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!

September’s Wine I like It Wine Tasting


Wine I Like It had it’s most recent tasting at Branches Catering in West Long Branch NJ September 39, 2010. This month the ten wines represented several different wine regions rather than just one as we had done in previous months. The wine regions represented: California, Hungry, Chile, South Africa, and Italy.

Wine I Like It is a not for profit blind tasting group designed to help people discover the sorts of wine they like, and at the same time, to help winemakers, distributors and retailers, determine what consumers look for in their wines. It is especially helpful for launching new wine products and or relaunching a once popular brand that has grown a little “tired”. The Wine I like It tasting panel group consists of more than 300 members who come from all walks of life and backgrounds. The ages range from 21 to 70-plus. Some are neophytes in the wine world wanting to learn more, others consider themselves wine experts and then there are the members who just love wine and are looking for something new and different for their  wine rack. The group is nearly evenly divided between male and female.

For each tasting panel, members are selected based on the day of the week they stated was the best day of the week for them to come and taste. All of the members for that particular day of the week are invited to attend the tasting, but only the first thirty to reply are accepted for the tasting, the next five are wait listed in case of cancellations, all of the other respondents are given first call for the next blind tasting date.

Each member of the panel is provided with a blank form with space for each of the ten wines being tasted. Here they are asked to record their initial impressions of the wine as to whether they like it or not based on a 0 – 5 scale with 5 being I like it a lot. There is also space for them to write notes, let us know how much they are willing to pay for this wine in a retail shop, and, if they like, guess they type of wine and wine region. The panel members are introduced to one another and then asked to refrain from speaking about wine or their impressions of each wine during the tasting so as not to influence one another.

The 25 tasters began the evening with a light, sparkling Moscato before settling down to begin the sampling.

The top wine this month was Dardano Zara Rosso 2008. Zara is a rich deep nebbiolo bend from the Langhe area of Piemonte in Italy. With 119 out of 145 points it was the clear leader. The comments ranged from  “Nice texture, full-bodied, smooth, rich cherry flavors” to “dried meat taste”. “Big and complex”  was noted by several of the panelists.  One wrote “Crisp flavor, it would be nice with a steak.” Another stated, “Best of the reds!” While others put it simply: “My favorite!”,  “Delicious!”, and “Yummy!” This wine normally sells for around $17 and the tasting panel was on track estimating they would pay up to $18 for a bottle.

There was a tie for the number two position, these two wines couldn’t have been more different from one another, yet both wines scored a total of 103 points out of 145. This Bliss Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 from California was one of the two and the other came  from an area approximately 7000 miles way in Hungary, In Vino Veritas Tokaji Furmint Félszáraz (Medium-Dry) 2007.

Most of the panel surmised This Bliss was a California appellation Cabernet Sauvignon. One taster simply drew a smiley face for her comments, but most wrote the wine was “Nice aromas, big, jammy, slightly peppery and spicy with a smooth finish” One proclaimed it was amazing and another simply said “Excellent! I want barbecue! This Bliss normally sells for around $12. Here, the panel was generous, they said they would pay $17 for it.

Furmint wasn’t a grape most had tasted before, so many guessed it to be a German dry riesling or a gewürtztraminer from Germany or Austria and were surprised to discover the wine was Hungarian. The comments were unanimous: “Clean, crisp, fruit flavor of pears. Good and sweet”. One said it reminded him of salt water taffy. Another commented that it was “Nice and crisp fruit—good with Indian or Thai food” One declared it the favorite wine of the evening.  The panel was on target when it came to price, they said they would pay between $15 and $16 and this wine is normally offered for sale at around $16.

Coming in with the third highest score, but still  number four was Stellekaya Boschetto 2004—a red blend from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Boschetto is a blend of 40% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 10% shiraz, and 10% sangiovese.  Most of the tasters commented on the smoky aromas and flavors. One taster immediately guessed she was drinking a South African wine and thought it might be a cabernet/merlot blend. References were made to the scent of “forest floor” and “band-aids”.  Many agreed it was “layered, earthy, and complex with smooth tannins.” One commented the wine was “Easy to drink and good for a party”, while another stated, “Great flavor, well-rounded. I’m in love!” Here, our tasting panel underestimated the cost of this wine—$17 as opposed to the normal retail price of $31.

