Drinking inside the Box: Black Box Merlot


Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.
Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.

When you are on a budget, as many people are these days, and you want a decent win for festive gatherings or proper hostess gifts. It’s time to let the Merlot out of the box. Yes, out of the box.

You see, Back Box Merlot arrived on the doorstep in little boxes that looked a bit like the juice boxes that often accompany my lunches to work. However, these were 500ml Tetra Paks, larger than a juice box and able to provide two large glasses or three “normal” glasses of wine.

So what did we do? Since it was now “wine time” we just had to try it.

The wine was definitely a Merlot enhanced with some Syrah, Petite Syrah and a touch of Sangiovese, and the four of us, Khadija, Karl, Beverly and I, were delighted by this unexpected treasure.

We found it to be a soft, easy-drinking, medium-bodied red wine, with rich aromas of plum and black cherry followed by some spice nuances, and a hint of cinnamon in the oak.

Khadija, fellow sommelier who works for Joe Canal’s in Marlton, said “It has a nose of cherries, cedar, spice and a hint of vanilla.” All four of us agreed about the delicious come hither “cinnamon-leather-oakiness” that made our mouths drool to try it.

The palate was rich and lavish with juicy fruit flavors of ripe plum, black currant and black cherries followed by some spiciness and chocolate notes. Khadija noted smoky vanilla and cinnamon, while Beverly noted a slight oakiness and strawberry flavors.

Karl, a romantic at heart, commented on the “subtle tannins that gave the wine its soft, velvety and voluptuous texture.”

It offered a long, warm finish tinged with sweet red currant and a lingering hint of chocolate. Simply put, you can’t go wrong with this easy-drinking red.

We all agreed that this would make an excellent “porch pounder” and holiday party wine, but it’s versatile enough to pair with almost any meal—poultry, red meat, pork, pastas or salads. It was delicious with our tasting platter of Gruyère, Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Muenster cheeses, proscuitto, salami, and mushrooms; and it would work well with a range of Italian dishes, savory roast chicken, steak in a red wine sauce or with casseroles. Speaking of sauces, this wine would make a rich base for red wine sauces.

Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.

As for the packaging, Black Box Tetra Paks are shatterproof, lightweight and portable so they’re great for taking anywhere—without having to worry about a corkscrew or broken glass around the pool, the beach or on the boat. The mini carton serving size is perfect for one or two.

In addition to the cute little Tetra Pak, Black Box wines come in a nice 3-liter sized box (equivalent to four 750ml bottles), perfect for standing neatly on the refrigerator shelf—no spillage can occur like it can with a corked bottle. besides, aving the box in your fridge makes it easier to pour that glass of wine while you’re in the kichen preparing dinner. In fact, it’s perfect for when you need to add wine to a recipe—it’s ready and waiting.

The best part of the big Black Box is that it stays fresh for about a month, so you don’t have to worry about opening a bottle for just one glass and having leftover wine (I know, who has leftover wine?)

Plus, the environmental benefit of this eco-friendly packaging is impressive: a 12-bottle case of wine weighs 40 pounds and holds 9 liters of wine, while a Tetra Pak case weighs 26 pounds and holds 12 liters of wine. This means packaging costs are reduced and more wine can be shipped while using less fossil fuel.

Besides Merlot, Black Box Wines also offers Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the 500ml Tetra Pak cartons. The wines are available here at the Shore for around $5 for the 500ml and around $25 for the 3-liter box at Gerards Wine & Spirits in Point Pleasant. These budget-friendly boxes are definitely worth a try.

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.

Healthy choices: Good for you and good for the environment wines


Today, many consumers are looking for healthy  choices and some of these healthier choices extend to their wine purchases, and the term “natural wine” might evoke sun-dappled vineyards with smiling peasant folk gathering grapes.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But unlike USDA organic wines, Sustainability in Practice (SIP) wines or biodynamic wines—which are regularly inspected by certifying agencies—many so-called natural wines don’t have to meet any particular standards. A wine that calls itself natural could still come from a vineyard that’s filled with synthetic pesticides, and unless the label clearly says, “No Sulfites Added,” a natural wine might have added sulfur dioxide.

If you are seeking “healthy wine”, you need to know there is  no scientific evidence that natural, biodynamic or USDA-certified organic foods are healthier or more nutritious to eat or drink. There is, however, considerable evidence that organic and sustainable farming practices that use fewer pesticides and synthetic compounds are healthier for the environment.

So, while many consumers are dedicated to looking for wines labeled as “green wine”,  “natural wine,” “biodynamic wine”, or “organic wine,” the Sustainability in Practice  (SIP) Certification is a unique combination that goes beyond those labels.

Sustainable wine is often confused with organic wine, yet these two things are not mutually exclusive. Sustainable wine may or may not be organic and wines that are produced organically, may or may not adhere to sustainability guidelines. Basically, Sustainable wine is defined as follows:
“The inherent concept is that the product has been made in such a manner that it will allow the vineyards and environment to continue to produce an undiminished product for all future generations. The main threats to sustainability are the issues of soil depletion, erosion, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, ecological impacts, resistance to pests and chemical dependence. Sustainability looks at the environmental system as a whole. In the vineyard, it may incorporate manmade products or “natural” products, and it will likely use integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. In the winery, minimal-additive winemaking philosophies will always be present.”

