t totally replace the sommelier, but it makes selecting a bottle of wine more interesting than traditional paper wine lists. Plus, with the ability of the “wine tablet” to educate us about the wines on the wine list through a “SmartCellar” application, choosing a wine should become simpler.

South Africa—it’s not just Pinotage anymore.

This underappreciated region is seeing South African wines increasing in popularity. The lower prices on these wines are a good match for Americans’ thinner wallets, with most drinkers shopping for wines that cost less than $20 per bottle.  With the success of the world cup and a big marketing push by the wineries of South Africa, this region is on people’s minds a lot more.  Beautiful Bordeaux blends, big Shiraz, crisp Chenin Blanc (Stten) and unique Pinotage are appearing on wine shop racks more often.

Spain will continue to amaze us.

Spanish wines are still highly popular. Spain’s sizzling wine regions, are producing wines that are unique, and convey freshness and elegance. Spain has the largest number of old vines anywhere in the world and with new winemaking techniques, the chances are that you will find more than one perfect match. Spain seems to have managed to defy the value of the euro and send us luscious, well-priced wines. The bang for the buck is still there.

Crazy for Pinot Noir?               

Pinot Noir continues to be popular, but it no longer appears to be recession-proof. That simple fact alone, could be good news for Pinot lovers. Thanks to the Pinot Noir phenomenon, sparked by the movie Sideways several years ago, a lot of pinot was planted—not only in California, but in Oregon and New Zealand—and supplies may soon outstrip demand.  Pinot Noir’s oversaturation of the market  may have led the pendulum to swing the other way—a perfect scenario for lower prices.  While there may not be a collapse, there will be many more value-priced offerings coming to market.

“Boomer” Chardonnay.

If you want to date yourself, order Chardonnay. California Chardonnay is associated with baby boomers, so it has gained “a geezer image”. (Yep, baby boomers are becoming “geezers”, who’da thunk it?) Although Chardonnay continues to be this country’s top-selling varietal, this grand dame of white wines has lost it’s luster and sales have been dropping. There is still a core of loyal followers but, it’s not developing any new drinkers. Which is too bad, because California Chardonnays have become better, featuring less heavy oak and more complexity and style, making ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) a phrase of the past. Chardonnay producers are taking the cue, finally moving to un-oaked Chardonnays emphasizing fruit flavors and toning down oak and buttery notes. Restrained and elegant examples that are the perfect balance of oak, fruit and quaffabilty have stepped forward. Thankfully, those blousy over-oaked California fruit bombs are now few and far between.

Riesling reigns

In the world of white, Riesling is the undisputed darling du jour. People are getting away from Chardonnay, and Riesling gives people the flavors they want in a diversity of styles. It’s the fastest growing white wine, and in the wine-growing region where it thrives—Germany, Australia, New Zealand, California, Oregon and Washington State—demand outstrips supply.  The shift away from oak flavors to aromatic wines with higher acidity and the “talk dry, drink sweet” phenomenon (by which consumers profess an affinity for dry wines when in reality they prefer higher sugar content), has opened the door for Riesling. This versatile wine can be dry or sweet and it’s food friendly or great all by itself.  Riesling is particularly appealing thanks to the explosion of Asian and spicy cuisines that work so well with the grape.

Pink: Here-to-stay Rosés

Rosé wines have been on fire for the past five years. As Americans finally understand that all pink wines aren’t sweet, dry rosé consumption is growing and is no longer confined to the most sophisticated. Most of the Rosé table wines are French, but you can also find high-quality Spanish, Italian, New Zealand and even American Rosés. Rose wine is no longer just a summer wine, but a must have regardless of occasion.

Dessert wines are making a comeback. 

Yes, that’s right, dessert wines, always a hard sell in America, are coming back on the scene. These sweet, Port-style syrups are dark, fortified and more versatile than you might think. With giant bouquets and fruit on the nose, many dessert wines today have a zingy freshness that pairs well not only with desserts like chocolate cake, but also with cheese dishes, gourmet pizza, savory dishes, and even Swedish meatballs.

Green is the new black!

New sustainable practices have made your glass of vino even more guilt-free, and in 2011 conscious farming will flourish. In every facet of life, people are turning towards healthier foods and more sustainable choices. The demand for organic products continues to grow as more and more people are paying attention to the quality and ingredients of their food and beverage items. Expect to see new organic selections at your supermarket and liquor store shelves, as well as more organic cocktails on menus at bars and restaurants.

Think global – act local.

Another huge trend is locally produced wine, and in particular urban wineries, which go beyond the tasting room to include in-house grape processing as well. A weekend in Napa is nice, but when you can’t make a trip out to Napa wine country, then indulge in a trip to a local winery. New Jersey has 37 local wineries all within a short drive away, perfect for a weekend outing, or find the local vineyard wines in your local wine shop.

Dinner at 8 — wine dinners are in vogue.

This supposedly will be the comeback year for the wine dinner.  The art of food and wine pairing is too good to be left out.  Education is the best friend of the wine dinner and it makes for an entertaining evening with good friends.

There you have it a concern for price and great priced and value wine from Spain, South America and South Africa which are perfect for your stay-at-home wine dinner with friends. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are getting competition from Riesling and Malbec, and more people will be be drinking Rosé and seeking dessert wines instead of cheese cake. Pinot will continue to hold its own and we’ll be looking for more organic and sustainable wnes on that iPad wine list.

Just don’t forget to invite me to your wine dinner! Cheers!