A Bouquet of a Dozen Rosés


Spring, is considered the official Rosé season, when everyone starts thinking it’s Rosé o’clock somewhere!

As we enter pink wine season, we find ourselves in a category run amok. Ten years ago, I was begging my customers to try the dry, refreshing Rosés of France, Spain and elsewhere, and to stop thinking all pink wine was sweet White Zinfandel. Even with in-store tastings , it felt like I couldn’t give a fantastic Rosé away. Fast forward to today and the Rosés are practically flying themselves off the shelves.

Where do Rosés come from? Well, there are the regional pink Rosés from such traditional locales: Provence, Rioja, Tavel, the Côtes du Rhône—with more pink wines from these classic places than ever before,  we need to pay attention to quality. Not only that, lesser-known regions are taking advantage of demand, many have no Rosé tradition at all and yet, are astonishingly good. The “newer” Rosés include grapes like Blauburgunders from Germany, Blaufränkisches from Austria, Agiorgitikos from Greece (surprisingly refreshing and delicious), Blaufränkisches from Austria and Cab Francs from the Loire (yum!). So you can basically find a Rosé from anywhere, even locally in New Jersey!

A good Rosé, by definition, should be bright, crisp, dry and mouthwatering with moderate alcohol. In the mouth, they should offer great acidity, a pithy tannin and a hint of minerality. Unfortunately, most domestic bottlings are sweet white zins, with quite a bit of residual sugar and a “thicker” texture. This is because many rosés are made using the saignée method, juice bled off a fermenting tank to concentrate what remains, not so much a product as a byproduct. Often these are high in alcohol (more than 13.5%) rendering them too ripe and too fleshy to be refreshing. 

Rosé should not be an afterthought or a byproduct, but something that had to be grown and made in the vineyard, harvested early to ensure good acidity and low alcohol, and made judiciously to preserve aroma and freshness. Settling for anything less is selling yourself short.

Prices for Rosé can range all over the map from $6 to more than $25 a bottle. It’s worth remembering that a pink wine’s main function is to refresh, and that can be done at a low price point. There are some Rosés, however, that have the pedigree, consistency and excellence that are absolutely worth the higher price: Bandol, older Riojas and certain Txakoli Rosés. Normally, if you’re paying more than $25 a bottle, you’re probably paying too much; more than $30, you’re being gouged, plain and simple.  It’s a good idea to ask your retailer for wines that are every bit as good for less money.

Here are a dozen serious Rosés that we happened upon in our travels. The prices range from $8.99 to $18.99 with one exception that is over $20. Most are in the 11 – 13% ABV — only one was 13.8%.

Pedroncelli Dry Rose of Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2017

The Pedroncelli family has been producing zinfandel-based Rosé since 1954 and they’re one of my favorite California wineries. The focus here is on crisp acidity and true varietal character allowing the fruit flavors to shine—and shine it does with bright aromas of strawberry, orange, rose petals, and spice. It offers full flavors of candied raspberry and cherry with a hint of white pepper spice. Even though it is made in a dry style, the wine retains a hint of sweetness because of the fruitiness of the zinfandel grape. This pink is refreshing, clean and crisp with a delicate berryspice finish. This one is so delicious and can be found in many shops and retailers. 

La Belle Collette, Côtes de Provence, Provence, France

I found this one at Tinali Wines in Brick. A classic French Provençal Rosé blend, it comes from the sunny hills of the Château de Saint-Martin – one of the 18 Grands Crus Classés in Provence. La Belle Colette  takes its name in memory of Colette, the Provençal writer. The wine’s bright fruity style is produced from six different grape varieties: Syrah (57%), Carignan (25%), Cinsault (9%), Grenache (7%), and Tibouren(2%). The floral nose is delicate offering intoxicating fragrances of raspberry and strawberry with a hint of lavender. The palate is round and fresh, tasting of summer’s red fruits—strawberry, raspberry, hints of apple, pepper and caramel flavors. At once it’s thirst-quenching and the velvety structure combines the fragrant flavors Provence in the fresh and delicate finish.

This Rosé is perfect as an aperitif on bright sunny days accompanied by Provençal style dishes, appetizers, summer barbecues and garden parties. This surprising wine is sure to become a summer favorite. 

Rose par Paris, Côtes de Provence, France

Another find at Tinali Wines, Rosé par Paris is a versatile, bright rosy pink Provençal blend of 30% Grenache and 70% Cinsault. Produced by Domain de l’Allamande, a 74-acre family vineyard in the heart of the Pierrefeu area. The property has characteristic limestone soils and a continental climate with a maritime influence, which give this wine a high minerality.

The nose is fresh and fuity with delicious aromas of citrus and berries. The flavors are refreshing with notes of rose water, cherry and strawberry backed by good zip. The  finish offers a fresh burst of citrusy ruby red grapefruit and a zingy minerality. Delicious chilled on its own, or with salads, meat, or a Provençal meals. 

Rhone to the Bone, Côtes du Rhône, France 

Clear light pink Rosé comprise of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. We found this one at Wegmans for under $10. The label was bold and definitely demanded our attention.  Once opened, the nose offered notes of red  currant, cherry, citrusy grapefruit and  a hint of mint. Sharp, viscous mouthfeel backed by a pleasant freshness on the palate, balanced by a touch of minerality. It was great for burger night and will become a regular in our lineup.

Rivarose Brut Salon de Provence, IGP Méditerranée, France

This was an accidental purchase at Wegmans. I planned to get another Rosé but this landed in my cart and at the checkout line instead. since it wanted to go home with me, I figured, why not give it a try? Made with 100% Syrah, this sparkling Rosé has gentle effervescent bubbles that offer a flavorful bouquet of berries and grapefruit. Apparently, Rivarose has made sparkling rosé in this region since 1909, and it is the only Brut Rosé from the heart of Provence. On the nose, strawberry and raspberry aromas dominate, while in the mouth the strawberry flavors and notes of exotic fruit combine with a fine and elegant mousse crating a bright sparkler with notes of citrus fruits and spice.