Imagine a wine that builds community between vineyards, workers and the land. The vintner takes into account every single aspect of the winemaking process. Sustainable agriculture is designed to ensure that fertile soils exist to produce hearty grapes for years to come and that vineyards and their workers are both dedicated to the same sustainable practices.

Organic wines, on the other hand, can be categorized into two parts, organic vineyards or organic wines.

Organic vineyards are managed “without the use of systemic fungicides (fungus control), insecticides (bug control), herbicides (weed control) or synthetic fertilizers. Vineyard sprays are still used, but the products are different.”

Weeds are controlled through mechanical methods, such as plowing, hoeing, mulching or mowing and fertilization is done via compost mulches, green manures or animal manures. The definition of organic wine is different in every country but in general, the guidelines are similar.

Organic wines are made from “organic grapes”, Organic grapes must contains less than 100–120 mg/L of total sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide occurs naturally during the fermentation process and it’s sometimes added to enhance microbiological/oxidative stability. There are other more natural or organic ways to increase clarity, filtration and stability such as adding milk and egg whites.
The mere mention of Sulpher dioxide brings us to another category of sustainable wine: “wines without preservatives”. These are wines that are made without any external addition of sulfur (although some is ALWAYS present due to fermentation and/or vineyard—there are NO sulfite-free wines), anti-oxidants or anti-microbial agents. However, most vintners agree that judicious use of sulfur can aid in the shelf life of wine.

Lately, there has been some discussion about “Vegan Wines” begging the question aren’t all wines free of animal products?

The simple answer is no, they’re not — almost all commercially available wines use some kind of product to make the wine clear by removing sediments in the wine. These clarifying agents are called finings; and come in many forms, some are derived from animals such as: gelatin, egg albumen, casein from milk and isinglass from fish bladders. Many of these animal by-products are removed after the fining process ends, but vegans and many vegetarians would prefer to drink wines that have no association with any animal product during the winemaking process. Vegans need to look for wineries that use bentonite clays and other clay products  as a fining agent.

How Are SIP Certified Wines Different from Organic Wines?
Wines earning SIP Certification go beyond the USDA Organic certification process. While you’ll find many organic wines that are also SIP Certified, the SIP process focuses on sustainable practices on every level of the winegrowing process, from farm labor to agriculture – from energy conservation to water quality. It’s an additional way for consumers to know they’re buying sustainable wines that give back to the land and community on every level.

Since spring is on it’s way and soon we will be sipping lighter and more barbecue friendly wines, here is a list of affordable certified sustainable wines to try:

Douglas Green Wines from  the Cape Winelands, South Africa.

  • Chenin Blanc (Steen): 100% Chenin Blanc, 100% Stainless Steel fermented, Single Vineyard “Vineyard Creations.” This wine has enticing aromas of melon and graceful floral citrus blossom. The flavors are generous exotic tropical fruit, fleshy yellow peaches that are refreshingly dry on the palate with a lively fruit and acid balance.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: 100% Sauvignon Blanc, 100% Stainless Steel fermented, Single Vineyard “Vineyard Creations.” This is a light-bodied dry white wine with bracing fruit flavors that refresh the palate with enticing pineapple layered with chalky mineral green pepper aromas. Dry bracing crispness on entry followed by fresh tropical fruit intensity that is well integrated with a zesty acidity and a citrus fruit finish.
  • Shiraz: 100% Shiraz, Single Vineyard “Vineyard Creations”. American Oak Staves fermented. A crushed mulberry and blackberry intensity extends to attractive clove, black pepper and coriander spice notes in this deep ruby colored wine. Smooth and juicy with assertive red and black berry fruit flavors that are in perfect harmony with the well-defined, yet restrained ripe tannins and well-integrated wood.

The Beach House Wines by Douglas Green, South Africa

  • The Beach House White is a delicious, dry and refreshing, Sauvignon Blanc (80%) Semillon blend(20%). Playful lemon grass and gooseberry aromas are layered with hints of honeysuckle and tangerine that race across the palate in a refreshing burst of tantalizing citrus fruit finishing with vibrant crispness. The moderate alcohol make this wine deliciously drinkable.
  • The Beach House Rosé 100% Pinotage. is a beautiful and brilliant salmon pink colored wine made from 100% Pinotage. There are distinct aromas of freshly crushed strawberry, ripe cherry and hints of Turkish delight in this well-balanced and crisply refreshing pink. On the palate, it’s gushing with rich red berry, spice and lasting fruitiness. It’s perfect on its own and with all types of summer fare.
  • The Beach House Red is an 85% Shiraz, 20% Mourvédre and 5% Viognier blend. Ravishing ruby red color with heaps of pepper and mulberry aromas and flavors. The acitdiy and residual sugar are well-balanced with juicy berry flavors making this an easy drinking, well-rounded red wine.

Boulder Bank Wines, Marlborough New Zealand,
Flying winemaker Nick Goldschmidt makes these single varietal, single vineyard offerings that showcase not only the essence of the varietal character but also the uniqueness of each vineyard site in his native New Zealand.

  • Boulder Bank Sauvignon Blanc: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from The Kerseley Vineyard, located at Dillon’s Point in the celebrated Marlborough region. This fragrant white is ripe and tangy, brimming with pear and juniper aromas and flavors that keep singing through the long, refined mineral finish.
  • Boulder Bank Pinot Noir:  There’s a peppery quality to this medium bodied wine. It offers a creaminess in addition to the cranberry, plum and cherry flavors, with plenty of spicy, herbal notes of clove and nutmeg. The gripping tannins show a great focus and persistence through the finish.

