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?

Transitioning to fall with Spanish Wines


More and more, wine drinkers are discovering Spain’s stylish mix of the traditional and modern wines of Ribera del Duero, an important wine-producing area in Castilla y Leon in northern Spain.

Ribera Del Duero is one of Spain’s truly legendary wine regions, known for produceing some of the world’s best and most exclusive red wines. Most of which are high-quality red Tempranillo-based wines. Tempranillo wines are delicious wines for transitioning into the fall and winter season.

Finca Feroes “Roble

100% Tempranillo | D.O Ribera Del Duero, Spain | ABV: 13.5%

If you’ve never tried Tempranillo, a good entry-level example is the Finca Feroes “Roble,” a  red wine that seamlessly melds fruit and oak-influenced flavors in a cuvée that delights the senses with its engaging aroma, complex flavor spectrum and elegant finish. The winemaker uses 100% sustainable old-world winemaking practices that are free of chemicals. The grapes are grown within a natural reserve in the Duero River Valley that has alluvial, pebbly soil and a continental climate perfect for traditional winemaking

The color is a deep cherry and the aromas and flavors combine elements of berry fruit, herbs, vanilla, coffee, licorice, oak and an earthy-leathery minerality.

The palate is delicate and well structured with rich red and black cherry notes followed by smoky spicy tobacco and hints of wood, vanilla and roasted coffee. Six months aging in American oak, imparts a savory oak flavor profile and the full-bodied tannins makes for a lingering finish.

This wine makes an excellent pairing with red meats, roast beef and smoky barbecue stews, lamb chops with rosemary and garlic or a grilled steak with green beans, buttered potatoes and sauce bearnaise.

Definitely serve  this wine in large glass at a serving temperature of 16° – 18°C / 50°- 64°F.

Finca Feroes Rueda
100% Verdejo | Rueda, Spain | ABV: 13%

When it comes to white wine, Verdejo is Spain’s signature white grape. The Rueda region, a atchwork of vineyards on the flat high plains south of Valladolid, produces some of the most amazing Verdejo wines.

Verdejo wines are refreshing and aromatic and sustainably-made Finca Feroes Rueda is a traditional medium-bodied style. Visually, this wine is a vivid wine, a shiny pale yellow with glints of green. The nose offers up fresh intense aromas of fresh citrus, green apple, peach and pineapple.

Expect deliciously fresh and bright acidity with racy, focused flavors of lemon rind, green apple, melon, pineapple, kiwi and pear. It also deliver notes of minerals and a hint of grass.

With its good length and a refreshing finish, this a beautiful white to enjoy with an aperitif or to accompany a seafood. This wine pairs really well with poached proteins, cured meats and pork dishes. With vegetarian dishes and salads, the acidity cuts through and compliments asparagus, tomatoes, olives, and greens with vinaigrette dressing.

The wine is light, dry, fresh and elegant  wine with tasty acidity and a delightful finish. It should be served chilled at  9ºC / 48°F. The wine isn’t known for longevity and should be consumed within 3-4 years of bottling.

These wines are truly inexpensive and affordable—please don’t let the price fool you into thinking that these wines aren’t special!

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!

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.

Pure Indulgence: The Chocolate Shop wine


If you are a chocolate lover and a red wine drinker, you’ve probably found bliss pairing bittersweet chocolate with an in-your-face California zinfandel. Let’s face it, chocolate and red wine has been the most reliable pairing in history. But sometimes, you want something a little different, so what do you do?
Reach for the ultimate in chocolate and wine pairing: Chocolate Shop!

Chocolate Shop is a red wine from Walla Walla, Washington that has been blended with natural dark chocolate to create what the winemaker calls “the ultimate Chocolate Lover’s Wine.”