Rounding out the top five was Grand Sasso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 from Italy. Nearly all noted the aromas of violets and strawberry were noted. One taster opined that the wine had “lots of fruit on the nose, but drier on the palate than I thought it would be.” One person suggested  “Light-bodied red —would be great with fish, pork, or chicken.” Another wrote: “Dry and flavorful—I like it!” The average price was estimated at $15.75—close to the $15 retail price.

While most of the tasters were unsure of the style and type of wines they were drinking, one taster correctly identified seven of the ten wine varietals and four of the wine regions. It was a fun and informative session for all panel members.

The next Wine I Like It Blind Tasting is scheduled for the end of October 2010 and WineILike It is actively seeking to add panel members.

1. Dardano Zara Rosso 2008 Nebbiolo blend

2. This Bliss Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008

2. In Vino Veritas Tokaji Furmint  Félszáraz (Medium Dry) 2007

4. Stellekaya Boschetto 2004 40% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Merlot 10% Shiraz / 10% Sangiovese

5. Gran Sasso Montelpulciano DOC, 2009

Mister C’s Wine and Food Pairing


On September 29th Mister C’s Beach Bistro  presented their first wine and food pairing of the fall season. 78 guests were treated to an assortment of six wines and six food samplings designed to delight their palates. Mister C’s chef, Micheal, impressed the entire contingent with his culinary skills.

The first selection was a Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County, California 2009 paired with Goat Cheese Medallions, heirloom tomato relish and crostini. The guests were instructed to first take a sip of the wine and reflect on the acidity and flavors,  try the food and sip the wine again. When tasted with the goat cheese, the citrus, mango, kiwi, and lime aromas and flavors were softened and the flavors of vanilla, guava and grapefruit shone through complementing the tanginess of the cheese. The crisp freshness and subtle oak characteristics added a bit of complexity and depth for this classic pairing. Many who said they didn’t enjoy the first taste because they thought it was “too acidic”, said they were surprised by how much they liked it with the cheese and how creamy the wine and cheese became when paired together.

The second offering was a very traditional pairing, Smoked Salmon Crepe, shaved fennel and creme fraiche with a Rodney Strong Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River, California, 2008. The smokiness of both the salmon and the pinot noir melded together beautifully on the palate. The supple texture of this lively, medium-bodied  wine offered cherry and rose petal aromas and flavors which beautifully set off the shaved fennel. The subtle, toasty vanilla flavor of the wine was topped off by the fresheness of the creme fraiche. This seamless tasting proved why Pinot Noir and Salmon are a perfect classic pairing.

Vegetarians take note: the third selection was a very happy surprise to everyone: a Grilled Vegetable Kabob with braised lentils paired with a sangiovese. At first, it seemed the Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese, Tuscany, Italy, 2007 would overpower the vegetables because it has an intense aroma of fresh fruit and flowers. But, when sipped with the vegetables, this structured wine proved to be well-rounded and harmonious. In fact, the wine made the lentils stand out and seem so much richer. The sweet tannins and a lingering taste of fruit blended beautifuly with the charred grilled flavors of the squash, tomato, mushroom, and onion kebab. It was truly a delight.

Then came one of the most favorite pairings of the evening: Saffron Risotto Cake, filetto sauce and shaved pecorino paired with Montes Purple Angel Carmenére, Colchagua Valley, Chile, 2006. Purple Angel is a blend composed of 92% Carmenére and 8% Petit Verdot. The pungent scents of red and dark berry preserves complicated by musky herbs, cracked pepper and potpourri, with an undercurrent of oak spices, balanced the acidic tomato base of the filetto sauce and shaved pecorino.The delicious risotto was cooked to perfection and balanced by the sweet blackberry and candied cherry flavors of the sangiovese. The combination of the wines velvety tannins and bright minerality enhanced the tangy edge of the pecorino and filetto sauce. Delicious flavors lingered long after the dish was finished.