Another red offering to try also comes from Nick Goldschmidt:

  • Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot, Dry Creek Valley. This Merlot comes from the Crazy Creek Vineyard in the renowned Alexander Valley wine region. Its old, low vigor vines consistently produce Merlot with more power and depth than typically found in the appellation.  Stylistically, this is a Cabernet drinker’s Merlot—with full-bodied fresh black raspberry, cedar, and toasty vanilla aromas, and cherry, black currant, and spice flavors. There is lot of power with wood and firm tannins behind the fruit.

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.

A toast to National Mushroom Month


Varieties of Mushrooms
There are many different kinds of mushrooms and are all equally delcious.

Fall weather triggers a change in the colors of the landscape and thoughts of heartier foods and wines that enhance them. With the summer’s heaviest heat behind us and the recent tropical storm activity, mushrooms are popping up all over the place including front lawns and backyards. It’s no wonder that the “powers that be” who designate these things have designated September as National Mushroom Month.

Before we discuss mushrooms, please don’t pick or eat backyard mushrooms unless you know them to be safe—it’s far healthier (and less deadly) to trust your local grocery store or restaurant.

Fall signals the call for a slightly heavier wine, soups, stews and grilled foods featuring mushrooms and fall vegetables. Mushrooms are considered the red meat of the vegetable kingdom because the sometimes-earthy, sometimes-meaty flavor of mushrooms says “red wine. In fact, it’s hard for to think of mushrooms without immediately having pinot noir come to mind, with Burgundy leading the way. For an exceptional pairing, think Nicolas Potel Chambertin Grand Cru  with it’s cherry aromas mingling with scents of smoke and mushroomy earth and a flavor profile of fat, sweet, red fruit mingling with deep, dark soil with a lovely mineral vibrancy that can only make this pairing a match made in heaven.

To be honest, mushrooms don’t have a singular flavor profile, they can be mild like the button mushrooms or pack a huge punch like a Porcini. Each type of mushroom suggests a different wine pairing, from lighter-bodied and more delicate for the buttons to fuller-bodied and more powerful for the Porcini. There are wines to enhance the meaty, apricot and nut flavors of Chanterelles; the delicate lobster mushroom and everything that falls in between. This is the time of year when restaurants begin to feature entrees with a prominent mushroom theme and, that being said, this is the time to experiment with mushrooms and wine on your own

Two simple rules to remember about mushrooms and wine are:

  • Earthy mushrooms pair best with earthy wines. That means Black Trumpets, Chanterelles and Shiitakes pair beautifully with earthy reds such as Burgundy; Nebbiolo like Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo delle Langhe  or Marchesi di Barolo Barolo and an Oregon Pinot Noir like Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Willamette Valley.
  • Meaty, heavier-textured mushrooms like the full-flavored Portobello, Cremini, Porcini, Morels and Chanterelles) pair best with “meatier” wines like Sangiovese, Syrah/Shiraz and can stand up to a heavier red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot as well as Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and clarets (a blend of Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah). But a Pinot Noir is still a classic with Morel mushrooms.

A Cabernet Sauvignon like Twenty Rows 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is exceptionally good with grilled Portobello mushrooms—the lush berry and black current will harmonize with the meaty Portobello.  Often, when preparing Portobello as a filet mignon substitute, other dominant elements of the dish come into play, such as tomato or caramelized shallots and then it’s best to look for a wine that has bright acidity, a bit of a gamey scent and nice, sweet fruit. A Sangiovese blend like Antinori Santa Cristina or a Chianti Classico like Antinori’s Chianti Classico Peppoli offer the perfect acidity and sweet fruit plus an amazing, almost roasted-meat quality on the nose to transport the mushroom filet mignon status.

With simpler fare, such as a mushroom pizza, think regionally. While it will go well with as red Burgundy or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, opt for an Italian red, such as a Sangiovese. A Syrah such as Michel Torino Don David Shiraz compliments lightly sautéed Chanterelles with garlic, a tiny bit of onion, butter and olive oil—pair a rare steak or lamb chops and you will experience culinary heaven.

For the delicate varieties (lobster, enokis, and oyster mushrooms) the choice should be white wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling or a lighter Chardonnay. Light, fruity reds, such as Beaujolais would also work you want a wine  that do not overpower your mushroom.

Napa Valley’s  Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2010  will compliment the more delicate mushroom while a Bordeaux like Château Laulerie Bergerac Sec 2010 (a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Semillon) will bring out the flavors of delicate mushrooms because of its vibrant acidity.

The key to pairing mushrooms with wine is how the fungi are cooked and what spices and sauces are used. French cooking schools advocate less is better, so  keep it simple so you can taste the mushroom flavors. Hearty stews and soups, red meats and lots of spices generally suggest a heavier red wine. Light cream sauces, simple sautés and just a whiff or splash of seasons will work well with white wines. Sautéing mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil, with light seasonings and served over pasta is the best way to enjoy the flavors of seasonal mushrooms.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule: for example a Pinot Gris like Bethel Heights Pinot Gris with a hint of smoke, can be a perfect pairing with meatier mushrooms.