The label on the Chocolate Shop, which is made by Precept Wine of Seattle, says it’s a red wine blended with natural dark chocolate flavors and has an alcohol level of 12.5 percent. Accordng to the label, the wine takes the chocolate and red wine pairing to the next level, “marrying chocolate flavor with red wine to create a sumptuous drink. We start with a proprietary red blend of the finest vinifera varietals, add a touch of oak and a kiss of sweetness to create the perfect fruit-driven foil for the rich dark chocolate which unfolds in silken layers across the palate.”

Sounds scrumptious, doesn’t it?

With chocolate-flavored wine becoming one of the hottest growth areas in alcoholic beverages in New Jersey, this wine definitely needed to be investigated further. There is no information on the label about the grapes, but it is a safe bet that it’s made from a traditional blend of Washington state grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc.

Deep, ruby red in color, it looks like a red wine. Inviting aromas of black cherry and dark chocolate waft from the glass, it makes you want to take a sip.
The first sip is deceiving, it tastes like a simple fruity black cherry flavored wine. But then light red berry wine flavor becomes a smooth, lively palate that artfully mixing an earthiness, hints of herbs and cocoa powder that leads to a dark-chocolate extract flavor for a velvety chocolate finish.

Athough the chocolate finish was reminiscent of Hershey’s syrup, nuances of sweet red wine berries lingered. If you’re fond of chocolate-covered raspberry or chocolate covered blueberries, you are sure to be a fan of this wine’s lush chocolate flavor wrapped in fruity flavors and a smooth silky finish. The most surprising thing about this wine, it isn’t overly sweet, dry wine drinkers will be pleasantly surprised by this little gem.

As for pairing the wine, the obvious choice would be to pair it with dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cacao, the higher the better. Raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, dark cherry or even orange based dishes or desserts would lend themselves well to pairing with the Chocolate Shop. Sweet glazed ham, molé or a steak in Merlot sauce would also make good companions for this bottle.

The chocolate shop also lends itself to a variety of cocktails, cooking or simply mixed with sparkling water and an orange twist. Yummy! It’s best served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

The label has it right: “Chocolate Shop provides you with an indulgent wine experience like no other.”

Drinking inside the Box: Black Box Merlot


Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.
Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.

When you are on a budget, as many people are these days, and you want a decent win for festive gatherings or proper hostess gifts. It’s time to let the Merlot out of the box. Yes, out of the box.

You see, Back Box Merlot arrived on the doorstep in little boxes that looked a bit like the juice boxes that often accompany my lunches to work. However, these were 500ml Tetra Paks, larger than a juice box and able to provide two large glasses or three “normal” glasses of wine.

So what did we do? Since it was now “wine time” we just had to try it.

The wine was definitely a Merlot enhanced with some Syrah, Petite Syrah and a touch of Sangiovese, and the four of us, Khadija, Karl, Beverly and I, were delighted by this unexpected treasure.

We found it to be a soft, easy-drinking, medium-bodied red wine, with rich aromas of plum and black cherry followed by some spice nuances, and a hint of cinnamon in the oak.

Khadija, fellow sommelier who works for Joe Canal’s in Marlton, said “It has a nose of cherries, cedar, spice and a hint of vanilla.” All four of us agreed about the delicious come hither “cinnamon-leather-oakiness” that made our mouths drool to try it.

The palate was rich and lavish with juicy fruit flavors of ripe plum, black currant and black cherries followed by some spiciness and chocolate notes. Khadija noted smoky vanilla and cinnamon, while Beverly noted a slight oakiness and strawberry flavors.

Karl, a romantic at heart, commented on the “subtle tannins that gave the wine its soft, velvety and voluptuous texture.”

It offered a long, warm finish tinged with sweet red currant and a lingering hint of chocolate. Simply put, you can’t go wrong with this easy-drinking red.

We all agreed that this would make an excellent “porch pounder” and holiday party wine, but it’s versatile enough to pair with almost any meal—poultry, red meat, pork, pastas or salads. It was delicious with our tasting platter of Gruyère, Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Muenster cheeses, proscuitto, salami, and mushrooms; and it would work well with a range of Italian dishes, savory roast chicken, steak in a red wine sauce or with casseroles. Speaking of sauces, this wine would make a rich base for red wine sauces.

Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.

As for the packaging, Black Box Tetra Paks are shatterproof, lightweight and portable so they’re great for taking anywhere—without having to worry about a corkscrew or broken glass around the pool, the beach or on the boat. The mini carton serving size is perfect for one or two.

In addition to the cute little Tetra Pak, Black Box wines come in a nice 3-liter sized box (equivalent to four 750ml bottles), perfect for standing neatly on the refrigerator shelf—no spillage can occur like it can with a corked bottle. besides, aving the box in your fridge makes it easier to pour that glass of wine while you’re in the kichen preparing dinner. In fact, it’s perfect for when you need to add wine to a recipe—it’s ready and waiting.

The best part of the big Black Box is that it stays fresh for about a month, so you don’t have to worry about opening a bottle for just one glass and having leftover wine (I know, who has leftover wine?)

Plus, the environmental benefit of this eco-friendly packaging is impressive: a 12-bottle case of wine weighs 40 pounds and holds 9 liters of wine, while a Tetra Pak case weighs 26 pounds and holds 12 liters of wine. This means packaging costs are reduced and more wine can be shipped while using less fossil fuel.

Besides Merlot, Black Box Wines also offers Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the 500ml Tetra Pak cartons. The wines are available here at the Shore for around $5 for the 500ml and around $25 for the 3-liter box at Gerards Wine & Spirits in Point Pleasant. These budget-friendly boxes are definitely worth a try.

Barbecue Wine Time


There’s something about the outdoor setting, the open fire, and the masculine image of the grill that, for many, says this is no time to be foolin’ with corkscrews and wine glasses. The casual setting aside, wine is no doubt the greatest barbecue beverage. I have never understood how wine became associated with pretense, because it can be the perfect accompaniment to a barbecue—not so filling as beer, nor so potentially embarrassing as multiple margaritas.

Let’s face it, wine pairs with anything that you want to throw on the grill — from burgers to barbecued chicken sandwiches to leg of lamb—wine is the ultimate condiment, working like a spice, helping to enhance the flavors of grilled food.

Wines for barbecue must support succulent slow-cooked meats and not be overwhelmed by or compete with the piquancy and sweetness of the sauce. An overly tannic, tight red is probably not the best choice. Casual wines with no pretense may be the norm for a barbecue, but don’t hesitate to pull out wines with pedigree either. Both styles will shine around the grill.

When selecting wines for barbecue, the ideal choice is a medium-bodied wine with enough personality to stand up to the myriad different flavors. You may want to try one that is fruitier or less dry one than you might normally drink.

A good rule of thumb for any barbecue wine is BBQ:

  • Big, full-bodied, with plenty of fruit extract and an alcohol content of around 13%.
  • Bold and assertive with forward fruit flavor, spice, and pepper along with good acidity.
  • Quaffable—smooth, delicious, easy to drink— in other words, gulpable.

The best barbecue reds are big, well-balanced, smooth and not over the top in alcohol, with great fruit and balanced acidity. Think luscious, ripe berry flavors and complex spice and you have an interesting counterpoint to barbecue. Try to avoid wines over 14.5%, as they are often “hot” and they open your taste buds up wide and then the heat from the spice becomes very prominent and overwhelms other flavors.

Sometimes, I think people only invite me to barbecues because they know I’ll bring the wine.

So, what do I bring? This time of year, an all-purpose barbecue favorite: dry rosé, it truly is a summertime treat.

Think Pink
Rosé is an ideal barbecue wine. Good rosés combine the crispness and refreshment of white wine (serve chilled) with intriguing flavors—some of the red fruits typical of red wine, but also notes of tea, orange rind, strawberries and watermelon. Too long out of fashion because of their association with cheap, sweet blush wines, the new generation of rosés are stronger, darker, drier, more intensely fruity and, for me, perfect summer wines.