Enjoy on its own or as an aperitif pairing with cured meats, crudités, Provençal dishes or chocolate-based desserts. With its rose-petal hue and yummy crispness, you may just find that any occasion is special enough to pop the cork and celebrate! 

Fleur de Mer Côtes de Provence Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France 

Fleur de Mer is crafted by winemaker Florian Lacroux of the 50-year-old cooperative, Les Maîtres Vignerons de Saint-Tropez. A brilliant coral pink blend of 46% Grenache, 21% Cinsault, 14% Syrah, 19% Other (Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cabernet), Fleur de Mer evokes aromas of fresh watermelon, cherry, subtle citrus, peach, lavender and Mediterranean herbs. The flavor profile is a mineral-infused strawberry and mild grapefruit blend with notes of lime and tangerine. On the palate, this wine is light- to medium-bodied with nice controlled acidity that leads to a mouthwatering feel. This balanced, medium-bodied wine is fresh and elegant with a soft texture, a minerally finish  and refreshing acidity. This is a versatile wine that will pair with lots of foods, perfect for sitting oceanside or poolside on a hot summer day.

Honoro Vera Rosé 2017, Jumilla, Spain

Another inexpensive Wegmans find, this Spanish Tempranillo/Syrah blend was a delicious discovery. This beautiful salmon colored Rosé shows hints of watermelon rind on the nose. The palate shows primarily red fruit: cherry with a touch of strawberries and watermelon. The finish is very smooth and bright with watermelon and strawberries. Medium-bodied and dry it offers a nice lively, crisp acidity, that is both refreshing and approachable. Served chilled, this wine is a very refreshing and surprisingly versatile—perfect with food or just sipping on a hot day. It may be sipped as an apéritif or it can go with an array of foods: salads, seafood, side dishes, pork or chicken. A refreshing Rosé for any occasion including outdoor dining, picnics or backyard barbecues. It will be invited back.

El Coto Rosado, Rioja, Spain

This Rosado is a delicious Rosé made from  90% Tempranillo and 10% Garnacha, and it is one of our summer staples. A lively, pale  pink Rosé that at first offers up a sweet nose of fresh strawberries and raspberries with a hint of caramel. Silky and delicate, the wine follows with tangy, red cherry aromas with piquant herbal notes leading to ripe, juicy flavors on the palate. Dry and easy drinking, the palate is fresh as well as sweet, displaying a wide range of sharp and crispy red and dark fruits, strawberries and cherries. The cleansing acidity helps balance the fruit and the long, clean finish. It is versatile, ideal as an aperitif, great with salads, Mediterranean and Oriental cuisines and very easy to enjoy. 

Frog’s Leap, La Grenouille Rougante Pink, Napa Valley, California

There’s something fun about this wine, even though it’s kind of spare. The word “Rouganté” in the name seems to mean “blushing Frog.”  Made from 87% Carignane 8% Valdiguié (Napa Gamay) 2% Mondeuse 1.5% Charbono  and a half-percent of  Mourvedre/Riesling, it’s bone dry, and acidic, with modest strawberry flavors. This Californian is directly comparable to a Provençal Rosé.  Very aromatic, with aromas of apple skin, white flowers, a lot of strawberries and red fruits, gooseberry and raspberries that introduce this medium to full-bodied wine with vibrant acids and crisp fruit flavors. Delicate floral aromas and fresh fruit flavors come together in this classic style. Lifted by bright, natural acidity and low alcohol, this wine is the perfect companion to a warm, sunny day. A light tannic structure makes this wine food-friendly, with a clean and lingering finish. Nice and easy to drink and a perfect accompaniment to any meal!

Sidebar, Russian River Valley, Rosé, Russian River, California, USA, 2016

Made entirely from 100% Syrah, Sidebar Rosé hails from old Syrah vines in the Russian River Valley. This dry, succulent wine is a light pink-orange in color and begins with a robust flavor bursting with watermelon, cranberry and bristling acidity. There are classic notes of strawberry and watermelon, hazelnut and savory lemon peel that introduce a crisp, energetic and chalky palate which over-delivers flavor.  Dry and crisp, it remains lighthearted in the glass, finishing with a tease of grapefruit. This is one generously flavored wine, and is admirably dry and refreshing, with zesty red fruit, citrus and spice notes. Seamless, it’s medium bodied and has plenty of texture to offer around a crisp, meaty finish. 

Heitz Cellar, Napa Valley, Grignolino Rosé, 2016

Every year, Heitz produces a limited amount of their unusual and rare Grignolino Rosé and since 1961.Ruby grapefruit-red, it’s sultry with strawberry, watermelon, orange zest and salty spice flavor, highlighted with a vibrant and seductive nose of sweet red cherry, wild berries and floral aromas. This wine is built around great acidity, with just the subtlest hint of savory phenolics on the back end that cry out for al fresco dining. This one is a splurge Rosé.

Lest we forget New Jersey, here is my favorite home-grown New Jersey Rosé:

Four JGs Monmouth Blush, Colts Neck, NJ 

4 JG’s combines the crisp fruity flavors of Vidal Blanc with the French vinifera Cabernet Franc to create a delightful blush wine. With a medium salmon pink hue and the profile of a classic French Loire Valley dry rosé, this wine presents a beautiful balance of fruit flavors, refreshing acidity, and a clean, crisp finish. On the palate you get bright red fruits of cherry, watermelon, lime, and raspberry which continue to a crisp, dry finish of minerals, white flowers and savory herbs.This vintage of Monmouth Blush has a  label featuring Molly Pitcher…a local Monmouth County heroine. This wine is thirst quenching!

There you have it a bouquet of a dozen Rosés!

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?

Super wines for super bowls


It used to be that football and beer were synonymous. Today,  the big major games are for everyone, from hardcore football fanatics to Bowl-day bandwagon hoppers to the I’m-just-here-for-the-commercials-and-halftime crowd. Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about touchdowns and beer ads; it’s about good food, good drink and good company —so it’s not unusual to hear football fans talking about the wines they planning to drink during the game.