When we encounter milder mushrooms in butter or cream sauces, a full-bodied white can be the way to go. A gently oaked Chardonnay like Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay, Columbia Valley can cut beautifully through mushroom cream sauces bathing any chicken, pork or pasta dish. If in doubt, or for special occasions, you can never go wrong with a 100 percent chardonnay-based champagne or sparkling wine.

There really is something heavenly about combining the simple flavors of Chanterelles, Porcini and Portobello mushrooms with terroir-driven red wines such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the oyster and metallic flavors of shaggy mane or oyster mushrooms with a Sauvignon Blanc. Matsutake mushrooms have a spicy, clean taste that work well with an Alsatian white wine because it pairs beautifully with exotic and spicy flavors.

So give it a try and raise a glass or three to  September’s fabulous fungi.

A wine for vegetables: Grüner Veltliner.


There isn’t a vegetable that doesn’t love Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner pairs beautifully with food.
So what is Grüner Veltliner? It is the indigenous white grape variety of Austria.The name may be intimidating but the grape is far from intimidating.

Grüner’s signature is a spicy, peppery nose, and it is remarkably easy to pair with food: It goes as well with meat as it does with fish or even vegetables.—especially notoriously difficult foods for wine, like asparagus and artichokes. With the month of May being Asparagus Month, it seems a good time to discuss it’s virtues.

Laurenz V. und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner 2009 imported by Opici Wine Group of Glen Rock, NJ is a prime example of Classic Grüner. Rated at 87 points by Falstaff, The Ultimate Austrian Wine Guide 2010/2011, Laurenz V is made by the Lenz Moser family, and the V indictes the fact that the current winemaker, Lenz M. Moser,  is the fifth generation in the Moser wine dynasty. The winery focuses on a single wine variety—Grüner Veltliner.  Lenz Moser III, the grandfather of Lenz M. Moser developed the Lenz Moser Hochkultur, or high culture, vine training system, which is still in use througout Austria.

Laurenz und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner is one of the  two wines made by this winery. “Und Sophie” refers to Lenz Maria Moser’s daughter, Sophie, who was born in 1991 and is paving the way for the 6th generation of winemakers.

The grapes for the Singing Grüner come predominantly from the  Kremstal area of lower Austria with a portion of the grapes coming from the Weinviertel region. This combination develops fresh, fruity flavors in grapes while maintaining excellent acidity.

White pepper is usually what distinguishes Grüner Veltliner; and this wine has an upfront spicy white peppery perfumed nose, with hints of peach, citrus, salad greens, lentils, and fresh green beans.

The first sip of this dry,  light to medium bodied  white yields apple, peach and citrus flavors along with a typical Veltliner spiciness and, most notably, hints of white pepper. The soft and juicy palate is supported by fine acidity.

Laurenz V. und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner is a great wine, and it’s incredibly versatile at the table. It lacks powerful aromas or flavors that need to be taken into consideration when pairing foods. The key aspects to think about are the bright acidity and slightly spicy kick of Grüner, which works with so many different foods.

The signature bright acidity helps cut through any fat and the spiciness provides both a delightful contrast and or compliment to a wide range of dishes. It’s perfect sipping with nibbles, with Asian, fish, pork and poultry dishes and don’t forget the artichokes and asparagus!.

Laurenz V was created for white wine lovers everywhere. As Lenz Maria Moser likes to say, “It sings on the palate!”

Italian Wine Dinner with Rodrigo Redmont a delicious success


On Tuesday, November 2nd, 72 lucky guests  heard Rodrigo Redmont, the winemaker for Talamonti and Rubino wines, speak about his wines at Branches’ Southern Italian Dinner hosted by Barbara Longue of Cotes de Longue and John Lombardo of Branches Catering.

The evening began with flutes of Drusian Prosecco Brut—a rich, beautiful Valdobbiadene Prosecco with fine, tiny bubbles. This Prosecco aroma has a toastiness with generous notes of peach, apricot, almond and crushed stone. It has a thicker, creamier consistency offers up lingering fresh orchard fruits: green apple, peaches, pears, citrus, and fresh vegetables accompanied by a pleasing note of bread on the medium crisp and dry finish. This little gem was served with a selection of Italian Cheeses from “Cheese on Main” in Ocean Grove.

Cheese on Main’s owner Susan Morris says her tiny shop on Main Avenue in in Ocean Grove is only 9 feet wide, but it’s stocked with 200 lovely cheeses from the far corners of the earth. On Tuesday she was serving five Italian cheeses.

The first cheese was a  Rocchetta from the Piedmont region of Italy. It was a lovely and creamy robiola combining the flavors of goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s milk into a harmonious balance of flavor. Dense, semi-soft and smooth in texture, Rocchetta is a very approachable and decadent cheese. Paired with the Prosecco it was delicious. This particular cheese has an affinity for a full range of wines and makes an excellent pairing partner;especially with wines from Piedmont, such as Dolcetto, Barbera or Barolo. One piece weighs approximately 9 ounces and costs around $14.50.

Next was Pecorino Tartufo, this is an an old style of Umbrian pressed sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese flavor  is unique because the buttery nutty flavor is enhanced by the addition of aromatic black truffles. Susan explained the cheese has a long shelf life, but cautioned that it could become “addictive”   and is usually consumed rather quickly. If the reaction by the guests was any indicator, she was right. Not only did it make a festive pairing with Prosecco, it can be a versatile partner for many wines, from tart light whites to the bigger jammy reds. She offers this cheese for $13 per half pound.
The third cheese,  Gorgonzola Dolcé from Lombardy, was gooey, creamy, soft, and almost spreadable in texture. Gorgonzola Dolcé is  made from pasteurized cow’s milk, then aged for 3 months and is considered the sweeter gorgonzola. It was very creamy, milder and much softer than its Natuale or Piccante counterparts and pleasantly pungent. At $9.50 per half pound it was exquisite with the Prosecco.