Look for rosés from the southern Rhone, Languedoc, and Provence in France, Rioja in Spain, or such American examples as King Estate’s Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Bring White
One thing about barbecues: almost no one brings white wine! Everyone thinks about the meat; but who thinks about the heat? It’s hot outside! You may not like to drink white wine with red meat, but how much time do you spend eating as opposed to time spent chatting and waiting for the meat to be ready? So, it’s a good idea to bring a bottle of white that’s crisp and lean and lower in alcohol. Muscadet, Albarino, Vermentino, or Assyrtiko from Santorini are all good candidates for higher temperatures. These same wines often have the added benefit of being inexpensive.

Crisp, intensely aromatic high-acid white wines, like my old stand-by favorite, Sauvignon Blanc, work very well with grilled flavors. If you know me, I always have a Sauvignon Blanc on hand, it’s so versatile: great with grilled vegetables and shrimp, and is the best wine with tomatoes. Off-dry (slightly sweet) Rieslings and Gewürztraminers pair nicely with spicier and sweeter barbecue flavors, as sweet wines are particularly good at taking the heat out of spicy foods. Chardonnay, however, is probably best left for another day.

Try Cru Beaujolais
Okay, you may not want to eat burgers with a bottle of white wine. Then, think cru Beaujolais. Asking for cru Beaujolais is a polite way to say, “I want a better Beaujolais,” because basic Beaujolais covers a lot of ground and you could end up with a mediocre bottle. Cru Beajoulais comes from one of ten specific villages and being specific can help you get what you want. Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-a-Vent are village names to look for on the label—they combine accessible fruit with a refreshing acidity that pairs beautifully with barbecue.

Go Cab Franc
If you desire wine with more heft, then consider the Cabernet Franc grape variety from Chinon and Bourgueil in the Loire Valley. Or go local with Monmouth County’s own Four JGs Cabernet Franc. These wines are full of steak-friendly flavors. Meat that is charred and just off the grill goes great with the firm tannins you find in most Cabernet Franc wines.

More critical than the color of the wine, however, is how you serve it. Any wine—even red wine—benefits from being chilled in hot weather which explains why it’s not worth opening a wine of any great age or complexity for the average barbecue.

So chill them down to around 56° and have a good time in a casual relaxed atmosphere of someone’s backyard, and remember, I’ll bring the wine.

Eight Great Barbecue choices:

Think Pink
King Estate Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2011, Oregon, USA
This Rosé is the color of pink lemonade. Aromas include kiwi, watermelon and lychee. Fruity flavors of raspberries, pomegranates and plums accompany a viscous round mouth feel with a long, dry finish.

Chateau Routas Rouviere Rosé, Provence, France 2011
A blend of 55% Cinsault, 23% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, Rouvière Rosé is the quintessential, estate-produced Rosé. All of the Syrah and half of the Cabernet Sauvignon go straight into neutral barrels for primary and malolactic fermentation. The remaining Grenache and Cinsault are fermented in stainless steel tanks and blocked from malolactic fermentation. The two different lots are aged separately for five months and blended prior to bottling.One sip and it’s easy to see why this wine was rated 90 Points and given a 100 Best Buys of the Year Selection from Wine & Spirits magazine .

Bring White
Paco & Lola, Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2010
Clean and textured. Seductive exotic palate of pineapple and mango intermingled with refreshing citrus flavors amplified by minerally accents. Silky, but yet full bodied, with long lingering finish. Round and very tasty.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling, 2011 Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
This Riesling exhibits aromas and flavors of white peach, grapefruit and sweet lime with subtle mineral notes. The mouth-watering acidity is beautifully balanced by beautiful bright fruit and flavorful Washington Riesling fruit with crisp acidity and enhanced mineralilty.

