Mister C’s Wine and Food Pairing


On September 29th Mister C’s Beach Bistro  presented their first wine and food pairing of the fall season. 78 guests were treated to an assortment of six wines and six food samplings designed to delight their palates. Mister C’s chef, Micheal, impressed the entire contingent with his culinary skills.

The first selection was a Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County, California 2009 paired with Goat Cheese Medallions, heirloom tomato relish and crostini. The guests were instructed to first take a sip of the wine and reflect on the acidity and flavors,  try the food and sip the wine again. When tasted with the goat cheese, the citrus, mango, kiwi, and lime aromas and flavors were softened and the flavors of vanilla, guava and grapefruit shone through complementing the tanginess of the cheese. The crisp freshness and subtle oak characteristics added a bit of complexity and depth for this classic pairing. Many who said they didn’t enjoy the first taste because they thought it was “too acidic”, said they were surprised by how much they liked it with the cheese and how creamy the wine and cheese became when paired together.

The second offering was a very traditional pairing, Smoked Salmon Crepe, shaved fennel and creme fraiche with a Rodney Strong Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River, California, 2008. The smokiness of both the salmon and the pinot noir melded together beautifully on the palate. The supple texture of this lively, medium-bodied  wine offered cherry and rose petal aromas and flavors which beautifully set off the shaved fennel. The subtle, toasty vanilla flavor of the wine was topped off by the fresheness of the creme fraiche. This seamless tasting proved why Pinot Noir and Salmon are a perfect classic pairing.

Vegetarians take note: the third selection was a very happy surprise to everyone: a Grilled Vegetable Kabob with braised lentils paired with a sangiovese. At first, it seemed the Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese, Tuscany, Italy, 2007 would overpower the vegetables because it has an intense aroma of fresh fruit and flowers. But, when sipped with the vegetables, this structured wine proved to be well-rounded and harmonious. In fact, the wine made the lentils stand out and seem so much richer. The sweet tannins and a lingering taste of fruit blended beautifuly with the charred grilled flavors of the squash, tomato, mushroom, and onion kebab. It was truly a delight.

Then came one of the most favorite pairings of the evening: Saffron Risotto Cake, filetto sauce and shaved pecorino paired with Montes Purple Angel Carmenére, Colchagua Valley, Chile, 2006. Purple Angel is a blend composed of 92% Carmenére and 8% Petit Verdot. The pungent scents of red and dark berry preserves complicated by musky herbs, cracked pepper and potpourri, with an undercurrent of oak spices, balanced the acidic tomato base of the filetto sauce and shaved pecorino.The delicious risotto was cooked to perfection and balanced by the sweet blackberry and candied cherry flavors of the sangiovese. The combination of the wines velvety tannins and bright minerality enhanced the tangy edge of the pecorino and filetto sauce. Delicious flavors lingered long after the dish was finished.

The Risotto cake was followed by a Grilled Diver Scallop on a bed of Asparagus Corn Salad olive aioli paired with Esperto Pinot Grigio, Veneto Italy, 2008. Guests were told the wine was selected to act as a lemon lemon would for seafood. The freshness was the first thing one noticed followed by a delicate orange peel spiciness that complimented the scallop so beautifully. The structured full-bodied palate was intense with citrusy acitiy that balanced the olive aioli accenting the rich flavors of the asparagus and corn. It was a clean, crisp, and super satisfying pairing.

The last pairing was the dessert pairing. Normally, one would think salad would be the first course, but the Watermelon and Fresh Mint Salad paired with Columbia Winery Cellarmaster Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, 2008 made for a delicious and semi-sweet finish. The watermelon was perfectly chilled and the bits of fresh mint lifted the flavor. Bits of craisins added a sweet tartness and chewy texture. The Riesling, with its pleasing, floral aroma with hints of peach, quince, lime and clove offered rich, crisp and full-flavored fruit that, when combined with the watermelon, created a delicious mouthful of fruit salad. The wine and watermelon combination was fresh, refreshing, bright and a bit off-dry. A perfect finish to a delightful tasting.

The servings were generous and it was easy to see no one left hungry. Hostess and owner, Karen Marzulli, stated that “everyone received a little more than a pound of food each.” The best part? The price, an affordable $35 for six generous portions and wine samples and a beautiful view.

If this first of Mister C’s series of food and wine pairings is any indication of what is to come this season, you will be well served to begin making reservations now. Mister C’s Beach Bistro is located on the beach at Allen Avenue in Allenhurst, New Jersey 07711. Future pairings and events are posted on Mister C’s Beach Bistro web calendar.

Wine I Like it Blind Wine Tasting Panel


The latest Wine I Like it Blind Wine Tasting was held August 31 at Branches in West Long Branch. This month the wine tasting consisted of nine wines, which were sampled and rated by the 29 panel members.

Seven of the nine wines were from Spain, primarily tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero (although there was one Cabernet Sauvignon) and one white wine from Rueda. The remaining two wines to make up the set were a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California.

The wines were presented “blind”—no information was provided about the wine prior to tasting, nor could the tasters see the bottles before the tasting. The guests were told to rate the wines on a scale of “0” – “5” with “5” being “I liked it a lot” and “0” being I didn’t like it at all. Only the top five results are published. Full tasting results and information is provided to the to participating vendors, suppliers and distributors who request it.

Distributors / Vendors / Winemakers are asked to supply 2-3 bottles of each wine(s) that they would like to promote and/or sample with the public. If the wines are currently available locally, information regarding the basic price points and local retailers is conveyed to the tasters. If the wines are new to the market/area, providing suggested retail price aids the taster panel members when they ask for the products at their favorite retail establishment.

Guests were encouraged to guess the region and appellation of the wines and to mark down how much they would be willing to pay for the wine in a wine shop, rather than guess the retail price of the wine.

To help them remember the wines and tell their friends about the wines they liked, each taster had a two-piece rating sheet. The top sheet was returned  with their scores and what they would be willing to pay for each wine.  The bottom sheet listed the wines they tasted in the order of tasting, and since it is a carbonless transfer, they also retain their scores and comments. Additionally, each panel member was given (at the end of the evening) information regarding the wines, varietals and region to take with them.