The Risotto cake was followed by a Grilled Diver Scallop on a bed of Asparagus Corn Salad olive aioli paired with Esperto Pinot Grigio, Veneto Italy, 2008. Guests were told the wine was selected to act as a lemon lemon would for seafood. The freshness was the first thing one noticed followed by a delicate orange peel spiciness that complimented the scallop so beautifully. The structured full-bodied palate was intense with citrusy acitiy that balanced the olive aioli accenting the rich flavors of the asparagus and corn. It was a clean, crisp, and super satisfying pairing.

The last pairing was the dessert pairing. Normally, one would think salad would be the first course, but the Watermelon and Fresh Mint Salad paired with Columbia Winery Cellarmaster Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, 2008 made for a delicious and semi-sweet finish. The watermelon was perfectly chilled and the bits of fresh mint lifted the flavor. Bits of craisins added a sweet tartness and chewy texture. The Riesling, with its pleasing, floral aroma with hints of peach, quince, lime and clove offered rich, crisp and full-flavored fruit that, when combined with the watermelon, created a delicious mouthful of fruit salad. The wine and watermelon combination was fresh, refreshing, bright and a bit off-dry. A perfect finish to a delightful tasting.

The servings were generous and it was easy to see no one left hungry. Hostess and owner, Karen Marzulli, stated that “everyone received a little more than a pound of food each.” The best part? The price, an affordable $35 for six generous portions and wine samples and a beautiful view.

If this first of Mister C’s series of food and wine pairings is any indication of what is to come this season, you will be well served to begin making reservations now. Mister C’s Beach Bistro is located on the beach at Allen Avenue in Allenhurst, New Jersey 07711. Future pairings and events are posted on Mister C’s Beach Bistro web calendar.

Red White and “The Grill”


Conventional wine wisdom often highlights young, fresh white wines with plenty of crisp acidity for summertime, but reds can make their mark for summer. They work best especially around the grill with red meat.

If you are having a backyard barbecue, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pairing wines with your grilled classics, but there are guidelines to help you get the perfect pairing. Just remember,  pairing wine with grilled foods is a forgiving task.

Generally, red wines go well with grilled red meats – basic burgers, steaks, ribs and more. These meats are often somewhat salty, a bit smokey and, when grilled with marinades, sauces, or added condiments, and tend toward being a touch sweeter or spicier.  Most grilled dishes are relatively simple; there’s a main ingredient (usually a protein of some kind), plus seasonings in the form of marinades, rubs and sauces.

To choose a wine to pair with something off the grill, consider two things: First, how hearty is the food, and second, what’s the dominant flavor?
For lighter foods—white-fleshed fish, vegetables, chicken breasts—pick a lighter wine. For heartier foods—sausages, burgers, steaks—choose a more robust wine. (You can find light-, medium-, and full-bodied wines in both red and white.)

Now we tackle flavors. The dominant flavor is a key thing to consider when selecting a wine.  If your meat dish contains a heavy-duty dose of sauce — barbecue, teriyaki, brown sugar, or your own secret recipe— give it wine pairing priority over your meat.

For steaks and butterflied legs of lamb—even if they’re marinated beforehand—the dominant flavor will almost always be the meat itself. If any of these are the mainstay on the plate,  spicy wine lovers should opt for a solid Zinfandel or Shiraz. For those who prefer their wine more fruit forward, a more mellow Merlot will fill the bill. If  your standard palate preference is a Cabernet Sauvignon with a firm backbone, go for it, will also give the meat a hand-up.

If you find chicken, fish, or pork chops on your plate and you really, really have your heart set on a red wine, then a Pinot Noir with its smoky background or a fruit-forward Merlot would be a safe bet. Don’t forget if the chicken is slathered in barbecue sauce or the shrimp is covered with a fiery garlic-habanero vinaigrette, the sauce or seasoning is by far the main flavor of the dish and the wine should compliment those flavors.

