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.

So what is it about Port?


Port has a reputation for being higher in alcohol, noticeably sweeter, with more body and palate density than other still wines. Made for centuries in the rugged region of northwest Portugal’s Douro Valley, Port is a fortified wine that leans heavily on the sweeter spectrum. Fortification means it is a wine with the addition of a stronger, higher-in-alcohol neutral spirit, generally aged, and because it is rich and sweet, is often sipped out of special little dessert glasses.

Fans of rich cheese and decadent desserts appreciate Ports pairing versatility as it is a popular addition to chocolate cakes, sweet gooey chocolate sauces and even used as a reduction for savory dishes like steak (especially a blue cheese topped steak). Often Port is simmered until it becomes a thich syrupy sauce which is added to recipes or just drizzled it over a dish, much like a balsamic glaze. Port is a great flavorful alternative to brown sugar or maple syrup.

Today, various renditions of Port are made outside of Portugal in places like California and Australia to name two. However, real Port Wine can only be made in Portugal. Non-Portuguese Ports are typically made from raisined grapes and often lack the depth and remarkable acidity that comes with the original.

True Port is the unique blend of the Portuguese indigenous grapes like Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão, and there are said to be at least 52 varieties! Each grape adds a unique flavor to the blend. For example, Touriga Nacional adds blueberry and vanilla notes, and Touriga Franca adds raspberry and cinnamon notes. Additionally, when picking up a bottle, authentic Portuguese Port has the designation of “Porto” on the bottle’s label.

While much of the Port we see in the supermarket is of average quality, there are fine Ports that are highly treasured for sipping and can cost several hundred dollars.

In broad terms, Port can be split into two distinct categories: Wood Aged or Bottle Aged. Wood-aged Ports are typically ready for early enjoyment, designed to be consumed while still relatively young. The bottle-aged beauties, like Vintage Port, are built to go the distance, often requiring another decade or two to reach full maturity.

As it’s already been mentioned, Port is a sweet wine with flavors of raspberry, blackberry, caramel, cinnamon and chocolate sauce. There are several different kinds of port, but the primary styles of Port include a red Port with more berry and chocolate flavors (and slightly less sweetness), and a tawny-colored Port with more caramel and nut flavors (and more sweetness).  Fine aged Vintage Port or 30+ year Tawny Port have an even wider array of subtle flavors including graphite, green peppercorn, hazelnut, almond, butterscotch and graham cracker.

When serving Port, try to keep the serving temperature just below room temperature, right around 60°F degrees (16 °C). Serving Port wine with a slight chill will lift the aromatics and focus the innate fruit and flavor components. Use a  Port wine glass which smaller than a regular wine glass or brandy snifter and it is designed to hold the standard serving size of approximately 3 ounces. Once opened Ports can last from a day (Vintage Port) to several weeks for Ruby Ports and several months for Tawny Ports.

Port wine pairs wonderfully with richly flavored cheeses (including blue cheese and washed-rind cheeses), chocolate and caramel desserts, salted and smoked nuts, and even sweet-smoky meats (barbecue anyone?)  A popular way to serve Ruby Port in the summer (with a meal) is on the rocks with a peel of lime!

Port also makes a fine holiday gift for a wine or liqueur dirnker it’s richer texture and flavor profile makes it a special gift, not to mention it curls up niely  with you in front of a roaring fire!

What is Ruby Port? 

When someone says any Port in a storm, thoughts immediately turn to a Ruby Port and a cozy fire. There are many different official categories of Port with Ruby being the most common.

Ruby Port gets its name for its distinct ruby color. These Ports are young, approachable wines with fresh, fruit-filled aromas and an equally nimble palate presence. These wines are wallet-friendly, entry-level Ports, made from a mix of both grapes and vintages, aged for a total of three years and are quite popular.

They are intended to be consumed young and enjoy a remarkable food-pairing versatility, especially with bleu cheese, milk chocolate, and berry-based desserts. Non-vintage Ruby Ports are actually sent to age for a few years in a wood vessel, then bottled for immediate drinking, resulting in juicy, fruity ports that are also great as aperitifs. Some good Ruby Port producers include: Cockburn, Croft, Graham’s Six Grapes, Nieport, Taylor Fladgate, and Warre’s.

