Hamming it up


The most popular Easter meal in North America usually focuses on ham as the main event. Ham an extremely versatile meat that can pairs well with white, rosé, and a few red wines. Ham has delicious, delicate flavors and is almost always salty. In order to balance the saltiness, it is common to add some sweetness to the dish in the form of brown sugar, honey, pineapples, or cloves. 

Modern hams have an inherent sweetness, while traditional hams, like those from Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, are drier and smokier.

The best wines to pair with ham are light, fruity, and, if  red, low in tannins. When in doubt remember that because ham is pink, the wine can be, too—in the form of a dry Rosé.  

The sweetness of the ham and its lighter red-meat flavors make it ideal for Cabernet Franc-based Rosés from the Loire Valley and lighter Pinot Noirs.

If glazed ham is on your menu, lean toward Rieslings, especially a German Kabinett Riesling. The go-to perfect pairing for a baked Southern-style ham is a German Riesling. If you add cloves to your ham, Gewürztraminers makes for a good pairing because it offers up a hint of spiciness. 

For a German Riesling , look for a Josef Leitz Riesling, either Kabinett level or a halb-trocken style. This nice, delicately sweet Riesling with lots of underlying acidity will cut through the richness of the ham, while providing a nice counterpoint to the saltiness.  

If you’d like to try a Gewürztraminer, Gundlach Bundschu Estate from the Sonoma Coast, offers the perfect balance of fruit and spice and is able to perfectly pair with the variety of dishes one might indulge in during the Easter holiday. This Gewürtz is a dry style with bright acidity, that complements the sweet and salty components in a traditional ham dinner.

Both Riesling and Gewürztraminer offer good fruit flavors of of apple and pear, and hints of orange, which pair nicely with the ham and and the abundant acidity of both will counterbalance the pork’s saltiness.

Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir also work well with Easter ham, scalloped potatoes, and other rich foods as they both have enough body to stand up to the food without overwhelming them. 

A lightly oaked Chardonnay is perfect whenserved with pineapple-topped ham. The light oak can match the slight smokiness of the ham and the wine’s fruit flavors will complement the pineapple. 

Glazed ham is synonymous with sweet-and-sour flavors, and Pinot Noir with low tannins and high acid., with a little cherry fruit on the nose and a little spice on the palate would also make a perfect pairing. 

O’Reillys Pinot Noir, Oregon opens with a lovely nose of dried lavender and candied red fruit, with a hint of of forest floor and toasty oak. Bright red cherries fuse with jammy raspberry notes carrying through to a soft finish. Raspberry, loganberry, strawberry – juicy and fresh. Very subtle cinnamon stick accents carry through on the finish. This is a wonderful food-friendly wine with acidity and earthy character that you will come to love.

If you prefer a red wine other than Pinot Noir, to accompany the ham, softer, fruit-driven, less tannic or less acidic wines are the way to go. Since ham’s primary flavor is salt, the key to matching a wine to ham is to put the fruit back in. Remember to  look for the lighter version reds with vibrant fruit flavors and a touch of spice—think American Zinfandels, Barbera wines from the Piedmont region of Italy, Nero d’Avola wines from Sicily and French Beaujolais— all will pair well with ham. 

Speaking of Beaujolais, Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais ‘Vieilles Vignes’  goes with just about everything, thanks to its pleasing fruitiness, low tannins, and vibrant acidity. Vissoux’s Vieilles Vignes cuvée is seriously good wine, without losing any of Beaujolais’s essential fun-to-drink character. 

Wines to Pair with Easter Lamb


Lamb is synonymous with springtime and is another popular Easter entrée. Lamb is characteristically both fatty  and robust in flavor. To stand up to this combination, a big, bold and tannic wine is in order and the tannins found in Cabernets will help cleanse your palate, by cutting through the fatty flavor of this meat, allowing you enjoy the other side dishes of your dinner.

Red wines from the classic varieties are a wonderful, natural match with lamb. But to get the finest wine matching combination, you’ll have to pay close attention to the cut of meat you’ve acquired, how you are going to cook it and with what. Traditionally, lamb shares the table with red Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Côtes du Rhône. Those familiar varieties are tried-and-true pairings, but there are plenty of affordable, lesser-known–and truly delicious–options.

Lamb is traditionally–and symbolically–the main dish at Easter dinner. But most Americans haven’t tried this luscious cut of meat. Lighter, tender lamb meat tastes milder and less gamey, but still delivers a richness that rivals steak. This meat requires a wine that will not swamp and overpower the delicate flavors and texture. This means it is ideal for dry, fruit-forward red wines—if you reach for a full bodied red, you run the risk of ruining your meat.

Cooler climate styles of Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Germany, New Zealand or Oregon offer good value options.

If you’d rather not do red but a fabulous rosé, reach for a weighty rosé such as Tavel or Bandol from the South of France.

If you’re feeling extravagant, a pink, tender lamb and a great vintage rosé Champagne is something everyone must try once, such as the Veuve Clicquot, Rosé, Moet & Chandon, Rosé or Californias sparkler,Schramsberg Vineyards North Coast Brut Rosé.

The most popular cooking style for lamb for Easter is roasted and medium to well-done at that. The meat is fuller in flavor, but not quite as tender; therefore, it can handle a fuller red wine. Bordeaux blends are made for roast lamb. The young Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines of the left bank are fruit forward with a smattering of spiciness and oak. These combine to add an extra dimension to the meat  and the tannin will make the lamb meat feel more tender.

Your choice doesn’t need to be a Bordeaux. A good Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot affordable blend can be found from almost every region. A rich California Cab, like Beaulieu Vineyard’s Cabernet from Rutherford, California is a good pairing.  Lamb is strong in flavor and supports tannic, full-bodied red wines. Whether it is a mild spring day or a little bit chilly, Cabernet Sauvignon is a great option. Other regions with great choices include: Hawkes Bay, New Zealand; Coonawarra and Margaret River, Australia; Stellenbosch, South Africa; Argentina and Chile.

If you’re not keen on Cab, opt for a good Rioja Reserva Tempranillo. Its welcome acidity with hints of berries and balsamic and supple tannins complement the roasted red meat. Plus, the silky mouthfeel makes it a pleasure to drink long after the meal is done.

A roasted bone-in leg of lamb stays extra juicy and looks impressive on the Easter table. The classic garlic-rosemary combination, when paired with an Oregon Pinot Noir  earthy notes in both the food and wine with appear. Roasted lamb offers a much wider variety of wine from which one can choose, including Syrah, Malbec and Brunello. 

