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!

Late Summer Whites


The sun is shining, and the idea of summer entertaining and weekend get-togethers are still a hot topic for many a wine drinker. We all know nothing suits late summer like fresh produce: garden tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, and watermelon dripping down your chin on the back porch,

For the past few years, oaky Chardonnays have been taking a backseat to trendier, unoaked versions, which I personally happen to prefer. Some aficionados argue that this is happening because American tastes are changing, but, the argument could be made that the change could driven by cost—the production of oak barrels and subsequent aging in them is expensive, and this could be a method for wineries to cut costs.

Some winemakers have resorted to inserting oak staves or oak chips, while others have used a “dusting” of oak in the Chardonnay to impart the creamier textures and buttery nuances that oaky style Chardonnay lovers prefer. Whatever the case, it is sometimes better to avoid oaky Chardonnays under $10. Many a Baby Boomer still loves oaky Chardonnays, but the Millennials seem to prefer sleeker, racier Chardonnays with little or no butter or barrel flavors. This burgeoning popularity of unoaked white wines seems to be igniting a larger trend toward aromatic varieties.
So, when it comes to wine, nothing screams summer to me quite like a super aromatic white gem with high acidity like a Riesling, Muscadet, Verdejo or Falanghina. These wines pair well with a wide range of food and are usually affordable. With these off-the-beaten-track wines, you’ll be able to expose your guests to a wine they may never have tried, making it an occasion they will always remember.

If you want a wine with high acidity, start with Riesling. Riesling is juicy, light to medium in body, refreshing and lower in alcohol. Its tangy acidity makes it a perfect accompaniment for all occasions— enjoy it before dinner, as an aperitif or with a meal. Today most German Rieslings are made in a dry style—bone dry—with bracing acidity. With German Rieslings, it is easy to identify which ones the driest, look for the German word: “trocken.” Other terms indicating drier versions of Riesling are halbtrocken (“half dry”) and the unofficial but widely used “feinherb”, meaning “fine dry.”

One bottle I always reach for when I’m looking for a fun label is Selbach Riesling Dry Fish Label 2012 from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. It has the classic aromas of orange blossoms, peaches and mangoes blended with a whiff of ripe strawberries. The bright and fresh flavors of tart green-apple, a bit of apricot and peach are met with steely acidity. The finish is dry and long, offering just the right balance between sweet and tart.

Another German region known for good Riesling is the Rheingau and Josef Leitz Rudesheimer Riesling Trocken 2012 is a well-rounded, fruity and fresh mouthful. This medium-to-almost-full-bodied wine offers good acidity, appealing lemony fruit, tart pear and a nice minerally balance from the pure slate soils. It has a solid fruity/minerally finish.

If you’d like something a little less aromatic, try Muscadet. I love Muscadet. Light-bodied, mineral-edged and made with the white Melon de Bourgogne grape, Muscadet is an amazing food-pairing wine. The Muscadet appellation, mostly south of the city of Nantes on France’s Atlantic coast, is one of the largest in the country; the proximity to the sea moderates the region’s summer temperatures, making the wines lighter and lower in alcohol than those produced inland. Where in the rest of the Loire the dominant white grape is Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet relies on the obscure Melon de Bourgogne.

Lean and acidic from France’s Loire Valley, it’s known for glorious pairings with oysters, but it often pairs just as gloriously with ribs, fried chicken and barbecue. Muscadet works well with spicy foods like those loaded with cayenne pepper because of its non-fruit characteristics: refreshing, citrusy acidity and lower alcohol level. Higher alcohol wines intensify spiciness. Plus, the wine’s flinty notes seemed to intensify smokiness of barbecue and the grill. Keep the bottle nicely chilled, and you’ll find many a match made in heaven.

Two to try are: Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2011 and Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet de Sevre-Et-Maine Sur Lie Selection Vieilles Vignes 2011.

Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2011. This small, family-owned estate located in the village of Muscadet has been organically farmed since 1999 and in 2002, was awarded official certification by ECOCERT. Scents of white blossoms and apple along with saline and herbal aromas are characteristic of Muscadet. The electric acidity makes it incredibly fresh and crisp with a lime and briny, mineral-laden flavor profile.

Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet de Sevre-Et-Maine Sur Lie Selection Vieilles Vignes 2011. From a large estate founded sometime in the 14th century, this light-bodied, lime-scented, wine is crisp and balanced. It also offers a creamier mouth feel than standard Muscadet as a result of extended lees contact. There are subtle apple and citrus aromas followed by a gentle hint of white pepper and a slight salinity. The flavors are a minerally blend of apple and lime that take this food friendly wine clear through the dry finish.