Deeply-colored Ruby Port includes four main categories: Ruby, Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), and Crusted, along with many price tags. And do make great holiday gift ideas.

Vintage Port is at the top of the range where price, aging potential and prestige are concerned. It’s made only from the best grapes of a single vintage, and only in years that have been “declared” vintage-worthy, which usually happens just a few times a decade. Beyond that, the wines are made similarly to other Ports, fortified with spirits to arrest fermentation and preserve residual sugar. Vintage Port sees only two years of aging at the winery before each producer decides on its own whether to declare a vintage. Because the wines are so young upon release, they are usually tucked away in cellars for many years until they mellow and mature into their potential.

“Late-Bottled Vintage” or “LBV” Ports aren’t bottled until up to four to six years from the vintage date. Late means that, unlike true vintage Port (aged two years before bottling and released to be aged much longer), producers release LBV four to six years after the vintage. This means they spend about twice as long in wood as Vintage Ports, and so they’re usually more accessible at an early age. Some producers cold-stabilize and filter their LBVs, which is supposed to eliminate the need to decant the wine, but that can strip away the flavors. If you’re looking for LBVs made more like Vintage Ports, look for the word “Traditional” on the label. LBVs were originally intended to offer an experience comparable to Vintage Port but at a much lower cost. Many deliver the goods, but some of them can be just shadows of the real thing.

LBV Ports are also differentiated by style and each producer leans toward a particular style, so if you are looking for something young and fruity, ready to drink, select Cockburn’s, Càlem, Ramos Pinto or Sandeman. If you want something more mature, wood-aged, and ready to drink now, look for: Churchill Graham, Dow’s, W & J Graham and Taylor Fladgate. If you want to give a commemorative gift, one that’s truly worth aging, look for the following brands: Ferreira, Fonseca, Smith Woodhouse or Warre’s.

Crusted Ports are not made from wines of a single year but, like Vintage Ports, are capable of maturing in bottle. Also like Vintage Ports, they are not filtered before bottling and will form a ‘crust’ (natural sediment) in the bottle as they age.

When you are cooking and your recipe calls for Port, reemember most recipes call for the more affordable Ruby Port. This style is red and will impart red berry and cinnamon-like flavors into your sauce. You do not need a Vintage, LBV or Crusted Port when cooking. Remember, a true Portuguese Ruby Port may cost $6–10 a bottle, but will last a long time. If you don’t want to use your bottle for cooking (we understand that!) You can, in a pinch, use two parts dry bold red wine, one part alcohol (brandy or vodka) and about one-quarter part sugar. It won’t be ideal, but it is better than just using red wine!

Once opened, a Ruby-style Port will stay fresh for about 2 weeks (a month if preserved properly in your fridge)

What is a Tawny Port? 

Tawny Ports are aged in casks rather than large tanks or bottles like their Ruby counterparts. They are sweet wines with oxidative nut and caramel flavors, great acidity, easy to drink, silkier and lighter (in both body and color) than Vintage Ports. Tawnies can sometimes offer a broader, subtler array of flavors than their fruity and powerful Vintage Port relations, but both are connoisseurs’ wines.

Tawnies, like all Ports, are made primarily from Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes, grown on the dramatically vertical slopes of the Douro River. They are produced, as all Ports are, by stopping fermentation with the addition of brandy. The only difference between Tawny Ports and Ruby Ports is in the longer aging in barrel—a Tawny may age for decades.  A Tawny that is aged in the hot, dry climate of the Douro Valley is more likely to have a burnt character, rather than the more fruit-driven style of the wines aged in the cooler, moist air of Oporto right by the ocean.

A Tawny Port is a blend of older vintage wines, displaying a rich amber color. Their distinguishing feature is oxidation. Tawnies are typically slightly sweeter,  paler and browner than traditional Ports. They have a mellow, nutty, slightly woody, dried-fruit character, derived from contact with air during long maturation in porous wooden casks. As a Tawny Port spends more time in oak, its color starts to fade from ruby red to more orangey-brick, to a deep amber/mahogany color at maturity. As the aging process continues, a Tawny’s taste will become even more nuttier and it develops deliciously rich flavors of caramelized figs, dates and prunes. The older the Tawny Port, the more wood character you’ll get, which is why Tawny Port (as opposed to Vintage) is the more intense differentiation—woody, sweet, with notes of lighter dried fruit.

