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!

A short trip to Napa Valley


Since George Yount planted the first Napa Valley vineyards in 1838, this small valley has grown to be considered one of the premier winegrowing regions in the world.

Though just 30 miles long and a few miles wide, Napa Valley and its famous sub-appellations: Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mt. Veeder, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Spring Mountain, Stags Leap, Yountville, Wild Horse Valley, Oak Knoll, and Calistoga has a rich wine-making history.

Napa Valley is home to diverse microclimates and soils uniquely suited to the cultivation of a variety of fine wine varietals. Vitis vinifera (wine grapes) that make good wine in other parts of the world outstanding wine in Napa Valley, and in specific locations within the Napa Valley, these very same grapes make exceptional wine.

Once within these superb locations, the discussion becomes not how good the wines are, but about the characteristics of the wines. Some locations favor certain grape varieties, and where a single grape will show distinctive aromas, flavors, color, texture, acidity and “personality”.

Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa is the best known, but this region also produces fine Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc.

You can’t talk about Napa without mentioning Robert Mondavi, a prime force behind wine education and winemaking in the Valley. He is credited with introducing Fumé Blanc, spearheading the Opus One venture and creating very good inexpensive generic table wines such as the Woodbridge label. Today, several generations later, Mondavi family members continue to carry on the family’s rich winemaking heritage. In addition to the wines Robert Mondavi founded, Michael Mondavi Family Estate is home to Oberon and several wine companies including M by Michael Mondavi, Isabel Mondavi I’M Wines, Medusa, Spellbound, Emblem and Hangtime labels.

I’M Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($17) is made at the Folio Winemakers’ Studio in Carneros, Napa Valley and bottled in a Bordeaux-shape bottle. Inspired by Michael Mondavi’s wife, Isabel Mondavi, this Chardonnay is designed to deliver a refined, well-balanced style. Not your typical Chardonnay, this light gold wine oozes elegance with just a slight hint of oak. The wine has ripe orchard fruit flavors and mineral characteristics, lending warmth and lushness. Delicious!

A third generation Mondavi, Rob Mondavi, Jr., learned wine making from his father Michael and grandfather Robert. As a child, he chased winemaker Tony Coltrin around Robert Mondavi Winery. Today, Rob and Tony   their present-day partnership has created the wines of Oberon.

Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2008 ($22) is a deep-colored blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Syrah, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot. There is a concentration of flavors: lush black fruits, dark berry and cassis with notes of vanilla and toffee from spending eighteen months in French Oak barrels. The wine’s rich cherry, dark berry and cassis flavors and provide a beautifully rounded mouth feel that pairs beautifully with steak, lamb and duck dishes, and flavorful cheeses.

Oberon Cabernet’s “Big Brother” Oberon Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2007, is another delicious blend (99% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Merlot) from Rutherford, Oakville, Atlas Peak and Pope Valley appellations, but be prepared to spend a bit more for this opulent and delicious wine as it commands a  $79 price tag.

Also in Napa Valley is Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, considered one of Napa Valley’s first-growths. The historic Stag Leap District estate vineyards are renowned for producing the most highly regarded and sought after Cabernet Sauvignons worldwide. Founded by the Warren Winiarski family in 1972, this winery brought international recognition to California winemaking and Napa Valley when the 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon won the “Judgment of Paris.” in 1976.

Karia 2008 , Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa Valley ($28) is a graceful seamless integration of fresh-fruit aromas and flavors, crisp acidity and subtle oak spice.  Bright, juicy apple and pear, minerality and citrus notes run rampant. A light touch of oak and malolactic fermentation accent the fruit without overwhelming it. Aromas of mineral, apple, pear and spice lead to complex, layered flavors of spiced golden apple, Meyer lemon and candied ginger, with just a hint of hazelnut and caramel. This medium-bodied wine sports balanced ripe fruit, understated spice, mouth-filling texture and refreshing acidity. Karia pairs perfectly with a wide range of dishes: crab and corn chowder, roast chicken or salmon.

The wine that made Napa famous, S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 ($100) remains true to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars house style of complex and balanced wines capable of long-term cellaring. In 1976, Stag’s Leap Vineyard (S.L.V.) Cabernet Sauvignon, 1973 burst upon the scene and stunned the world when it bested top-flight Bordeaux and California Cabernet-based wines in the “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting.

It’s easy to see why the 2007 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was rated 91 Points by Wine Advocate (December 2010), it has dark blackberry/black plum aromas and flavors, as well as notes of cassis, bramble, Chinese five-spice, caramel and vanilla. There is an elegant mineral quality on the nose and lingering finish. The tannins are like raw silk: slightly nubby, yet still smooth. Serve S.L.V. with filet mignon or, for non-carnivores, an earthy wild-mushroom risotto.

Also at the now-famous Paris Tasting was Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, 1973. It too, beat the best of France by coming in first. Shortly after that win, in 1977, wine maker Miljenko “Mike” Grgich and Austin Hills of the Hills Bros. coffee family founded Grgich Hills Estate in the heart of Napa Valley.  Today, Grgich Hills is biodynamic using holistic farming practices and organic preparations without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides. One example of their fine wine is Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2008 Estate Grown, Napa Valley ($37). This elegant Chardonnay is alive with delicious acidity, aromas of ripe peach, mango and tropical flowers, plus a note of minerality. This aromatic Chardonnay did not undergo malolactic fermentation and it showcases fresh seafood, roasted chicken, grilled pork, or creamy cheeses very well.

The next winery of note is Conn Creek. Founded in 1973, Conn Creek quickly established itself as one of Napa Valley’s premier Cabernet houses with the release of its 1974 Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Named for the winery’s location next to Conn Creek near the Rutherford Crossroad, Conn Creek has earned top scores by crafting a portfolio of limited production Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons — including Anthology, blended from the best appellation grapes of each vintage.

A good value is the Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 ($20). This 100% based Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of fruit from nine of the 15 Napa Valley sub-AVAs. It offers a complex mélange of aromas and flavors beginning with rich, dark fruit and subtle hints of chocolate and toasted oak. Dark, luscious cherry and plum flavors come alive on the palate and meld with notes of spice, chocolate and licorice leading to a rich finish. Pair it with hearty beef  dishes or ripe cheeses.

A relative “newcomer”, Hall Wines Napa Valley is a premiere winery with estate vineyards that encompass more than five hundred acres of classic Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Owned by former U.S. Ambassador Kathryn Hall and her husband Craig, Hall employs organic small-vine viticulture, precision winemaking, native yeast fermentation and micro-block blending. Although they make elegant Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s worth taking a look at some of their other wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

The richly layered and textured Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 ($18) was rated 91 Points by Wine & Spirits Magazine, (June 2010). It’s a fresh and focused Sauvignon Blanc balanced with ripe fruit  and bright acidity. The backbone of this fruit-forward blend delivers vibrant citrus flavors of pink grapefruit, Meyer lemon, minerality, tropical aromatics and opulence—all complemented by a lush cascade of guava and lychee on the palate carrying through to a crisp finish.

Hall Napa Valley Merlot, 2006 ($25) is a rich, intensely concentrated wine  from two premier estate vineyards. Rated 93 Points by Wine News, (November 2009), this wine has great structure, backbone and elegant mid-palate. There’s an alluring nose of bing cherry, violets, cocoa and baking spice that seamlessly leads to generous red fruit and a velvety texture. The expressive flavors of dark cherry, toasted oak and blackberry jam will continue to evolve for the next 5-7 years.

With more than 400 wineries, mostly small family-owned operations, and numerous more brands. You’re sure to find something delicious that suits your fancy.