If you would be interested in participating in the wineilikeit.com wine tasting panel program, it would be greatly appreciated. for more details on the particulars, check out the website or please contact: Art Foss at oceanwineguy@aol.com or Barbara Hay at hayseeds@mac.com or winepro@wineilikeit.com

The top five wines were:
1. Tinto Roa Reserva 2005
2. 24th Annual Belmar Seafood Festival Chardonnay from Domenico Winery
3. Tinto Roa Crianza 2007
4. Tinto Roa Roble 2008
5. Tinto Roa Musai de Tinto Roa 2006

The number one performer was the sixth wine that was tasted: Tinto Roa Reserva 2005, a tempranillo. Comments were very generous: “very bold fruit-forward wine, yet balanced”; “nice oak”; “it makes your mouth explode!”; “very full, big and spicy”; and “nicely balanced, great nose, smooth finish, jammy fruit-forward and big. Great for pasta” The prices people were willing to pay for this ranged from a low of $7 to a high of $25+ with the average coming to $15.

The number two-rated wine was the second wine tasted, it had been referred to as number eight. This was the 24th Annual Belmar Seafood Festival Chardonnay from Domenico Winery in California. Comments included: “excellent length, hints of flowers, and nice buttery finish”; “dry and oaky rounded flavors”; and “would be nice with food” The average price the tasters said were willing to pay for this wine was $10. One taster did say she would pay $4 while another remarked they would pay as much as $15

Finishing in third place was the fifth wine tasted: Tinto Roa Crianza 2007, another tempranillo. Overall the tasters seemed to agree that it had “good flavors, smooth mouth feel, and not too tannic”. One taster noted that it seemed “smoky, like pinot noir”. Many commented that it had a nice amount of oak and a “great finish” Another taster wrote “big and oaky, nice body with a good dry finish, nicely dry with a bit of spice—soft and smooth, good depth. In a word, yummy!” This wine was given a low price point of $7 and a high price point of $20 with the average dollar amount coming to around $13

Following the Crianza in fourth place, was the the fourth wine sampled, the wine was referred to as number 3 during the tasting: Tinto Roa Roble 2008. This wine had less aging than the previous two tempranillo offerings, and the tasting notes reflected the lighter body. Comments included: “reasonably dry”; “opens up to a nice fullness and depth”; “earthy, smooth, and dry”; “easily pairs with a lot of food”; “smooth, fresh flavors, light-medium-body, fills the mouth with berry”. The amounts the tasters said they would pay ranged from a low of $6 to a high of $20 with the average price point around $12.

The last wine of the top five was the number seven wine: Tinto Roa Musai de Tinto Roa 2006. It was apparent the tasters either “Loved it” or were indifferent toward it as it received more “5” point ratings than any other , but it also received more “1” and “2” point ratings than the other wines in the top five. The tasters comments included: “good structure, very impressive wine”; “nice, deep color and bold complex flavor—love it!” “The best of all with a big spicy finish”;, “wow! where”s the pasta?” “nice body and substance, sticks to my tongue” This tempranillo also garnered the highest amount that the tasters were willing to pay $27+,  but the tasters who were not enamoured of it seemed to prefer an $8 price tag, bringing this wine’s average price the panel was willing to pay to $15.

If you noticed, most of the wines on this list all contain a grape you may or may not have heard about before: Tempranillo. It is often referred to as Spain’s “noble grape”. Tempranillo grapes thrive in a short growing season and this early ripening tendency is the source of the name Tempranillo, which translates to “little early one”. Tempranillo also has many different regional identities worldwide, including aragon, cencibel, extremadura, valdepeñas and many derivatives of each.

Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak barrels. It is frequently used as the base variety in blends, mostly with grenache, (aka garnacha in Spain), carignan (aka mazuelo in Spain’s Rioja region), syrah, and, more recently, cabernet sauvignon. Tempranillo aromas and flavors often combine elements of berryish fruit, plums, herbaceousness, vanilla, tobacco, an earthy-leathery character, and good minerality.

As our wine panel discovered these wines provide value for the money and are definitely worth a taste.

Wine Tasting with Polaner Selections and the Wine Concierge


Micheal Hoffmann of Polaner Selections and The Wine Concierge of Allenhurst hosted a spectacular wine tasting in  a gorgeous private home in West Long Branch.

The tasting of the selections began promptly at 7pm  with a sparkly little number from Italy: Sorelle Bronca Prosecco. It’s interesting to note that this prosecco is made primarily of the prosecco grape with a smattering of the indigenous varieties Perera, Verdiso, and Bianchetta and all of the the grapes are certified organic. The wine is classified as a Prosecco Colli Conegliano DOCG, the region having recently achieved DOCG status as of April 2010. This wine deliciously captures all of the original aromatics and fruit flavors of the grapes, and features sweet pear, nectarine and white blossoms in perfect condition.

The Bronca family team works hard in the vineyard and in the cellar to produce this purest and outstanding Prosecco Extra Dry, and they have succeeded. It is a truly stunning example of Italy’s favorite sparkler—perfect as an aperitif, with delicate dishes and fish, and for celebrating any special occasion.

This was immediately followed by a very full racy mouthful: Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu 2009. Located in the heart of the Muscadet appellation, fourteen kilometers southeast of Nantes in the Loire Valley, the Domaine du Haut Bourg was built by four generations of winegrowers. The “Côtes de Grandlieu” AOC is formed by nineteen townships that surround the Lac de Grandlieu. Made from from sustainably farmed 45-year-old  Melon de Bourgogne vines, this is classic Muscadet—bracing, salty, racy, and vibrant with delicious mature fruit flavors.

The third wine hailed from the slopes of Mount Etna  in North-eastern Sicily. This white was simply called Calabretta Carricante. This is considered to be a rare white wine made from old vine Carricante, interplanted with Minella Bianca for acidity. The winemaker, Massimiliano Calabretta, is also a part-time college professor at the University of Genova, and he makes only about 2,000 bottles of this a year.  This intriguing white is redolent with melony fruit and hints of straw and almonds. This medium-bodied white has a beautiful texture, lovely acidity and a lingering memory on the palate. It is a perfect wine to pair with nearly any sort of warm-weather foods or to serve as an aperitif. It was truly a unique wine.

The Calabretta Carricante was followed by a wine from one of Italy’s top “superstar” winemakers—Elisabetta Foradori’s Myrto I.G.T. Vigneti delle Dolomiti Bianco. Myrto is made from a blend of sixty percent Sauvignon Blanc and forty percent of a little-known grape, Incrocio Manzoni. It is a classy, medium-bodied and zesty dry white wine that perfectly captures the bounce and classic soil expression of the best white wines of the Trentino-Alto Adige. Myrto comes from the biodynamically farmed Foradori vineyards that lie in the side valley of Campo Rotaliano. Needless to say,  Myrto is a beautifully made delicate expression of elegance that offers up outstanding value.