Cru Beaujolais
Potel Aviron Fleurie Vieilles Vignes 2009
Ripe, gorgeously feminine, silky and pure, Fleurie is the quintessential Cru Beaujolais. This wine is very fruity and floral while keeping great structure.  Berry and flower aromas are followed by strawberry, black raspberry, mineral and dried flower flavors with a meaty savory character and gritty tannins.

Cabernet Franc
Guy Saget Chinon Marie de Beauregard 2009, Loire Valley, France
Marie de Beauregard Chinon is a deep ruby wine that offers black fruits (blackberry, blueberry, blackcurrant) delicately shaded by leather and vanilla. Powerful and racy, it offers modern-style toast, with dark cocoa and graphite notes folowed by a core of sweet plum, cassis, bitter cherry, with smoldering tobacco and tapenade notes.

Four JGs Cabernet Franc 2008, Outer coastal Plain, Colts Neck, NJ, USA
Four JGs Cabernet Franc 2008 has a spicy aroma reminiscent of plums and spices. The grapes were grown during the dry, hot summer of 2008 on the Four JG Vineyards in Colts Neck, New Jersey.  After fermentation, the wine was stored in American Oak barrels for 9 months adding a hint of chocolate

Just Red
Tir Na Nog Old Vines Grenache 2008, McLaren Vale Australia
This medium- to full-bodied Grenache has intense aromas of mulberries, figs and kirsch over touches of baking spices, game and Ceylon tea. Fleshy black raspberry and boysenberry preserves are followed by cola flavors show a good backbone of medium level silky tannins and crisp acid. Finishes velvety and sweet, with lingering spiciness.

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.

Time to entertain with wine


For many a host or hostess, holiday entertaining can be as daunting as it is delightful. Whether your tradition is a casual buffet or a sit-down feast, selecting and serving wines to complement Christmas dinner need not be daunting.

You will be able to reduce your stress and potential disasters by following these simple tips and words of advice: Have a flexible plan, make it fun — but most importantly, serve wine.

Picking wines to accompany a meal is a straightforward process. After all, wine is the perfect beverage solution because it’s easy and there is something for everyone.

First thing to do is to create a budget and stick to it. Wine doesn’t need to cost a lot to be good—there are plenty of delicious wines that cost less than $10 a bottle, and you don’t need to open the most expensive bottles to impress your guests.  Take comfort in knowing that terrific wines to go with your soireé are available in every price range.

Greet guests with a glass of bubbly. No matter the size or scope of your party, sparkling wine is the perfect aperitif, it’s fun, and many believe that bubbles serve to stimulate the appetite. There’s no need to get hung up on the formality of Champagne—there’s an abundance of sparklers and often best values can be found in an Italian Prosecco or a Spanish Cava.

Unless you know your guests’ preferences, look for food-friendly wines that pair well with a variety of foods. While you may have moved on from White Zinfandel and would love to serve a red Bordeaux, there are some people who simply don’t enjoy red wine, no matter how good it is;  so make sure that you have at least one red wine and one white wine available. Look for easy-sipping versions of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Merlot.

If you have guests who insist on drinking wines you don’t care for, such as White Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, or Merlot and only drink one glass at that, no worries.These wines are often available in four-packs of single-serving bottles, so you can graciously serve a glass without opening a full bottle. (You will then have wine for their next visit as well.)

Determining how much wine to have on hand can seem like a shot in the dark. Plan on three glasses of wine per person when wine is the principal beverage being served and estimate five glasses per bottle. It’s best not to get carried away with too many wines and it’s best to purchase wine, using this formula: 60 percent white wine / 40 percent red wine. Think of your event as a great opportunity for guests to try new wines.

When serving wine, serve it at the right temperature. Most people serve their whites too cold and their reds too warm. To attain the correct temperature, remember the 20/20 rule: Chill red wines for 20 minutes before serving; and remove whites from the fridge 20 minutes before serving. That way, the reds won’t be too warm and the whites won’t be too cold.