Okay those are the guidelines, but how do you decide which varietal is best for your grilling expertise?

America’s favorite red, Zinfandel, is able to handle a wide variety of red meats. This bold red wine bellies up to meaty, smokey flavors. Zinfandel’s black pepper spice, acidity and ripe tannins can often carry your meat’s fats and texture to a new dimension. A Zin works well with barbeque sauce, steak sauce and mild salsas. One thing to remember if there is too much spice in the sauce the wine and sauce will compete and both will end up as losers.

With the characteristic fruit-forward flavor profile, Merlot will support the spice and not aggravate it. Yes, Merlot is the spicy sauce answer to the above dilemma. Grilled pork chops, chicken and garden-variety salads with lighter dressings also mingle well with Merlot.

Number three on the grill-friendly wine list, Syrah or Shiraz is delicious with just about any red meat. Offering dynamic, somewhat aggressive fruit flavors, balanced with more mellow tannins and a softer-fuller body – this wine’s place to shine is definitely at a barbecue gathering! Consider a bold, Australian Shiraz with a plate full of nachos or buffalo wings. Rhône Valley Syrahs tend to have a smokier flavor characteristic and lend themselves extremely well to smoked meats.

Cabernet lovers, you know Cabernet Sauvignon is made for steaks with a higher fat content and beef or turkey burgers. The tighter tannins of this fourth choice are significantly mellowed by the meat’s fat, producing a palate pleaser to remember! Top your burgers with bold cheeses, such as Humboldt Fog or a sharp Vermont cheddar and this varietal gets even better!

Number five is a flexible varietal that is known for being extremely food-friendly: Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir can go from grilled fish to a juicy burger in a single sip. An ideal candidate for grilled fish – especially salmon, burgers and chicken both show their best   in the presence of a good Pinot Noir. If you aren’t sure what wine will work with your grilled dinner, Pinot Noir will probably be your best choice.

The lighter meats and sauces are more apt to flow better with white wines that share similar flavors as the foods they are meant to accent. Chardonnay or Spanish Albariño will perk up chicken, shellfish, and grilled fish. Chardonnay also works wonderfully with creamy sauces, and grilled corn on the cob with lots of butter!

My favorite Sauvignon Blanc has a herbaceous quality that supports marinades and sauces with similar attributes. For example, grilled chicken that has been doused in Italian dressing or a citrus marinade will be unbeatable with a Sauvignon Blanc. Roasted peppers, veggies in fresh herbs, grilled fish with dill and lemon and an array of appetizers will all be highlighted in tandem with a Sauvignon Blanc.

The perfect varietal for grilled bratwursts, shrimp, barbecue chicken, grilled pineapple and a variety of grilled veggies is none other than Riesling. Bone-dry, Kabinett, Auslese, or Spätlese, all offer the beautiful flavors of ripe fresh fruit,  to balance these dishes. It’s hard to beat an off-dry Riesling (the higher residual sugar does it’s part to tame the heat)

If you’re not sure about Riesling then Gewürtztraminer often offers a balance to spice with its slightly to moderately sweet character. This varietal would is a great choice to go with blackened Mahi Mahi, or grilled Cajun chicken with fresh mango salsa.

Don’t forget your sparklers! Champagne from France, Cava from Spain, Franciacorta from Italy and all manners of sparkling wines from across the globe are great in the summer for their natural acidity and refreshing bubbles. Not just for celebrations, sparkling wines are excellent additions to the dinner table and work well with many types of seafood. Believe it or not, sparkling wine  is amazing with salty, greasy potato chips! Try a sparkling Cava for chips and salsa. A light sparkling wine will also handle cheesy nachos well, especially if there is a bit of spice to them.