The next wine was a Vouvray. Chenin Blanc has been identified with Vouvray for at least 11 centuries, and many of its great vineyards were known by the 14th century for producing some of the world’s most compelling white wines. By those standards, the 80-year-old Huët estate is relatively young. Yet, Domaine Huët Vouvray Le Mont 2009 , the fifth offering of this tasting has been the standard-bearer for great, ageworthy Chenin Blanc since its founding in 1928. Domaine Huët’s founder, Victor Huët, purchased the first of his great vineyards on Vouvray’s “Première Côte”in 1928. In 1957, the estate purchased the prime Première Côte vineyards: Le Mont. Le Mont Vouvray shows a fascinating level of transparency, purity, and knife-edged balance. Presently, this young wine is full of intense minerality. With age, this wine will develop great length and finesse. This is an epic vintage, it was exciting to taste this latest offering from one of the earliest adopters of biodynamic practices in the Loire Valley.

From the Loire, the tastebuds travelled to Livermore, California’s Kalin Cellars. Kalin Cellars Chardonnay Cuvée W Livermore Valley 1994. Yes, 1994. One taste, and even the most anti-Chardonny drinker will discover a unique California wine experience. Located in Marin County, the goal of winemaker Terry Leighton is to “produce wines of enduring value with traditional European style and character.” Terry is also professor emeritus of microbiology at UC Berkeley and understands the science of winemaking. The grapes were sourced from the Wente Estate Vineyard located near Livermore. Kalin Cellars makes this an artisanal wine of substantial depth, complexity and style. The aromas are reminiscent of lime blossoms and freshly toasted bread. The flavors are rich, powerful, but counterbalanced by an extraordinary, racy mineral acid fruit structure. This singular 100% Charonnay is a wine to match with food.

After these six Beautiful whites it was time to think about sampling the magnificent reds that were featured this evening. What better way to ease the transition than with a glass of Bedrock Wine Co.’s Bedrock Rosé? Bedrock is an itsy-bitsy winery making wine in a converted chicken coop and their 2009 ‘Ode to Lulu’ Rose Sonoma Valley is a fabulous rosé. For all the point counters, last year’s vintage of “Lulu” received the highest score for rosé ever given. It received  90 points from both the Wine Spectator and Steven Tanzer. This rosé is made from Mourvedre and the vines are 120 year-old vines.  The Mourvedre has bright aromatics of red currents, cherry, and hints of white pepper, bordered with the added complexity of the  funky mustiness of the Mourvedre grape. The palate is clean and vibrant with dusty minerality leading to a lengthy finish. This wine paired beautifully with the offerings of cured meats, cheese, great bread, fresh tomatoes, and basil.
The first red of the evening was Evodia 2008 from Altovinum. Altovinum is a new project—a joint partnership between Eric Solomon, Jean Marc Lafage and Yolanda Diaz. The wine is 100% old vine Garnacha from the D.O. Calatayud’s  village of Atea. This wine is fresh with pure strawberry and raspberry deepened by notes of licorice, black tea and pungent herbs on the nose. Supple in texture, this young garnacha is velvety, offering sweet red fruit flavors, hints of spicy pepper and a nice smokieness that only adds to the complexity. The wine is incredibly smooth with nicely persistent, red berry-dominated finish. It was extremely easy to drink paired beautifully with the cheeses and meats that were offered.

The second red was from Mendoza Argentina: La Posta Bonarda. Bonarda is a grape that has taken off in Argentina,  and this 100% example is one of unusually high quality. This winery has been growing grapes in Mendoza since 1887, and the present Bonarda vineyard was planted  in 1963. This Bonarda sports bright aromas of fresh red & black raspberries and subtle smoky oak notes. The flavors are of freshly-crushed raspberries, white pepper, dark chocolate, a touch sandalwood and mint. Though quite rich and hedonistic, the seamless structure of this wine makes it a candidate for drinking inow or over the next few years. It will pair well with just about any food with which you would drink a fruit-driven red or  a Zinfandel.

The first Pinot Nor to be sampled came from Sonoma, 2008 Mary Elke Pinot Noir. The 2008 Mary Elke Pinot Noir is 100% Donnelly Creek vineyard fruit that reflects the cool climate and soils of the Anderson Valley. Elke Vineyards practices organic farming as much as possible, yet they describe their vineyard practices more accurately as “sustainable,” allowing them to use very limited chemical inputs to the vineyard and do canopy management practices that help to reduce spray applications. The Pinot exudes rich, ripe, red fruit flavors combined with a slight spice element and a slight mid-palate tannin to produce a “bigger” style Pinot Noir. This is an an elegant wine characterized by ripedark chrry fruit, a spicy backbone, and velvety texture which will continue to develop with bottle aging. Elke is a limited production Pinot Noir with 1,200 cases.

L’Angevin Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2007 is a  Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. This Pinot has a traditional and refined feminine character of fresh black cherry, bergamot, mint, and tea leaves. There is an intense layered bouquet of strawberry, raspberry, orange blossom with notes of vanilla and spice. On the palate, there is a beautiful acidity, silky tannins and red fruit flavors that makes for a well balanced medium-bodied wine with a moderate finish and smooth texture. Simply put, the wine is delicately smooth and is full of beautiful cherry fruit from start to finish. This  Pinot paired with the pasta, rice, cheese and meat platters offered.

The next red was the latest signature blend from winemaker extraordinaire Karen Culler, Culler Wines La Palette 2005. When Karen Culler started producing her own wines in 1997, she wanted to make wines that she liked to drink—just in case they weren’t a hit with the public. This Cabernet is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Petit Verdot, all from Alexander Ranch fruit. The wine is big, dense, and jammy, with gobs of black currants violet, and spice flavors of licorice and bay leaf. The nose is aromatic with roasted herbs, black currants, leather, minerals and toasty oak. The fruit-driven flavors  and ripely tannic structure define this  medium-bodied red,  culminating in an elegant finish. Delicious!

The cab was followed by a 100% California Zinfandel: Outpost Zinfandel Howell Mountain 2006. Outpost creates world-class 100 percent varietals from their hand-cultivated, organically farmed 42-acre estate vineyard, and this Zin shows why Howell Mountain Zinfandel attracts such a devoted following. The old vines add aromatics and acid backbone while the younger vines provide mid-palate weight and rich elegance. There is a  fragrant floral nose, hints of rich ripe  black raspberry, black currant, and a spice-scented bouquet. Full-bodied, with espresso, mocha and chocolate, a good texture, a layered mouthfeel, and a long finish, it went very well with the chocolate dessert and oatmeal cookies.