Probably one of the best values for a great white warm weather wine is one of Spain’s most often ignored wines: Verdejo. At its best Verdejo combines richness, freshness and lovely acidity while delivering almond-scented wines that offer a fine blend of near tropical orchard fruits with a fresh zesty edge. This is they type of crisp white I often crave, not only in summer but year-round, for its body and rich flavor. Verdejo makes a terrific food wine. Its citrusy notes and aroma—very similar to Sauvignon Blanc—pair particularly well with salads and grilled foods and it’s a must try for Sauvignon Blanc fans looking for something new.

One thing to note is that Verdejo can vary in style depending on designation. If it is simply labeled “Rueda” it must contain 50 percent Verdejo, and it is typically blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Macabeo, giving it a lighter-bodied and refreshing characteristic. It is fresh, smooth and floral, with a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.

If the wine is labeled “Rueda Verdejo” it must contain a minimum of 85 percent Verdejo, but it’s usually 100 percent Verdejo. These wines offer great aromatics and elegant fruity aromas with hints of anisette and fennel. The primary characteristics are fruitiness with a bitter touch. These are dry wines with a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent. Both styles have a soft waxy texture on the palate and are often fuller-bodied. What food you’re pairing it with will determine which style you choose for your menu.

Bodegas Protos Rueda 2009 is made ​​from 100% Verdejo. Fresh and appealing, the wine is fragrant with tart, lemony, green apples, touches of fennel and fresh cut grass aromas. There is a distinctly mineral quality on the tongue followed by a pleasant lemon-lime underlay that provide a slightly bitter almond aftertaste. Dry and lively acidity gives added freshness to this full-bodied and well-structured white. Serve with grilled shrimp, fried haddock, fried chicken.

Bodegas Y Vinedos Shaya Verdejo Shaya 2011. Named for Shaya deer that are native to the vineyards in Rueda, Spain, this value-priced Rueda has the typical tropical touches of pineapple and slightly green aromas we seek. Exotic aromas of mango, melon and gooseberry touched with a “grapefruit zest” are followed by the riper, aromas of baking spices, spring flowers, peach and minerals. The flavors tease the taste-buds first with grapefruit, a touch of peach, some tropical fruit followed by spice flavors with a bit of stony minerality. There is a creaminess to the texture, vibrant acidity, and intense flavors that lead to a lengthy, fruit-filled finish and slightly bitter finish.

You may be familiar with Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo from Campania, Italy, but there is a third white grape varietal from Campania: Falanghina. Although I enjoy both Fiano and Greco, this medium-bodied wine offers such a fresh, clean, dry taste, great acidity, and a long and floral finish. It’s almost like it was made for summer weather–the typical flavor profile is ripe fruit in the peach/lemon/pineapple realm with good acidity—more ripe and “tropical” than many wines from Friuli and Alto-Adige regions.

Cantine del Taburno Falanghina 2011 comes from the D.O.C. Taburno zone of Campania in Southern Italy. This refreshingly crisp wine sees no oak and shows citrus notes of lemon and lime, with green apple and almond tones adding complexity. Aromas of white blossoms, peach, melon and citrus are followed by more stone fruit on the palate, with apricots, almond flavors, tart apple, lemon rind, a touch of honey and a stony minerality. It is well-rounded and has great acidity and a long, clean finish. Serve well-chilled as an aperitif or with mussels, antipasto, fish, shellfish, roasted vegetables, lemon roasted chicken, pork and a variety of Italian dishes.

Capolino Perlingieri Sannio Falanghina Preta 2010. This easygoing wine is a lean, compact expression of Falanghina, opening with bright citrusy lemon, pear and kiwi aromas with the slightest a hint of banana. The flavors are full of sweet tropical fruit, peach, lemon and banana, but there is a lot of fresh focused acidity and it delivers a classy minerality on the surprisingly long finish.

There you have it, eight fun, whites to coolly sip through to the end of summer, and a perfect fit for lighter and transitional dishes this time of year. Just remember these food-pairing, aperitif wines skip desserts, sweetness is always a problem for these high-acid whites, as it makes them taste thin and aggressively sharp and not much fun at all.

Cheers.