Wine may be the most versatile food partner there is, so whatever you decide to pair with your favorite grill, make certain that your wine serving temperatures are on target. Summer heat can turn a good red wine into an overly warm alcohol bomb, and whites stranded on ice until poured and then stuck back in the ice bin, can find their aromatics and fresh flavors muted by the frigid temperature.

Ultimately, it is your palate that your seeking to please by the wine pairing so happy grilling and see you around the barby!

It’s Tailgating Season!


To those not familiar with tailgating, I’d like to explain that it is a pre-game ritual that typically revolves around barbeque, a little loud music, flying frisbees, and some very enthusiastic sports fans. Traditionally this activity also involves the consumption of alcoholic beverages such as beer or mixed drinks and the grilling of various meat products.

These festivities, along with delicious food and a vast sea of friends in beautiful team colors all turn a large otherwise empty parking lot into a big, fun-loving neighborhood. Around here, most tailgating begins at Giants Stadium and continues to other venues. Except for the “The Hunt” that used to be held in Middletown, Monmouth County, where people did consume wine, wine lovers were definitely in the minority at tailgating events. There was always a lot of beer. Non-beer drinkers like me had to “settle for” soda or water or nothing. Those were dark days for wine drinkers. Thankfully, there’s been a big turnaround and we wine drinkers aren’t subjected to going without a beverage of choice for lack of a corkscrew.

Today, more and more tailgating fans are raising a glass, proudly toasting the team with burly Zins and strapping Cabs. I like to think it’s the new perfect pairing: wine and tailgating.
But pairing wine with tailgating means we need to be certain our wine complements the traditional tailgate party staples: hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, cole slaw and potato salad, or foie gras, roasted quail, caviar and salad nicoise…or whatever dish you find easy to prepare and eat on site.

Be Guided by the Weather

Choosing wines for tailgating should be guided by the weather. As the weather turns nippier nothing feels better than to sip a big heart-warming red. Besides, the food is more robust and the dark red complexity is perfect for good food and friendly gatherings. I know, most of the foods you might choose to serve at your tailgating party, such a burgers, hot dogs or sausages, might go better with a red wine than a white.
When I provide the wine, I take both red and white. It never hurts to serve crisp, brightly flavored whites for refreshing results (and your favorite white wine drinker). For the red, I look for something easy to drink, affordable, and something that will go with a variety of foods.

Here’s a helpful hint: red wines also benefit from chilling. Softer varieties like Zinfandel, Grenache or Tempranillo taste delicious cooler and even more tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignons need a light chill to reduce the temperature to a more civilized “room temperature” (56°).  Just don’t over chill, as the tannins will turn the wine bitter.

Make it Flavorful
Whether your wine is full-, light-, or medium-bodied, the wine should be well concentrated. Wimpy wines will disappear when paired with strong-flavored and smoky dishes. Wonderfully tasting grilled foods allow complex wines to shine, but can easily overshadow a less powerful one. Definitely go for the rich and complex, with a long finish, to go with a powerful BBQ ribs dish.

Paringa Sparkling Shiraz isn’t a high-brow wine, but it still tastes very good and more importantly it’s a lot of fun. It is truly a different wine that is a great conversation starter and will be remembered. The wine itself is a bit sweet (20% residual sugar), but it doesn’t seem to be overly sweet. It tickles your palate with bubbles that burst with raspberry and blueberry flavors. The tannins are creamy and smooth, giving this wine a and your toasts bit more sophistication.