Since football get togethers are often meaty with lots of spices and zesty sauces, you will want to have a few bold, fruity reds such as Malbec, Syrah or Zinfandel to balance the flavors of the food. You will also want wines with good acidity to cut through the fat of your manly beefy and meaty dishes. Of course, for the side dishes like veggies and dips, you may want a delicious white and we found a few rich whites with plenty of acitity to stand up to football.
All of the wines on this list are affordable and most are under $15.

Punta Final Malbec

Bodega Renacer Punto Final Malbec Classico 2013,  Mendoza, Argentina
All of the grapes come from Uco Valley. This full-bodied red delivers ripe cherry, plum, black currant and raspberry ganache, with sweet spice notes of black pepper and clove. It offers round intense tannins, good acid and a long medium-weight finish. Perfect with red meat, burgers, flavorful sauces and intense cheeses. Drink now.

 

 

Bogel Old Vine ZinfandelBogle California Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Lodi and Amador County, California
A versatile wine to pair with everything; from rich and unique dishes to your favorite barbecue or weeknight takeout. This soft and lively red shows easygoing cherry, red cranberries, sassafras, pink peppercorns and caramel notes. Rustic and refined, there are hints of a hillside briar patch wafting through the wine, while spicy clove heightens at the finish from the oak aging. Drink now.

 

Charles Smith Boom Boom! SyrahCharles Smith Boom Boom! Syrah 2013, Columbia Valley Washington
A blend of  97% Syrah, 3% Viognier, this is a smooth and polished wine, featuring aromas of fresh picked herbs and wet earth. Rich black cherry, fresh currant and cooked plum character at the center, are followed by hints of tobacco and lavender —finishing with a touch of roasted fig. An explosive dark cherry bomb that pairs wonderfully with lamb dishes, rich meaty stews, chili or slow-roasted pork tenderloin. Drink now.

 

CSM-SyrahChateau Ste. Michelle Syrah 2012, Columbia Valley Washington
This Syrah is blended with a touch of Viognier, Mourvedre and Grenache for layers of flavors. Soft and supple, this jammy Syrah offers pretty raspberry and cherry flavors on a medium-weight frame. Approachabe and fruit-forward this wine has a soft and delightful finish. Excellent with beef, grilled salmon and strongly flavored cheeses. Drink now.

 

5-Guigal CdR redE. Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2011,  Rhône Valley, France
This classic wine blend of 60% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre offers top quality year in year out. Fresh cherry aromas greet you from the glass. Full, round and racy, it wine offers dark red berry fruit flavors with spice and pepper notes. Round and smooth tannins offer a lightly mulled character to the plum and currant fruit, with coffee and roasted mesquite notes on the full long finish. A full-bodied, rich and intensly aromatic with plenty of elegance and finesse due to the well balanced tannins and fruit. Drink now.

 

 

 

M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche RougeM. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche, 2013, Rhône Valley, France
This fresh and balanced blend of Grenache and Syrah gives “Belleruche” an extraordinary richness and complexity. Crafted in a light, soft and perfumy style, it offers tea, mulled spice and supple cherry notes framed by a dusty finish. Excellent with lamb, duck, pork and spicy ribs. Drink now.

 

Altovinium Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013

 

 

Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013, Calatayud, Spain
This 100% Garnacha offers a lovely perfume of spice box, mineral, and wild cherry. This perfectly balanced mix of flavors lends itself to an intensely fruity wine with loads of taste, a smooth texture, and a pure, fruit-filled finish. Pairs well with white and red meats roasted or grilled, big game, meat casseroles and stews, complex sauces, foie gras and legumes or blue and cured cheeses. Drink now.

 

8-Hogue-CSHogue Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington
This Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and complex offering black cherry, spicy oak, cassis, sassafras, and tobacco on the nose. This medium-bodied vibrant red delivers rich black cherry and herb flavors on a sleek frame. Yet, it’s creamy and toasty on the palate, with concentrated flavors of dark cherry and cassis, soft tannins and a silky finish. Pair with roast pork tenderloin, barbecued baby back ribs, or grilled sausages. Drink now.

 

9-4vines chardFour Vines Naked Chardonnay, 2013, Central Coast, California
This is a crisp, concentrated Chardonnay with all its natural acid. Fermented in 100% stainless steel, Naked exhibits apple, white peach, and pear flavors, finishing long with hints of citrus and mineral. This medium- to full-bodied, clean and refreshing white offers a strong Sauvignon-like citrus edge, with notes of lime and lemon. Drink now.

 

 

11-Hogue-ChardHogue Chardonnay, 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington
Light and tangy, with tropical fruit aromas and a hint of lime on the finish, this wine is a blend of  96% Chardonnay, 1% Viognier, 1% Muscat Canelli, 1% Semillon and 1% Chenin Blanc. Classicly balanced, the wine offers spicy and rich aromas of nutmeg, pear, pineapple and creamy butterscotch. On the palate, the wine is complex and balanced with vanilla cream, toast and fresh, crisp apple. The Chardonnay is an excellent match for crab salad, roast chicken, pork tenderloin, or quiche.

 

11-CSM-ChardChateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2013, Columbia Valley Washington
This is a fresh, soft style of Chardonnay with bright apple and sweet citrus fruit character with subtle spice and oak nuances. Fresh and light, this Chardonnay deftly balances apple, citrus and spice flavors on a soft frame. A pleasurable, food-friendly Chardonnay, it pairs beautifully with salmon, scallops, crab, poultry and creamy pasta dishes. Drink now.

 

 

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.

Hearty Winter Wines


When the temperature dips below freezing, it’s the perfect time to stay indoors and seek the warmth and comfort of our favorite winter treats. Whether it’s your special chili, the slow-cooked crockpot  beef stew, a prime rib roast or braised short ribs that fall off the bone with barely a touch, winter comfort foods aren’t wimpy!
Winter meals need wines that will stand up to them. Sauvignon Blanc with subtle lemon will fade to nothingness when served alongside spicy chili with cheese. Now is the time to think rich and powerful: luscious Cabernet Sauvignon, robust Syrah, a powerhouse Petite Sirah or a zingy Zinfandel. It makes perfect sense to pair certain wines with classic cold weather staples.

