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.

Our Thanksgiving Wine List


We are so ready for our Thanksgiving meal!

Our menu is planned and wines are all pre-selected because we believe the wine should enhance food and food should enhance wine; creating a symbiotic relationship improving our holiday dining experience.

The key to a successful wine pairing at Thanksgiving is versatility. Why? Well, we don’t serve Thanksgiving Day dinner as individual courses each paired with a different wine, followed by the next course and wine (although it would be nice). Our table is already set with the lovely presentation of yummy side dishes and condiments when the turkey shows up in all its glory ready to be served. We pass the plate and load up on a little bit of everything—knowing that at the end of dinner belts will be too tight and we will be as stuffed as the turkey was. This is the time to serve your wines ‘family style, the same way you serve your meal — just open your selections and let your guests help themselves to their favorite.

To do this, we avoid the extremes and stay balanced—low to mid alcohol levels (11-13.5 percent), good acidity (not too ripe or too green), minimal to moderate complexity and no huge tannins — lower tannin levels are better suited to the vast array of flavors the wines are meant to complement. From appetizers, to white and dark turkey meat, mashed potatoes, yams, herb-filled stuffing, cranberry relish, pickled this and peppered that, all the way to pie — wine selection is largely a matter of personal preference.

Just remember, with Thanksgiving wines, think balance, balance, balance!

Here are some of my favorites for my Thanksgiving table

Gruet Non-Vintage (NV) Brut, Albuquerque, New Mexico. This wine is a terrific example of an American sparkling wine from New Mexico. It’s balanced, has great acidity and flavor, and the citrus/yeast elements complement each other nicely. The higher acidity in the wine lets it pair with heavier, starchier foods like potatoes and turkey with dressing. The lower alcohol doesn’t over-exert itself and mask the flavors of the food like a high-alcohol wine would do. A favorite reason for having this bottle on the table: the bubbles are a nice palate cleanser between eating the different food selections.

Girard Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California  is one of my all-time favorites and a crisp white wine that is noted for its bright flavors – a prime candidate specifically for turkey and herb-filled stuffing. (Let’s face it, this one comes to dinners, parties and snacks a lot!)

Freemark Abbey Viognier, Napa Valley, California is a white wine with low levels of acidity and characterized by light floral flavors often surrounded by delicate touches of peaches and pears. A good choice for the non-Sauvignon Blanc drinkers at my table.

Riesling is  a white wine that may either be bone dry or fairly sweet, and it is excellent with any dishes that may have a bit of spice to them. The low alcohol and well-balanced acidity are evident in Hogue Cellars Terroir Dry Riesling (Yakima Valley, WA) — a great Thanksgiving wine exhibiting subliminal sweetness, nice flavors of petrol, tart apple and touches of steely minerality.

I also like to keep another white on hand: Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer be dry or sweet, depending on the style. Hogue Cellars Gewürztraminer (Columbia Valley, WA) has a zestiness that allows it to pair nicely with side dishes that may have a bit more kick to them, but also settles well with a variety of dessert options. This wine has an excellent balance of acidity with a slight minerality. Low alcohol, restrained and off-dry, it offers an abundance of great flavors: spiced apple, floral, and warm spices.

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Los Carneros Rosé, California. We always need a “pink” and a Pinot Noir and this fits the bill. This is a wonderful Rosé. This wine offers zippy acidity and heady wild strawberry and white peach fruit aromas and matchinng flavors combined with rose petals and candied cherry on a long finish — a fabulous Thanksgiving wine!

Speaking of Pinot Noir, you know it’s a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. It is easy going enough to complement just about any flavor you can throw at it.

We like to serve American wine at Thanksgiving, and Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County, CA) is the perfect bottle. This wine shows how amazing California Pinot Noir can be — this wonderful vintage is a great value for a stunning California Pinot. It offers delicious floral aromas combined with a bright cherry palate filled with flavors of strawberries and raspberries joined by anise and clove that all mesh beautifully with every dish on the table — including the classic cranberry sauce.

For my dining companions who like their wines a little bolder and more fruit forward, I have Frog’s Leap Zinfandel, (Napa Valley, CA.) Made in the classic field blend style with significant portions of Petite Sirah and Carignan, the flavors are vibrant and perfectly balanced with bright, tart-cherry aromas and a hint of baking spices. This garnet colored red ups the intensity from a Pinot Noir, but still maintains a balancing effect on many traditional side dishes. This is always a great pick for those looking for a heartier wine with deeper flavors.