The flagship Barbera from the Trinchero estate: Barbera d’Asti “Vigna del Noce”, was to be the last wine tasted for the evening. The vines for this Barbera were planted in the hills of Asti in 1929. This vintage was the 1999. Trinchero makes one of the longest-lived and most profound examples of Barbera to be found in all of Italy, and this wine lived up to the reputation with impressive complexity and the depth. Aromas of ripe dark cherry, figs, truffle, mushroom, prune, leather, stony minerality, and hints of smoke wafted up from the glass. The palate was earthy, juicy, with layers of cherry, truffle and fig with more smokey, earthy tones intermingled with spice accents that seem to expand in mid-palate. The long finish is dark, earthy, with dry tannins and  minerals. This wine is the perfect wine to end an enjoyable evening.
All of these wines can be found at the Wine Concierge in Allenhurst and at Gerard’s Liquors in Point Pleasant.

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

Wine I Like It Blind Tasting Panel – Spanish Wines


Wine I Like Blind Tasting Panel Results from Thursday, July 22

Wine I Like it is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding out what the “average consumer” thinks about various wines.    To that end, Wine I Like It hosts “I Like It” wine tasting panels comprised of people who are not professionals in the wine industry. These “non-professionals ” taste wines to see if they “LIKE” them “OR NOT”.

There is a series of several different panels. Some are based on age, some on wine preferences and others on a combination of preferences. Our goal is to find out how people outside of the wine industry feel about various products—whether they “Like It” or “Dislike It”. It is fun and informative for the tasting panel members as well as enlightening for us to see what consumers prefer.

Our panel rates the wines based on a proprietary system, exclusive to Wine I Like It that serves to help demystify the number systems wine buyers currently rely on by making valuations as simple and transparent as possible.

This month the wine tasting stayed in a single country and within two specific regions – Castilla y León and Castilla La Mancha, Spain. Some of the tasters were surprised to find they were tasting Spanish wine, only one taster knew immediately they were from Spain. We tasted two whites, two rosés, and six reds that were all classified Vino de la tierra.

Here are the top five including the average price the panel was willing to pay for each wine.

  1. Cotoval Tempranillo 2004
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Aged 12 months in Oak
  2. Tavera 2008 Vendimia Seleccionada
    A selected blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla
  3. Cotoval Tempranillo 2006
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Aged 6 months in Oak
    Average Price: $15
  4. Tavera Syrah-Tempranillo 2008
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla
    Average Price: $14
  5. Cotoval Tempranillo 2008
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Average Price: $13

The all-around number one favorite was the Cotoval Tempranillo 2004 Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León Aged 12 months in Oak. Some of the comments about this wine included: “I need a slice of pizza!”, “Nice finish and flavor”; Awesome I’d lay it down for a year if I could stay away from it!” “Best of all! Would pay $30 for this one!”

This wine, as most of the wines sampled that evening is a Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT). The concept is similar to the Vins de Pays of France and, according to Spanish law, is seen as sort of transitional term for areas that can, after 5 years, apply for Denominación de Origen status. However, many wineries in Vinos de la Tierra areas have relished the greater freedom than exists under the D.O. system to produce grapes and wines as they wish. The result is wines that are more innovative and exciting than those of D.O.s. These broader geographical designations will appear on the label such as Andalucia, Castilla y León, Castilla La Mancha and Levante.

Three of our  top five, (including number one) hail from Castilla y León, IPA. Known formally as the Community of Castile and León, is one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain. It was constructed from the historic regions of Old Castile (Castilla la Vieja) and León, first as a preautonomía—a “pre-autonomous” region—in 1978 and then as an autonomous community in 1983. It is the largest autonomous community in Spain, covering an area of 94,223 square kilometers (36,380 sq. mi).

Number two on the list is Tavera 2008 Vendimia Seleccionada. This wine is a selected blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah. Although this wine is drinking beautifully now, it will  benefit from some time ageing in the bottle. For the word “Vendimia” or vintage year to appear on the label, a minimum of 85% of the grapes must be from that year’s (in this case 2008) harvest. This wine is from the Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla, central Spain, the Spain of Don Quixote. This region is noted for its hot, arid plains. The V. de la T. de Castilla was formed in 1999 to take in those areas outside of the several D.O.s in the area (such as La Mancha). The region as a whole has 600,000 hectares (1.48 million acres) of vineyards, which represents nearly 6% of the world’s vineyards.

Many of our tasters described this wine as “A nice piece of salmon is calling me!”,”Good summer red wine, nice soft tannins” “Great aroma and flavor” “really nice finish, would pair nicely with food” “excellent! A nice full-bodied wine.” The average price our tasting panel was willing to pay for this wine was $14, with some saying they could easily pay more than $20.

Number three on this hit parade took us back to Castilla y León with Cotoval Tempranillo 2006
Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
. This wine is aged 6 months in oak. In Spain, red wines that are aged for a two years with at least 6 month in oak are considered a Crianza. Our panel agreed that it had a “Great nose and smooth tannins” “Soft tannins with a nice full flavor”and “Smooth finish” this wine fell into the $15 average price category.

The fourth wine, Tavera Syrah-Tempranillo 2008 Vino de la tierra de Castilla took us back to Castilla La Mancha just outside of Toledo. This blend of Syrah-Tempranillo received the following comments: “I need a piece of mild sausage and Italian bread with this!”; “Very Fruit forward – it explodes!”; “Very versatile”; and “Good bold flavor that grows on you!” The average price point suggested was $14.

Our last top wine, number 5, was Cotoval Tempranillo 2008 Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León. One taster commented “I’m in love!” Another asked “Is that a slight pepper taste?”; ”Nice aromatics and cherry flavor” ; “Smells great! Nice finish, best one!” …and the short but sweet “Excellent!” The average price they said they would pay was around $13.

If you noticed, each of the top five wines on this list all contain a grape you may or may not have heard about before: Tempranillo—often referred to as Spain’s “noble grape”. Tempranillo grapes thrive in a short growing season and this early ripening tendency is the source of the name Tempranillo, which translates to “little early one”. Tempranillo also has many different regional identities worldwide, including Aragon, Cencibel, Extremadura, Jacibiera, Tinto, Tinto Fino, Valdepeñas and many more too numerous to list here.

Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak barrels. It is frequently used as the base variety in blends,and is most frequently mated with grenache, (aka garnacha in Spain), carignan (aka mazuelo in Spain’s Rioja region), syrah and, more recently, cabernet sauvignon. Tempranillo aromas and flavors often combine elements of berryish fruit, plums, herbaceousness, vanilla, tobacco, an earthy-leathery character, and good minerality.