First up is Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the considered “king of reds”, and it is definitely one sought by wine collectors. It’s famous for its role in traditional Old World Bordeaux wines such as Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Latour, and Château Margaux, as well as New World wines from California like Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, Colgin—some of the most sought after wines in the world.

Basically, a typical Cabernet posesses dark fruit (think plum, cassis, blackberry, boysenberry) aromas and flavors. What sets this wine apart from other reds is the earthy, vegetal nuances and sweet green pepper aromas that appear in the bouquet and add to the wine’s complexity. Because Cab spends more time in oak than most wines, the oak-derived aromas are deep and integrated, including vanilla, coffee, chocolate, toast, butterscotch—making for a deep, dark, complex wine.

As far as a food pairing, the classic one is steak. Beef. Think “Cab and cow”—a good fillet mignon seared just right with the perfect Cabernet is almost unbeatable.
Cabernet Sauvignon has a reputation for being an expensive wine. Fortunately, you don’t have to mortgage the house to buy a good Cab.

Root 1: This Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon made by the Viña Ventisquero winery has highly concentrated lush fruit flavors born of a hot, dry climate. It’s a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. The description on the back of the label is accurate, “rich red wine with black currant, mocha & cherry flavors”. This wine pours a dark ruby and has aromas of black cherry, plum, and mocha.  Easy-drinking   it offers flavors of cherry, blackberry, and a touch of oak.  It is full-bodied, with medium tannins and acidity. Around $10.

14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon: This one is a must try for cab lovers who value supple tannins. This Washington State wine celebrates the spirit of the wild horses (actually ponies) in the hills of the Columbia river valley. The blend is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and a few other select red varieties added for good measure. Aromas of allspice, cherries and oak meld with the distinctive Washington State flavors of chocolate, mocha and cherries. to make an easily drinkable, velvety wine with a long, soft finish. This wine is a gem at around $12.

Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: This Cabernet Sauvignon explodes with dark red fruit (black cherry, plum and black current), smoke, licorice and tar aromas. The blend is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, and it’s sleek, elegant and refined. The flavors begin with soft black currant, blueberry and black cherry, balanced with a backbone of acidity with hints of red currant, red cherry and blackberry pie and end with subtle touches of earth and cedar. This is an incredible wine! Around $75.

Another great winter choice is Syrah, it’s flavorful and it has its origins in France’s Rhône Valley. This wine is unmistakable, with notes of cured meats, smoke, coffee, blueberry and iron oxide. Syrahs need flavorful food. This is a wonderful pairing for everything sheep—such as a leg of lamb, lamb stew or lamb riblets. If you’re a vegetarian, try some braised Shitake mushrooms with a little savory and thyme. If you want a traditional Rhône Valley wine, look for Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, or St. Joseph. For a more new world flavor, opt for something from California’s Central Coast or Australia (where they call it Shiraz).

McManis Family Vineyards Syrah 2011: This big rich California wine has dense, big jammy fruit aromas of raspberries, plums and sweet vanilla. Succulent blackberry and cassis flavors lead to a toasty vanilla oak midpalate with hints if clove and cinnamon. The lingering finish is fruity with hints of cocoa and licorice. It has a tight finish with modest tannins. This jammy wine pairs well with lighter fare or spicy food. A good budget wine for buyers looking for value and consistency. Around $10.

Alexander Valley Vineyards Syrah 2007: This is a polished and approachable purple Syrah with layers of aromas and flavors. It is a blend of Syrah, with a bit of Viognier and Grenache. Grenache adds depth with notes of wild strawberries, while Viognier brightens the color and contributes floral notes and softens the tannins. The wine exudes aromas of plum, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and violet nuances, all framed by white pepper with hints of stones, minerals and a touch of vanilla oak. Flavors of blackberry jam, black cherry and vanilla are unveiled as you sip this wine and those notes stay in all the way through the lengthy finish. You’ll enjoy the firm well-integrated tannins. Around $15.

Elderton Shiraz 2010: This rich full-bodied classic is from one of Australia’s great Barossa valley Shiraz producers, and it’s brimming with ripe juicy plum and chocolate flavors—think Black Forest cake. The aromas echo black forest fruits, chocolate, and vanilla. Flavors of blackberry, chocolate, and spice follow the nose. The wine is medium-bodied, lively and fresh, engagingly delicious. A very good value. Around $20.

For a chunky, earthy, spicy red wine that delivers good value, think Côtes du Rhône. Côtes du Rhône wines exhibit spicy, cherry flavors and aromas along with kirsch, and sometimes offer up earthy, funky tones. The spice flavors often include thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and cloves. These wines go great with a variety of foods, including pasta with rich sauces, pizza and a variety of meats. They range from lighter, fruitier styles, to more full-bodied, complex wines that can age for several years. There are modern and more traditional styles. The common denominator is that the wines are unpretentious, hearty and satisfying.

Guigal’s Côtes du Rhone 2009 is a large production wine that you’ll find easily, and for good reason. It has a smoky nose with cherry, a hint of thyme and other Provençal spices. The silky medium-bodied palate offers a plump cherry flavors, spice, good structure and balanced tannins.  About $12.

Paul Jaboulet Aine St. Joseph le Grand Pompee 2009: Paul Jaboulet has owned vineyards in the Rhône Valley since 1834, and Le Grand Pompee is full and fruit-forward, ripe with raspberry, blackberry, and plum complemented by a dash of cracked pepper. The nose is rich and concentrated ripe red fruits, sweet spice and licorice. This delicious red has firm rounded tannins.  About $30.