These wines pair beautifully with aged cheddar cheese, caramel apples or apple pie, dried fruit, milk or dark chocolate, cheesecake, tiramisu, pumpkin or pecan pie.

There are two major types of Tawny: the first is a blend of several recent vintages with no specific statement of age – known as basic Tawny Port. The second consists of older-aged Tawnies, marked as 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.

Tawny Ports come in three different styles: Colheita, Crusted or Indicated Age.

A Colheita Port is considered a Tawny Port that is made from grapes that all share the same single vintage year, and may have spent 20 years or more in barrel before it was released.

A Crusted Port is an unfiltered tawny that develops visible sediment, “crust,” and needs decanting before serving.

Tawny Ports that are made from grape blends that are older in average age are referred to as Indicated Age Tawny Port. Aged Tawny Ports are released in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year-old versions (the age refers to the time spent in wood). The tricky thing about Tawnies is that you never know how old they really are. When applied to Tawny Ports, the terms “10-year-old” and “20-year-old” are not intended to denote exact age. These year designations are the average compilation of various vintages used in the Tawny Port blend, not the exact years the wine has been aged as a whole. That’s not to say that you can’t tell the difference between Tawnies that are labeled 10-year-old and those that are 40-year-old. Tawnies of different ages do have distinct characteristics. Some people prefer the younger, more fruity style of 10-year-olds, while others want less fruit and more complexity. During aging, there is an evaporation of alcohol and water, so that the older the Tawny, the more concentrated it is, and the intensity of flavor becomes greater. Most Tawny lovers  prefer the 20-year-old, believing it strikes the right balance between aged character and vitality.

The most drinkable of fortified wines, they’re packed with flavor, but are always soft, rich and seductive. For many Port lovers, the idea of drinking chilled, aged Tawny is good news, as chilling helps open the flavors. Try keeping it in the fridge door or put the bottle in an ice bucket for 20 minutes before pouring.

Another of the many pleasures associated with aged tawny is that the bottle, once open, doesn’t deteriorate for several weeks and can  stay fresh for as many as three months. Keep wines longer by storing your wine in a cool dark place and using a vacuum preserver to remove oxygen.

When buying Tawny Port look for the following producers: Cockburn’s 20 Years, Dow’s 10 Year, Graham’s 20 Year, Taylor Fladgate’s 10 Year, Warre’s Otima 10 Year.

.

Going Vintage

Historically, Vintage Ports are only declared every three out of ten years on average.  A Vintage Port is a Port that is made of from a blend of grapes—mainly Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão and Tinta Barocca—grown in selected vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley, usually which are all from the same vintage year. That means only the best grapes, from the best vineyards in the best years, come together to create a quality Vintage Port.

Vintage Port is designed to age a long, long time. A Vintage Ports typically spends about six months in oak and is then bottled, unfiltered, for further aging. This extended aging is typical and it can be for 20 years or more. There are some highly-prized Vintage Ports that are more than 100 years old! Of course, a direct result of long-term aging is that a layer of sediment forms in the bottle. This is why Vintage Ports require decanting and a bit of aeration prior to consumption.

Look at it this way, if Ruby Ports are the entry-level Port, then Vintage Ports represent the upper echelon both in style and cost. A classification that is common to mistake with the “Vintage Port” designation is the “Late Bottled Vintage” Port (LBV).  Vintage port is easy to figure out—if a vintage was great, the port is bottled and sold, the idea being it should be aged in the bottle by the consumer (it isn’t wood-aging, but  it theoretically allows the aromatic and flavorful complexity of the port to coalesce into a rich, sophisticated, delicious liquid).

In the past, young vintage Port was tough, tannic and not worth serving. It needed years —if not decades—to soften and mature. Today’s vintage Port is different. It’s rich and fruity, with tannins so finely married to the ripe texture that you can start drinking it after only about five years.