From Sardegna came an ivory, hard, goat’s milk cheese:  Pantaleo. This was full-flavored treat with a remarkably lemony flavor that morphed into a rich, butternutty flavor. It has the familiar herbal and white pepper flavors of a goat cheese, but with a slightly lighter finish that it almost doesn’t taste like goat cheese. It would be perfect shaved over warm vegetables or paired with a drizzling of light honey. $9.50 /half pound.

The last cheese was a match made in heaven with the Drusian Prosecco: a dark rind Artisinal Ubriacco Prosecco. Ubriacco Prosecco means “big fat drunk” in Italian. Ubriacco is a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto region, the same region where the Prosecco grape grows. During the maturing prcess it is covered by Prosecco grape must (skins) and washed with Prosecco, giving the cheese the sweet, delicate wine aroma and complex finish.  Susan said this cheese is perfect during autumn months while its flavor is fresh, uplifting, and subtle. It can pair nicely with Pinot Noir or Moscato as well. $15.50/half pound.
Then it was to the dining room and first course of Escarole and Beans, Peasant Style. The balanced flavors of the  escarole and beans in this soup topped with a little parmesan cheese were delightfully mellow and made all the more delicious by the Talamonti Trebbiano d’Abruzzo v. 2009. The light and bright flavors of apples and peaches in this traditional white Trebbiano brought out the fresh vegetable nuances of the soup.  It was a satisfying pairing and perfect for a cool November day’s meal.

We had just finished the very last drop of Trebbiano and discreetly licking our bowl when scents of Bolognese sauce filled the air and the empty soup bowls were replaced with plates of  heavenly Radiatore Pasta with Lamb Bolognese. As the guests dug into the plates of pasta, servers poured Talamonti Modá Montepulciano d’Abruzzo v. 2008, a medium-bodied red that stood up nicely to the lamb flavors and blended seamlessly with the Bolognese sauce. Montepulciano wines tend to be softer and more accessible than Chianti or Nebbiolo with their cherry, plum, and rasberry aromas/flavors—and this intensely fruity Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a soft wine, with just a hint of acidity and tannins that make it hard to miss with pastas and red sauce or almost anything else at the dinner table.

Now we were definitely becoming full, cheese, soup, pasta and another course to come. Could we do it? Yes, the next course was Osso Bucco, cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth served with polenta. How could we resist? The veal was perfect and the polenta light and creamy, talk about comfort food, this was yummy.  For this course, guests were treated to two different wines. The first, a purple Talamonti Tres Saggi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo v. 2008  was a rich Montepulciano blend. The addition of 30% Merlot provided weight and some complex notes of berry, cherry, blueberry, coffee, vanilla and elegant oak. It was a seamless pairing.
The second wine was Rubino Punta Aquila v. 2007 a Primitivo. The violet reflections of this deep red wine were complemented by an intense bouquet and spicy aroma that followed through to the palate. When tasted on its own, one table mate commented it seemed too big and that it would overpower the dish,she claimed she didn’t like it. Yet when she heded the advice of the winemaker and when sipped with the polenta and a bite of osso bucco, she found the boldness was tempered and the tannins smoothed to a delightful finish. Then this full-bodied wine conveyed a velvety warmth of home. It was incredible and a nice change from  the “usual Cabernet”.

We barely had room for the dessert, Zeppole laced with Winter Pears and drizzled with Sabayon. This was paired with Angioletta Moscato, a slightly effervescent Moscato with flavors of peach, apricot, and a touch of honey, this dessert was aperfect ending to a perfect meal.

All of the cheeses are available at  Cheese on Main, 53 Main Avenue, Ocean Grove, NJ 07756, Phone: (732) 775-1530. Sadly, she doesn’t yet have a web site but you can phone or visit her for cheese advice.

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.

On pairing wines with steak


For years diners have been stifled by over-generalized, over simplified rules of food and wine pairing: “Drink white with white meat. Drink red with red meat.”

But is knowing that basic rule enough? How does one know which wine to select? The short answer is: the one that you will enjoy the most. But what if you don’t know what you’ll enjoy the most with your meal? Should you pick red? Or white?

First, red wine is a natural accompaniment to grilled meat. The secret is knowing which wines to drink with which dishes. Take a grilled steak, the hearty flavor of steak is always enhanced by the right wine.

Many reds taste better paired with beef­—or lamb—than they would if consumed without food (Chee-tos don’t count as a food group for this article. Note: Champagne works well with Chee-Tos).

Yalumba cabernetA simply-grilled steak pairs beautifully with a full-bodied red wine. A full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with black currant, coffee and dark chocolate notes and a long finish would balance nicely with  steak. The tannins in the wine combines with the protein in the meat to create a lush, flavorful taste, and the steak’s proteins soften the Cabernet’s tannins. Summers Adrianna’s Cuvee from Napa Valley, Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from South Australia, Los Vascos Colchaugua Valley, Cabernet  or Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Chile are all affordable good choices.

Not in the mood for Cabernet? A California Merlot or a Hermitage like Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2006 from France’s Rhône Valley are also good choices.

