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.

Oyster season begins


Every mermaid knows when oyster season begins
Jonathan Swift is quoted as having said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” But any oyster lover will tell you they are absolutely delicious.

In the early 19th century, oysters were cheap and mainly eaten by the working class. In New York, oystermen were skilled cultivators of their beds, which provided employment for hundreds of workers and nutritious food for thousands. Eventually, rising demand exhausted many of the beds. To increase production, they introduced foreign species, which brought disease, and when combined with erosion and other environmental factors, most of the beds were destroyed by the early 20th century. This scarcity increased prices, converting them from their original role as working class food to their current status as an expensive delicacy.

The old adage says to never eat oysters in months without an “R” in them, primarily, the warmer summer months—May through August. If you are a fresh oyster lover and haven’t had nary a one since last April, you should know the old saying is a myth whose basis in truth is that oysters are much more likely to spoil in May, June, July, and August. Plus, the summer months are the time of year they devote their energy for reproduction and become less meaty and less tasty. During summer or spawning season, the oyster becomes slimy and milky.  They are still edible but the taste and texture are quite unappealing.

Since September is the first month with an “R” and it has been designated National Oyster Month, and, if you’ve been paying attention, oyster season has already begun on the Shore, with both Asbury Park and Red Bank hosting oyster festivals.

So, what is it about these little bivalve critters that people love so much?

Well, oysters are an excellent source of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium as well as Vitamin A and Vitamin B12. Oysters are low in calories; one dozen raw oysters contain approximately 110 calories, and are considered the healthiest when eaten raw on the half shell.

Okay, you’ve probably heard oysters are considered to be an aphrodisiac. That “myth” may not bee too far from the truth, American and Italian researchers found oysters were rich in amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones and the high zinc content aids the production of testosterone.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all oysters are created equal (there are several species of oyster) nor do they all taste the same. Some are brinier, some are creamier, some are leaner, some are fatter, and some even have a “fruity” taste, vaguely suggestive of cucumber and melons. Some of the differences in taste have to do with the species, but it primarily has more to do with the temperature of the waters in which they are harvested; as well as the oyster’s fabled muscle, which constantly opens and closes to allow a flow of water and nutrients.

Perhaps the best known oysters in this area are East Coast Bluepoints (although Bluepoints technically come only from New York’s Long Island). These oysters can be found from Nova Scotia all the way down to the gulfstream waters of Florida and Texas. Northeast coastal oysters tend to have a longer shaped shell and belong to the Crassostrea virginica family. You will find these oysters are leaner in meatiness, with a moderately briny, salty, steely flavor, delicious for eating raw or with no more than a squeeze of lemon or splash of Mignonette sauce (a blend of fresh chopped shallot, mixed peppercorn, dry white wine and lemon juice or sherry vinegar).

In restaurants and markets these oysters are commonly sold by their points of origin—such as Long Islands (the original Bluepoints), Wellfleets (from Cape Cod), Delawares and Bristols (Maine). You might even find oysters that are similar to these from the coast off Eastern Canada sold by place names such as “Novys” (from Nova Scotia), Malpecques (Prince Edward Island) and Caraquets (New Brunswick).

Due to their lean and minerally taste, the easiest wine match for Northeastern oysters is probably any bone dry white with perceptively minerally or flinty qualities: ideally, the pure Sauvignon Blancs from France’s Loire River, most commonly bottled as Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé, and sometimes as Cheverny, Quincy or Menetou-Salon. Two good choices to look for are:

Chateau de Sancerre Sancerre this has the typical Sauvignon Blanc nose with floral accents and smokey, flinty nuances. The flavors are crisp and fresh with distinctive, subtle citrusy fruit.

Pascal Jolivet Chateau du Nozay is one of the most storied properties in Sancerre. This wine combines minerality, softness, roundness, generosity and exotic fruit making it a wonderful accompaniment to fish, seafood, white meat (chicken, veal) and goat cheese.