Since Vintage Port is a red wine, don’t be afraid to serve it in the same way as a California Zinfandel. Young, fruity Vintage Ports are delicious with a steak with pepper sauce, or with sausage, especially spicy sausage. For holiday celebrations, a simple platter of smoked meats paired with young Vintage Port is a perfect starter. A mature—20 years or older—Vintage Port is best with a blue cheese, like Stilton, and don’t forget to add the almonds, walnuts and chocolates! Very dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher) and rich cheeses show all the richness, body and complexity and flavor that defines mature Vintage Port, but tropical fruits and blueberries are surprisingly successful pairings as well.

You can drink Vintage Port while dining on the patio in the summer, sitting around a log fire or at a restaurant. Because of its potency, Vintage Port is best served in small glasses that are large enough to swirl the typical three-ounce pour, because Vintage Port is fine wine it will give as much pleasure from its aromas as its taste.

Store Vintage Ports on their sides, in a dark, cool environment just like any fine wine. Once opened, Port can last two or three days, sometimes longer if it’s stored in a cool place. Treat vintage Port like a red wine, and you’ll be fine. Remember, there are only six to eight glasses of Vintage Port in a bottle, so it shouldn’t take too long to finish it.

If you plan on gifting a bottle of Vintage Port, look for the following Producers:Cockburn, Churchill, Dow, Fonseca, Graham, Sandeman, Taylor Fladgate, and Warres.

A Christmas White Port: 

While some people scratch their heads in complete bewilderment when wine talk turns to White Port, we can say white port is not only a real thing but has been around for a very long time. Port fans barely recognize it as a drink. But if you allow white Port to stand on its own as a simple, enjoyable summer apéritif instead of measuring it against its complex, nuanced red cousin, you might be pleasantly surprised. Made in Portugal from indigenous white grapes, white Port is a fortified wine around 18 to 20 percent alcohol.

In Europe, White Port is considered one of the great summer refreshers, served just as it is in Portugal’s Douro Valley: poured into an ice-filled tumbler, topped off with cold tonic, bruised mint sprigs and a lemon slice—the subtle flavors of creamy nuts, lemon and orange peel and white pepper are certainly different and a treat for your tastebuds.

In fact, as the name implies, the only major difference is that White Port is derived from indigenous white grape varietals —Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio (a.k.a. Verdelho), Malvasia and the prolific Codega (the most widely planted white grape in the Douro) to name a few—and can be made in both the very dry to semi- sweet styles. White Port is fortified like all other styles of Porto, but vinified like a Tawny and aged for a year in huge oak tanks before further aging in “Pipes” (550 liter oak casks) prior to bottling. The wines range in color from that of a pale straw gold to a beautiful salmon and those aged for extended periods in wood that resemble the amber tones of ancient Tawnies.

White Port is typically fruitier on the palate and a bit fuller-bodied than other fortified white wines, and their styles are segregated by sweetness level; they can be either sweet or dry, or somewhere in between. Another point of differentiation is the length of aging time.

White Port or “Porto Branco” in Portuguese is an uncommon category of Port and is most often served as a chilled aperitif.

Leve Seco”, a light dry White Porto, has a lower alcohol content of 16.5%. Dry white Ports are fermented longer in tanks and usually in oak between 5 – 10 years and gains complexity like a Sherry or Tawny Port while losing its residual sugar as it ages. This Port has a hint of sweetness and a nutty finish. Often served as an aperitif, this particular Port has found favor as a “gin” replacement when served as a “Port and Tonic” on the rocks. This version also pairs well with almonds, hard cheese, stone fruits, pâté or sushi.

Medium Sweet White Porto ages in wood for at least three years and shows more color definition and body than Leve Seco. Drink chilled, straight up in a white wine glass, or pour equal parts white Port and tonic or soda water in a cocktail glass and garnish with lime.

Lágrima” is the sweetest White Porto. It is aged in oak for three to five years  and the wine is produced utilizing free run juice from a variety of white grapes. This sweet style is very different and the flavors range from honey nectar to caramel and hazelnut. It can also double as a dessert wine as it pairs well with a variety of cheeses.

Medium Sweet and Lágrima Ports also pair incredibly well with a light dessert such as sponge cake or a meringue shell filled with fresh fruit. Both styles of White Port are also ideal for sangria—macerate the fruit in white Port before mixing with a bottle of white wine, or simply substitute White Port for the wine.