For something a little bigger and more in your mouth, go for a Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is often referred to as a rich, big, dark, and brooding wine. The tannin content is very high, given its juice to skin ratio, which means that this wine needs big food. The wine itself actually looks like ink and this dark purpleness will stain stain your teeth and anything else it splashes on. All this color portends the lusciousness in the glass: flavors of plum, dark cassis, prune, hints of coffee and dark chocolate that will make your mouth water.

Pair Petite Sirah with braised meats served in their own reduction stock, hearty beef stew or that hearty meal that’s been cooking in the crock pot all day. A handy cooking tip: this wine is perfect to use when you want to darken a sauce.

Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah 2010: This red makes a great companion to lamb, pork or game in rich sauces. The nose exhibits aromas of ripe blackberry, plum and boysenberry with a dash of cracked pepper and fresh herbs. The full palate is runs rampant with ripe blackberries and plums highlighted by spice notes, supple leather and a toasty hint of oak followed by caramel and vanilla. This jammy wine offers layer upon layer of complexity. Around $10.

Another great winter red  is Zinfandel. It’s hard to pass up all the fresh, ripe, jammy fruit in a Zin. Zinfandels can run the gamut…from fresh and fruity, low alcohol and red raspberry to ultra-ripe, jammy and sweet. For savory dishes you’ll want the lighter style Zins. The lower alcohol content pairs nicely with a large variety of food, but Italian red sauces do especially well—eggplant parmesan, meatballs, or plain old spaghetti makes a wonderful pairing. The fresh fruit just brings out the tangy acid in the tomato-based sauces.

On the other hand, the sweeter, gooey zins will pair well with cheeses and chocolate desserts…so whichever you choose, you will have a winner.

Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel Amador 2010: This Amador County, California blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah offers aromas of ripe black cherry, a little blueberry, licorice and brown sugar. Rich raspberry, black cherry and soft chocolate flavors linger on the palate, mingling with soft tannins and spice.  About $12.
Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Rockpile 2010 is an intense and smokey Zinfandel that begs to be paired with lamb. Aromas of spice box and red fruit are prominent. This wine is bold and intense, briary with cherry, currant, candied apple, and raspberry flavors, followed by smoke and spice. It’s perfectly balanced and flavorful with focused acidity and an extremely long finish. Around $30.

There you have it: several strong winter wine contenders at a variety of price points. Taste them with care, scrutinize their characteristics, and decide for yourself whether they warrant special consideration this winter. Remember, the beauty of wine is that no two bottles, or palates for that matter, are identical.

You may not make perfect pairings all the time. But, with practice you will have an arsenal full of hearty winter wines for your winter hearty dishes. Enjoy!

A toast to National Mushroom Month


Varieties of Mushrooms
There are many different kinds of mushrooms and are all equally delcious.

Fall weather triggers a change in the colors of the landscape and thoughts of heartier foods and wines that enhance them. With the summer’s heaviest heat behind us and the recent tropical storm activity, mushrooms are popping up all over the place including front lawns and backyards. It’s no wonder that the “powers that be” who designate these things have designated September as National Mushroom Month.

Before we discuss mushrooms, please don’t pick or eat backyard mushrooms unless you know them to be safe—it’s far healthier (and less deadly) to trust your local grocery store or restaurant.

Fall signals the call for a slightly heavier wine, soups, stews and grilled foods featuring mushrooms and fall vegetables. Mushrooms are considered the red meat of the vegetable kingdom because the sometimes-earthy, sometimes-meaty flavor of mushrooms says “red wine. In fact, it’s hard for to think of mushrooms without immediately having pinot noir come to mind, with Burgundy leading the way. For an exceptional pairing, think Nicolas Potel Chambertin Grand Cru  with it’s cherry aromas mingling with scents of smoke and mushroomy earth and a flavor profile of fat, sweet, red fruit mingling with deep, dark soil with a lovely mineral vibrancy that can only make this pairing a match made in heaven.

To be honest, mushrooms don’t have a singular flavor profile, they can be mild like the button mushrooms or pack a huge punch like a Porcini. Each type of mushroom suggests a different wine pairing, from lighter-bodied and more delicate for the buttons to fuller-bodied and more powerful for the Porcini. There are wines to enhance the meaty, apricot and nut flavors of Chanterelles; the delicate lobster mushroom and everything that falls in between. This is the time of year when restaurants begin to feature entrees with a prominent mushroom theme and, that being said, this is the time to experiment with mushrooms and wine on your own

Two simple rules to remember about mushrooms and wine are:

  • Earthy mushrooms pair best with earthy wines. That means Black Trumpets, Chanterelles and Shiitakes pair beautifully with earthy reds such as Burgundy; Nebbiolo like Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo delle Langhe  or Marchesi di Barolo Barolo and an Oregon Pinot Noir like Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Willamette Valley.
  • Meaty, heavier-textured mushrooms like the full-flavored Portobello, Cremini, Porcini, Morels and Chanterelles) pair best with “meatier” wines like Sangiovese, Syrah/Shiraz and can stand up to a heavier red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot as well as Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and clarets (a blend of Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah). But a Pinot Noir is still a classic with Morel mushrooms.

A Cabernet Sauvignon like Twenty Rows 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is exceptionally good with grilled Portobello mushrooms—the lush berry and black current will harmonize with the meaty Portobello.  Often, when preparing Portobello as a filet mignon substitute, other dominant elements of the dish come into play, such as tomato or caramelized shallots and then it’s best to look for a wine that has bright acidity, a bit of a gamey scent and nice, sweet fruit. A Sangiovese blend like Antinori Santa Cristina or a Chianti Classico like Antinori’s Chianti Classico Peppoli offer the perfect acidity and sweet fruit plus an amazing, almost roasted-meat quality on the nose to transport the mushroom filet mignon status.

With simpler fare, such as a mushroom pizza, think regionally. While it will go well with as red Burgundy or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, opt for an Italian red, such as a Sangiovese. A Syrah such as Michel Torino Don David Shiraz compliments lightly sautéed Chanterelles with garlic, a tiny bit of onion, butter and olive oil—pair a rare steak or lamb chops and you will experience culinary heaven.