2005 Twomey MerlotAlthough Cabernet Sauvignon will pair well with one of the most delicious steaks available— Ribeye or a Delmonico Steak, a Merlot would be better suited. A favorite is Twomey Merlot 2005 — a voluptuous, robust and balanced concentration of black cherry, blackberry essence, wild game and freshly ground black pepper. This is a full-bodied and velvety wine, with fine-grained tannins and an extremely long finish. This Merlot will continue to give drinking pleasure through 2018, and it  will delight you and your dining companion(s) today. This is a BIG, rich flavorful wine and it will leave you wanting more.

Bogle Vineyard’s Zinfandel blend.
Phantom by Bogle

If you want to add a little spice to your ribeye, cajun ribeye, or New York Strip Steak, a spicy Zinfandel with its blueberry and blackberry flavors is a match  made in heaven for this gorgeous marbling and mouth-watering aroma of beef at its best. Try The Phantom, Bogle Vineyard’s Zinfandel blend. This succulent full-bodied blend combines lush blackberries and blueberries with the fierce spice essences of black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg.

A full-bodied, peppery California Zinfandel is always the first choice to accompany a spicy steak, such as a “steak au poivre”. Steaks that are highly spiced or one marinated in a spicy brine, are best paired with a spicy wine. If you would rather not have a Zin, a fruit-forward Merlot, with plum, blackberry, and clove is another alternative. The fruit flavors, when blended with the spicy steak, will appear sweeter and temper the pepper.

Chardonnay lovers, take note…“steak au poivre” is the steak to pair with a lightly-oaked, ripe, crisp Chardonnay. The Chardonnay should be rich with apple, pear, and citrus flavors.  Try  Alph Omega  Napa Valley Chardonnay 2006 with its fresh entrance evolving on marzipan, Meyer lemon, apples, yellow raspberry and pear, with a strong minerality and lingering crisp acidity. This 94 point* rated wine will surprise you—especially the fact that it is long-lived, it will continue to drink well through 2015.

The classic porterhouse is a cut that offers two unique steak flavors in one. The rich taste of the meaty sirloin strip and the tender, buttery-soft filet mignon. The larger filet mignon portion, is sure to satisfy your beef-lover’s appetite, and it just calls out for a medium-bodied Pinot Noir. The rich silkiness of the wine enhances the filet’s soft texture. Pinot’s flavors of red cherry, strawberry and smoky, earth tones shine in Castle Rock Mendocino, California Pinot Noir.  For a French twist, Joseph Drouhin Vero Pinot Noir 2006 is not only a delicious Burgundy, it’s affordable.

Prime rib becomes more of an occasion when paired with a Syrah/Shiraz. If you want a fruity Shiraz, look to Australia’s Peter Lehmann’s Barossa Shiraz. The nose is typical of Barossa Shiraz, with scents of dark plums and chocolate. There are also notes of  sweet cedar and a hint of black pepper. The palate has a good depth of dark berry flavors with a touch of savory fruits and a good tannin structure in harmonious balance to the fruit. This wine does very well with both steak and lamb.

Guigal Crozes HermitageIf you want a more elegant and refined syrah look to France’s Rhône Valley. The Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2006 mentioned earlier is a structured, tannic wine. This well-made, medium-bodied 2006 is a classic example of the appellation at a high level of quality. This  Crozes-Hermitage is richer, and more textured, offering peppery, tapenade, and cassis scents with an undercurrent of minerals. The spicy, fine red berry and cherry flavors mingle with refined tannins thus lending support and a focused peppery quality. All of this leds to  a strong finishing snap.

Somewhere between the two, is California’s Pedroncelli Alexander Valley Syrah . Pedroncelli’s Syrah has rich aromas of ripe berry and black pepper spice with concentrated flavors of blackberry, plum and licorice. This Syrah has well-balanced tannins providing structure. Expect this delicious wine to take on complexities for the next 5-7 years.

Italy’s Rocca della Macie offers an elegant, an innovative blend of Sangiovese and Syrah called Sasyr. This wine is velvety smooth, supple and vibrant, with fruity aromas cherry, blackberry and raspberry. It is intense and complex and as the winemaker likes to say “it will introduce you to an array of flavors beyond your wildest dreams.” Needless to say, Sasyr is both easy drinking and quite elegant with steak.

For something different, a Petite Sirah, is a good choice. No, it’s not a smaller version of Shiraz/Syrah, it’s a hybrid, making it a different grape. Durif is a cross of Peloursin and  Syrah. This grape makes a dark colored, tannic wine with blackberry, plum fruit and mushroom flavors—perfect for pairing with prime rib, a T-bone,  or a  sirloin steak. Try David Bruce Central Coast Petite Sirah 2006. This Sirah exudes bright, spice-tinged, jammy fruit, earthy mushrooms, and dense blackberry, blueberry and white pepper aromas. The wine offers a supple and balanced feel full of red and blueberry fruit with hints of cassis and firm tannins.

Altovinum’s Evodia Old Vines Garnacha 2008 will add some peppery goodness to any steak. Evodia is the Greek word for “aroma” and this red has very fresh, straightforward scents of raspberry and blackberry, plus cracked pepper. Juicy and tannin-free, with spicy berry and pepper flavors and a gentle mineral lift. Easy to drink and a superb value, with a good finishing bite— you won’t need to reach for the pepper mill when you pair grilled meat with this one!