If you’ve gone for a shoulder from an older lamb, you’ll be cooking with a lot more fat content on the meat, which holds and seals in the flavor fantastically. You’ll gain a pronounced, gamey flavor to your roast. Tannin, acidity and a little bottle age to draw out secondary flavours in wine are what we are looking for.

A southern Rhône with bottle age would fit the bill, along with muscular Gevrey-Chambertin, Ribera del Duero or a younger Brunello di Montalicino from Tuscany. Brunello needs at least two years in oak and a minimum of four months in bottle, giving the wine the age it needs to compliment the older lamb, the tannin to soften meat and the acidity to cut through the extra layers of fat on show.

We like Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2001. This wine may be on the pricey side, but it is a robust full-bodied wine. There is a beautiful layering of blackberry, currant and cherry over  spicy anise, cedar and toasted oak. There is minerality and a smmokiness that underlies the ripe, unctous fruitiness. Big and rich , there is depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering finish. it is no surprise that  Wine Spectator gave it a score of 93 or that Wine Enthusiast scored it at  91. 

Rack of lamb is always a treat. Add an olive crust and it becomes as refined as a restaurant dish. The briny crunch of the crust fuses into the tender meat and smells phenomenal coming out of the oven. A similar meaty olive scent comes through in an intensely spicy Syrah. Rhône Syrahs are wines with big flavors–black pepper, black fruits–and Syrah can handle the intense savory elements of rack of lamb perfectly.

Super wines for super bowls


It used to be that football and beer were synonymous. Today,  the big major games are for everyone, from hardcore football fanatics to Bowl-day bandwagon hoppers to the I’m-just-here-for-the-commercials-and-halftime crowd. Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about touchdowns and beer ads; it’s about good food, good drink and good company —so it’s not unusual to hear football fans talking about the wines they planning to drink during the game.

Since football get togethers are often meaty with lots of spices and zesty sauces, you will want to have a few bold, fruity reds such as Malbec, Syrah or Zinfandel to balance the flavors of the food. You will also want wines with good acidity to cut through the fat of your manly beefy and meaty dishes. Of course, for the side dishes like veggies and dips, you may want a delicious white and we found a few rich whites with plenty of acitity to stand up to football.
All of the wines on this list are affordable and most are under $15.

Punta Final Malbec

Bodega Renacer Punto Final Malbec Classico 2013,  Mendoza, Argentina
All of the grapes come from Uco Valley. This full-bodied red delivers ripe cherry, plum, black currant and raspberry ganache, with sweet spice notes of black pepper and clove. It offers round intense tannins, good acid and a long medium-weight finish. Perfect with red meat, burgers, flavorful sauces and intense cheeses. Drink now.

 

 

Bogel Old Vine ZinfandelBogle California Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Lodi and Amador County, California
A versatile wine to pair with everything; from rich and unique dishes to your favorite barbecue or weeknight takeout. This soft and lively red shows easygoing cherry, red cranberries, sassafras, pink peppercorns and caramel notes. Rustic and refined, there are hints of a hillside briar patch wafting through the wine, while spicy clove heightens at the finish from the oak aging. Drink now.

 

Charles Smith Boom Boom! SyrahCharles Smith Boom Boom! Syrah 2013, Columbia Valley Washington
A blend of  97% Syrah, 3% Viognier, this is a smooth and polished wine, featuring aromas of fresh picked herbs and wet earth. Rich black cherry, fresh currant and cooked plum character at the center, are followed by hints of tobacco and lavender —finishing with a touch of roasted fig. An explosive dark cherry bomb that pairs wonderfully with lamb dishes, rich meaty stews, chili or slow-roasted pork tenderloin. Drink now.

 

CSM-SyrahChateau Ste. Michelle Syrah 2012, Columbia Valley Washington
This Syrah is blended with a touch of Viognier, Mourvedre and Grenache for layers of flavors. Soft and supple, this jammy Syrah offers pretty raspberry and cherry flavors on a medium-weight frame. Approachabe and fruit-forward this wine has a soft and delightful finish. Excellent with beef, grilled salmon and strongly flavored cheeses. Drink now.

 

5-Guigal CdR redE. Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2011,  Rhône Valley, France
This classic wine blend of 60% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre offers top quality year in year out. Fresh cherry aromas greet you from the glass. Full, round and racy, it wine offers dark red berry fruit flavors with spice and pepper notes. Round and smooth tannins offer a lightly mulled character to the plum and currant fruit, with coffee and roasted mesquite notes on the full long finish. A full-bodied, rich and intensly aromatic with plenty of elegance and finesse due to the well balanced tannins and fruit. Drink now.

 

 

 

M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche RougeM. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche, 2013, Rhône Valley, France
This fresh and balanced blend of Grenache and Syrah gives “Belleruche” an extraordinary richness and complexity. Crafted in a light, soft and perfumy style, it offers tea, mulled spice and supple cherry notes framed by a dusty finish. Excellent with lamb, duck, pork and spicy ribs. Drink now.

 

Altovinium Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013

 

 

Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013, Calatayud, Spain
This 100% Garnacha offers a lovely perfume of spice box, mineral, and wild cherry. This perfectly balanced mix of flavors lends itself to an intensely fruity wine with loads of taste, a smooth texture, and a pure, fruit-filled finish. Pairs well with white and red meats roasted or grilled, big game, meat casseroles and stews, complex sauces, foie gras and legumes or blue and cured cheeses. Drink now.

 

8-Hogue-CSHogue Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington
This Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and complex offering black cherry, spicy oak, cassis, sassafras, and tobacco on the nose. This medium-bodied vibrant red delivers rich black cherry and herb flavors on a sleek frame. Yet, it’s creamy and toasty on the palate, with concentrated flavors of dark cherry and cassis, soft tannins and a silky finish. Pair with roast pork tenderloin, barbecued baby back ribs, or grilled sausages. Drink now.

 

9-4vines chardFour Vines Naked Chardonnay, 2013, Central Coast, California
This is a crisp, concentrated Chardonnay with all its natural acid. Fermented in 100% stainless steel, Naked exhibits apple, white peach, and pear flavors, finishing long with hints of citrus and mineral. This medium- to full-bodied, clean and refreshing white offers a strong Sauvignon-like citrus edge, with notes of lime and lemon. Drink now.