For the delicate varieties (lobster, enokis, and oyster mushrooms) the choice should be white wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling or a lighter Chardonnay. Light, fruity reds, such as Beaujolais would also work you want a wine  that do not overpower your mushroom.

Napa Valley’s  Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2010  will compliment the more delicate mushroom while a Bordeaux like Château Laulerie Bergerac Sec 2010 (a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Semillon) will bring out the flavors of delicate mushrooms because of its vibrant acidity.

The key to pairing mushrooms with wine is how the fungi are cooked and what spices and sauces are used. French cooking schools advocate less is better, so  keep it simple so you can taste the mushroom flavors. Hearty stews and soups, red meats and lots of spices generally suggest a heavier red wine. Light cream sauces, simple sautés and just a whiff or splash of seasons will work well with white wines. Sautéing mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil, with light seasonings and served over pasta is the best way to enjoy the flavors of seasonal mushrooms.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule: for example a Pinot Gris like Bethel Heights Pinot Gris with a hint of smoke, can be a perfect pairing with meatier mushrooms.

When we encounter milder mushrooms in butter or cream sauces, a full-bodied white can be the way to go. A gently oaked Chardonnay like Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay, Columbia Valley can cut beautifully through mushroom cream sauces bathing any chicken, pork or pasta dish. If in doubt, or for special occasions, you can never go wrong with a 100 percent chardonnay-based champagne or sparkling wine.

There really is something heavenly about combining the simple flavors of Chanterelles, Porcini and Portobello mushrooms with terroir-driven red wines such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the oyster and metallic flavors of shaggy mane or oyster mushrooms with a Sauvignon Blanc. Matsutake mushrooms have a spicy, clean taste that work well with an Alsatian white wine because it pairs beautifully with exotic and spicy flavors.

So give it a try and raise a glass or three to  September’s fabulous fungi.

The Twelve Reds of Christmas


Or, a dozen of the 2010 Top Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall’s top ten wines


Fall has arrived! There’s a nip in the air, and that means it’s time to shift our focus toward the fall, cooler days, cooler nights and red wine.

My light and bright summer whites are making room for my richer and more full-bodied wines—both white and red. It’s time to head down to the wine cellar to begin the transition to medium-bodied wines, ones that work well with autumn’s erratic temperatures and seasonal foods. This month we share ten easy drinking favorites that pair beautifully with fall menus. All were selected because we love them, not according to price so you will find an organic Argentine Malbec that retails $10 or less to a $50+ (gasp!) Chardonnay.

My first selection is reltively inexpensive, Cantele’s Salice Salentino Riserva—an easy drinking red blend of  Negroamaro (85%) and Malvasia Nera (15%) from Puglia, Italy. Ripe fruit and a firm sense of structure come together beautifully in this expressive, mid-weight red. This wine  possesses textbook aromas sweet, perfumed herbs and black cherries. The flavors are dense wild cherries, sweet herbs, licorice and new saddle leather. The wine seems to gain depth with air, melding vibrant tones of spice and fruity richness with vibrant acidity and a long, finessed finish. This generous, inviting wine offers incredible quality for the money, not to mention plain deliciousness. A good tailgating wine, it’s perfect to drink with almost anything from pizza to stew to steak!

Next on our list is Poggio del Sasso from Cantina di Montalcino, a small 250-member cooperative in Tuscany. Poggio del Sasso is a new-age style Sangiovese—young and lush with rich cherry and berry-like fruit. Clear and ruby red in color, this well-structured wine shows cherries and plums, followed by spicy vanilla and clove aromas. It’s lively and fresh with soft, rounded tannins. The fine intensity and long finish make it a perfect pairing for so many dishes—chicken, red meat, lamb, pork, pastas, stews or well-aged cheeses.

What’s fall without harvest soups and stews? What’s a stew without a Burgundy?

Domaine Jacques Prieur Chambertin Grand Cru 2007. This is a medium red and is, as are all red Burgundies, made from 100% Pinot Noir. Complex aromas of raspberry, red licorice, earth and smoked meat presage a stewed-fruit palate that’s rich and creamy. Pungent earth tones and a wonderfully enveloping texture enhances the suave, ripe tannins. It’s perfect for all things Burgundian: Bourguignon, duck with raspberries, salmon Dijon, beef stroganoff, or anything in a creamy mushroom sauce.

El Coto de Rioja Crianza from Spain  is a perfect addition to fall. This Crianza is the classic Rioja marriage of wine and wood. Made from 100% Tempranillo from Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja, this sleek red is created in a modern-style, with intense red fruit that combines the fresh, crushed strawberry and red cherry flavors typical of Tempranillo with expressive hints of vanilla and oak. It’s spicy, with gentle tannins and bright acidity, offering a rich, ripe finish. This style of wine just calls out for hearty beef—covered with black pepper, grilled or braised. Paired with “game birds”, paella, Parmigiano Reggiano or asiago chese it’s spectacular, but it’s also an easy drinking wine to to pair with a “the works” pizza and football on the side.

Cuma Malbec, a certified organic wine produced by Michel Torino Estate in Cafayate Valley, Argentina was hidden in the southern hemisphere section of the cellar. Cuma means “pure and clear” in Aymará, the language of a tribe who once inhabited the region. This lively red-violet wine exhibits opulent aromas of bright cherry and plum jam, with raisin, vanilla and rosemary notes. There is plenty of ripe fruit, date-raisin flavors, and soft, sweet tannins. There’s a trace of nuts and spice on the long finish. This is the red wine lover’s wine to pair with chicken—barbecued, baked, broiled, roasted, or sauced like Chicken Cacciatore. A perfect party or get-together red, it also pairs well with pork, sausages, hard and semi-hard cheeses, calzone, burgers, cheesesteaks, cold cuts, and lasagna. Pastas with meat, vegetable, tomato, pesto or marinara sauces love this wine.  This should become a staple in your wine collection as it is in mine.