While they are certainly acidic enough, Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand and California are not quite as ideal since they tend to be fruitier and not as stony, minerally or flinty in flavor. One of the best and lower-priced alternatives to Loire River Sauvignon Blancs is  from the Western Loire Valley around the city of Nantes: the light and crisply dry Muscadet Sèvre et Maine such as the Chereau-Carre Chateau de Chasseloir Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie. It is a mouthful, but what a delicious one with its lemon peel, honeysuckle and mineral flavors. With its nice tangy finish, this $10 wine a fine companion to shellfish and oysters in particular.  You may have to search a little harder to find it locally, but it is a true delight.

Other great French classic choices include Chablis such as Olivier Leflaive Chablis AC Les Deux Rives. The signature cuvée Chablis is an outstanding value true to the character of Chablis with all of the mineral and flint characteristics of a more expensive Chablis. Or you can try a Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru with mouth-filling white peach, tangerine, lemon, and minerals flavors. This is an affordable 93 point Premier Cru white Burgundy that is just lovely.

If Chablis is a little above the price range, a white Burgundy such as Macon Villages or Pouilly Fuisse could be just right. The Louis Jadot Macon – Villages 2010 is quite lively, dry and easy to drink. It is a charming fruity wine with a floral scent and a hint of lemon. Drink it chilled with a range of foods including hors d’oeuvres, oysters, fried or grilled fish, sea food, goat’s milk cheese or poultry.

Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuisse 2009 has floral and fruity aromas dominated by almond and ripe grapes. This wine is refreshingly pleasant, ethereal in its lightness and marries well with hors d’oeuvres, delicately flavored charcuterie, oysters, mussels and any other shellfish.

If you don’t want a French wine. look for a wine with the word  trocken (“dry”) or halbtrocken (“half dry”) on the label. These white wines are made from Germany’s Riesling grape, which can retain a zesty, slatey-mineral flavor. At only 9% to 11% alcohol, these Rieslings sweep across the palate like a light, lilting, perfumey breeze, sweetening the taste of oysters with their natural lemon-lime acidity. One inexpensive bone-dry Riesling to look for is the Selbach Riesling Dry (Fish Label), from the Mosel region of Germany. The little orange-red fish on the label is there to show it pairs well with seafood. The flavors are classic: bright and fresh green-apple with a long and tart dry finish.

Other good choices for long and lean Northeastern oysters are Spain’s flowery and flinty dry whites made from the Albarino grape like: Paco & Lola Albarino 2010 from Rias Baixas. This wine is clean and textured with an exotic palate of pineapple and mango intermingled with refreshing citrus flavors amplified by minerally accents. This is a silky-smooth, full-bodied wine with a long, lingering finish.

Where Paco & Lola is full-bodied and seductive, Burgans Albarino borders on opulence. It has a lovely bouquet of white flowers, hazelnut, peach pit, and mineral with a surprisingly complex palate for the price.

The lean, briny oysters of the Northeast, however, are not to be confused with those of the decidedly warmer South East and Gulf Coast waters — where that muscle is most put to work. All that exercise makes the American East and Gulf Coast oysters the leanest in meatiness, with less of that creamy, fruity taste savored by true-blue oyster lovers. Florida’s Apalachicolas and Mississippi’s Emerald Points are not only leaner, but also duller, flabbier or “swampy” tasting — better suited for use in cooked oyster dishes like: Oysters Rockefeller; oyster po’ boys or stuffed into “carpetbagger” steaks, than eating raw.

The oysters found off the Western coasts of Canada and the American Northwest, in the coldest waters, live a more contented life, working that muscle much less and thereby developing a plumper, juicier, fruitier taste mingling with more distinctively briny, flinty flavors. These little guys would love to be paired with a Jorge Ordonez Botani. Botani is moscatel from Andalusia, Spain and this delightfully aromatic white displays a nose of mineral, spring flowers, acacia, and a hint of tropical aromas. Although the aromatics suggest sweetness, the wine is very dry, and very fruity. There are citrus and fine herbaceous notes and an unexpected mineral edge that is so refreshing. The finish is exceptionally fine and lingering and fresh.