Ramos Pinto, Niepoort and Sandeman make good dry versions for drinking. When cooking, and the recipe calls for white wine, add Churchill’s Dry it’s aged longer and is darker, nuttier and a good addition to soup. You can add any dry White Port to potato or seafood chowder or in place of white wine in any recipe to add depth and a nutty flavor. Use sweet white Port for desserts and sauces the flavors they add are amazing.

Unopened white Port will keep a few years, or opened and refrigerated up to a month.

It’s all rosey: Rosé Port: 

This style is one of the new wines from the demarcated region of the Douro, in northern Portugal—it was introduced by Croft in 2008. When it was first released the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) initially classed the style as “light ruby”. As the name suggests, this highly aromatic style of Port has a distinctive pink hue and typically displays notes of cherry, raspberry, strawberry,  violets and caramel.

Like other Port wines, Rosé Port can be a blend of grape varieties. The most commonly used, however, are Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. These are vinified with minimal skin contact, creating the rosé color, and reducing the amount of tannin in the wine.

Rosé Port’s distinctive freshness and soft, pleasant flavor is enhanced further with the application of cold settling prior to cool fermentation. As with other Ports, the fermentation process is halted with the addition of high-proof grape brandy that kills the yeast cells. This also has the added effect of raising the alcohol strength to approximately 19 percent ABV. In a departure from older, more traditional Port styles, Rosé Port is not aged.

Served cold or with ice, it goes well with dried fruits, something sweet or a red fruit tart. It is a great appetizer accompaniment and is nearly irresistable with light fish dishes or salads. It is also an ideal partner to savor in various cocktails on hot summer days or cozy winter evenings.

Rosé Port should be stored with the bottle in a vertical position, in cool and dry place (ideal temperature 59º F).

Rosé are wines that should be consumed within two to four  months after opening the bottle,.These wines should, by their character, be served cold, at temperatures between 46° and 50° F, or with ice. Try this young and unique wine – a real temptation. It also makes a pretty gift!

Our Thanksgiving Wine List


We are so ready for our Thanksgiving meal!

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

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

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

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

Here are some of my favorites for my Thanksgiving table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transitioning to fall with Spanish Wines


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

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

Finca Feroes “Roble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drinking inside the Box: Black Box Merlot


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbecue Wine Time


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Great Barbecue choices:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter wines for winter warmth


Seasons change, and when they do, so do the wines we drink.  Cold winter weather calls for scarves and mittens, warming fires in the fireplace and bold, flavorful red wines in our glasses. This isn’t the time of year when our palates crave wines that are crisp and refreshing – our palates want body and soul!

The idea of “winter wines” is not so much about specific vintages being appropriate in one season and unacceptable in another. Rather, it is about which characteristics of certain wines not only match well with the season, but more importantly, with the foods we associate with the season.

Winter is the traditional time  to eat a lot of thick, hearty soups, stews, or roasts given the need to warm up when the temperature dips and to get some meat on your bones. Gatherings are planned and meals are cooked in the kitchen—that means winter food: hot, casseroles, meat dishes, heavier foods with rich texture and they all need  a warming, stimulating wine to go along with the meal.

Reds and heavy whites are the preferred choice, usually high in alcohol and served at room temperature. Winter wines are heavier and more complex, less acidic, and often more heavy oaked. Save those expensive Burgundy wines for the winter, they are wines designed serve with a rich meat stew or a heavy steak.

Winter warmers are full bodied wines that are a pleasure to have by the fire when there is a chill in the air and they are often the perfect mach for winter foods.

Sometimes, pairing wines with a particular food item can be difficult. However, there are a few classic pairings: chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon, duck and Pinot Noir, Stilton or any blue-veined cheese and Port, foie gras and Sauternes.

Here are some good selections worthy of your consideration to pair certain wines with these classic cold weather staples.