Pumphouse Shiraz 2007 hails from Backsberg Estate in Paarl, South Africa. This Malbec (12%) and Shiraz (88%)  blend is a bold, full-bodied Shiraz.  It’s distinctive with roasted mesquite flavorings, and lots of mouth-watering black cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and black currant fruit blending with anise, vanilla, and a graphite notes. The long, smoky finish lets an espresso hint linger, allowing the wine to pair very well with dark chocolate. For more substantial pairings, steak, lamb, venison, or chili make for a nice meal. For snacking, cheesy dishes, Parmesan, asiago, Gorgonzola or blue cheese with prosciutto are magically delicious with this wine.

Bell Winery Estate’s  Big Guy, Red Wine, California, 2007 is a blend of California appellations using Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec) blended with Syrah (a Rhône varietal). Big Guy  displays lively fruit aromas and flavors. Enjoyable while young, the tannin structures will allow the wine to develop gracefully for several years. It’s delicious easy to drink and can hold its own with bleu cheese and filet mignon.

One Napa Valley favorite to pair with nearly everything is Summers Charbono Napa 2007. There is a real juiciness in this dark purple, almost black wine. The rich, ripe berry and plum flavors are combined with a pleasant minerally earthiness. This wine is big with high acid and soft and fleshy tannins. This is what makes the wine so drinkable and so easy to pair with food. When in doubt, pull out a Summers Charbono, it serves well alongside fattier proteins like  “wild game”. For vegetarians the earthy flavors found in fennel, spinach, and mushrooms make for a pleasant pairing. Lovers of Italian comfort food, this wine pairs marvelously with hearty lasagna.

Even though it’s the start of the red wine season, we still need to keep a few whites with “old world” richness to pair with our cooler weather menus.

Hugel Pinot Gris 2006 is a rich, yet bone-dry wine that is savory and creamy on the palate and has generous acidity to balance its fullness. The aromas are fresh floral and spice with a bit of earth.  There are apple-pie and lemon curd notes, sidling up to aromas of pear, jasmine, lime blossoms and smoky hints of moss, fern, and mushrooms. Full-bodied, balanced, and nicely structured, its a vivid, fruit-driven wine with delicious acidity.  The lively, juicy fruit flavors offer a hint of sweetness. Ripe pears orbit around citrus and peach notes that make for solid pairing potential with seafood, poultry, veal, or mushroom risotto. The wine’s cinnamon and cardamom notes will bring out the savory side of autumn pumpkins and apples.

Nothing says fall like a good white burgundy. Even the “anything-but-chardonnay” types will find Olivier Leflaive Meursault Premier Cru Charmes 2006 something special. Yes it’s pricey, but for a special meal, Meursault is a delight.  It is a rich, round, elegant and powerful wine, with a ripe nose of white flowers, peach, pear and apricot. There is a hint of brioche that serves as a refined introduction to the clean, crisp and naturally pure sweet flavors that this generous medium-bodied wine offers.  The excellent vibrancy and a silky texture displays plenty of citrus-like acidity and finesse. This is  a perfect accompaniment to calf’s sweetbread (yes, liver), lobster or cream dishes, and can be served with all kind of cheeses, fish, poultry and any white meat with cream. This is a charming, enjoyable wine that’s definitely worth the price.

Our final wine is a sparkling or “frizzante” wine from Piedmonte, Italy— Marenco’s Pineto Brachetto d’Acqui. Made from 100% Brachetto, is a  medium-bodied, reddish-pink wine offering a trace of sweetness  making it perfect for toasts, desserts or as an aperitif. Brachetto has wonderful aromas of black raspberry and black cherry with notes of tar, clove, rose, and violets. It is a cheerful treat; mild, soft and delicate on the palate. Combine the moderate alcohol (5.5%) along with the fresh, fruity, floral aromas and you have a wine that is perfect with fresh fruit, sweets, fruit cakes, or chocolate as an after-dinner treat.

Do yourself a favor give some of these a try.

On pairing wines with steak


For years diners have been stifled by over-generalized, over simplified rules of food and wine pairing: “Drink white with white meat. Drink red with red meat.”

But is knowing that basic rule enough? How does one know which wine to select? The short answer is: the one that you will enjoy the most. But what if you don’t know what you’ll enjoy the most with your meal? Should you pick red? Or white?

First, red wine is a natural accompaniment to grilled meat. The secret is knowing which wines to drink with which dishes. Take a grilled steak, the hearty flavor of steak is always enhanced by the right wine.

Many reds taste better paired with beef­—or lamb—than they would if consumed without food (Chee-tos don’t count as a food group for this article. Note: Champagne works well with Chee-Tos).

Yalumba cabernetA simply-grilled steak pairs beautifully with a full-bodied red wine. A full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with black currant, coffee and dark chocolate notes and a long finish would balance nicely with  steak. The tannins in the wine combines with the protein in the meat to create a lush, flavorful taste, and the steak’s proteins soften the Cabernet’s tannins. Summers Adrianna’s Cuvee from Napa Valley, Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from South Australia, Los Vascos Colchaugua Valley, Cabernet  or Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Chile are all affordable good choices.

Not in the mood for Cabernet? A California Merlot or a Hermitage like Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2006 from France’s Rhône Valley are also good choices.

2005 Twomey MerlotAlthough Cabernet Sauvignon will pair well with one of the most delicious steaks available— Ribeye or a Delmonico Steak, a Merlot would be better suited. A favorite is Twomey Merlot 2005 — a voluptuous, robust and balanced concentration of black cherry, blackberry essence, wild game and freshly ground black pepper. This is a full-bodied and velvety wine, with fine-grained tannins and an extremely long finish. This Merlot will continue to give drinking pleasure through 2018, and it  will delight you and your dining companion(s) today. This is a BIG, rich flavorful wine and it will leave you wanting more.