We have one person who only drinks Syrah at Thanksgiving and for him I have a Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Syrah, California. This another red wine that picks up the intensity and flavor, yet graciously handles the cornucopia of flavors in a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, smoke, dried tobacco and anise explode from the glass while flavors of black cherry, plum, dark chocolate, dried herbs, and smoked meat coat the palate. The peppery herbal notes accent a flavorful helping of stuffing as well as both the white and dark turkey meats.

It may seem a little played out, but Beaujolais Nouveau still remains a great Thanksgiving wine. Especially for our traditionalists at the table. Beaujolais Nouveau is a light, fruity, juicy and refreshing red wine that pairs well with turkey and all of the fixings. It’s an easily affordable wine and if you’re going to be enjoying wine all day long, this is something that won’t weigh down your palate.

Well, that’s what we’re serving, what are you planning to serve?

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!

Warm weather wines under $15


The first rule of wine drinking is: no matter the season, no matter the cuisine, you should always drink the wines that give you the most pleasure.
Unfortunately, most big red wines seem dull and overpowering because alcohol and tannin tend to stand out as summer temperatures rise. You may opt for that big, bold cabernet with a thick steak, but there is a lighter alternative such as a Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, or a red-Rhône blend; white wine lovers should seek out a Gewürtztraminer. The beauty of these wines, and the reason they go so well with grilled meats, is their savory character, which pairs nicely with the smoky, earthy aromas from summer time grilled foods. Just remember: 10 minutes in an ice bucket will do wonders for a tannic red wine on a hot day.

Chardonnay isn’t a first choice with summer’s grilled fish and vegetables. These call for white wines with savory characteristics like Sauvignon blanc, Gewürtaminer, or Riesling. Sauvignon Blanc—pungent and savory, with nuances of dried herbs, and a slightly vegetal note, pairs well with grilled dishes. Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling with citrusy notes play especially well with fish.

Here’s a selection of six summer-friendly wines around $10 or less that won’t break the bank:

Culture du Sud Vin de Pays de Méditerranée, France
This wine from the south of France is a satisfying blend of Merlot, Syrah and Grenache. Delicious notes of black cherry, tobacco and herb linger on the medium-weight finish.

Castle Rock Pinot Noir California Cuvee 2011
Castle Rock Winery is known for low-priced, readily available Pinot Noirs. This medium-bodied blend features fruit from multiple California AVAs and offers aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, tea, herbs and spice. Smooth and silky with mild tannins, this value red has a wonderfully long finish. Pair with summer lamb, veal, salmon and light pasta dishes.

Albet I Noya Tempranillo Classic 2012, Spain
One of the best valued reds to come along in years, Albet i Noya has been Spain’s leading organic wine producer since 1979. Made according to strict organic specifications, this medium-bodied red highlights black fruits and Tempranillo’s blackberry aromas.  it is well-balanced, and offers rich fruit flavors, a vegetal note and terrific length on the finish.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Chile
This elegant, expressive and fresh Sauvignon Blanc has a herbaceous quality thats made to support marinades and sauces. Citrus notes of grapefruit and green apple intermingle with herbal hints and follow throught to a pleasant mineral finish. Fresh and balanced, this wine is an excellent choice to serve as an aperitif or with vegetarian combinations. Pair with soft and fresh cheeses, grilled chicken doused in Italian or citrus marinade, roasted peppers, veggies in fresh herbs, grilled fish with dill and lemon.

Bauer Haus Riesling 2010, Germany
Riesling, with its naturally high acidity and sharp piercing aromas can sometimes resemble Sauvignon Blanc, but instead of vegetation and gooseberry,  flowers, honey, minerals, nuts and citrus fruits aromas waft from the glass. Bauer Haus Riesling has peach and apple flavors with a crisp acidity that results in a well-balanced, easy-to-drink wine. It works well as an aperitif or paired with anything grilled: brats, shrimp, barbecue chicken, pineapple or veggies.