When serving wine with dinner, your options might include a white with the first courses, red with your main courses and a sparkling or dessert wine to complete the meal.

Offer snacks that are high in fat and protein, to help guests moderate their drinking.  The cardinal rule of food and wine pairing is not so much as what you’re serving as how it’s being prepared. Pair wine to the seasonings and cooking method as opposed to simply the starch or protein.

No matter how much you want to share a special bottle with friends, if one of your guests declines a glass, respect that decision and offer either chilled water or a selection of non-alcoholic beverages.

Don’t worry about having enough pieces of stemware to accommodate your guest list. Any glass can be a wine glass., but if you really want wine glasses, you may want to consider renting. Glasses come to your house clean and go away dirty; need we say more?

Guests might enjoy knowing a little about that special bottle you’re pouring, but avoid a lecture. Don’t call attention to the price or the difficulty you had in obtaining it, and don’t brag about your great taste. Simply pour, sip, let the wine speak for itself and relax, it’s going to be a great evening!

The Twelve Reds of Christmas


Or, a dozen of the 2010 Top Wines

Every year the Wine Spectator publishes their “Top 100” wines and folks go rushing to find these wines to try only to discover the vintage listed in the Spectator is long gone and the price listed is nowhere near the price on the store shelf. It’s a conundrum.

These poor wine drinkers sometimes think retailers are holding back or marking them up because of the great rating. In reality, the rating has created a larger demand for a finite supply of wine. What little remains of the highly rated vintage, becomes pricier and the new vintage can command the new higher price too.

Another issue the readers often complain about is that the price listed in the magazine isn’t the same as what they find on store shelves. If it doesn’t accurately reflect your region it’s because the price listed is an average of the price of the wine worldwide.

Many think that only high priced wines appear on the list. Not true. This year, five of the wines are over $100 and there is only one over $500  (Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée 2007). But 69 of the 2010 Top 100 are under $50 and of those, 45 are in the $10 – $28 range.

Happily, many of my favorites are listed. Since anyone can love an expensive wine, I decided to select some favorite reds from the list that are definitely affordable and always consistent from vintage to vintage. Not only do they taste great, they make great gift ideas. These reds definitely look sexy in a glass.

Here are a few particularly good buys offering consistency, so you don’t need to worry if you find the “correct vintag” on the shelf.

The Basic: Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir lovers will find Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008 fragrant with ripe raspberry and holiday spice. At 94  points, this ruby-hued pinot noir is ranked  6th  and it’s bursting with Russian River Valley character. It’s firmly structured, silky and hosts a plethora of Bing cherry and blackberry flavors spiked with hints of Darjeeling tea and cardamom. There is a subtle earthiness and balanced acidity that punctuates a lengthy finish. (About $45)

At nearly half the price of Paul Hobbs, and ranking 75th, A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir Oregon 2008 is a deeply colored ruby with aromas of minerals, red and black cherries, and spice. Rated 90 points, this  wine shows rich, red cherry and blue berried fruits, dark spice and dusty tannins. (About $22)

Sideways Anyone?
Merlot may have gotten a bad rap in that “Sideways” movie, but many still name this varietal as their favorite. We offer two from the great Northwest that you should definitely consider for holiday drinking. The first is number 43, Columbia Crest Merlot from Horse Heaven Hills H3 2007. This 91-point Merlot blend ( 92% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc) entices the nose with aromas of blueberry, cassis, hints of tobacco and spice aromas. The silky and sweet mid-palate has a slightly dusty, earthy component compounded by rich berry notes cumulating in a long and delicious finish. (About $15)

Following closely behind at number 46 and 92 points, is the Waterbrook Merlot Columbia Valley Reserve 2007. Here you will find aromas of brandied black cherries, mint, tar and charcoal on the nose. Smoky and dusty notes are followed by black walnut with a hint of molasses and lingering oak on the finish. (About $22)