As our wine panel discovered, these wines provide value for the money and are definitely worth a taste.

For more information about the wines that were sampled or to find out how you can become part of the wineilikeit.com tasting panel, visit http://www.wineilikeit.com

Going Organic for Earth Day


Earth Day is a day that was designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin as an environmental teach-i in 1970. Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses. He determined the week of April 19-25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events-so he chose Wednesday, April 22.
According to Senator Nelson, the moniker “Earth Day” was “an obvious and logical name” suggested by “a number of people” in the fall of 1969, including, a New York advertising executive,” Julian Koenig who was on Nelson’s organizing committee in 1969. April 22 also happened to be Koenig’s birthday, and as “Earth Day” rhymed with “birthday,” the idea came to him easily. When Nelson was asked whether he had purposely chosen Lenin’s 100th birthday, Nelson explained that with only 365 days a year and 3.7 billion people in the world, every day was the birthday of ten million living people. Additionally, a person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22.

To honor earth day, today we discuss the differences between and organic, sustainable, and biodynamic practices as they pertain to wine and hopefully, help to reduce some of the confusion concerning these terms.

About Organic Vineyards
These 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. Metal salts (. sulfur and copper) tend to be used for fungus control. Biological agents can be used for insect control; such as. bacteria, parasitic wasps, or pheromone/food traps. Weeds tend to be controlled via mechanical methods, such as plowing, hoeing, mulching or mowing. Vines can be fertilized via compost mulches, green manures or animal manures.

About Biodynamic Vineyards
Biodynamic viticulture stems from the ideas and suggestions of Rudolf Steiner, whose Agriculture course in 1924 spun off much of the organic movement. It utilizes a holistic approach to farming and views the vineyard as an interrelated unit placing emphasis on the balance between the soil, vines and animals in a close self-nourishing system. This philosophy places high importance on composts and manures without the use of chemical fertilizers. It does use a number of fermented herbal and mineral preparations for compost additives and sprays. The practice also utilizes the astronomical calendar for sowing and planting. Biodynamic wines may be organic or preservative-free. Many famous wineries and vineyards profess to use these techniques.

About Sustainable Vineyards
Sustainable vineyards are a combination of organic and biodynamic vineyards. Thes vineyards strive to maintain the long-term health of the land instead of depleting it for short-term gain.

About Organic Wine

I’m often asked for organic wine or wine that contains “no sulfites”. Unfortunately for consumers, much of the information available on organic wine is contradictory, especially when conversation turns to the topic of sulfites in organic winemaking.
The official definition differs depending on country of origin but basically it is wine that has been made from “organic grapes” and contains less than 100-120 mg/L of total sulphur dioxide. Sulfur is produced both naturally during fermentation and added to enhance microbiological/oxidative stability. Some “natural” products, such as milk, egg whites or bentonite clays, can also be used to help clarification, filtration and stability.
The USDA’s definition sounds deceivingly simple: “an organic wine is made from organically grown grapes to which no sulfur dioxide has been added.” However, since Greco-Roman times, sulfur dioxide has been used as an additive in the winemaking process for its anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. While sulfites are naturally present at low levels during the winemaking process—as a by-product of the fermenting yeasts present on all grape skins—the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) guidelines state that even a wine made with 99.99% organic ingredients cannot be labeled “organic” unless no sulfur dioxide has been added to it.
As sulfites are naturally occurring, a “no sulfite” or “sulfite-free” wine simply cannot exist. For this reason, even a wine made organically is only a low-sulfite wine and not sulfite-free.
Organic wine may or may not be made from organic grapes. Organic wines are made without any external addition of sulfur (although some is always present due to fermentation and/or vineyard), anti-oxidants or anti-microbial agents.

About Sulfites
A percentage of the population experiences sensitivity to sulfites, particularly asthmatics and people with severe allergies. For those with allergies or sensitivity, having access to a low-sulfite wine means that they can still enjoy the pleasures of wine without concerning themselves with the physical drawbacks. A wine made without the preservative of added sulfites, is chemically a more fragile substance, unstable in nature and more subject to spoilage.

Sensitive to Sulfites?
The question of living a healthy lifestyle is now more of a concern for us than ever. Often people believe they are allergic to wine. Most (not all) of these people are either sensitive to sulfur or histamine. Buying organic wine will not solve that issue because sulfur and histamine are still likely to be present. Histamine is a byproduct of malolactic fermentation and sulfur can still be added (under 100 mg/L).

Some ways to avert reactions are:

  • Buy more expensive wine. Expensive wine has more attention paid to it in the production, fewer short cuts are made, therefore less sulfur needs to be added.
  • Avoid sparkling wine and sweet white wines. More sulphur is needed to make these products.
  • If you are sensitive to histamine:. Avoid wines that have gone through malolactic fermentation (i.e., most red wines and many chardonnays).
  • Avoid fortified wines. Fortified wines contain brandy spirit, which in turn contains methanol—a major cause of hangovers.
  • Drink less in a sitting. It doesn’t matter what you’re drinking, if you binge drink it will always make you sick.

As you can see, the lines between organic, sustainable, preservative-free and biodynamic wines are overlapping and if you try some of the ones currently available to you, you’ll discover  organics have come a long way since they were first introduce in the 1980s.Cheers.

The Joy of BYOB


This month we explore the joys of BYOB. BYOB is  most commonly meant to stand for “bring your own bottle”.  It is generally recognized that the more modern usage of the term was initiated by drinkers in the 1950s, but in the early 19th century, the term BYOB was used in society slang to mean “bring your own basket”, with reference to group picnics. A basket would of course often include alcoholic beverages, but this is not believed to have been the primary focus of the term. Later, “BYO” (Bring Your Own) emerged to allow guests to bring their own bottle or bottles of wine.

Here on the Jersey Shore Bring Your Own Bottle restaurants represent an incredible windfall to the conscientious diner. Many are exceptionally fine dining establishments to which you may tote along an exceptional vintage of your own choosing and match it up with superior cuisine. This gives us the best of both worlds fine dining and favorite perfectly matched wines.

If you are a relative newcomer to the world of wine, a visit to a BYOB restaurant could seem to you to be a major inconvenience. Not only does it necessitate a trip to your local wine shop, and the time and trouble spent scouring the shelves for what you hope is an appropriate vintage; it also represents the mental anguish of wondering whether your selection(s) will ultimately be considered beneath contempt by some restaurant lackey. But as you become more adept at deciphering oenological esoterica and, perhaps, even begin to lay away a few bottles in that unused hall closet or cellar, your fears will undoubtedly dissipate. In the meantime, console yourself with the fact that you are saving your hard earned dollars by frequenting a bring your own restaurant.