Grey skies are going to clear up with some sunny spring wines


Grey skies, low temperatures, snow and hail showers one minute, bright warm summer sunshine the next…aah, the joys of spring. When the weather is “in betweeny” like this, you need versatile wines that can adapt to changing weather conditions. It’s time for a wine rack spring clean!

The idea of changing the wine you drink with the season, just as you change your diet and your wardrobe still meets some resistance. People tend to ‘like what they like’ when it comes to wine, drinking the same bottles right through the year. The more pronounced acidity and palate weight of lighter wines may not be to your taste. But try them with the right kind of food and you’ll see how perfectly tuned they are to the flavors of spring.

Whenever I’m asked  about seasonal choices, I hear little voices calling out to me from their space on the wine rack, “Pick me! Pick me!”  But with limited space, we have to be discerning. Of course, I always start with my first tried-and-true favorite, Sauvignon Blanc. For white wines, there’s something innately spring-like in the herbaceous aromas and zingy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Although I love its refreshing gooseberry and leafy minerality charms, my spring versions need to be fuller in style, with a more weight and depth of flavor than in Summer when coolness and refreshment are of prime importance.
Here are two delicious American versions:

  • Kathryn Kennedy California Sauvignon Blanc (about $25)
    Good California Sauvignon Blanc is a trickier endeavor than it seems; so many fall too ripe, shifting away from grassy freshness; others take green flavors to an extreme. Kathryn Kennedy California Sauvignon Blanc  doesn’t play grassy, but it’s still zingy and fresh for the style, with flavors of dried hay, oregano, nectarine skin and a lemon-rind bite. Good for herb-laden foods and goat cheeses, it’s also an excellent “porch-pounder.”
  • J. Christopher Willamette Valley Sauvignon Blanc (about $18): This Sauvignon Blanc is a beautiful spring-scented wine and a perfect partner for delicious late-spring garden gems—peas, fava beans, fresh herbs—that are so challenging to partner with wine. This refined wine offers notes of elderflower, freshly mowed hay and ripe pear underlined by the crisp acidity we expect from Sauvignon Blanc Pour alongside a fresh-herb and chèvre salad for an ideal late-spring pairing.

Spring is also the time to reintroduce Riesling. Riesling tends to polarize wine drinkers—some love it, some hate it. There’s no denying Riesling offers crisp, fresh flavors and modest alcohol levels that make it perfect for spring sipping. If it’s the sweetness you want to avoid, stick to Alsace Riesling, German Kabinett Riesling or Clare Valley Riesling from Australia. If you want to avoid the typical kerosene flavors it can develop with age, stick to younger wines.

  • Josef Leitz Eins Zwei Dry Rheingau Riesling (about $17)
    Not that we don’t love the off-dry beauty of the German wines, but spring flavors lean just slightly toward a drier style, and dry German Riesling is a particular favorite because it can easily work all the way through a meal. The stony character of the Rheingau truly shines in this lean and exciting white. Eins Zwei Dry is full of lime pith, lemon, quince, cool stone, white peach-skin flavors and a hint of saline. It’s clean, tangy, fresh and thirst quenching on the palate…or, as we like to say, quite gulp-able.

The Albariño grape plays in the gray area between Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, yet neither is a fully fair comparison.  Good Albarino can be lovely and expressive, rewarding you with a more exotic twinge like the stony character or subtle floral scent sof Riesling.

  • Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Estate Vineyard Monterey County Albarino ($18)
    This Albarino is grown biodynamically near Soledad, and it brings a curiously oily Riesling quality, with exotic scents of shredded green papaya, pomelo and lily. Zingy and almost clipped in its style, it still has enough sweet fruit to drink with a substantive seasonal main course.

One fashionable option is every sommelier’s darling, Grüner Veltliner—this Austrian grape is less demanding than Riesling, more sophisticated than Pinot Grigio and quite delicious ron its own.

  • Bethel Heights 2011 Grüner Veltliner, Oregon (about $18)
    This dry wine exhibits aromas of pear, yeast and lime with hints of spice and white pepper. There are herbaaceous notes in this light- to medium-bodied white. The clean mineral notes, crisp lemon, lime zest and hints of chalk are followed by a touch of flint and white pepper. A great dinner or sipping wine.

This spring, Pinot Grigio lovers should give the beloved Italian Falanghina grape a chance. Preta Capolino Perlingieri Falanghina Sannio DOC (about $16) offers just a hint of floral and fruit on the nose. Flavors of green olive and brine meld with dried lemon peel, apple, white peach and fresh green herbs. With its sharp as a tack, intensely mineral flavors, it’s often called the Pinot Grigio for grown-ups.