 

 

11-Hogue-ChardHogue Chardonnay, 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington
Light and tangy, with tropical fruit aromas and a hint of lime on the finish, this wine is a blend of  96% Chardonnay, 1% Viognier, 1% Muscat Canelli, 1% Semillon and 1% Chenin Blanc. Classicly balanced, the wine offers spicy and rich aromas of nutmeg, pear, pineapple and creamy butterscotch. On the palate, the wine is complex and balanced with vanilla cream, toast and fresh, crisp apple. The Chardonnay is an excellent match for crab salad, roast chicken, pork tenderloin, or quiche.

 

11-CSM-ChardChateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2013, Columbia Valley Washington
This is a fresh, soft style of Chardonnay with bright apple and sweet citrus fruit character with subtle spice and oak nuances. Fresh and light, this Chardonnay deftly balances apple, citrus and spice flavors on a soft frame. A pleasurable, food-friendly Chardonnay, it pairs beautifully with salmon, scallops, crab, poultry and creamy pasta dishes. Drink now.

 

 

Cool Sippers for Spring 2014


Lately, the question that I’ve been hearing from friends and customers is “What’s drinking for Spring 2014? What should I be drinking?”

Comfort food and classic cookware are making big classy comebacks. Chefs are taking down-home cooking upscale. Humble vegetables like beets and turnips are taking root on Michelin-starred restaurant menus from soups to dessert. It’s a good thing I like beets and turnips!

From my seat at the wine bar, I’ve notice five interesting trends and they are all good. Yes, there are new wines on the market, old wines are being rediscovered by a new generation of wine lovers and they are all waiting for us to take a sip.

First, more people will be discovering more affordable wines from different regions

The demand for established big hitters from Burgundy and Bordeaux continues to raise the prices and make it harder for regular every day consumers to afford them. Because of this many consumers are willing to try new wines from different countries, and discovering tremendous bargains. Portugal and Spain have had strong vintages and weak economies, and they have some great offerings on local wine shelves. Old world countries unfamiliar to the American wine drinker—Croatia, Slovenia and Bulgaria—are modernizing their vineyards and wineries to better compete in the world market. In South America, Argentina and Chile are producing new premium wines at great values. But will Brazil be the next trendy South American wine region? These regional shifts seem  driven by a genuine interest in more varietals and styles as a new generation of wine drinkers reveals itself to be more adventurous than previous generations.

  • El Coto Crianza, Rioja, Spain 
    El Coto de Rioja, in Oyón, was founded in 1970 by a group of wine makers committed to creating a new type of Rioja. Today, El Coto de Rioja Crianza is one of the most popular wines in all of Spain and one of the top-selling Rioja’s in the world. Dusty and leathery, it’s packed with the sour cherries and rustic aromas that are part of the classic Rioja profile. Made from 100% Tempranillo it is positively ancient in style. Basically, it’s earthy, with seductive cigar box, spice and herbal aromas balanced by plenty of scented red fruit to round out the rough edges. This medium-bodied red offers up a vanilla and leather-laden wine that has layers of fresh raspberries and cherry fruit flavors, cedar and spice with a wonderfully long, soft, yet earthy finish—the essence of fine traditional Rioja. I love it, but then, I love Spanish wines. If you’ve never had an old-school Spanish wine, I suggest you at least give it a try— it’s always a good value!
  • Bodega Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda Malbec, Argentina
    Established in 1901 by Leoncio Arizu, Bodega Luigi Bosca is the oldest family owned and run winery in Argentina and it is being managed by the third and fourth generations of the Arizu family. The winery owns seven vineyards and more than 700 hectares, located throughout the province of Mendoza. The Wine Spectator gave this little gem a solid 87 points and described it as “Toasty with plum, vanilla and mocha notes followed by a medium-weight, slightly firm, smoky finish.”  This intense red wine could be considered an amazing bargain with its fresh aromas of morello cherries and spices wafting from the glass. It is a well-structured, velvety wine with balanced tannins as a result of three-months spent aging in French oak casks. It will be hard to find another Malbec with such richness and depth at  this price.

New World Chardonnay revival

I’m hearing that Spring 2014 will be the Spring of Chardonnay. It looks like ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) may finally be falling by the wayside this year. Producers seem excited about Chardonnay, believing they have the right clones and vine age to produce superior fruit and leaner, cooler climate wines. Producers are limiting the use of new oak barrels to amplify the expression of fruit and “terroir” while reducing that huge “oaky” flavor. If you’re an oak lover, don’t worry, the oak won’t disappear completely, subtle use of oak will continue to play its part in the best Chardonnay. Look to see more aromatic and elegant styles from cooler coastal and higher altitude vineyards. These revived Chardonnays have the wow factor that has eluded us in recent years.
Here are two Chardonnays with an elegant expression of fruit and richness:

  • Josh Cellars Chardonnay, California
    Sometimes you just want an affordable, tasty Chardonnay and this wine from Josh Cellars delivers plenty of bang for the buck. Josh Cellars is the value line from Napa winery Joseph Carr. A blend of tank and barrel fermented fruit, this bright Chardonnay opens with inviting stone fruit aromas of ripe white peaches, apricot and pear accented by tropical pineapple and delicate notes of honeysuckle and white rose petals. On the palate, you’ll find lush peach, pear, citrus and tropical fruit in a creamy-textured, medium-bodied wine supported by just enough citrusy acidity.  Balanced, and round, the flavor profile is gentle — ripe citrus summer fruit, melon, peach and pear with hints of apple, light oak, and apricot aligned with a touch of vanilla and smoke. This Chardonnay is excellent with food , very enjoyable and a crowd pleaser. Serve it cool, not cold for the greatest benefits.
  • Joseph Carr Dijon Clone Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
    Winemaker Joseph Carr says he uses 100% French barrel selections and separated lots by  individual Dijon clones. The wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lies (on the yeast) with full malolactic fermentation. Indeed, he has produced a balanced, luscious and opulent Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast region. The aromas showcase  green apples, vanilla, butter, lemon tart, a touch of apricot  and green pepper. There are light notes of oak and yeasty brioche behind the luscious fruit.  French oak aging imparts oaky smoke vanilla flavors. This is a classy Californian in a very Burgundian style and it will be perfect for any meal. This is one wine you can’t  afford to pass up!