Two Vines Gewürztraminer, Washington State
Two Vines offers the typical Gewurztraminer aromas of apricot, orange zest and spice joined by lively citrus note and some floral notes. Upfront fruit flavors of melons, pears and lime give way to pink grapefruit and finish with bright acidity and a mineral note, balancing the wine’s subtle sweetness. Pairs with Asian dishes or zesty BBQ or chicken wings.

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.

Wines with a spring in their sip


Spring is here, and it’s time to start shifting from heavy winter red wines and Ports to light, refreshing white wines  that would reflect the seasons crisp breezes, green lawns, budding flowers, and sunny days as well as its rainy ones.
But, how do you break away from the same old, tried-and-true, go-to wines? One way is to make a pact with yourself to try at least one new grape varietal each month. Or revisit wines you have not sampled in a long time.
Personally, as soon as the weather warms up I slowly wean myself away from big and hearty dark reds to fabulous Rosé.

A current favorite everyday Rosé is Chateau Routas Rouvière Rosé from Provence.  A blend of 55% Cinsault, 23% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, it boasts a beautiful deep rose color and a wonderfully floral nose. The mouth feel and body are outstanding due to the skin contact used during the fermentation process (which also provides the great color). Super juicy berry taste coupled with great acidity balance this wine perfectly.  A natural for a bacon-infused risotto or grilled fish with an herb rub.

Another favorite is Pedroncelli’s Dry Rose of Zinfandel. Pedroncelli  is a fourth-generation California winemaker, and the family takes great care with what it does—supplying quality wine at good prices—and this wine is no exception. This Rosé is a terrific choice because it’s got some heft, as it’s made with 100% Zinfandel, yet it’s fun and fruity and easy drinking all the same.  It is dry and crisp, with some minerality.  It has a slight floral nose, heightened by aromas of just-picked strawberries followed by a sort of savory, herby element. Juicy berry flavors of red raspberry, currant and plum with a hint of watermelon are highlighted in this crisp, enjoyable wine. Chill this (especially this summer) and drink it on its own or with any summer food—burgers and barbecued chicken, roast chicken or grilled salmon, it’s perfect.

Of course, my first wine choice for this article was Sauvignon Blanc. There’s something innately Spring-like in the herbaceous aromas and zingy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Dry and crisp, with a herbaceous, grassy nose and flavors of citrus, vanilla, and melon can complement almost any warm weather menu.

Sauvignon Blanc is grown in many wine areas of the world. Interestingly, its grassy, herbaceous, and crisp characteristics are almost always present regardless of where it is grown. (The name “Sauvignon” is derived from the French “sauvage” meaning “wild.” Say Sauvignon Blanc to many a wine lover, and New Zealand or the Loire’s Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé come to mind.

In France,  the grape is aromatic and fresh in the Sancerres and Pouilly Fumes of the Loire Valley. Pouilly-Fume is the firmer, drier and more elegant of the two and Sancerre is a little more fruity. A favoriet Sancerre is Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Chateau du Nozay 2010. Chateau du Nozay is one of the most storied properties in Sancerre. Pascal Jolivet is the sole producer of this domaine. grapes a distinct characteristic of smoothness and elegance. This single estate wine combines softness, roundness, generosity and mellow exotic fruit. Due to its great aptitude for ageing, the wines of Nozay will only improve with time.

Sauvignon Blanc is also grown in Bordeaux, where it is often blended with Semillon. An inexpensive choice would be Mayne Sansac, Bordeaux, which is a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc,  25% Semillon and 25% Muscadelle.  It has all the elegance and finesse of the best wines from the most  famous vineyards in the world. It is the perfect expression of the best soil and premium varieties of Bordeaux.t is obvious that this wine has been extremely well made and aged. Brilliant color, fruity, floral bouquet and excellent balance on the palate. Starts out crisp and fresh.   This full-bodied white wine has a brilliant color, a fruity, floral bouquet and excellent balance on the palate.

Sauvignon Blanc wine is perfect for just sipping by itself on the deck and Chile and New Zealand offer plenty of great value wines. Look for Marlborough on the label of Kiwi wines and the Casablanca Valley on Chilean wines. These are the most respected regions.