Remember the bivalves are available all year, but they’re best eaten in the colder months from September to April and, like fine wine, raw oysters have complex flavors that vary greatly among varieties and regions: sweet, salty, earthy, or even melon. The texture is soft and fleshy, but crisp on the palate.

When buying oysters, avoid ones that are open or don’t close right away after you lightly tap them on a surface. That means the oysters are dead. Make sure live oysters smell like the sea and prepare them your favorite way.

So, whether you have them raw, steamed, fried, baked, stuffed or made into a sandwich, or topped with Tobasco sauce, cocktail sauce, butter and lemon, garlic or vinegar, oysters are always satisfying. Most people either love them or hate them, but they’ve definitely got something going for them if they’ve been around for so long.

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!”

Pink and sparkly wine for summer days.


 A Pink Prosecco? Well, not exactly. This wine is definitely pink and from Italy’s Prosecco region, but now that Prosecco now is protected by a DOC, only sparkling white wines produced in the regions of Friuli, Venezia, Giulia and Veneto in Italy, and traditionally mainly in the areas near Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, in the hills north of Treviso, can be called Prosecco.

Imported to the Jersey shore by Barneget’s VE Raimo Brands  Costaruél’s cheeky pink Costaruél Rosé Cuveé Concerto is made from Raboso, a red grape. The Raboso grape is grown primarily in northeastern Italy around Veneto. This little-known grape is essentially the sister grape of the white Prosecco, and Costaruél uses it to make a similarly delicate sparkling wine. Unlike France, where the region controls the name, here the grape, Prosecco (or Glera), has created a name for itself and any non-prosecco grape grown in the region is simply out of the DOC.

This sparkler is something special—serve chilled, it feels light and refreshing, but because it is made from red grapes it holds up to heartier foods.

In the glass, it is a pretty shade of pink with pale copper reflections, the fine effervescent beads provide a golden sparkle to the wine. The aromas that greet your nose are elegant, dry and soft: fresh, mouth-watering strawberry and peach with just a hint of fresh herbs. The nose carries through to a crisp, prickly palate running rampant with fresh yet delicate, watermelon, red berries and a creamy mousse.

The first sip is a taste of sweet summer fruit backed with a tart tongue-tickling acidity. The subtle fruitiness is refreshing and leads to a crisp and dry finish.

This gentle pink is great served on a warm summer’s day as an apéritif prior to a barbecue, with hors d’oeuvres, summer salads, Sunday brunches, strawberries, cheesecake or as a special dessert.

You can also make a simple delicious Wine and Roses Cocktail using a 750ml bottle of Costaruél Rosé Cuveé Concerto and rose syrup. Pour four ounces of the sparkling Rosé into a Champagne flute, take one tablespoon of rose syrup and gently drizzle the syrup into the glass. It will trickle down to the bottom and create a pretty effect when served to delighted guests.

If you aren’t in the mood for pink, how about just sparkly?

Costaruél Prosecco Extra Dry would be a sparkler of choice, according to Vic Raimo, owner of VE Raimo Brands, he says says “Costaruél Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in Italy, perfect for beating back the summer heat. It is light, refreshing, low in alcohol and delicious.” He is also happy to announce that Costaruél Prosecco Extra Dry has won a Silver medal at this year’s Vinitaly competition in Verona, Italy.

Prosecco is Italy’s famous sparkling wine, and it is also the name of the white grape that is used to produce the bubbly. Costaruél Prosecco Extra Dry  hails from the Le Dolcirive Costaruél vineyards in the Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC—situated between those two multi-syllabic towns some 30 miles north of Venice, and due north of Treviso.

Generally labelled as Prosecco, it is a sparkling wine made from the indigenous Prosecco grapes of this region. DOC Prosecco Appellation rules allow for up to 15% blend of other local minor varieties—Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta and Prosecco Lungo. Costaruél Extra Dry Prosecco has some Verdiso—a grape discovered in 18th century. It increases acidity and gives more tangy flavor. As such it becomes more  important in hot years when the acidity tends to be low. The other grape in this blend is Perera—used to heighten the wine’s fragrance and flavors with its distinctive pear taste and aromas.

