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?

Late Summer Whites


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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.

Wine for Fall Get-Togethers


Tailgaiting

These nine wines are always crowd-pleasers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oyster season begins


Every mermaid knows when oyster season begins
Jonathan Swift is quoted as having said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” But any oyster lover will tell you they are absolutely delicious.

In the early 19th century, oysters were cheap and mainly eaten by the working class. In New York, oystermen were skilled cultivators of their beds, which provided employment for hundreds of workers and nutritious food for thousands. Eventually, rising demand exhausted many of the beds. To increase production, they introduced foreign species, which brought disease, and when combined with erosion and other environmental factors, most of the beds were destroyed by the early 20th century. This scarcity increased prices, converting them from their original role as working class food to their current status as an expensive delicacy.

The old adage says to never eat oysters in months without an “R” in them, primarily, the warmer summer months—May through August. If you are a fresh oyster lover and haven’t had nary a one since last April, you should know the old saying is a myth whose basis in truth is that oysters are much more likely to spoil in May, June, July, and August. Plus, the summer months are the time of year they devote their energy for reproduction and become less meaty and less tasty. During summer or spawning season, the oyster becomes slimy and milky.  They are still edible but the taste and texture are quite unappealing.

Since September is the first month with an “R” and it has been designated National Oyster Month, and, if you’ve been paying attention, oyster season has already begun on the Shore, with both Asbury Park and Red Bank hosting oyster festivals.

So, what is it about these little bivalve critters that people love so much?

Well, oysters are an excellent source of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium as well as Vitamin A and Vitamin B12. Oysters are low in calories; one dozen raw oysters contain approximately 110 calories, and are considered the healthiest when eaten raw on the half shell.

Okay, you’ve probably heard oysters are considered to be an aphrodisiac. That “myth” may not bee too far from the truth, American and Italian researchers found oysters were rich in amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones and the high zinc content aids the production of testosterone.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all oysters are created equal (there are several species of oyster) nor do they all taste the same. Some are brinier, some are creamier, some are leaner, some are fatter, and some even have a “fruity” taste, vaguely suggestive of cucumber and melons. Some of the differences in taste have to do with the species, but it primarily has more to do with the temperature of the waters in which they are harvested; as well as the oyster’s fabled muscle, which constantly opens and closes to allow a flow of water and nutrients.

Perhaps the best known oysters in this area are East Coast Bluepoints (although Bluepoints technically come only from New York’s Long Island). These oysters can be found from Nova Scotia all the way down to the gulfstream waters of Florida and Texas. Northeast coastal oysters tend to have a longer shaped shell and belong to the Crassostrea virginica family. You will find these oysters are leaner in meatiness, with a moderately briny, salty, steely flavor, delicious for eating raw or with no more than a squeeze of lemon or splash of Mignonette sauce (a blend of fresh chopped shallot, mixed peppercorn, dry white wine and lemon juice or sherry vinegar).

In restaurants and markets these oysters are commonly sold by their points of origin—such as Long Islands (the original Bluepoints), Wellfleets (from Cape Cod), Delawares and Bristols (Maine). You might even find oysters that are similar to these from the coast off Eastern Canada sold by place names such as “Novys” (from Nova Scotia), Malpecques (Prince Edward Island) and Caraquets (New Brunswick).

Due to their lean and minerally taste, the easiest wine match for Northeastern oysters is probably any bone dry white with perceptively minerally or flinty qualities: ideally, the pure Sauvignon Blancs from France’s Loire River, most commonly bottled as Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé, and sometimes as Cheverny, Quincy or Menetou-Salon. Two good choices to look for are:

Chateau de Sancerre Sancerre this has the typical Sauvignon Blanc nose with floral accents and smokey, flinty nuances. The flavors are crisp and fresh with distinctive, subtle citrusy fruit.

Pascal Jolivet Chateau du Nozay is one of the most storied properties in Sancerre. This wine combines minerality, softness, roundness, generosity and exotic fruit making it a wonderful accompaniment to fish, seafood, white meat (chicken, veal) and goat cheese.

While they are certainly acidic enough, Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand and California are not quite as ideal since they tend to be fruitier and not as stony, minerally or flinty in flavor. One of the best and lower-priced alternatives to Loire River Sauvignon Blancs is  from the Western Loire Valley around the city of Nantes: the light and crisply dry Muscadet Sèvre et Maine such as the Chereau-Carre Chateau de Chasseloir Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie. It is a mouthful, but what a delicious one with its lemon peel, honeysuckle and mineral flavors. With its nice tangy finish, this $10 wine a fine companion to shellfish and oysters in particular.  You may have to search a little harder to find it locally, but it is a true delight.