We love Chenin Blanc, and in its home territory of the Loire Valley the wines combine complexity and fruit with vibrant freshness. In South Africa, Chenin Blanc combines riper fruit flavors with an exotic pine-pitch accent that parallels spring’s fresh flavors. A good choice is: Ken Forrester Petit Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc (sbout $10). This producer is known for great values. With its steely, aromatic profile,  Fuji apple and a mouthwatering citrus presence, this value-driven wine can taste like a more expensive proposition.

Chardonnay lovers must try Chehalem “INOX” Willamette Valley Chardonnay (about $19) this spring.  This wine takes its name from the French abbreviation for “stainless steel,” and it has a crisp, steely delivery. Made from 100 percent Dijon clones, it is clean, light-bodied and wonderfully balanced. This white pairs best with grilled vegetables, mild goat cheese, chicken or trout.

Okay, so what reds are just right for Spring?

Pinot Noir is a good choice because it’s a supremely flexible grape. Pinot Noir’s low tannin and softly spicy fruit are the keys to its adaptability—it’s great with or without food, and is light-bodied enough to match up to warming weather. Young Pinot Noirs are best for that bright, intense, pure raspberry fruit, but you don’t have to sacrifice flavor and complexity.

  • Brooks Pinot Noir- Willamette Valley 2011 (about $21)
    The joyful young fruit – red cherries, strawberries, black raspberries – is what you notice first, but then a touch of cherry cola and peppery spices come through. that’s followed by smoky oak, along with a fresh emergu amd textire. Finishes with a refreshng bitter edge that cleans your mouth and a nice bit of spice that leaves you wanting more.

These are jut a few great buys for spring tasting and your spring wine cellar. Jut as you can never have too many pairs of shoes, you can never have too many styles of wine! Enjoy.

Wine for Fall Get-Togethers


Tailgaiting

These nine wines are always crowd-pleasers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011 the year of the comeback


What are the new trends for wine in 2011?

Well, let’s begin with the fact consumers are still looking for quality and are willing to pay for it, but value is more important. Many wine directors are heeding customer suggestions and are highlighting value rather than price on their lists.

So with this concern for value, what will we be hearing more about in 2011?

The next great frontier: Malbec.

Discovering value wines is always popular, this year look for robust wines from Chile, Argentina and even Uruguay—these wines are not only getting better, they’re getting cheaper. In fact some great “discoveries” are coming out of he foothills of Argentina’s Andes Mountains. Malbec is the new darling of the red set—some call it the new Cabernet. It’s soft and supple like Merlot, but with the bigger and more complex Cabernet taste profile. In fact, Malbec has a big, smoky, flavorful taste profile that Americans want, while delivering exceptional depth and structure . Plus, it offers huge value for the money. Think of it as a less expensive alternative to Cabernet Sauvigon, falling somewhere between a fruit-forward new-world wine and a classic, more structured old-world. Since a good California Cabernet Sauvignon under $40 is becoming harder to find,  an easy to find good Malbec under $20 can be just the ticket.

iPad Wine Lists will become more prevalent.

The latest “sommeliers toy” is an iPad wine list. Digital wine list tablets are adding a dynamic twist to learning about wine in a restaurant setting. It doesn’t totally replace the sommelier, but it makes selecting a bottle of wine more interesting than traditional paper wine lists. Plus, with the ability of the “wine tablet” to educate us about the wines on the wine list through a “SmartCellar” application, choosing a wine should become simpler.

South Africa—it’s not just Pinotage anymore.

This underappreciated region is seeing South African wines increasing in popularity. The lower prices on these wines are a good match for Americans’ thinner wallets, with most drinkers shopping for wines that cost less than $20 per bottle.  With the success of the world cup and a big marketing push by the wineries of South Africa, this region is on people’s minds a lot more.  Beautiful Bordeaux blends, big Shiraz, crisp Chenin Blanc (Stten) and unique Pinotage are appearing on wine shop racks more often.

Spain will continue to amaze us.

Spanish wines are still highly popular. Spain’s sizzling wine regions, are producing wines that are unique, and convey freshness and elegance. Spain has the largest number of old vines anywhere in the world and with new winemaking techniques, the chances are that you will find more than one perfect match. Spain seems to have managed to defy the value of the euro and send us luscious, well-priced wines. The bang for the buck is still there.