This pale straw-colored blend offers delicate fruit and enticing aromatics of granny smith apple, pear, some citrus and a dash of almond and gossamer bubbles.  The ripe mouth-watering flavors are of granny smith apples, followed by peaches, pears, some bready notes and gentle apricots. The fresh fruity palate shows forward acidity, warm fruit, honey, peach, green apple and citrus notes leading to a truly crisp long-lingering refreshing finish. This well-made wine has a luxurious edge, medium body, and some minerality to it, but it retains the playfulness Prosecco demands.

Perfect to pair with Prosciutto, stuffed mushrooms, creamy sauces, almonds, seafood, fried fare, spicy Asian entrees and even potato chips or buttered popcorn. This is a very forgiving, food-friendly sparkling wine option.

Prosecco is not meant to be aged, so drink it up!

Both wines have recently started appearing on local retailers’, if your favorite retailer doesn’t have it, ask them if they can order it for you.

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.

Single Malt Scotch Tasting & Food Pairing with David Blackmore


Glenmorangie Distillery
Glenmorangie Distillery

On Monday, December 6, 2010 Branches Catering will be serving up a Single Malt Scotch and Food Pairing with David Blackmore. The single malts will be from Glenmorangie. The name Glenmorangie  is believed to come from the Gaelic gleann mor na sith meaning “vale of tranquillity” . It is pronounced  glen-MOR- n-jee, with the stress on the ‘mor’ and rhyming with orangey.

Glenmorangie Distillery was founded in 1843 in Tain, Ross-shire  in the Scottish Highlands. Here, you will find the tallest malt whisky stills in Scotland (just an inch and three-quarters shy of 17 feet.) Glenmorangie’s esteemed single malts are matured in oak casks, and the distillation process is undertaken and perfected by a staff of 16, known as  “16 Men of Tain”.  The 16 Men of Tain are based on the popular Scottish legend that 16  Men of Tain took part in an epic battle that left only one man of  Tain standing. Of course, this happened after they perfected the distillation process. Today, The 16 Men of Tain religiously follow the tradition to make Glenmorangie Single Malt.

The key ingredient to Glenmorangie’s malt whisky is the water—the water comes from the Tarlogie Springs, which rise about a mile above the distillery.  These waters once fell as rain on the Hill of Tain, then filtered down through lime and sandstone rocks, gathering minerals on the way, before rising again at Tarlogie. It can take up to a hundred years for the falling rain to emerge as spring water. So precious is this source of water that Glenmorangie has acquired the entire catchment area of the spring, or some 650 acres.

Glenmorangie’s US Master Brand Ambassador, David Blackmore will be on hand to explain all about the distillery and lead an exciting tasting of award-winning single malts. David likes to tell his love of single malt scotch started on the day when he first walked through the doors of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. He was smitten and joined the club that very day. Within a month he was working for The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, becoming a member of the prestigious “Tasting Panel” responsible for selecting new casks for bottling. In 2004, he moved to London to become Assistant Manager and Whisky Tutor at the The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s London club room. During this time he chaired the SMWS tasting panel and had several “tasting notes” published.

In order to prepare for his role as the US Glenmorangie Brand Ambassador in New York City, he spent time working alongside the fabled 16 Men of Tain at the Glenmorangie distillery, Stuart Thomson at the Ardbeg Distillery and Graham Coull at Glen Moray. Since 2005, he has been sharing his knowledge on the delights of single malt scotch.

David will be on hand to dissuade the Scotch tasters of the notion that Scotch is too strong in both flavor and alcohol content to be consumed with a meal—even in Scotland there isn’t much of a tradition of drinking Scotch with dinner. Traditionally single malt Scotch is a delight usually served after dinner — and usually paired with a cigar—as pairing Scotch with food seems a bit of a challenge.