There is only one rule of thumb to consider: Choose a wine that will be compliment both your food and your surroundings. Fine restaurants call for equally fine wines or, more simply put just bring a good wine.

The rules for wine pairing have relaxed a bit, but the fact remains that certain flavors of food and wine mix better together than others. When pairing food and wine, the goal is synergy and balance. While it isn’t unheard of to have a white wine with meat or a red wine with fish or seafood, you don’t want to serve a very strong tasting wine with a delicate entree (think Cabernet Sauvignon with sole), or the other way around. The wine and the food should complement each other, not battle against each other. One way to decide is to remember what some experts recommend, “Simple wines with complex foods…complex wines with simple foods.”

When in doubt about your menu choices, bring  two bottles, one white and one red. This is particularly important when you’re not quite sure where your taste buds may lead, or when you’re dining at an exceptionally fine restaurant. When you tote along two bottles you are not only increasing the spectrum of gastronomic possibilities, you are also serving notice that you take both food and wine seriously. Like it or not, whether purchased on site or ferried across the threshold, wine makes a statement, a statement that restauranteurs are quick to pick up.

I often bring two of the bottle I plan on drinking with my meal. No, not because I plan on drinking more, but in case the first bottle opened is tainted in some way, corked, oxidized or displays some other fault. There’s nothing worse than having only one bottle and discovering it’s gone off.  Of course a stelvin enclosure (screw cap) or zork top will greatly decrease the odds of a bad bottle. (Yes, good quality wines can be found in these easier to open bottles) .

BYO is not only affordable, it’s also a guarantee that you’ll get to drink your very favorite wine or beer, no matter where you are.

Above all don’t stress over the perfect food and wine pairing. The best pairing is good food, good wine and good company. Friends and loved ones are the most important ingredients—we’ll drink to that!

Simple Rules for Pairing wines with your meal

  • Wine drunk by itself tastes different than wine with food, because wine acts on food similar to the way a spice does. Acids, tannins and sugars in the wine interact with the food to provide different taste sensations.
  • A good match will bring out the nuances and enhance the flavors and unique characteristics of both the food and the wine. Remember that if you are having more than one wine at a meal, it’s customary to serve lighter wines before full-bodied ones. Dry wines should be served before sweet wines unless a sweet flavored dish is served early in the meal. In that case, match the sweet dish with a similarly sweet wine. Lower alcohol wines should be served before higher alcohol wines.
  • Balance flavor intensity. Pair light-bodied wines with lighter food and fuller-bodied wines with heartier, more flavorful, richer and fattier dishes.
  • Consider how the food is prepared. Delicately flavored foods — poached or steamed — pair best with delicate wines. It’s easier to pair wines with more flavorfully prepared food — braised, grilled, roasted or sautéed. Pair the wine with the sauce, seasoning or dominant flavor of the dish.
  • Match flavors. An earthy Pinot Noir goes well with mushroom soup and the grapefruit/citrus taste of Sauvignon Blancs goes with fish for the same reasons that lemon does.
  • Balance sweetness. But, beware of pairing a wine with food that is sweeter than the wine, although I do occasionally like dark chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon. I also like chocolate with a beautiful single malt. Come to think of it, I like chocolate with just about anything.
  • Consider pairing opposites. Very hot or spicy foods — some Thai dishes, or hot curries for example — often work best with sweet desert wines like sauternes, or reislings or torrontes from argentina. Opposing flavors can play off each other, creating new flavor sensations and cleansing the palate.
  • Match by geographic location. Regional foods and wines such as French fare with French wine, Spanish food with Spanish wine, having developed together over time, often have a natural affinity for one another.
  • Adjust food flavor to better pair with the wine. Sweetness in a dish will increase the awareness of bitterness and astringency in wine, making it appear drier, stronger and less fruity. High amounts of acidity in food will decrease awareness of sourness in wine and making it taste richer and mellower — sweet wine will taste sweeter. Bitter flavors in food increase the perception of bitter, tannic elements in wine. Sourness and salt in food suppress bitter taste in wine. Salt in food can tone down the bitterness and astringency of wine and may make sweet wines taste sweeter.
  • If a dish is acidic — citrus or vinegar — then an acidic wine would be appropriate, although a lightly acidic dish can be balanced with a lightly sweet wine. Acidic white wines are Sauvignon Blanc and most sparkling wines. Acidity in wine cuts saltiness, so sparkling wines generally pair with salty foods better than less tart wines such as most red wines.
  • Tannins from the skins and sometimes stems of grapes and the oak barrels used for aging cause the bitter or astringent aftertaste in some red wines. Tannins mellow with age and are one of the components that add complexity to a mature wine. Foods with a prominent salty, sour or bitter taste will make a wine seem sweeter and less tannic. Bitter red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel and Syrah.
  • Alcohol gives wine a sense of body and weight, the higher the alcohol, the more full-bodied the wine. Rich meat, fish or chicken dishes that include cream are well suited to full-bodied wines (13–15 percent alcohol) whereas light, simply prepared and flavored dishes pair better with low alcohol wines (7–10 percent).