Champagne isn’t the only Bubbly of choice

With bubblies, rising prices for domaine and estate Champagnes from established regions have caused us to reconsider our choices and to explore different regions. Although spending on Champagne has picked up, most consumers are not opting to spend the big bucks for every day occasions. Consequently, Prosecco, Cava and other sparkling wines are  gaining market share. Prosecco, made only from the white grape Glera, has embedded itself in the American wine vocabulary, palate and budget.

  • Riondo Spago Nero Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
    As with most Prosecco, Riondo Spago Nero is made using the Charmat method, meaning it is a first-rate wine to drink young and fresh. In general, Prosecco often has lower alcohol levels and is best consumed within 2 years of release. This 100% Prosecco (Glera) version is a personal favorite and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate agrees stating, “This effusively fruity, light-bodied offering offers terrific floral notes, persistent effervescence, and a clean, delicate finish. It is an ideal apéritif to enjoy over the next year.— 90 points.”  It is effusively fruity and light-bodied, not to mention delicious. This amazing little wine is a perfectly inexpensive sparkler, so if you love bubbles you can splurge a lot more often.
  • Veuve de Vernay Brut, France
    Veuve du Vernay Brut is a crisp, clean and refreshing sparkler from the Bordeaux region of France. This charming little wine is made from a grape called Ugni Blanc (or Trebbiano in Italy). It’s bright and zesty with hints of apple and pear on the nose and lots of fine velvety smooth bubbles. The flavors are very much apple and pear with a hint of toast. For the price, it’s perfect to serve at any celebration, as an apéritif or as a compliment to lighter dishes.

Sustainable, organic or biodynamic wines are becoming more numerous and mainstream

The Natural Wine movement has highlighted the need for greater sustainability across all wine production due to their obvious popularity with consumers. Actually, it seems the younger generation of wine drinkers are not asking “are you organic and sustainable?” But “why aren’t you?” Because of this, more and more wines will be labeled sustainable, organic or biodynamic as these eco-friendly vineyard practices gain popularity with growers and consumers.

  • Barone Fini Pinot Grigio 2012 Valdadige DOC
    I know a lot of Pinot Grigio lovers and this Trentino-Alto Adige winery follows all the strict guidelines of the Italian DOC while practicing sustainable agricultural techniques. The average vine here runs between 25 to 30 years of age and these older vines provide crisp, dry flavors of roasted almonds and surprising concentration of apple. Soft, round apple and pear fruit fills the mouth with ripe, juicy flavors. The finish is long with ripe apples and lychee nuts. This is a fresh Pinot Grigio and it is meant to be enjoyed with friends as an apéritif, or with a light meal.
  • Deep Sea Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California
    Deep Sea Pinot Noir is comes from Rancho Arroyo Grande in the Central Coast region of California, just thirteen miles from the Pacific Ocean. Most of the fruit for this Pinot Noir comes from the Solomon Hills Vineyard in Santa Maria, California. This Pinot greets you with a wonderfully smoky nose, hints of vanilla and caramel notes. Barrel-aged for 17 months in French oak, this wine is soft and silky with classic flavors of cherry, rose petal, and exotic spices.  Light and balanced, with delicious fruit, elegant oak notes and earth, this wine pairs well with many cuisines, or can be enjoyed on its own.

It’s in the Blends

Red blends have become a thing. Blends are perfect for when you don’t know what type of grape you want to drink or what to pair with your meal. A blend of several varietals will offer a bit more flavor, round out some rough edges and help compliment the meal. You really can’t go too terribly wrong with a blend. The easy-to-grasp concept, modest price points and flavor profiles can add a new dimension to your cellar and they can be found from every region.

  •  Apothic Red Winemaker’s Blend, California
    This is an inexpensive blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Merlot from California. It’s often a favorite at wine tastings. Think of it as a berry fruit bomb with a cornucopia of flavor. Plum and blackberry aromas are quickly followed by notes of vanilla, spice and a bit of maple. The flavors are a melding of juicy mixed berries, cherry cola, brown sugar and spice that give way to a finish of lingering chocolate and maple syrup. An intriguing wine that will take you on a full flavor rollercoaster ride. It pairs nicely with barbecue and pizza, but many love it on its own.
  •  Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Côtes du Rhône Rouge, Rhône Valley, France
    “Les Abeilles” is a tasty Rhône blend of 33% Grenache, 34% Syrah and 33% Mourvèdre. Named after the honey bees inhabiting the vineyards, this wine entices with intriguing aromas of plum, ripe dark fruit and a little licorice. This medium-bodied, velvety red has smooth blackberry and black cherry flavors with spice against a backdrop of smooth, silky tannins. It offers a dry and velvety finish. A great bargain.
  • Di Majo Norante Ramitello, Biferno Rosso, Molise, Italy
    I love a good Italian wine and this blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Aglianico is one of them. It begins with a lovely aroma of dark berry fruit, smoke, menthol and maraschino cherry. The wine tastes delicious with the berry fruit continuing from the bouquet as well as some added flavor of dried herbs, licorice and leather. This is a smooth, silky soft wine with very nice balance. The finish is dry and delicious with some lingering smoky notes.
  • Primus, Colchagua Valley, Chile
    Primus is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah and Merlot from Colchagua (pronounced  kohl-CHA-gwa) Valley which has been dubbed the “Napa Valley of Chile.” This blend is a big, full-bodied wine. The ripe red and black berry fruit aromas are layered with exotic spice. You’ll also note the telltale “Chilean” menthol and eucalyptus on the nose. Blackcurrant, blueberry, ripe cherry, chocolate, toasted oak, vanilla, pepper, anise, and rich chocolate flavors create a dense, warm, spicy, leathery, dark-fruited lovely wine with mouth-drying tannins.

There you have it, a dozen wines for spring 2014. Enjoy!

September wines


Often I’m asked about what wine is mandatory to stock for late summer going into fall?

Many people incorrectly assume that warm weather wines must whites and only be whites, but, trust me, warm weather wines come in all colors and flavors, including my perennial favorite, Rosé.

I love Rosés, in my book, you can’t go wrong with Rosé. Often made from high-acid, mineral-driven grapes, they tend to go well with summer-fresh produce and are great to drink with or while you’re waiting for your food to arrive. Another plus for Rosé is it makes a good transition into fall’s cooler climate and pairs beautifully with root vegetables.