Splurge a little reds:

Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon The Coffeestone 2006
For an interesting Cabernet Sauvignon from Franschhoek Valley, South Africa South Africa, try The Coffestone. Cedarwood and cigarbox flavors combined with rich dark berry fruit on the nose. There are complex and ripe cassis, mulberry, spices and rich chocolate flavors on the palate. This is a full-bodied, firmly structured wine with concentrated fruit, a balanced mouthfeel and long extended finish. This wine is excellent to pair with hearty stews, North African dishes and risotto. (around $30 splurge)

Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva
From the heart of La Rioja, Spain comes an absolute star: Campo Viejo Gran Reserva. This wine represents some of the best in Rioja quality and is sure to conjure up compliments at the dinner table. There is intense fruit concentration, both in the aroma and on the palate. The texture is glossy, and storage in American oak gives the wine a conspicuous hint of vanilla. The concurrent use of French oak wines brings some spice to the party as well, with other flavors like burnt toast and even coconut. The wine pairs well with fiery and peppery foods, such as chorizo or paella.  (about $20 splurge)

Mont Tauch Terroir d’Altitude Vielles Vignes, Fitou Rouge
The Languedoc region of France has long been a favorite  and Fitou is the epitome of Languedoc wines. This is a   juicy, spicy and full-bodied red.  This Fitou  is is a supple blend of  Carignane Grenache and  Syrah grapes picked from 100-year-old vines growing high up on the hillsides of Languedoc. A veritable bargain, this wine is intense with dark fruit and herbs with a rich body of syrupy dark cherry fruit, it is ideal for cold weather. It is seductive, stylish red, rich in blackberry fruit and spice, with a hint of vanilla. Oaky and full-bodied, it is perfect  with sausages, venison, or wild boar.  (about $20 splurge)

Mid-range reds

Boschendal Shiraz  Stellenbosch
The emergence of this region of South Africa as a superior wine producer has been a boon to wine enthusiasts and this wine is a great example of a South African robust red. Dark mulberry in color, this youthful wine is a true South African Shiraz. there is luxurious fruit with aromas of cassis, blackberry, pepper and licorice. It is elegant and complex, with well-integrated wood and soft tannins on the palate. This wine is definitely made for food and hearty meat recipes at that: beef, ostrich, rabbit, portk and veal. (around $15)

Santi Solane Valpolicella Ripasso
For a wine that can be paired with any food, the Valpolicella Ripasso is a delicious red. The slightly spicy Italian wine is wonderful with meaty dishes like spaghetti and lasagna, but smooth enough to sip on its own. (around $15)

Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec
This is a 100% Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. The aromas are a mix of freshly crushed black cherries and toasty smoky oak—just enough to frame the exuberant fruit. On the palate, the flavors of cherries and spice are obvious, and the jammy fruit quality just keeps coming on strong, with hints of spice and sandalwood lurking in the background. Perfect for a fancy dinner party, or just curled up on the couch in front of a movie. (around $15)

Easy on the wallet reds

Chateau Autauron 2005
This fiesty little Bordeaux has a complex finish with black cherry, earthy, peppery qualities.  Chateau Autauron comes from Fronsac an area that seems to  produce the best values in all of Bordeaux. It is reminiscent of drinking much older and expensive Bordeaux wine. For the price this is a wonderful “drink now” wine. It should get a little more depth with age, but you simply can’t beat it with a fillet with port reduction sauce or lamb. A real treat, especially if you enjoy the Fronsac earthiness. (around $10 save)

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot
Washington State has a serious producer with  Columbia Crest, in the Columbia Valley area.  Trace amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon add a layer of depth to the wine. The tannin level is medium, and a wonderful raspberry aroma and taste rise to greet the palate. Drink it now with pasta and tomato sauce, game, and sharp cheese casseroles.  (around $11)

Root 1 Cabernet Sauvignon
The hot and dry climate of Chile’s  Colchagua Valley is world-renowned for producing concentrated Cabernets and this wine is no exception. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah, this elegant, lush, rich red wine oozes with ripe fruit flavors of black currant, mocha and chocolate. Silky tannins and good structure lead to a long and complex finish accented with vanilla and toffee notes. It is an exceptional match with full-flavored cheeses, brie, gruyere, pasta with red sauce, steak, ribs, and chocolate or just sipped alone in front of a toasty fire.  (around $10)

Splurge a little white:

Francois Baur Gewürztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim
Many white wines are too light for the dreary winter months, but a this biodynamic Gewürztraminer is bold enough to brighten any winter day. Gewürztraminer is considered the wine world’s most charismatic grape because of its exciting mix of the exotic and sensual with seductively sweet aromas and flavors of lychee and rose water. The wine is off-dry with enough strong fruits and spices to bring new life to any heavy chicken or fish dish. It also pairs beautifully with cured salmon or crab, smoked fish pickled herring, Muenster cheese, and smoked meats. The wine is also perfect for spicy Asian food.  (around $30 splurge)