Okay, your steak is slathered in barbecue sauce, what do you drink? Chianti. Chianti is the traditional wine to accompany red tomato-based sauces. That’s why Chianti is the preferred wine for pizza or to drink with spaghetti and meatballs. The high acid content in Chianti balances well with the high acid content in red sauces, such as barbecue sauce. Marchesi de Frescobaldi’s Nippozzano Riserva Chianti Ruffina proves itself year after year. This classic Chianti is from the sub-region of Rufina in Tuscany. The smooth, supple wine is full of red fruits, violets, cinnamon spice, fine tannins, and gentle cedar complexities that lead to a beautifully fine tannins a clean finish. Chianti is the traditional wine to accompany red tomato-based sauces.

Serve a red Bordeaux with grilled lamb steak. A smooth, subtle Red Bordeaux, such as Chateau du Taillan Cru Bourgeois Superieur Haut-Medoc 2005 is an ideal companion to grilled lamb. A Spanish Rioja such as El Coto Rioja Crianza also pairs well with grilled meat.

Many classic examples exist of food and wine pairings that are tried and true: grilled steak and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or grilled lamb and red Rioja. These are reliable, low-risk ventures that will likely result in an enjoyable overall dining experience. Just remember to open these wine 20 minutes prior to mealtime to allow for the flavors in the wine to fully develop.

*Wine Spectator rating

It’s time for a Garden Party!


With the warmer weather and summer visitors soon to be converging, it’s time to entertain, and what’s better than a great outdoors Garden Party!

Seriously, a Garden Party can be a very good source of providing your family, friends and neighbors a truly wonderful time. No I don’t mean the garden parties of “olden days”, fussy, extravagant affairs from the late Victorian era.

Those elaborate, lavish garden parties were an entertaining social affair, held at the grandest of Newport, Rhode Island’s mansions, at suburban “summer cottages,” and at the more local city outdoor parks. Then, the garden party was deemed a Hudson River, coastal Long Island, and Jersey Shore necessity during the summer months. The owner of a fine summer place was expected to allow those who “must stay in the city” at least one sniff of his roses and newly mown grass in the summer.

These affairs took weeks to prepare and, needless to say, extravagant society garden parties were key to a successful summer social calendar. Typically, engraved invitations on simple watermarked notepaper were sent out a fortnight in advance, with travel directions enclosed on a separate card. As the proper garden party was always held entirely out of doors, the invitations always had the caveat “weather permitting.”

When the big day arrived, servants were on hand to greet guests upon their arrival and lead them to the lawn where the hostess would be waiting to welcome them. There was usually a tent pitched where the refreshments were served, and, if the weather was questionable, the hospitable hostess was prepared to move indoors so no guest would endure an unexpected heavy downpour, ruining fine silks and beautiful bonnets.

Piazzas were filled with chairs; rugs were laid down on the grass and amusements were always provided for the guests, such as croquet, lawn tennis, musicians and a dance area. An important element of success was to set up plenty of seats, most were arranged in the shade looking on to the croquet ground; and the others scattered about the grounds. It was common to use sofas, arm-chairs, and ordinary chairs from the house, with an intermingling of basket chairs and garden seats.

No one used their best glass or china at these at these garden parties — all the necessary glass, silver, and china were rented from the caterer, as it saved a world of counting, washing and storing.

Victorian servants were instructed to preserve the proprieties of a proper dinner—even when the meal was served under the trees. The entire meal was served cold: salads, cold birds, ham, tongue, pâté de foie gras, cold patties, salmon, jellies, ices, cakes, and punch. Fruit was a great feature of garden party entertainment—melons, peaches, grapes, strawberries, were all served throughout the season. Servants were instructed that there would be no piles of dirty dishes, knives, forks, or spoons visible on the green grass; punch bowls would be continually replenished; the cups, spoons, plates, wine glasses, and forks were abundant and clean. Many hospitable hosts offered claret-cup, champagne-cup, Madeira, sherry, and, port brandy and soda-water at these extravaganzas.

Thankfully, today our summer garden parties don’t need to be as lavish, time consuming or expensive as in days of yore.

Come on, it’s summer, and it’s too darn hot for stuffy rules!

Summer calls for summer food, and summer food calls for summer wines — wines that are light, chilly, and not too serious, so that they leave you light and chilled, too. Surprise — this includes red wines (chilled, of course).

Today’s summer parties are about leafy greens, fresh herbs, juicy tomatoes and fresh chevré to make salad dishes spiked with citrus dressings. Summer parties wouldn’t be complete without the tangy and smoked flavors from a BBQ. The bright acidity and flavors of lemons, tomatoes and grilled vegetables (not the mention the rising temperature) require a lively, lower alcohol wine.

While your usual summer choice might be a jug of something simple, like an inexpensive white Zinfandel, you’ll be rewarded if you give your summer wines at least half as much thought as you give your summer food. Start with light and easy-to-prepare summer foods — salads, grilled vegetables, and seafood. The wine you choose should have that same elegant nonchalance.