Other great French classic choices include Chablis such as Olivier Leflaive Chablis AC Les Deux Rives. The signature cuvée Chablis is an outstanding value true to the character of Chablis with all of the mineral and flint characteristics of a more expensive Chablis. Or you can try a Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru with mouth-filling white peach, tangerine, lemon, and minerals flavors. This is an affordable 93 point Premier Cru white Burgundy that is just lovely.

If Chablis is a little above the price range, a white Burgundy such as Macon Villages or Pouilly Fuisse could be just right. The Louis Jadot Macon – Villages 2010 is quite lively, dry and easy to drink. It is a charming fruity wine with a floral scent and a hint of lemon. Drink it chilled with a range of foods including hors d’oeuvres, oysters, fried or grilled fish, sea food, goat’s milk cheese or poultry.

Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuisse 2009 has floral and fruity aromas dominated by almond and ripe grapes. This wine is refreshingly pleasant, ethereal in its lightness and marries well with hors d’oeuvres, delicately flavored charcuterie, oysters, mussels and any other shellfish.

If you don’t want a French wine. look for a wine with the word  trocken (“dry”) or halbtrocken (“half dry”) on the label. These white wines are made from Germany’s Riesling grape, which can retain a zesty, slatey-mineral flavor. At only 9% to 11% alcohol, these Rieslings sweep across the palate like a light, lilting, perfumey breeze, sweetening the taste of oysters with their natural lemon-lime acidity. One inexpensive bone-dry Riesling to look for is the Selbach Riesling Dry (Fish Label), from the Mosel region of Germany. The little orange-red fish on the label is there to show it pairs well with seafood. The flavors are classic: bright and fresh green-apple with a long and tart dry finish.

Other good choices for long and lean Northeastern oysters are Spain’s flowery and flinty dry whites made from the Albarino grape like: Paco & Lola Albarino 2010 from Rias Baixas. This wine is clean and textured with an exotic palate of pineapple and mango intermingled with refreshing citrus flavors amplified by minerally accents. This is a silky-smooth, full-bodied wine with a long, lingering finish.

Where Paco & Lola is full-bodied and seductive, Burgans Albarino borders on opulence. It has a lovely bouquet of white flowers, hazelnut, peach pit, and mineral with a surprisingly complex palate for the price.

The lean, briny oysters of the Northeast, however, are not to be confused with those of the decidedly warmer South East and Gulf Coast waters — where that muscle is most put to work. All that exercise makes the American East and Gulf Coast oysters the leanest in meatiness, with less of that creamy, fruity taste savored by true-blue oyster lovers. Florida’s Apalachicolas and Mississippi’s Emerald Points are not only leaner, but also duller, flabbier or “swampy” tasting — better suited for use in cooked oyster dishes like: Oysters Rockefeller; oyster po’ boys or stuffed into “carpetbagger” steaks, than eating raw.

The oysters found off the Western coasts of Canada and the American Northwest, in the coldest waters, live a more contented life, working that muscle much less and thereby developing a plumper, juicier, fruitier taste mingling with more distinctively briny, flinty flavors. These little guys would love to be paired with a Jorge Ordonez Botani. Botani is moscatel from Andalusia, Spain and this delightfully aromatic white displays a nose of mineral, spring flowers, acacia, and a hint of tropical aromas. Although the aromatics suggest sweetness, the wine is very dry, and very fruity. There are citrus and fine herbaceous notes and an unexpected mineral edge that is so refreshing. The finish is exceptionally fine and lingering and fresh.

Remember the bivalves are available all year, but they’re best eaten in the colder months from September to April and, like fine wine, raw oysters have complex flavors that vary greatly among varieties and regions: sweet, salty, earthy, or even melon. The texture is soft and fleshy, but crisp on the palate.

When buying oysters, avoid ones that are open or don’t close right away after you lightly tap them on a surface. That means the oysters are dead. Make sure live oysters smell like the sea and prepare them your favorite way.

So, whether you have them raw, steamed, fried, baked, stuffed or made into a sandwich, or topped with Tobasco sauce, cocktail sauce, butter and lemon, garlic or vinegar, oysters are always satisfying. Most people either love them or hate them, but they’ve definitely got something going for them if they’ve been around for so long.

2011 the year of the comeback


What are the new trends for wine in 2011?

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

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

The next great frontier: Malbec.

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

iPad Wine Lists will become more prevalent.

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

South Africa—it’s not just Pinotage anymore.

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

Spain will continue to amaze us.

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

Crazy for Pinot Noir?               

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

“Boomer” Chardonnay.

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

Riesling reigns

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

Pink: Here-to-stay Rosés

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

Dessert wines are making a comeback. 

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

Green is the new black!

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

Think global – act local.

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

Dinner at 8 — wine dinners are in vogue.

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

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

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