Make it Fruity
Fruity and even off-dry wines can taste very dry and succulent when paired with savory smoky dishes like grilled meats and hotdogs. Just be sure that the wine you are serving is sweeter than the entree, condiments, or any added flavoring. Sweet food will make a dry wine taste sour and unappealing.
Try Louis Jadot Beaujolais—a fruity red. This French wine has a musky bouquet of strawberries and salt-water taffy, along with a pleasant weedy scent. Light on the tongue, it has higher acidity than most red wines and for those who like a fruitier wine, this would be a nice choice.
Maybe, you want to impress a few friends with your wine knowledge and try Schlink Haus Red a 100% Dornfelder from Germany. Yes, this semi-sweet red wine is made from the little-known Dornfelder grape. This is a delightfully full-bodied fruity red wine with flavors of blackberries, cherries and chocolate with a hint of citrus. This is a good wine for non-wine drinkers with enough complexity to satisfy the old pro.
This is also where a good fruity white can come into play, like a good riesling. I do like to bring along a riesling or two to any event, basically because they are usually light, fruity, go with anything and are generally lower in alcohol making them, for me at least, the perfect party drink. Hoffman Simon Kabinett Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling 2007 (I know, easy for you to say) is a case in point, at 9% alcohol it provides a focused beam of mineral, along with crunchy apple, peach and citrus. It’s a racy white with good length making it an entirely attractive and characteristic Mosel wine.
Another unique wine that’s extraordinarily food-friendly, especially with spicy foods and the hard to match flavors of ginger, cilantro, chile peppers, mint, and wasabi is Sokol Blosser’s Evolution 9 a blend of nine grapes: Müller-Thurgau, White Riesling, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner. The nine grapes tie together perfectly, creating a smooth, layered white wine that can hold its own or stand up to just about any food pairing you dare to serve. It pairs well, with anything from light salads to the hottest fusion-style cuisine.

Make it Red
White wines are great with many grilled foods, but when in doubt, always reach for red. A good rule of thumb is the darker the food, then the darker the wine, the richer the food then the richer the wine and when in doubt, drink Beaujolais. Chances are the red or black fruit character of these wines will give some punch to a smoky dish, and even the modest tannins of a red can work wonderfully in counteracting the mild bitterness that comes from charring food on the grill.

If you’re not in the mood for Beaujolais, Snap Dragon Red, 2007 from California is a good choice. The aromas include dark scents of spiced plums, coffee, leather, dark chocolate and sweet tobacco. When I drink this, I taste everything from the aroma, especially sweet cherries and tobacco and it is really easy drinking and a great value. I often recommend this wine for burgers or sausage.

Red Truck, 2007 also from California is another red blend favorite for outdoor drinking. The nose is full of dusty scents of black cherries, saddle leather, baby powder, unsweetened chocolate and a hint of cassis.This red blend is dusty and dry, round and smooth, soft and fruity sweet. perfect for grilling. Other good barbecue choices are Malbec, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Zinfandel.

The key thing to remember is that the requirements for a tailgating wine are simple: inexpensive, easy to drink, no major flaws, and save your best wine for a more elegant occasion.

See you at the stadium!

It’s time for a Garden Party!


With the warmer weather and summer visitors soon to be converging, it’s time to entertain, and what’s better than a great outdoors Garden Party!

Seriously, a Garden Party can be a very good source of providing your family, friends and neighbors a truly wonderful time. No I don’t mean the garden parties of “olden days”, fussy, extravagant affairs from the late Victorian era.

Those elaborate, lavish garden parties were an entertaining social affair, held at the grandest of Newport, Rhode Island’s mansions, at suburban “summer cottages,” and at the more local city outdoor parks. Then, the garden party was deemed a Hudson River, coastal Long Island, and Jersey Shore necessity during the summer months. The owner of a fine summer place was expected to allow those who “must stay in the city” at least one sniff of his roses and newly mown grass in the summer.

These affairs took weeks to prepare and, needless to say, extravagant society garden parties were key to a successful summer social calendar. Typically, engraved invitations on simple watermarked notepaper were sent out a fortnight in advance, with travel directions enclosed on a separate card. As the proper garden party was always held entirely out of doors, the invitations always had the caveat “weather permitting.”

When the big day arrived, servants were on hand to greet guests upon their arrival and lead them to the lawn where the hostess would be waiting to welcome them. There was usually a tent pitched where the refreshments were served, and, if the weather was questionable, the hospitable hostess was prepared to move indoors so no guest would endure an unexpected heavy downpour, ruining fine silks and beautiful bonnets.