Mid-range white:

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio
A rare white wine makes an appearance on this list of winter favorites because of one dish: risotto, the Italian soul food staple. It is an ideal dish on a chilly night, and the Tiefenbrunner from the Trentino-Alto Adige region on the German border is a great partner. This cool weather region produces some spectacular wines that are very suitable to cold climate weather. In particular, this intense Pinot Grigio resonates with pear on the palate and has a good acidity balance going on. (around $15)

Easy on the wallet white:

The Covey Run 2009 Quail Series Gewürztraminer
This Washington State off-dry Gewurztraminer enjoys high-powered honeysuckle aromas, with delicious citrus fruit and a good splash of spice. Floral and aromatic in the nose with flavors of lychee, rose, and sugared pear on the palate, this refreshing, spicy white wine with plenty of delicious fruit to jazz up many a meal. This  wine can be enjoyed on its own or with  spicy foods and Asian cuisine as it cools the heat of the food and complements the intense and exotic flavors. Perfect pairings include sushi, Thai food and Asian fare with a spicy kick. There is enough sweet in this wine to cut the heat of red pepper spice. (around $10)

…for after dinner or in front of the fire:

Churchill’s Late Bottle Vintage
A wonderful Port to drink either as an aperitif or as a dessert. Ports are usually rich and sweet, with a higher alcohol content that is sure to warm you from the inside out. Churchill’s Late Bottle Vintage has a caramel taste to it that is reminiscent of a Heath candy bar. (around $35 splurge)

The Royal Oporto Ruby Port
Another wonderful Port. Just as sweet as the Churchill’s, the Royal Oporto taste is less like a candy bar and more like jam with rich, wild berry flavors.  (around $12)

There you have it: fourteen strong winter wine contenders at various price points. Taste them with care, scrutinize their characteristics, and decide for yourself whether they warrant your special consideration this winter.

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!

Italian Wine Dinner with Rodrigo Redmont a delicious success


On Tuesday, November 2nd, 72 lucky guests  heard Rodrigo Redmont, the winemaker for Talamonti and Rubino wines, speak about his wines at Branches’ Southern Italian Dinner hosted by Barbara Longue of Cotes de Longue and John Lombardo of Branches Catering.

The evening began with flutes of Drusian Prosecco Brut—a rich, beautiful Valdobbiadene Prosecco with fine, tiny bubbles. This Prosecco aroma has a toastiness with generous notes of peach, apricot, almond and crushed stone. It has a thicker, creamier consistency offers up lingering fresh orchard fruits: green apple, peaches, pears, citrus, and fresh vegetables accompanied by a pleasing note of bread on the medium crisp and dry finish. This little gem was served with a selection of Italian Cheeses from “Cheese on Main” in Ocean Grove.

Cheese on Main’s owner Susan Morris says her tiny shop on Main Avenue in in Ocean Grove is only 9 feet wide, but it’s stocked with 200 lovely cheeses from the far corners of the earth. On Tuesday she was serving five Italian cheeses.

The first cheese was a  Rocchetta from the Piedmont region of Italy. It was a lovely and creamy robiola combining the flavors of goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s milk into a harmonious balance of flavor. Dense, semi-soft and smooth in texture, Rocchetta is a very approachable and decadent cheese. Paired with the Prosecco it was delicious. This particular cheese has an affinity for a full range of wines and makes an excellent pairing partner;especially with wines from Piedmont, such as Dolcetto, Barbera or Barolo. One piece weighs approximately 9 ounces and costs around $14.50.