Bogle Vineyard’s Zinfandel blend.
Phantom by Bogle

If you want to add a little spice to your ribeye, cajun ribeye, or New York Strip Steak, a spicy Zinfandel with its blueberry and blackberry flavors is a match  made in heaven for this gorgeous marbling and mouth-watering aroma of beef at its best. Try The Phantom, Bogle Vineyard’s Zinfandel blend. This succulent full-bodied blend combines lush blackberries and blueberries with the fierce spice essences of black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg.

A full-bodied, peppery California Zinfandel is always the first choice to accompany a spicy steak, such as a “steak au poivre”. Steaks that are highly spiced or one marinated in a spicy brine, are best paired with a spicy wine. If you would rather not have a Zin, a fruit-forward Merlot, with plum, blackberry, and clove is another alternative. The fruit flavors, when blended with the spicy steak, will appear sweeter and temper the pepper.

Chardonnay lovers, take note…“steak au poivre” is the steak to pair with a lightly-oaked, ripe, crisp Chardonnay. The Chardonnay should be rich with apple, pear, and citrus flavors.  Try  Alph Omega  Napa Valley Chardonnay 2006 with its fresh entrance evolving on marzipan, Meyer lemon, apples, yellow raspberry and pear, with a strong minerality and lingering crisp acidity. This 94 point* rated wine will surprise you—especially the fact that it is long-lived, it will continue to drink well through 2015.

The classic porterhouse is a cut that offers two unique steak flavors in one. The rich taste of the meaty sirloin strip and the tender, buttery-soft filet mignon. The larger filet mignon portion, is sure to satisfy your beef-lover’s appetite, and it just calls out for a medium-bodied Pinot Noir. The rich silkiness of the wine enhances the filet’s soft texture. Pinot’s flavors of red cherry, strawberry and smoky, earth tones shine in Castle Rock Mendocino, California Pinot Noir.  For a French twist, Joseph Drouhin Vero Pinot Noir 2006 is not only a delicious Burgundy, it’s affordable.

Prime rib becomes more of an occasion when paired with a Syrah/Shiraz. If you want a fruity Shiraz, look to Australia’s Peter Lehmann’s Barossa Shiraz. The nose is typical of Barossa Shiraz, with scents of dark plums and chocolate. There are also notes of  sweet cedar and a hint of black pepper. The palate has a good depth of dark berry flavors with a touch of savory fruits and a good tannin structure in harmonious balance to the fruit. This wine does very well with both steak and lamb.

Guigal Crozes HermitageIf you want a more elegant and refined syrah look to France’s Rhône Valley. The Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2006 mentioned earlier is a structured, tannic wine. This well-made, medium-bodied 2006 is a classic example of the appellation at a high level of quality. This  Crozes-Hermitage is richer, and more textured, offering peppery, tapenade, and cassis scents with an undercurrent of minerals. The spicy, fine red berry and cherry flavors mingle with refined tannins thus lending support and a focused peppery quality. All of this leds to  a strong finishing snap.

Somewhere between the two, is California’s Pedroncelli Alexander Valley Syrah . Pedroncelli’s Syrah has rich aromas of ripe berry and black pepper spice with concentrated flavors of blackberry, plum and licorice. This Syrah has well-balanced tannins providing structure. Expect this delicious wine to take on complexities for the next 5-7 years.

Italy’s Rocca della Macie offers an elegant, an innovative blend of Sangiovese and Syrah called Sasyr. This wine is velvety smooth, supple and vibrant, with fruity aromas cherry, blackberry and raspberry. It is intense and complex and as the winemaker likes to say “it will introduce you to an array of flavors beyond your wildest dreams.” Needless to say, Sasyr is both easy drinking and quite elegant with steak.

For something different, a Petite Sirah, is a good choice. No, it’s not a smaller version of Shiraz/Syrah, it’s a hybrid, making it a different grape. Durif is a cross of Peloursin and  Syrah. This grape makes a dark colored, tannic wine with blackberry, plum fruit and mushroom flavors—perfect for pairing with prime rib, a T-bone,  or a  sirloin steak. Try David Bruce Central Coast Petite Sirah 2006. This Sirah exudes bright, spice-tinged, jammy fruit, earthy mushrooms, and dense blackberry, blueberry and white pepper aromas. The wine offers a supple and balanced feel full of red and blueberry fruit with hints of cassis and firm tannins.

Altovinum’s Evodia Old Vines Garnacha 2008 will add some peppery goodness to any steak. Evodia is the Greek word for “aroma” and this red has very fresh, straightforward scents of raspberry and blackberry, plus cracked pepper. Juicy and tannin-free, with spicy berry and pepper flavors and a gentle mineral lift. Easy to drink and a superb value, with a good finishing bite— you won’t need to reach for the pepper mill when you pair grilled meat with this one!

Okay, your steak is slathered in barbecue sauce, what do you drink? Chianti. Chianti is the traditional wine to accompany red tomato-based sauces. That’s why Chianti is the preferred wine for pizza or to drink with spaghetti and meatballs. The high acid content in Chianti balances well with the high acid content in red sauces, such as barbecue sauce. Marchesi de Frescobaldi’s Nippozzano Riserva Chianti Ruffina proves itself year after year. This classic Chianti is from the sub-region of Rufina in Tuscany. The smooth, supple wine is full of red fruits, violets, cinnamon spice, fine tannins, and gentle cedar complexities that lead to a beautifully fine tannins a clean finish. Chianti is the traditional wine to accompany red tomato-based sauces.

Serve a red Bordeaux with grilled lamb steak. A smooth, subtle Red Bordeaux, such as Chateau du Taillan Cru Bourgeois Superieur Haut-Medoc 2005 is an ideal companion to grilled lamb. A Spanish Rioja such as El Coto Rioja Crianza also pairs well with grilled meat.

Many classic examples exist of food and wine pairings that are tried and true: grilled steak and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or grilled lamb and red Rioja. These are reliable, low-risk ventures that will likely result in an enjoyable overall dining experience. Just remember to open these wine 20 minutes prior to mealtime to allow for the flavors in the wine to fully develop.

*Wine Spectator rating