Crazy for Pinot Noir?               

Pinot Noir continues to be popular, but it no longer appears to be recession-proof. That simple fact alone, could be good news for Pinot lovers. Thanks to the Pinot Noir phenomenon, sparked by the movie Sideways several years ago, a lot of pinot was planted—not only in California, but in Oregon and New Zealand—and supplies may soon outstrip demand.  Pinot Noir’s oversaturation of the market  may have led the pendulum to swing the other way—a perfect scenario for lower prices.  While there may not be a collapse, there will be many more value-priced offerings coming to market.

“Boomer” Chardonnay.

If you want to date yourself, order Chardonnay. California Chardonnay is associated with baby boomers, so it has gained “a geezer image”. (Yep, baby boomers are becoming “geezers”, who’da thunk it?) Although Chardonnay continues to be this country’s top-selling varietal, this grand dame of white wines has lost it’s luster and sales have been dropping. There is still a core of loyal followers but, it’s not developing any new drinkers. Which is too bad, because California Chardonnays have become better, featuring less heavy oak and more complexity and style, making ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) a phrase of the past. Chardonnay producers are taking the cue, finally moving to un-oaked Chardonnays emphasizing fruit flavors and toning down oak and buttery notes. Restrained and elegant examples that are the perfect balance of oak, fruit and quaffabilty have stepped forward. Thankfully, those blousy over-oaked California fruit bombs are now few and far between.

Riesling reigns

In the world of white, Riesling is the undisputed darling du jour. People are getting away from Chardonnay, and Riesling gives people the flavors they want in a diversity of styles. It’s the fastest growing white wine, and in the wine-growing region where it thrives—Germany, Australia, New Zealand, California, Oregon and Washington State—demand outstrips supply.  The shift away from oak flavors to aromatic wines with higher acidity and the “talk dry, drink sweet” phenomenon (by which consumers profess an affinity for dry wines when in reality they prefer higher sugar content), has opened the door for Riesling. This versatile wine can be dry or sweet and it’s food friendly or great all by itself.  Riesling is particularly appealing thanks to the explosion of Asian and spicy cuisines that work so well with the grape.

Pink: Here-to-stay Rosés

Rosé wines have been on fire for the past five years. As Americans finally understand that all pink wines aren’t sweet, dry rosé consumption is growing and is no longer confined to the most sophisticated. Most of the Rosé table wines are French, but you can also find high-quality Spanish, Italian, New Zealand and even American Rosés. Rose wine is no longer just a summer wine, but a must have regardless of occasion.

Dessert wines are making a comeback. 

Yes, that’s right, dessert wines, always a hard sell in America, are coming back on the scene. These sweet, Port-style syrups are dark, fortified and more versatile than you might think. With giant bouquets and fruit on the nose, many dessert wines today have a zingy freshness that pairs well not only with desserts like chocolate cake, but also with cheese dishes, gourmet pizza, savory dishes, and even Swedish meatballs.

Green is the new black!

New sustainable practices have made your glass of vino even more guilt-free, and in 2011 conscious farming will flourish. In every facet of life, people are turning towards healthier foods and more sustainable choices. The demand for organic products continues to grow as more and more people are paying attention to the quality and ingredients of their food and beverage items. Expect to see new organic selections at your supermarket and liquor store shelves, as well as more organic cocktails on menus at bars and restaurants.

Think global – act local.

Another huge trend is locally produced wine, and in particular urban wineries, which go beyond the tasting room to include in-house grape processing as well. A weekend in Napa is nice, but when you can’t make a trip out to Napa wine country, then indulge in a trip to a local winery. New Jersey has 37 local wineries all within a short drive away, perfect for a weekend outing, or find the local vineyard wines in your local wine shop.

Dinner at 8 — wine dinners are in vogue.

This supposedly will be the comeback year for the wine dinner.  The art of food and wine pairing is too good to be left out.  Education is the best friend of the wine dinner and it makes for an entertaining evening with good friends.

There you have it a concern for price and great priced and value wine from Spain, South America and South Africa which are perfect for your stay-at-home wine dinner with friends. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are getting competition from Riesling and Malbec, and more people will be be drinking Rosé and seeking dessert wines instead of cheese cake. Pinot will continue to hold its own and we’ll be looking for more organic and sustainable wnes on that iPad wine list.

Just don’t forget to invite me to your wine dinner! Cheers!