Challenge or not, Scotch can make excellent paring with meals. Here’s a helpful hint, serve your single malt neat, with the lightest splash of spring water. Toning down the alcohol this way allows the Scotch’s aromatic complexities to shine through and makes it easier to achieve a food and Scotch balance. Some things to take into consideration are the background nuances of the Scotch. Creamy, mature cheeses and rich cream dishes are rich enough to balance the alcohol.  Smoky flavors in the Scotch add another dimension to the richness and flavor of  salmon. Red meats, especially the gamy ones, or dishes like Lamb Chops with Coffee-Chocolate Sauce make great partners with Scotch. So does chocolate. The dark, rich espresso and chocolate flavors will match with similar flavors in the Scotch. For dessert you could continue the chocolate-coffee-Scotch theme or try a rich dessert such as Crème Brûlée.

The menu for the evening takes the above suggestions into account and will be starting with a selection of Scottish and English Cheese from an excellent local cheese shop, ‘Cheese on Main’ in Ocean Grove. Owner Susan Morris has searched and selected some choice cheeses that are guaranteed to pair beautifully with the evening’s Scotch tasting.

The first Scotch to be tasted on December 6th will be Glenmorangie The Original (10 Year Old). This is the velvety textured Scotch that most associate with Glenmorangie. The Original has delicate, honeyed overtones and a burst of citrus that softens into vanilla and almond flavors. There is just a touch of smokiness in the background to remind you of warm winter nights in front of the fire.

Branches’ chef will be pairing The Original with Crab Rangoon with Tamarind-Ginger Chutney. These delicious crispy dumplings filled with scallions & crab meat and the complex, tart citrusy chutney are designed to complement the Scotch. Scallops wrapped with bacon add a richness and a complimentary smoky quality while samplers of lobster and cream cappuccino will be rich enough to balance the alcohol and satify the diners.

The second single malt of the evening will bee Glenmorangie The Lasanta (Sherry Cask Finish). Glenmorangie Lasanta is an elegant and full-bodied single malt whisky that has been  matured in Spanish Oloroso Sherry casks after a minimum of 10 years in ex-bourbon casks.  This Scotch is  luscious, mouth-filling, with deep, enticing, sweet aromas of spiced orange and chocolate-covered hazelnuts. Any chocolate lover will instantly see why this single malt is a sure-fire favorite. It has the full, sweet flavors typical of Spanish sherry: oranges, sultanas, toffee, and walnuts. The satisfyingly long spiced orange and chocolate nut finish should pair beautifully with the menu’s offering of  Chicken Mole’ where the savory combination of chocolate and peanuts in mixed with fresh chilies and spices make for an enlightened pairing..

Once we’ve tried the Sherry cask can a Port cask be far behind? With Glenmorangie the  next scotch is a velvety-textured single malt transferred from the original ex-bourbon cask and then extra matured or “finished” in port pipes, shipped from the  wine estates of Portugal.

Glenmorangie The Quinta Ruban (Port Cask Finish)  is a voluptuously smooth complex balance of sweet and dry flavors. Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts tossed with Garbanzo Beans, lemon and grated Parmesan will be the first pairing for this intriguing single malt’s balance of smooth velvet and crisp, cooling textures. The velvety Quinta Ruban offers a swathe of rich, dark chocolate nuttiness and sugar-coated crystallized orange segments countered by crisp mint chocolate. The chiffon-like texture and lingering chocolate notes should balance nicely with the second pairing, Entrecote of Beef rubbed with smoked paprika, served with creamy peppercorn sauce.

For Dessert, Branches will be pairing Glenmorangie The Nectar D’Or (Sauternes Cask Finish) with Crème Brûlée flame-torched in the room. The Sauternes wine barriques infuse the Scotch with the signature honey, citrus and spice aroma of the Sauternes dessert wine that lingers in the wooden casks. The Scotch takes on the pale, lemony, gold transparency and honeyed taste that inspired the name, Nectar D’Or.  This is a favorite sophisticated complex whisky and a perfect pairing for this sensuous custard.