If you’re ever craving a strong, acidic wine with some serious backbone, give Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011 a try. With intense passion fruit and gooseberry fruit characters, this wine is a classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is dry and crisp acid full of lime, grapefruit, and underlying rich tropical fruit flavors that lead to a sharp and fruity finish. (About $17)

From Casablanca, Chile there is Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc  2010  This wine also has intense grassy and citrusy notes on the nose. The  palate is juicy, crisp and zesty, with flavors of fresh lettuce, lime, grapefruit  and green herbs leading to pure flavors of nectarine and white peach. It has a light and delicate finish. (About $9.99)

you fancy a change from the Sauvignon norm, sniff out a bottle of Assyrtiko (a-SEER-ti-ko) from the Greek Island of Santorini (Around $16). Banish all thoughts of evil Retsina and open your mind to the zesty, mineral intensity that the Assyrtiko grape produces on Santorini’s volcanic soils. Racing, even austere in its minerality when young, Assyrtiko gains secondary flavors and aromas that lean towards petrol, paraffin, and other phenolics over time. Santo Wines Santorini Assyrtiko White is light gold in the glass, with aromas of lemon zest, wet stones, and hints of baked apples. In the mouth the wine is zingy and bright with lemon pith and super juicy acidity. Notes of wet chalkboard linger in the finish. Bright and crisp and quite refreshing, in a way that belies its 15% alcohol. This is always a good one to taste blind and to play “guess the country”.

Feelin’ groovy with Grüner Veltliner.

This is a white grape primarily grown in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Grüner, GV or Groovie, as wine lovers call it, is made in both dry and sweet styles. It features lemon-lime and peach flavors joined with occasional notes of white pepper and vegetal tastes, such as green beans and celery root.

Grüner’s signature is a spicy, peppery nose, and its high-acid and refreshing flavors will knock your socks off with asparagus, artichokes, vegetable dishes and vinaigrettes on salads. Or drink it by itself, as it’s nowhere as heavy as Chardonnay and has a tad more personality than Sauvignon Blanc.

Laurenz V. und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner  This is ultra-refreshing with zesty lemon-lime flavors, along with notes of green beans and delicate white pepper. With the high acid in the wine, you’ll find a perfect food partner for fish, veggies, pastas and most appetizers. The grapes for the Singing Grüner come predominantly from the  Kremstal area of lower Austria with a portion of the grapes coming from the Weinviertel region. The first sip of this dry,  light to medium bodied  white yields apple, peach and citrus flavors along with a typical Veltliner spiciness and, most notably, hints of white pepper. The soft and juicy palate is supported by fine acidity.

A soave little wine: Soave
In years past my experience with Soave was a tart-lemon dry wine with a bitter almond taste that was just wretched. Today, this lovely, lively dry white wine is made from Garganega grape (at least 70 percent in the wine), plus Trebbiano di Soave and Nestrano grapes grown in the Veneto region and province of Verona in northern Italy. Soaves are generally light-bodied and straw-colored with flavors of pear, lemon and green apple; notes of floral; and a hint of almond.

Allegrini Soave 2010 , Veneto, Italy (About $16.99) has soft aromas of wild flowers, pink grapefruit and lime. It is supple and elegant on the palate, with light minerality and an aromatic finish that suggests good ageing potential. This is a smooth and graceful wine, releasing a sensation of freshness and persistent aromatic notes. Ideal as an aperitif wine, this bright, straw yellow wine pairs well with raw fish dishes, tempura, sushi and sashimi, as well as spicy and sweet and sour dishes typical of Asian cuisine. Try this with an antipasto platter, a big bowl of mussels in white wine sauce, grilled seafood and shellfish.  The best way to appear suave is to drink Soave.

Now for a grape you will surely want to add it to your list of regular wines: Riesling. No, it’s not all sweet; in fact, most of the Riesling produced in Germany is dry, and most of this dry Riesling is kept in the country for the citizens’ consumption. I absolutely adore German and Alsatian Rieslings for their bracingly high acidity; slate and mineral notes; and flavors of peaches, green apple, sweet pear, apricot and lemon-lime. Dry Riesling is the most food-friendly style of wine found anywhere…and the best value.