Grüner Veltliners from Austria and Spanish Albarinos are white wines full of citrus flavors and sparkling acidity that perfectly complement spring dishes. Two recent favorites include Grooner’s Grüner Veltliner and the Paco & Lola Albarino. You may want to consider a Muscadet from France with its crisp, citrusy, somewhat earthy, austere taste that makes it ideal with many warm-weather dishes. Crisp, lemony Vinho Verde from Portugal makes even the most basic dishes — grilled vegetables doused with extra-virgin olive oil and a spritz of lemon, or a light fish, or pasta with pesto and walnuts — seem like the most special meal.
Pinot Gris from Oregon, is one of the most charming white wines around. It has a special zest that makes even mustard potato salad dance in your mouth. For Oregon Pinot Gris, we love A to Z, Soléna, and King’s Estate Pinot Gris. Don’t rule out Pinot Gris from Alsace or France, because they’re sometimes great deals.

My all-time favorite for a simple garden party is Viognier. Honeysuckle, citrus blossoms, gardenias, tangerine, apricots and peaches all mesh in a glass of Viognier. Loaded with aromatics and, at its best, spices and minerals, Viognier is good for some intriguing food matches. When it balances flamboyance with crispness, Viognier is this season’s best garden-party wine. Some favorites of mine are Yalumba’s Viognier (Australia) with a perfect balance of florals, apricots and peaches, richness and acidity; Pepperwood Grove Viognier (California) offering lots of well-balanced fresh honeysuckle and juicy apricot nectar; McManis Viognier (California) with heady honeysuckle, nuts, and ripe peach flavors and aromas; Albermarle Viognier 2007 (Virginia) this one is herbal and citrusy yet lush, with white peach and apricot nectar.

As your food gets more complex, so should your wine. Sancerre (I do love Sancerre!), from the Loire Valley of France, tastes like a very ripe, just-picked green apple. Imagine that juicy flavor with curried chicken salad or a roasted chicken with cranberry relish. Sancerre is made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, so if you’d rather stay closer to home, try the Sauvignon Blanc from Merryvale Starmont Vineyards in California. It’s rich and fruity, a fabulous mouthful of wine, and fun just sipped alone. While it doesn’t need food — unlike Muscadet or Vinho Verde, which hit their highest notes with food — Sauvignon Blanc can give a lift to turkey or ham sandwiches, chicken and seafood salads, and crudites with a simple dip. It’s heavenly with a Waldorf salad — yummy!

Though I know you’re probably skeptical, try a German Riesling —there are few better wines with pork roast and lamb sandwiches. German wine labels are elaborate, but look for the words Riesling and Kabinett, which means the wine is a drier (not sweet) one made from the wonderful Riesling grape. Mosel-Saar-Ruwer rieslings will likely be especially flowery and lovely. Chill well, open, and sip.

Barbecue wine? Of course. Barbecue doesn’t just mean beer. For barbecues, I prefer bright pink Rosés with complexity and some grip to them to match strong BBQ flavors, one of my recent discoveries is the Argentine Melipal Rosé of Malbec. Malbec grapes give depth balanced by the refreshing flavors of strawberry and watermelon. Do try rosé wines from France — they’re fruity, flinty, and a bit earthy — and are often less expensive, and far better with hamburgers, tuna steaks, grilled vegetables (think mushrooms), and barbecued chicken. We especially like Chateau Calissanne Rosé from Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France and Buoncristiani Rosato from Napa Valley or Kluge Estate Winery Albemarle Rosé from Virginia. Then there are white Zinfandels that not only are pink, pleasant and easy to drink, but can actually add some complexity and spirit to your picnic foods, like cold roast chicken, grilled shrimp, smoked meats, and potato salad. If you’re ever lucky enough to see the white Zinfandel from De Loach Vineyards White Zinfandel, grab it. For a delicious Pink Sparkler we recommend Riondo Pink Prosecco.

For something a little different, try a Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais from France. Be sure to chill it. It’s okay to chill some red wines after all, it’s summer! The diffuse flavors of Beaujolais are far better and more concentrated when the wine is slightly chilled. Place it in ice water for five minutes or so, or in the refrigerator for a half hour. A chilled, young Beaujolais with ribs hot off the grill or a rotisserie chicken that you’ve picked up — how easy! — would be heaven. Another possibility: an inexpensive Rioja from Spain, also slightly chilled (we like Marques de Riscal). The Juan Gil Monastrell from Jumilla, Spain, is a steal for all of its plushness and red berry fruit. There is one red, which I introduced to friends in past summers and still is a great favorite at barbecues is Paringa’s Sparkling Shiraz. It is so dark deep purple, you can’t even see the bubbles and the rich ripe flavors really do make the barbcued burgers, pork, and chicken sing.

If you’ve never tried a light, young, fresh Pinot Noir from Oregon with poached salmon, hot or cold, you owe it to yourself. Some Oregon Pinot Noirs can be very expensive, but quite a few are reasonable. We just love Solena Grand Cuvee.

When dinner is over, treat yourself to a dessert wine. You may not think you like dessert wines, but try a Moscato d’Asti from Italy. It’s light, fresh, slightly fizzy, and delightful (and usually low in alcohol), absolutely perfect with fresh berries, chilled melon, berry compotes, poached pears, fruit pies and tarts, cookies, and custards—try Bricco del Sol Moscato d’Asti. We also love Brilliant Disguise Moscato from Two Hands Winery in Australia.

There are also two other items I aways have on hand for summer parties: a giant bowl of Plantter’s Punch and a bottle of Pol Roger. A chilled bottle of bubbly—champagne, cava, prosecco, or moscato — is indispensable for summer because you never know when the perfect sunset will appear.
See you at a garden party.