With each whisky  exquisitely paired with a different course this should be a  delicious and luxurious Single Malt Scotch Whisky dinner experience. Signed bottles will be available at  the end of dinner for purchase.

On an interesting side note, Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch Whisky has become the first major single malt scotch brand to attain OU certification. Glenmorangie Original was kosher-certified by the Orthodox Union (OU), as has Glenmorangie Astar. Glenmorangie’s sister distillery, Ardbeg has also received OU Kosher certification for Ardbeg 10 yr old as well.

This pairing will take place at  7:00 PM Monday, December 6, 2010 at  Branches Catering, 123 Monmouth Road, West Long Branch, NJ 07764. The cost is $45 per person plus tax.   For more information or reservations, please call: 732.542.7790

MENU (stations)
A selection of Scottish and English Cheese from
‘Cheese on Main’ in Ocean Grove
~
Glenmorangie The Original (10 Yr)
Crab Rangoon with Tamarind-Ginger Chutney
Scallops wrapped with bacon
Samplers of Lobster Bisque ‘Cappuccino’
~
Glenmorangie The Lasanta (Sherry Cask Finish)
Chicken Mole’
~
Glenmorangie The Quinta Ruban (Port Cask Finish)
Entrecote of Beef rubbed with smoked paprika, served with creamy peppercorn sauce
Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts tossed with Garbanzo Beans, lemon and grated Parmesan

DESSERT
Glenmorangie The Nectar D’Or (Sauternes Cask Finish)
Crème Brulee flame-torched in the room

Sandra Bell at Forte Resturant


Forte Unique Mediterranean Cuisine and Gerard’s Wine and Spirits come together to present a food and wine tasting featuring Sandra Bell of Bell Winery of Napa Valley, California.

Forte Unique Mediterranean Cuisine will be serving six of Bell Winery’s best wines accompanied with fine cuisine as only Forte can present.

Established in 1995 by Jon Ucal on Bridge Avenue in Point Pleasant Borough, Forte Unique Mediterranean Cuisines specializes in the cuisines of France, Italy, and Turkey. It is one of the finest restaurants on the Jersey Shore, highly acclaimed for its superior food, extensive wine menu, outstanding service and warm décor. Its classy atmosphere is perfect for this wine tasting.

Jon Ucal and Joseph Stephens II of Gerard’s Wine & Spirits invite you to join them as they present and sample Bell’s fine Napa Valley wines with Sandra Hewitt-Bell of the winery.
Sandra says Bell wines are so well received because they have Anthony, her husband and the winemaker/owner with more than 30 years of winemaking experience and a passion for taking Cabernet Sauvignon to new heights; a brand new winery building quietly perched in the south end of Yountville; a library full of medals for their wines; and two brand-new, barely-worn bocce courts. She often states, “ I think that we really do try to honor the sense of place, and honor the sense of grape. I believe that Anthony, because of who he is, he makes wine differently than anyone else in California.”

Some of the Bell wines to be featured with Jon Ucal’s fabulous menu will include: Bell Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, California 2009; Big Guy, Red Wine, California, 2007; Bell Wine Cellars Claret, Napa Valley, 2006; Bell Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon , Napa Valley 2006; Bell Wine Cellars Syrah, Canterbury Vineyards, Sierra Foothills, 2007; and Bell Wine Chardonnay Napa Valley. It looks to be a delicious time.

After the tasting, Gerard’s will be taking orders for these Napa Valley wines which customers will be able to pick up at Gerard’s store location two blocks from Forte on Bridge Avenue.

The cost for this event is  $45 and it includes tax and gratuity. To make reservations to attend this tasting on Friday, October 14, at  Forte, please call Forte at (732) 899-5600.
Forte Forte Unique Cuisines is located at 2154 Bridge Avenue, Point Pleasant Boro, NJ 08742-4916.

Gerard’s Wine and Spirits is located at 2310 Bridge Avenue, Point Pleasant. – (732) 892-6161