There are many beautiful dry and crisp Rosés, the best known seem to come from Provence, in Southern France. One of my favorites from this region has recently undergone a name change by the new winery owners. Not only has this wine changed names, it now sports a new bottle shape as well. Once known as Chateau Miraval Pink Floyd because the legendary rock group Pink Floyd recorded a portion of their famed 1979 album The Wall at Miraval’s private recording studio.

New owners, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, took care of the old vines, terraced vineyards, and organic farming that form the basis for the salmon-hued Chateau Miraval, Cotes de Provence Rosés “Pitt & Jolie”, 2012. This refined and elegant full-bodied Rosé is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, offering pure flavors of dried red berry, red cherry, honeydew and tangerine, with a focused finish layered with flint and spice notes. (Around $20)

Another delicious Rosé from Provence is Chateau Beaulieu Coteaux d’Aix-En-Provence Rose 2012. Situated in the town of Rognes, Chateau Beaulieu’s 494-acre vineyard lies in the heart of on old volcanic crater at an altitude of 1300 feet. This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah. Each grape variety is vinified separately in stainless steel tanks to preserve its natural character and is aged two to three months before blending.
Chateau Beaulieu offers a subtle, yet expressive bouquet of red currants, wild strawberry with notes of juicy ripe peaches and pear. The crisp fruit flavors echo the nose. This is a balanced, elegant wine excellent as an aperitif and pairing with grilled fish, crustaceans, and fruit-based desserts. Serve slightly chilled. ( Around $12)

I can never pass up a Spanish Rosé and a current favorite is: Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Rosado 2012 from Rioja, Spain, 2012. This pink Rioja  offers a great value and can be found under $12 in most shops. A blend of 85% Tempranillo and 15% Garnacha, this wine offers aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, rose petals and a very slight hint of licorice. The flavors of this fresh wine follow suit, there is a balance of red berry fruit, acidity, alcohol and a very generous finish. This wine makes a match for white meat (chicken and pork), vegetables, pasta and a variety of cold cuts.

To transition into fall’s cooler weather and darker reds, there are two regions that offer astounding values: Chianti and Rioja.

Starting with Chianti, a region in Tuscany, you’ll find the term “Chianti” is a broad catch-all phrase that doesn’t convey the range of styles offered today. The old straw-clad fiasco bottle that held shrill, acidic Chianti is long gone and in it’s place you’ll find some wines with character and great values.

One such wine is Antinori Chianti Superiore Santa Cristina 2011. I enjoy most of the wines made by this producer and this one, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot is a good value running around $15 (or less).

Santa Cristina was originally introduced in 1946 as a Chianti Classico, but with the passage of the 1984 DOCG laws requiring lower vineyard yields, Chianti Classico grapes became so complex and rich that they required more aging than this fruity fresh wine needed to maintain its style and character. In 1987, Santa Cristina moved away from the Chianti Classico designation, and with the 1994 vintage Antinori began including 10% Merlot to the blend to add soft, open fruit nuances to the wine.

Antinori Chianti Superiore Santa Cristina 2011 is a classic, ruby-red, well-structured Chianti, offering aromas of red berry fruit (red currant and cherry), with vanilla and floral hints of violets. As the wine breathes ,whiffs of vanilla from the oak aging waft from the glass. The medium-bodied palate is well-balanced and complex, with sweet tannins and ripe red fruit notes upfront, followed by typical spicy sensations from the oak palate and more savory flavors lingering on the finish.

For me, when it comes to red, Rioja continues to offer the best values in ready-to-drink, age-able wines. At a tasting earlier this year, I absolutely fell in love with Vivanco Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Reserva—my tasting notes had five exclamation points,

For just under $20, you get a deep, dark cherry red wine. The grapes come from vineyards in Briones and Haro, Rioja Alta, where the average age of the vines is 35 years. With aromas of spicy oak, this wine has everything I and any Rioja fan would expect: mature black plum and red cherry followed by some balsamic and eucalyptus notes. There is a wonderful balance and blending of the aromas and flavors—from the oaky toffee elements in the nose (vanilla and marshmallow), to the long-lasting black cherry, sweet currant, dried herbs, mushrooms, and a minerally touch of limestone that race across your taste buds. This wine has intensity and balance, soft, round tannins, and a long finish with hints of toast and licorice. If possible, decant before serving.

Both of these wines are perfect with appetizers, any cheese, pizza, root vegetables and red and grilled meat. To bring out their soft fruitiness, try chilling them for about 20 minutes before serving.

There you have my five delicious finds to take us from summer’s heat to the beginning of fall.

Hearty Winter Wines


When the temperature dips below freezing, it’s the perfect time to stay indoors and seek the warmth and comfort of our favorite winter treats. Whether it’s your special chili, the slow-cooked crockpot  beef stew, a prime rib roast or braised short ribs that fall off the bone with barely a touch, winter comfort foods aren’t wimpy!
Winter meals need wines that will stand up to them. Sauvignon Blanc with subtle lemon will fade to nothingness when served alongside spicy chili with cheese. Now is the time to think rich and powerful: luscious Cabernet Sauvignon, robust Syrah, a powerhouse Petite Sirah or a zingy Zinfandel. It makes perfect sense to pair certain wines with classic cold weather staples.

First up is Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the considered “king of reds”, and it is definitely one sought by wine collectors. It’s famous for its role in traditional Old World Bordeaux wines such as Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Latour, and Château Margaux, as well as New World wines from California like Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, Colgin—some of the most sought after wines in the world.

Basically, a typical Cabernet posesses dark fruit (think plum, cassis, blackberry, boysenberry) aromas and flavors. What sets this wine apart from other reds is the earthy, vegetal nuances and sweet green pepper aromas that appear in the bouquet and add to the wine’s complexity. Because Cab spends more time in oak than most wines, the oak-derived aromas are deep and integrated, including vanilla, coffee, chocolate, toast, butterscotch—making for a deep, dark, complex wine.

As far as a food pairing, the classic one is steak. Beef. Think “Cab and cow”—a good fillet mignon seared just right with the perfect Cabernet is almost unbeatable.
Cabernet Sauvignon has a reputation for being an expensive wine. Fortunately, you don’t have to mortgage the house to buy a good Cab.

Root 1: This Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon made by the Viña Ventisquero winery has highly concentrated lush fruit flavors born of a hot, dry climate. It’s a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. The description on the back of the label is accurate, “rich red wine with black currant, mocha & cherry flavors”. This wine pours a dark ruby and has aromas of black cherry, plum, and mocha.  Easy-drinking   it offers flavors of cherry, blackberry, and a touch of oak.  It is full-bodied, with medium tannins and acidity. Around $10.