Piazzas were filled with chairs; rugs were laid down on the grass and amusements were always provided for the guests, such as croquet, lawn tennis, musicians and a dance area. An important element of success was to set up plenty of seats, most were arranged in the shade looking on to the croquet ground; and the others scattered about the grounds. It was common to use sofas, arm-chairs, and ordinary chairs from the house, with an intermingling of basket chairs and garden seats.

No one used their best glass or china at these at these garden parties — all the necessary glass, silver, and china were rented from the caterer, as it saved a world of counting, washing and storing.

Victorian servants were instructed to preserve the proprieties of a proper dinner—even when the meal was served under the trees. The entire meal was served cold: salads, cold birds, ham, tongue, pâté de foie gras, cold patties, salmon, jellies, ices, cakes, and punch. Fruit was a great feature of garden party entertainment—melons, peaches, grapes, strawberries, were all served throughout the season. Servants were instructed that there would be no piles of dirty dishes, knives, forks, or spoons visible on the green grass; punch bowls would be continually replenished; the cups, spoons, plates, wine glasses, and forks were abundant and clean. Many hospitable hosts offered claret-cup, champagne-cup, Madeira, sherry, and, port brandy and soda-water at these extravaganzas.

Thankfully, today our summer garden parties don’t need to be as lavish, time consuming or expensive as in days of yore.

Come on, it’s summer, and it’s too darn hot for stuffy rules!

Summer calls for summer food, and summer food calls for summer wines — wines that are light, chilly, and not too serious, so that they leave you light and chilled, too. Surprise — this includes red wines (chilled, of course).

Today’s summer parties are about leafy greens, fresh herbs, juicy tomatoes and fresh chevré to make salad dishes spiked with citrus dressings. Summer parties wouldn’t be complete without the tangy and smoked flavors from a BBQ. The bright acidity and flavors of lemons, tomatoes and grilled vegetables (not the mention the rising temperature) require a lively, lower alcohol wine.

While your usual summer choice might be a jug of something simple, like an inexpensive white Zinfandel, you’ll be rewarded if you give your summer wines at least half as much thought as you give your summer food. Start with light and easy-to-prepare summer foods — salads, grilled vegetables, and seafood. The wine you choose should have that same elegant nonchalance.

Grüner Veltliners from Austria and Spanish Albarinos are white wines full of citrus flavors and sparkling acidity that perfectly complement spring dishes. Two recent favorites include Grooner’s Grüner Veltliner and the Paco & Lola Albarino. You may want to consider a Muscadet from France with its crisp, citrusy, somewhat earthy, austere taste that makes it ideal with many warm-weather dishes. Crisp, lemony Vinho Verde from Portugal makes even the most basic dishes — grilled vegetables doused with extra-virgin olive oil and a spritz of lemon, or a light fish, or pasta with pesto and walnuts — seem like the most special meal.
Pinot Gris from Oregon, is one of the most charming white wines around. It has a special zest that makes even mustard potato salad dance in your mouth. For Oregon Pinot Gris, we love A to Z, Soléna, and King’s Estate Pinot Gris. Don’t rule out Pinot Gris from Alsace or France, because they’re sometimes great deals.

My all-time favorite for a simple garden party is Viognier. Honeysuckle, citrus blossoms, gardenias, tangerine, apricots and peaches all mesh in a glass of Viognier. Loaded with aromatics and, at its best, spices and minerals, Viognier is good for some intriguing food matches. When it balances flamboyance with crispness, Viognier is this season’s best garden-party wine. Some favorites of mine are Yalumba’s Viognier (Australia) with a perfect balance of florals, apricots and peaches, richness and acidity; Pepperwood Grove Viognier (California) offering lots of well-balanced fresh honeysuckle and juicy apricot nectar; McManis Viognier (California) with heady honeysuckle, nuts, and ripe peach flavors and aromas; Albermarle Viognier 2007 (Virginia) this one is herbal and citrusy yet lush, with white peach and apricot nectar.