Next was Pecorino Tartufo, this is an an old style of Umbrian pressed sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese flavor  is unique because the buttery nutty flavor is enhanced by the addition of aromatic black truffles. Susan explained the cheese has a long shelf life, but cautioned that it could become “addictive”   and is usually consumed rather quickly. If the reaction by the guests was any indicator, she was right. Not only did it make a festive pairing with Prosecco, it can be a versatile partner for many wines, from tart light whites to the bigger jammy reds. She offers this cheese for $13 per half pound.
The third cheese,  Gorgonzola Dolcé from Lombardy, was gooey, creamy, soft, and almost spreadable in texture. Gorgonzola Dolcé is  made from pasteurized cow’s milk, then aged for 3 months and is considered the sweeter gorgonzola. It was very creamy, milder and much softer than its Natuale or Piccante counterparts and pleasantly pungent. At $9.50 per half pound it was exquisite with the Prosecco.

From Sardegna came an ivory, hard, goat’s milk cheese:  Pantaleo. This was full-flavored treat with a remarkably lemony flavor that morphed into a rich, butternutty flavor. It has the familiar herbal and white pepper flavors of a goat cheese, but with a slightly lighter finish that it almost doesn’t taste like goat cheese. It would be perfect shaved over warm vegetables or paired with a drizzling of light honey. $9.50 /half pound.

The last cheese was a match made in heaven with the Drusian Prosecco: a dark rind Artisinal Ubriacco Prosecco. Ubriacco Prosecco means “big fat drunk” in Italian. Ubriacco is a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto region, the same region where the Prosecco grape grows. During the maturing prcess it is covered by Prosecco grape must (skins) and washed with Prosecco, giving the cheese the sweet, delicate wine aroma and complex finish.  Susan said this cheese is perfect during autumn months while its flavor is fresh, uplifting, and subtle. It can pair nicely with Pinot Noir or Moscato as well. $15.50/half pound.
Then it was to the dining room and first course of Escarole and Beans, Peasant Style. The balanced flavors of the  escarole and beans in this soup topped with a little parmesan cheese were delightfully mellow and made all the more delicious by the Talamonti Trebbiano d’Abruzzo v. 2009. The light and bright flavors of apples and peaches in this traditional white Trebbiano brought out the fresh vegetable nuances of the soup.  It was a satisfying pairing and perfect for a cool November day’s meal.

We had just finished the very last drop of Trebbiano and discreetly licking our bowl when scents of Bolognese sauce filled the air and the empty soup bowls were replaced with plates of  heavenly Radiatore Pasta with Lamb Bolognese. As the guests dug into the plates of pasta, servers poured Talamonti Modá Montepulciano d’Abruzzo v. 2008, a medium-bodied red that stood up nicely to the lamb flavors and blended seamlessly with the Bolognese sauce. Montepulciano wines tend to be softer and more accessible than Chianti or Nebbiolo with their cherry, plum, and rasberry aromas/flavors—and this intensely fruity Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a soft wine, with just a hint of acidity and tannins that make it hard to miss with pastas and red sauce or almost anything else at the dinner table.

Now we were definitely becoming full, cheese, soup, pasta and another course to come. Could we do it? Yes, the next course was Osso Bucco, cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth served with polenta. How could we resist? The veal was perfect and the polenta light and creamy, talk about comfort food, this was yummy.  For this course, guests were treated to two different wines. The first, a purple Talamonti Tres Saggi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo v. 2008  was a rich Montepulciano blend. The addition of 30% Merlot provided weight and some complex notes of berry, cherry, blueberry, coffee, vanilla and elegant oak. It was a seamless pairing.
The second wine was Rubino Punta Aquila v. 2007 a Primitivo. The violet reflections of this deep red wine were complemented by an intense bouquet and spicy aroma that followed through to the palate. When tasted on its own, one table mate commented it seemed too big and that it would overpower the dish,she claimed she didn’t like it. Yet when she heded the advice of the winemaker and when sipped with the polenta and a bite of osso bucco, she found the boldness was tempered and the tannins smoothed to a delightful finish. Then this full-bodied wine conveyed a velvety warmth of home. It was incredible and a nice change from  the “usual Cabernet”.

We barely had room for the dessert, Zeppole laced with Winter Pears and drizzled with Sabayon. This was paired with Angioletta Moscato, a slightly effervescent Moscato with flavors of peach, apricot, and a touch of honey, this dessert was aperfect ending to a perfect meal.

All of the cheeses are available at  Cheese on Main, 53 Main Avenue, Ocean Grove, NJ 07756, Phone: (732) 775-1530. Sadly, she doesn’t yet have a web site but you can phone or visit her for cheese advice.

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