14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon: This one is a must try for cab lovers who value supple tannins. This Washington State wine celebrates the spirit of the wild horses (actually ponies) in the hills of the Columbia river valley. The blend is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and a few other select red varieties added for good measure. Aromas of allspice, cherries and oak meld with the distinctive Washington State flavors of chocolate, mocha and cherries. to make an easily drinkable, velvety wine with a long, soft finish. This wine is a gem at around $12.

Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: This Cabernet Sauvignon explodes with dark red fruit (black cherry, plum and black current), smoke, licorice and tar aromas. The blend is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, and it’s sleek, elegant and refined. The flavors begin with soft black currant, blueberry and black cherry, balanced with a backbone of acidity with hints of red currant, red cherry and blackberry pie and end with subtle touches of earth and cedar. This is an incredible wine! Around $75.

Another great winter choice is Syrah, it’s flavorful and it has its origins in France’s Rhône Valley. This wine is unmistakable, with notes of cured meats, smoke, coffee, blueberry and iron oxide. Syrahs need flavorful food. This is a wonderful pairing for everything sheep—such as a leg of lamb, lamb stew or lamb riblets. If you’re a vegetarian, try some braised Shitake mushrooms with a little savory and thyme. If you want a traditional Rhône Valley wine, look for Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, or St. Joseph. For a more new world flavor, opt for something from California’s Central Coast or Australia (where they call it Shiraz).

McManis Family Vineyards Syrah 2011: This big rich California wine has dense, big jammy fruit aromas of raspberries, plums and sweet vanilla. Succulent blackberry and cassis flavors lead to a toasty vanilla oak midpalate with hints if clove and cinnamon. The lingering finish is fruity with hints of cocoa and licorice. It has a tight finish with modest tannins. This jammy wine pairs well with lighter fare or spicy food. A good budget wine for buyers looking for value and consistency. Around $10.

Alexander Valley Vineyards Syrah 2007: This is a polished and approachable purple Syrah with layers of aromas and flavors. It is a blend of Syrah, with a bit of Viognier and Grenache. Grenache adds depth with notes of wild strawberries, while Viognier brightens the color and contributes floral notes and softens the tannins. The wine exudes aromas of plum, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and violet nuances, all framed by white pepper with hints of stones, minerals and a touch of vanilla oak. Flavors of blackberry jam, black cherry and vanilla are unveiled as you sip this wine and those notes stay in all the way through the lengthy finish. You’ll enjoy the firm well-integrated tannins. Around $15.

Elderton Shiraz 2010: This rich full-bodied classic is from one of Australia’s great Barossa valley Shiraz producers, and it’s brimming with ripe juicy plum and chocolate flavors—think Black Forest cake. The aromas echo black forest fruits, chocolate, and vanilla. Flavors of blackberry, chocolate, and spice follow the nose. The wine is medium-bodied, lively and fresh, engagingly delicious. A very good value. Around $20.

For a chunky, earthy, spicy red wine that delivers good value, think Côtes du Rhône. Côtes du Rhône wines exhibit spicy, cherry flavors and aromas along with kirsch, and sometimes offer up earthy, funky tones. The spice flavors often include thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and cloves. These wines go great with a variety of foods, including pasta with rich sauces, pizza and a variety of meats. They range from lighter, fruitier styles, to more full-bodied, complex wines that can age for several years. There are modern and more traditional styles. The common denominator is that the wines are unpretentious, hearty and satisfying.

Guigal’s Côtes du Rhone 2009 is a large production wine that you’ll find easily, and for good reason. It has a smoky nose with cherry, a hint of thyme and other Provençal spices. The silky medium-bodied palate offers a plump cherry flavors, spice, good structure and balanced tannins.  About $12.

Paul Jaboulet Aine St. Joseph le Grand Pompee 2009: Paul Jaboulet has owned vineyards in the Rhône Valley since 1834, and Le Grand Pompee is full and fruit-forward, ripe with raspberry, blackberry, and plum complemented by a dash of cracked pepper. The nose is rich and concentrated ripe red fruits, sweet spice and licorice. This delicious red has firm rounded tannins.  About $30.

For something a little bigger and more in your mouth, go for a Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is often referred to as a rich, big, dark, and brooding wine. The tannin content is very high, given its juice to skin ratio, which means that this wine needs big food. The wine itself actually looks like ink and this dark purpleness will stain stain your teeth and anything else it splashes on. All this color portends the lusciousness in the glass: flavors of plum, dark cassis, prune, hints of coffee and dark chocolate that will make your mouth water.

Pair Petite Sirah with braised meats served in their own reduction stock, hearty beef stew or that hearty meal that’s been cooking in the crock pot all day. A handy cooking tip: this wine is perfect to use when you want to darken a sauce.

Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah 2010: This red makes a great companion to lamb, pork or game in rich sauces. The nose exhibits aromas of ripe blackberry, plum and boysenberry with a dash of cracked pepper and fresh herbs. The full palate is runs rampant with ripe blackberries and plums highlighted by spice notes, supple leather and a toasty hint of oak followed by caramel and vanilla. This jammy wine offers layer upon layer of complexity. Around $10.

Another great winter red  is Zinfandel. It’s hard to pass up all the fresh, ripe, jammy fruit in a Zin. Zinfandels can run the gamut…from fresh and fruity, low alcohol and red raspberry to ultra-ripe, jammy and sweet. For savory dishes you’ll want the lighter style Zins. The lower alcohol content pairs nicely with a large variety of food, but Italian red sauces do especially well—eggplant parmesan, meatballs, or plain old spaghetti makes a wonderful pairing. The fresh fruit just brings out the tangy acid in the tomato-based sauces.

On the other hand, the sweeter, gooey zins will pair well with cheeses and chocolate desserts…so whichever you choose, you will have a winner.

Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel Amador 2010: This Amador County, California blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah offers aromas of ripe black cherry, a little blueberry, licorice and brown sugar. Rich raspberry, black cherry and soft chocolate flavors linger on the palate, mingling with soft tannins and spice.  About $12.
Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Rockpile 2010 is an intense and smokey Zinfandel that begs to be paired with lamb. Aromas of spice box and red fruit are prominent. This wine is bold and intense, briary with cherry, currant, candied apple, and raspberry flavors, followed by smoke and spice. It’s perfectly balanced and flavorful with focused acidity and an extremely long finish. Around $30.