As your food gets more complex, so should your wine. Sancerre (I do love Sancerre!), from the Loire Valley of France, tastes like a very ripe, just-picked green apple. Imagine that juicy flavor with curried chicken salad or a roasted chicken with cranberry relish. Sancerre is made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, so if you’d rather stay closer to home, try the Sauvignon Blanc from Merryvale Starmont Vineyards in California. It’s rich and fruity, a fabulous mouthful of wine, and fun just sipped alone. While it doesn’t need food — unlike Muscadet or Vinho Verde, which hit their highest notes with food — Sauvignon Blanc can give a lift to turkey or ham sandwiches, chicken and seafood salads, and crudites with a simple dip. It’s heavenly with a Waldorf salad — yummy!

Though I know you’re probably skeptical, try a German Riesling —there are few better wines with pork roast and lamb sandwiches. German wine labels are elaborate, but look for the words Riesling and Kabinett, which means the wine is a drier (not sweet) one made from the wonderful Riesling grape. Mosel-Saar-Ruwer rieslings will likely be especially flowery and lovely. Chill well, open, and sip.

Barbecue wine? Of course. Barbecue doesn’t just mean beer. For barbecues, I prefer bright pink Rosés with complexity and some grip to them to match strong BBQ flavors, one of my recent discoveries is the Argentine Melipal Rosé of Malbec. Malbec grapes give depth balanced by the refreshing flavors of strawberry and watermelon. Do try rosé wines from France — they’re fruity, flinty, and a bit earthy — and are often less expensive, and far better with hamburgers, tuna steaks, grilled vegetables (think mushrooms), and barbecued chicken. We especially like Chateau Calissanne Rosé from Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France and Buoncristiani Rosato from Napa Valley or Kluge Estate Winery Albemarle Rosé from Virginia. Then there are white Zinfandels that not only are pink, pleasant and easy to drink, but can actually add some complexity and spirit to your picnic foods, like cold roast chicken, grilled shrimp, smoked meats, and potato salad. If you’re ever lucky enough to see the white Zinfandel from De Loach Vineyards White Zinfandel, grab it. For a delicious Pink Sparkler we recommend Riondo Pink Prosecco.

For something a little different, try a Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais from France. Be sure to chill it. It’s okay to chill some red wines after all, it’s summer! The diffuse flavors of Beaujolais are far better and more concentrated when the wine is slightly chilled. Place it in ice water for five minutes or so, or in the refrigerator for a half hour. A chilled, young Beaujolais with ribs hot off the grill or a rotisserie chicken that you’ve picked up — how easy! — would be heaven. Another possibility: an inexpensive Rioja from Spain, also slightly chilled (we like Marques de Riscal). The Juan Gil Monastrell from Jumilla, Spain, is a steal for all of its plushness and red berry fruit. There is one red, which I introduced to friends in past summers and still is a great favorite at barbecues is Paringa’s Sparkling Shiraz. It is so dark deep purple, you can’t even see the bubbles and the rich ripe flavors really do make the barbcued burgers, pork, and chicken sing.

If you’ve never tried a light, young, fresh Pinot Noir from Oregon with poached salmon, hot or cold, you owe it to yourself. Some Oregon Pinot Noirs can be very expensive, but quite a few are reasonable. We just love Solena Grand Cuvee.

When dinner is over, treat yourself to a dessert wine. You may not think you like dessert wines, but try a Moscato d’Asti from Italy. It’s light, fresh, slightly fizzy, and delightful (and usually low in alcohol), absolutely perfect with fresh berries, chilled melon, berry compotes, poached pears, fruit pies and tarts, cookies, and custards—try Bricco del Sol Moscato d’Asti. We also love Brilliant Disguise Moscato from Two Hands Winery in Australia.

There are also two other items I aways have on hand for summer parties: a giant bowl of Plantter’s Punch and a bottle of Pol Roger. A chilled bottle of bubbly—champagne, cava, prosecco, or moscato — is indispensable for summer because you never know when the perfect sunset will appear.
See you at a garden party.