Que Syrah, Shiraz
Bigger, bolder and more intense, this next wine is California Syrah at it’s best. Ranked 17th, the 95-point Tensley Syrah Santa Barbara County Colson Canyon Vineyard 2008 has bright raspberry nuances. We love the pepper, smoke, coffee, chocolate, and  sweet vanilla flavors that bring us to the fabulous finish. This is a BIG, balanced, approachable Syrah that will age gracefully over the next 8 to 10 years. (About $38)

At around $15, number 92 is De Martino Syrah Choapa Valley Legado Reserva 2007. This South American gem offers up fresh aromas of red fruit with hints of chocolate and a rich, velvety mouth-feel. The velvety texture is balanced  with hints of pepper and  persistent mineral notes. This 90-pointer makes for a great food wine accompanying everything from burgers and pizza to steak and lasagna.

When in Doubt, Go with a Red Blend
Whenever you’re in doubt about your gift recipient’s favorite varietal, go with a blend. Blends are great, there is usually at least one grape your “giftee” will love. My first find is a Portuguese wine ranked in 9th place: CARM Douro Reserva 2007.  CARM stands for Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira. A blend of a few indigenous grapes (50% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, and 25% Touriga Franca), this is an elegant and powerful red, with intense aromas and flavors of red berry, smoke, raspberry and spice leading to a rich finish of crushed red fruits an fig. It seems very Burgundian in style with its structured well-integrated tannins. This 94-point wine should cellar well through 2017. (About $25)

Number 77 is a 90-point red from Australia: Peter Lehmann’s Clancy’s Barossa 2007. This red begins with Shiraz blended  to it is 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. This robust full-bodied wine shows delicious velvet fruits of dark plum and berry. Licorice, smoke and herb flavors follow through to the lingering finish. It reminds me of a black forest chocolate cake. It is a soft, approachable and enjoyable wine. (About $16)

Our third red blend is ranked 63 and is d’Arenberg The Stump Jump Red South Australia 2008. The name ‘Stump Jump’ refers to the Stump Jump plough, a South Australian invention with the ability to ride over stumps and gnarled roots. Like the plough, this light and fragrant 90-point Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvèdre blend just jumps with flavor. There are ripe juicy fresh red berries, mulberry, fresh plum mixed with dark cherry, rhubarb, and a hint of pomegranate. Then there is the subtle layer of spice—cardamon, star anise, and cinnamon—adding complexity and interest. There are refined tannins and a nice lingering finish. This wine retails for about $11 yet we’ve seen this as low as $7.99. It’s definitely a great buy!

The Foodies: Italian Wines
Italian wine lovers will love number 25. The  96-point Ruffino Toscana Modus 2007 from the Chianti hills blends Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to the Sangiovese base. This is a solidly structured wine with typical cherry and red berry aromas. Complex and smooth, the wine is enriched by delicate notes of mint and small black berry fruits from the Merlot; the austerity, herbaceousness and elegance comes from the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicious with meals it makes an excellent gift. (About $35)

One of my all-time favorites and consistently rated above 90 points every year, is number 65: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Castello di Nipozzano Riserva 2007. This clean and racy mouthful shows the bright fruit flavors of sweet blueberry, cherry, and hints of  violet and lilac, all supported by a firm minerality. This is a full-bodied wine with fine tannins and vanilla in the lingering finish. (About $24).

A Go-to Wine
Number 44 is a great go-to wine, Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza 2006 from the heart of Spain. This bright, zesty Tempranillo is a brilliant cherry red sporting  scents of crushed rose petals and frisky cherry tomato. The tannins are light, with a gravelly feel. This is a versatile red perfect for drinking by the glass or pairing with practically anything. This wine is consistently rated around 90 points  and makes and excellent hostess gift. (About  $12)

The twelve reds for Christmas, all perfect for gift giving and drinking. Happy Holidays!