There you have it: several strong winter wine contenders at a variety of price points. Taste them with care, scrutinize their characteristics, and decide for yourself whether they warrant special consideration this winter. Remember, the beauty of wine is that no two bottles, or palates for that matter, are identical.

You may not make perfect pairings all the time. But, with practice you will have an arsenal full of hearty winter wines for your winter hearty dishes. Enjoy!

Winter wines for winter warmth


Seasons change, and when they do, so do the wines we drink.  Cold winter weather calls for scarves and mittens, warming fires in the fireplace and bold, flavorful red wines in our glasses. This isn’t the time of year when our palates crave wines that are crisp and refreshing – our palates want body and soul!

The idea of “winter wines” is not so much about specific vintages being appropriate in one season and unacceptable in another. Rather, it is about which characteristics of certain wines not only match well with the season, but more importantly, with the foods we associate with the season.

Winter is the traditional time  to eat a lot of thick, hearty soups, stews, or roasts given the need to warm up when the temperature dips and to get some meat on your bones. Gatherings are planned and meals are cooked in the kitchen—that means winter food: hot, casseroles, meat dishes, heavier foods with rich texture and they all need  a warming, stimulating wine to go along with the meal.

Reds and heavy whites are the preferred choice, usually high in alcohol and served at room temperature. Winter wines are heavier and more complex, less acidic, and often more heavy oaked. Save those expensive Burgundy wines for the winter, they are wines designed serve with a rich meat stew or a heavy steak.

Winter warmers are full bodied wines that are a pleasure to have by the fire when there is a chill in the air and they are often the perfect mach for winter foods.

Sometimes, pairing wines with a particular food item can be difficult. However, there are a few classic pairings: chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon, duck and Pinot Noir, Stilton or any blue-veined cheese and Port, foie gras and Sauternes.

Here are some good selections worthy of your consideration to pair certain wines with these classic cold weather staples.

Splurge a little reds:

Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon The Coffeestone 2006
For an interesting Cabernet Sauvignon from Franschhoek Valley, South Africa South Africa, try The Coffestone. Cedarwood and cigarbox flavors combined with rich dark berry fruit on the nose. There are complex and ripe cassis, mulberry, spices and rich chocolate flavors on the palate. This is a full-bodied, firmly structured wine with concentrated fruit, a balanced mouthfeel and long extended finish. This wine is excellent to pair with hearty stews, North African dishes and risotto. (around $30 splurge)

Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva
From the heart of La Rioja, Spain comes an absolute star: Campo Viejo Gran Reserva. This wine represents some of the best in Rioja quality and is sure to conjure up compliments at the dinner table. There is intense fruit concentration, both in the aroma and on the palate. The texture is glossy, and storage in American oak gives the wine a conspicuous hint of vanilla. The concurrent use of French oak wines brings some spice to the party as well, with other flavors like burnt toast and even coconut. The wine pairs well with fiery and peppery foods, such as chorizo or paella.  (about $20 splurge)

Mont Tauch Terroir d’Altitude Vielles Vignes, Fitou Rouge
The Languedoc region of France has long been a favorite  and Fitou is the epitome of Languedoc wines. This is a   juicy, spicy and full-bodied red.  This Fitou  is is a supple blend of  Carignane Grenache and  Syrah grapes picked from 100-year-old vines growing high up on the hillsides of Languedoc. A veritable bargain, this wine is intense with dark fruit and herbs with a rich body of syrupy dark cherry fruit, it is ideal for cold weather. It is seductive, stylish red, rich in blackberry fruit and spice, with a hint of vanilla. Oaky and full-bodied, it is perfect  with sausages, venison, or wild boar.  (about $20 splurge)

Mid-range reds

Boschendal Shiraz  Stellenbosch
The emergence of this region of South Africa as a superior wine producer has been a boon to wine enthusiasts and this wine is a great example of a South African robust red. Dark mulberry in color, this youthful wine is a true South African Shiraz. there is luxurious fruit with aromas of cassis, blackberry, pepper and licorice. It is elegant and complex, with well-integrated wood and soft tannins on the palate. This wine is definitely made for food and hearty meat recipes at that: beef, ostrich, rabbit, portk and veal. (around $15)

Santi Solane Valpolicella Ripasso
For a wine that can be paired with any food, the Valpolicella Ripasso is a delicious red. The slightly spicy Italian wine is wonderful with meaty dishes like spaghetti and lasagna, but smooth enough to sip on its own. (around $15)

Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec
This is a 100% Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. The aromas are a mix of freshly crushed black cherries and toasty smoky oak—just enough to frame the exuberant fruit. On the palate, the flavors of cherries and spice are obvious, and the jammy fruit quality just keeps coming on strong, with hints of spice and sandalwood lurking in the background. Perfect for a fancy dinner party, or just curled up on the couch in front of a movie. (around $15)

Easy on the wallet reds

Chateau Autauron 2005
This fiesty little Bordeaux has a complex finish with black cherry, earthy, peppery qualities.  Chateau Autauron comes from Fronsac an area that seems to  produce the best values in all of Bordeaux. It is reminiscent of drinking much older and expensive Bordeaux wine. For the price this is a wonderful “drink now” wine. It should get a little more depth with age, but you simply can’t beat it with a fillet with port reduction sauce or lamb. A real treat, especially if you enjoy the Fronsac earthiness. (around $10 save)

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot
Washington State has a serious producer with  Columbia Crest, in the Columbia Valley area.  Trace amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon add a layer of depth to the wine. The tannin level is medium, and a wonderful raspberry aroma and taste rise to greet the palate. Drink it now with pasta and tomato sauce, game, and sharp cheese casseroles.  (around $11)

Root 1 Cabernet Sauvignon
The hot and dry climate of Chile’s  Colchagua Valley is world-renowned for producing concentrated Cabernets and this wine is no exception. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah, this elegant, lush, rich red wine oozes with ripe fruit flavors of black currant, mocha and chocolate. Silky tannins and good structure lead to a long and complex finish accented with vanilla and toffee notes. It is an exceptional match with full-flavored cheeses, brie, gruyere, pasta with red sauce, steak, ribs, and chocolate or just sipped alone in front of a toasty fire.  (around $10)

Splurge a little white:

Francois Baur Gewürztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim
Many white wines are too light for the dreary winter months, but a this biodynamic Gewürztraminer is bold enough to brighten any winter day. Gewürztraminer is considered the wine world’s most charismatic grape because of its exciting mix of the exotic and sensual with seductively sweet aromas and flavors of lychee and rose water. The wine is off-dry with enough strong fruits and spices to bring new life to any heavy chicken or fish dish. It also pairs beautifully with cured salmon or crab, smoked fish pickled herring, Muenster cheese, and smoked meats. The wine is also perfect for spicy Asian food.  (around $30 splurge)

Mid-range white:

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio
A rare white wine makes an appearance on this list of winter favorites because of one dish: risotto, the Italian soul food staple. It is an ideal dish on a chilly night, and the Tiefenbrunner from the Trentino-Alto Adige region on the German border is a great partner. This cool weather region produces some spectacular wines that are very suitable to cold climate weather. In particular, this intense Pinot Grigio resonates with pear on the palate and has a good acidity balance going on. (around $15)

Easy on the wallet white:

The Covey Run 2009 Quail Series Gewürztraminer
This Washington State off-dry Gewurztraminer enjoys high-powered honeysuckle aromas, with delicious citrus fruit and a good splash of spice. Floral and aromatic in the nose with flavors of lychee, rose, and sugared pear on the palate, this refreshing, spicy white wine with plenty of delicious fruit to jazz up many a meal. This  wine can be enjoyed on its own or with  spicy foods and Asian cuisine as it cools the heat of the food and complements the intense and exotic flavors. Perfect pairings include sushi, Thai food and Asian fare with a spicy kick. There is enough sweet in this wine to cut the heat of red pepper spice. (around $10)

…for after dinner or in front of the fire:

Churchill’s Late Bottle Vintage
A wonderful Port to drink either as an aperitif or as a dessert. Ports are usually rich and sweet, with a higher alcohol content that is sure to warm you from the inside out. Churchill’s Late Bottle Vintage has a caramel taste to it that is reminiscent of a Heath candy bar. (around $35 splurge)

The Royal Oporto Ruby Port
Another wonderful Port. Just as sweet as the Churchill’s, the Royal Oporto taste is less like a candy bar and more like jam with rich, wild berry flavors.  (around $12)

There you have it: fourteen strong winter wine contenders at various price points. Taste them with care, scrutinize their characteristics, and decide for yourself whether they warrant your special consideration this winter.

Wine for Fall Get-Togethers


Tailgaiting

These nine wines are always crowd-pleasers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A toast to National Mushroom Month


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

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

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

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

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

Two simple rules to remember about mushrooms and wine are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the pink – Easter Rosé


This year, Rosés are hot and for this season of youth and renewal pink wines and sparklers set a mood of festiveness and joy. They also clear the palate and prepare it for the sensory experience to come.

Although most Rosés are dry, most folks shy away from  these pink or “blush” wines because they associate it with the sweeter incarnations of  white zinfandel.  There are variations of Rosé wines that have only a hint of sweetness to some that are very dry. To make certain your Rosé is dry, choose one with at least 12 percent alcohol.

Rosé wines are a great alternative to the various white and red wines and most often white and red wine drinkers can agree that  they have the light crispness of a white with the complex body of a red, without the tannins…and they are pretty.

Gruet Brut Sparkling Rosé, New Mexico, USA.
This brilliantly-hued pink is both fun and serious. It is creamy with a hint of strawberries in the aroma, but with the structure, acidity and a crisp finish that can stand up to most foods, especially Easter ham.

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto, Piedmont , Italy.
This is a unique vivacious and festive red sparkling wine that is delightfully sweet and subtle with the lush flavors of ripe raspberry and juicy strawberry.  Aromatic with a hint of rose petals and raspberries, it has a fruity character and gentle acidity that  extends across all  occasions and food pairings, from savory to sweet. On its own Rosa Regale is an elegant aperitif, it tempers the heat of spicy Asian and Latino fare, and  is an ideal foil to the piquant richness of goat cheese, especially in a spring mix salad with almonds and cranberries. Easter quiches, glazed hams, beets, vichyssoise, dark chocolate, pair enchantingly with Rosa Regale.

Etude Rosé of Pinot Noir, USA
This salmon pink Rosé  offers vibrant aromas of fresh raspberries, strawberries, red cherries and sweet blood oranges. Flavors of strawberry rhubarb and cherry persist on the palate and combine with a pleasing note of minerality. The perfectly-balanced acidity makes this wine a wonderful complement to many foods.

Mayne Sansac Rosé Bordeaux, France.
As with most Rosés from Bordeaux, this wine has has a central core of Merlot (80%), which contributes a rich fruitiness to the wine. Providing structure, the 20% Cabernet Sauvignon  exchanges its formidable tannin for a lovely fruitiness with a fine savory edge. This Rose makes a perfect alternative to red throughout the year, and when paired with the right food it absolutely comew alive. If you love the classic pairing of lamb and red Bordeaux, this  rose would be ideal for pairing for any lightened-up lamb dish or sautéed mushrooms.  This is a power Rosé.

Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec, Argentina 2010.
This wine is a beautiful, deep, vibrant rosé color with a surprising amount of body. It exudes beautiful aromas of fresh, ripe wild strawberries with hints of spice. The fresh jammy flavors of strawberries and young cherries come rushing over your tongue, accompanied by spice notes and a clean, dry finish. This is the perfect chicken wine and a charming companion to mildly spicy Asian cuisine or  light snacks and cheeses.

Jaboulet Parallele 45 Rosé .
This fresh, dry French Rosé has plenty of power and balanced lip-smacking fruit characteristics. This is a charming blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 10% Syrah full of floral and crushed red cherry aromas. It’s full-bodied, ripe, mineral-driven fruit on the palate, with tangy undertones and a note of white pepper.  The wine has acidity and tannins that are ripe but firm; this is no wimpy Rosé. The wine has an easygoing, uncomplicated nature that makes it pair well with a variety of dishes salads, quiche, grilled vegetables, fish, chicken, and Asian cuisine.

Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rosé,  Rhône Valley, France.
A consistent and elegant Rosé that is balanced and fresh with an expressive nose of redcurrants, raspberries and citrus. This is a complex, perfumed wine that is dry yet flavorful  with spicy red fruits, white pepper and blood orange. It has a firm memorable finish it easily pairs with  Easter ham, roast chicken or vegetarian.

Don’t be afraid to drink pink this Easter, the Easter bunny will love you for it.