Often German Rieslings can have a touch of sweetness, even at QbA level, and pair well with spicy food.  But more and more, dry German Riesling, known as Trocken, Kabinett Trocken or Spätlese Trocken versus just plain Kabinett or Spätlese, which are off-dry (slightly sweet) styles. Sweet Rieslings work beautifully with rich foods, such as foie gras, or spicy foods, but they don’t work with every food item on a restaurant’s dinner menu like dry Rieslings do. Dry Rieslings even have enough body to hold up to beef in the scheme of food and wine pairing.

Hugel’s “Classic” Riesling  2010 comes from Alsace. Etienne Hugel is one of Alsace’s most renowned producers. Zesty, refreshing, full-bodied and loaded with flavors of apples and pears, this dry, elegant, fresh wine is lively, frank and refreshingly quaffable, ideal for all those who appreciate classic Riesling.  You will love the fruit character of green apple, white peach, citrus, grapefruit and spring blossom agains the limestone, slate and minerals background. The wine is jam-packed with minerality, rich with ripe fruit and has searingly high acid. Think of this white wine as your squeeze of lemon over broiled fish. It’s perfect as an aperitif, with oysters, seafood, smoked fish and cheese. (About $21)

A less expensive and sweeter option is Fünf 5 Riesling “Sassy White” (About $8). Fünf 5 Riesling is a deliciously sweet white that always proves to be a crowd pleaser. Light, crisp and refreshing with a fruity, green apple taste, this bottle is great for spring time outside.

Gewürztraminer (geh-vertz-tram-eener) is under-rated, it’s partly to do with the tricky pronunciation of the grape. But don’t let that put you off because these can be sublime, especially from Alsace. They can be very floral and tropical, smelling of roses and exotic fruits, and usually full-bodied and heady.

Hugel’s “Classic” Gewürztraminer 2010 is a tangy white wine with apricot and spice notes. The aromas are floral—think honeysuckle, rose, and orange blossom—with a hint of the oriental. The flavors follow with orange blossom, tangerine, lychee and hint of pear. On the palate, the wine is dry, yet rich, fine and elegant, with excellent balance. It’s perfect for warmer weather and pairs beautifully with food (about $21)

Pinot Grigio from Italy will usually run you less than $20 a bottle and these are easy drinking wines. They mainly come from the cooler reaches of northern Italy, in Trentino Alto Adidge and Friuli. They are dry, light to medium in body and always marked by crisp refreshing acidity. Try them with scallops and crab cakes, or simply on their own. Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, tends to be full-bodied and unctuous, full of spice notes and peach and apricot flavors; Northern Italian Pinot Grigios are bright, light and zippy, with white peach or nectarine flavors and tingly acidity. New World versions are essentially divided into these two styles, and the wines tend to be labeled Gris or Grigio accordingly.

One New world Version to try is Bethel Heights Pinot Gris. This Pinot Gris is dry, with a strong citrus backbone. There are fruit forward citrus aromas of Meyer lemons, mandarin, and lime blossom. The palate showcases a refreshing focused core of citrus fruits over bright acidity, carrying the wine to a long finish. This wine exhibits grace and it’s perfect for warmer weather.

What about reds?
Very light reds, like Beaujolais, which work really well slightly chilled, are all about Summer drinking, but Pinot Noir is a supremely flexible grape which can suit many different foods and occasions. 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.

A Pinot that recently came into my glass is Astrolabe Pinot Noir, from Marlborough, New Zealand and it’s  is certainly worth a try. It’s a bright medium red offering up inviting red currant, raspberry and spice aromas on the nose. It is sweet and plush, but with a firm shape to its red berry and cinnamon flavors. There is a light dusting of tannins and persistent fruity finish (About $20).

For a fun summer red, try Pedroncelli Friends.Red it is a lovely red table wine to share with friends and family. A proprietary blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sangiovese, this red shows soft, rounded and tasty fruit notes. Black cherry and vanilla aromas are followed firm plum and toasty oak flavors that lead to an enjoyable finish. This is a graceful and well-balanced wine, that will pair beautifully with braised lamb shanks, seared salmon with balsamic sauce, barbeque chicken, couscous salads or simply your favorite appetizer.

The list could go on, given the multitude of other varietals that are available, and more importantly, enjoyable, but we’ll leave the rest for another time. So, whether cooking at home or visiting a local restaurant, try some adventure by ordering wine a little off the beaten path. It may be a home run.

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.

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.