Seven is the Magic Number for this Feast


While other Christian families throughout the world celebrate the Christmas Eve meal with various meats, for Italian families, the dinner is all about the fish – seven fishes to be exact. The Feast of the Seven Fishes (festa dei sette pesci) is a celebration and commemoration of the wait for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus, and it is one of Italy’s most famous traditions. In Italian, the meal is known as La Vigilia (the vigil) or Vigilia di Natale.
Apparently, The “Feast of the Seven Fishes” started in  southern Italy and/or the island of Sicily, where the tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence—in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products—on Fridays and specific holy days like Christmas Eve. As no meat or butter could be used, observant Catholics would eat fish, typically fried in oil.
For many Italians, and those of Italian descent, the delight of gathering around a bountiful, beautifully laid table, the thrill of indulging in unforgettable regional dishes, and the convivial holiday atmosphere are enough to inspire anyone who loves a celebration or a good feast.
Although the dinner is traditionally celebrated with seven types of fish and seafood,  there may be eight, or even thirteen specific fishes that are considered traditional.
No one is certain about the significance for servng seven fishes, and I found several explanations for the significance of 7. In many societies the number 7 is a Magic Number and is considered a number for perfection. The theory being that the traditional Biblical number for divinity is three, and for Earth is four, and the combination of these numbers, seven, represents God on Earth, or Jesus Christ. Another explanation states it took God seven days to create the world, hence seven fishes. Some Romans claim it represented the Seven Hills of Rome. Then there was the theory that the seven fishes symbolize the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, along with the seven sins.  Whatever the true explanation, the basic number is always seven and that remains the starting point.
For La Vigilia, there are no requirements as to which types of fish are served. In Italy, eel is regarded as a delicacy and is often, along with  capon and turkey, the few non-fishes on the table.
Popular fishes that are eaten on this special holiday are prepared versions of calamari, oysters, scallops, whiting, smelts, squid, conch, mussels, anchovies, sardines, clams, and shrimp. The most famous dish is southern Italy’s Baccalà (salted cod fish). The meal usually begins with antipasto, the Italian equivalent of hors d´oeuvres. This can include a variety of cold foods such as cheeses and raw or marinated vegetables, baked or fried kale patties, baked goods, and homemade wine.
In southern towns  La Vigilia Napoletana celebrations include “drowned broccoli rabe” (also known as Christmas Broccoli), a choice of vermicelli with either garlic and olive oil, anchovies, or clams, roasted or fried eel, followed by other fish dishes of your choosing, and a caponata di pesce (fish salad) to wrap up the dinner portion of the meal. Of course that doesn’t mean lobsters, crawfish, tuna, snapper, sea trout, salmon, aren’t included — it depends on family tradition. Somehow, capon and turkey (my family’s traditional Christmas bird) is included on the menu—chicken of the sea?—probably for the non-fish eating members of the family.
Traditional sweets (i dolci) are also important items for the Menù di Natale (Christmas menu) in Italy. These desserts include: struffoli (Neapolitan honey pastry); cenci (fried pastry ribbons sprinkled with powered sugar); dried figs, candied almonds, chestnuts, and marzipan fruits and vegetables.
Okay enough about the food, what about the wine? With all these dishes what wines do you serve?
Well, everyone knows Italian pinot grigio and Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio is a delicious place to start. This light yellow almost sandy-colored wine has the typical intense nose of pear and candied fruit. Extended lees ageing gives softness and roundness to the fresh palate. The noticable acid and phenolic finish provide impeccable balance and plenty of character emphasizing the dry, full-bodied taste and round finish. Tiefenbrunner makes a good companion to appetizers, asparagus, kale, seafood, poultry, pork or veal.
Want something different? Try Terredora Dipaolo Greco Di Tufo. This white from Campania has an interesting nose, offering ripe citrus fruits and hints of apricot, apple, and peach with a light, spicy mineral edge. It is full-bodied, soft,with balanced acidity carrying the fruity flavors through to a long, intense finish.  It is ideal with hors d’oeuvres, shellfish, grilled fish dishes, salmon and tuna, buffalo mozzarella, chicken and cold meat.
For a delightful blend of four Italian varietals: 50% Grechetto, 30% Procanico, 10% Verdello and 10% Canaiolo bianco, try Ruffino Orvieto Classico. This straw-colored white wine is fresh, crisp, and delicately fragrant with flowery notes of meadow and clover accompanied by fruity hints of green apples and a slightly nutty aroma. It is dry, crisp, and fresh, with earthy flavors and a suggestion of pear, fading to a crisp and balanced finish. Orvieto is excellent for antipasti, soups, flounder carpaccio, scallops,  seafood, and white meats. Serve it chilled rather than ice cold, to allow its subtle flavors to blossom.
Another classic is Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi Classico. The funny-shaped bottle was created  in 1953 for Fazi Battaglia by the architect Angonio Maiocchi. This Verdicchio is a bright medium-straw color with brisk scents of Granny Smith apples, nearly ripe pears and hazelnuts with a few petroleum aromas reminiscent of German Riesling. The freshness carries over to the palate–with excellent acidity to match up with a pasta sauce, spinach, lemon and garlic. Perfect for stuffed calamari in tomato sauce, deep fried calamari, linguine with clam or lobster sauce, cod fish balls in tomato sauce or kale patties.
Soave Wine is one of Italy’s old time favorites, and Si Soave Italia 2008 should become a classic tradition. Lively, fresh, and smooth, this is ideal for nearly any occasion. Similar in style to a Pinot Grigio, Soave has less of an acidic kick and comes off smoother with flavors of apple, citrus and tropical fruit.  Made mostly with Garganega and rounded out with some Trebbiano, Si Soave is ideal for Octopus or Scungilli salads, salmon and tuna dishes. Drink liberally with an arrugula salad, Italian salumi or even a thin crust margarita pizza!

For oysters and oyster shooters, I heartily recommend my all-time favorite, Domaine du Baumard Clos du Papillion Savennieres. Yes, it is French from the Loire but—the beautiful minerality and citrusy flavors make it deliciously delectable with shellfish. It is a little pricey, but for shellfish and crustaeceans, it’s well worth the price.

Okay, you’re not a white wine drinker, what sort of reds will work with this feast?

My all-time goes-with-everything Italian red is Cantele Salice Salentino Reserva. This red wine is from Puglia, in Southern Italy, and is a blend of 85% Negroamaro and 15% Malvasia Nera. The color is ruby red with dark glints of garnet. This wine is medium-bodied withbeautiful aromas of dark cherries, black tea and spice. This luscious wine explodes with fresh acidity that is keenly balanced by well-developed tannins and flavors of fresh dark berries and caramelized plums and hints of cedar. This wine pairs well with any aged cheese or any dish with tomato sauce, eggplant, kale, spicy peppers and capers! Perfect for pasta and meat sauce, as well as a goat stew and any red meat dish. This red is ready to drink immediately or will keep for 3-4 years It is an excellent quality “spaghetti wine”!

For something a little more classic, Rocca delle Macie’s Chianti Classico fits the bill.  This bright ruby-red Chianti is a blend of  blend of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Merlot. There are mature cherry and berry fruit aromas. The flavors are rich and well-balanced with ripe berry fruit. This red is a perfect compliment to a wide range of entrées including beef, chicken, drowned broccoli, kale, eggplant, and pasta in flavorful sauces.

Another Italian favorite is Zenato Valpolicella Classico.  A blend of 80% Corvina, 10% Rondinella and 10% Sangiovese from the Valpolicella Classico area, this ruby-red wine delivers super clean aromas and flavors of blackberry, with a hint of licorice. This red is medium-bodied with a crisp palate and a fresh, fruity finish. It’s dry and robust on the palate with an excellent, velvety texture, offering fleshy aromas of wild berries, currant, black cherry and spice, framed by intriguing hints of chocolate. A perfect wine to pair with stuffed calamari in tomato sauce, stuffed-baked lobsters, deep fried fish/shrimp/scallops, linguine with clam or lobster sauce.

Here’s a hint to try for the salty Baccalà and anchovies that you may not have tried before: Fino sherry. It is a beautiful combination.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a tradition that has existed since ancient times, and one which will surely continue. Life changes, but for Italian people throughout the world, this is one tradition whose religious and cultural significance outweighs everything else. Have a merrry!!!

It’s Tailgating Season!


To those not familiar with tailgating, I’d like to explain that it is a pre-game ritual that typically revolves around barbeque, a little loud music, flying frisbees, and some very enthusiastic sports fans. Traditionally this activity also involves the consumption of alcoholic beverages such as beer or mixed drinks and the grilling of various meat products.

These festivities, along with delicious food and a vast sea of friends in beautiful team colors all turn a large otherwise empty parking lot into a big, fun-loving neighborhood. Around here, most tailgating begins at Giants Stadium and continues to other venues. Except for the “The Hunt” that used to be held in Middletown, Monmouth County, where people did consume wine, wine lovers were definitely in the minority at tailgating events. There was always a lot of beer. Non-beer drinkers like me had to “settle for” soda or water or nothing. Those were dark days for wine drinkers. Thankfully, there’s been a big turnaround and we wine drinkers aren’t subjected to going without a beverage of choice for lack of a corkscrew.

Today, more and more tailgating fans are raising a glass, proudly toasting the team with burly Zins and strapping Cabs. I like to think it’s the new perfect pairing: wine and tailgating.
But pairing wine with tailgating means we need to be certain our wine complements the traditional tailgate party staples: hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, cole slaw and potato salad, or foie gras, roasted quail, caviar and salad nicoise…or whatever dish you find easy to prepare and eat on site.

Be Guided by the Weather

Choosing wines for tailgating should be guided by the weather. As the weather turns nippier nothing feels better than to sip a big heart-warming red. Besides, the food is more robust and the dark red complexity is perfect for good food and friendly gatherings. I know, most of the foods you might choose to serve at your tailgating party, such a burgers, hot dogs or sausages, might go better with a red wine than a white.
When I provide the wine, I take both red and white. It never hurts to serve crisp, brightly flavored whites for refreshing results (and your favorite white wine drinker). For the red, I look for something easy to drink, affordable, and something that will go with a variety of foods.

Here’s a helpful hint: red wines also benefit from chilling. Softer varieties like Zinfandel, Grenache or Tempranillo taste delicious cooler and even more tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignons need a light chill to reduce the temperature to a more civilized “room temperature” (56°).  Just don’t over chill, as the tannins will turn the wine bitter.

Make it Flavorful
Whether your wine is full-, light-, or medium-bodied, the wine should be well concentrated. Wimpy wines will disappear when paired with strong-flavored and smoky dishes. Wonderfully tasting grilled foods allow complex wines to shine, but can easily overshadow a less powerful one. Definitely go for the rich and complex, with a long finish, to go with a powerful BBQ ribs dish.

Paringa Sparkling Shiraz isn’t a high-brow wine, but it still tastes very good and more importantly it’s a lot of fun. It is truly a different wine that is a great conversation starter and will be remembered. The wine itself is a bit sweet (20% residual sugar), but it doesn’t seem to be overly sweet. It tickles your palate with bubbles that burst with raspberry and blueberry flavors. The tannins are creamy and smooth, giving this wine a and your toasts bit more sophistication.

Make it Fruity
Fruity and even off-dry wines can taste very dry and succulent when paired with savory smoky dishes like grilled meats and hotdogs. Just be sure that the wine you are serving is sweeter than the entree, condiments, or any added flavoring. Sweet food will make a dry wine taste sour and unappealing.
Try Louis Jadot Beaujolais—a fruity red. This French wine has a musky bouquet of strawberries and salt-water taffy, along with a pleasant weedy scent. Light on the tongue, it has higher acidity than most red wines and for those who like a fruitier wine, this would be a nice choice.
Maybe, you want to impress a few friends with your wine knowledge and try Schlink Haus Red a 100% Dornfelder from Germany. Yes, this semi-sweet red wine is made from the little-known Dornfelder grape. This is a delightfully full-bodied fruity red wine with flavors of blackberries, cherries and chocolate with a hint of citrus. This is a good wine for non-wine drinkers with enough complexity to satisfy the old pro.
This is also where a good fruity white can come into play, like a good riesling. I do like to bring along a riesling or two to any event, basically because they are usually light, fruity, go with anything and are generally lower in alcohol making them, for me at least, the perfect party drink. Hoffman Simon Kabinett Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling 2007 (I know, easy for you to say) is a case in point, at 9% alcohol it provides a focused beam of mineral, along with crunchy apple, peach and citrus. It’s a racy white with good length making it an entirely attractive and characteristic Mosel wine.
Another unique wine that’s extraordinarily food-friendly, especially with spicy foods and the hard to match flavors of ginger, cilantro, chile peppers, mint, and wasabi is Sokol Blosser’s Evolution 9 a blend of nine grapes: Müller-Thurgau, White Riesling, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner. The nine grapes tie together perfectly, creating a smooth, layered white wine that can hold its own or stand up to just about any food pairing you dare to serve. It pairs well, with anything from light salads to the hottest fusion-style cuisine.

Make it Red
White wines are great with many grilled foods, but when in doubt, always reach for red. A good rule of thumb is the darker the food, then the darker the wine, the richer the food then the richer the wine and when in doubt, drink Beaujolais. Chances are the red or black fruit character of these wines will give some punch to a smoky dish, and even the modest tannins of a red can work wonderfully in counteracting the mild bitterness that comes from charring food on the grill.

If you’re not in the mood for Beaujolais, Snap Dragon Red, 2007 from California is a good choice. The aromas include dark scents of spiced plums, coffee, leather, dark chocolate and sweet tobacco. When I drink this, I taste everything from the aroma, especially sweet cherries and tobacco and it is really easy drinking and a great value. I often recommend this wine for burgers or sausage.

Red Truck, 2007 also from California is another red blend favorite for outdoor drinking. The nose is full of dusty scents of black cherries, saddle leather, baby powder, unsweetened chocolate and a hint of cassis.This red blend is dusty and dry, round and smooth, soft and fruity sweet. perfect for grilling. Other good barbecue choices are Malbec, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Zinfandel.

The key thing to remember is that the requirements for a tailgating wine are simple: inexpensive, easy to drink, no major flaws, and save your best wine for a more elegant occasion.

See you at the stadium!

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.