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!

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.

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.

Wine I Like It Blind Tasting – November 2010


The latest Wine I Like It blind wine tasting was an eye-opener for many of the tasters. None of them were prepared to discover these wines each had an average price point of $12 and were wines most of them knew, had previously tried, or had once considered as a favorite wine. The ten wines hailed from eight different wine regions.

This tasting group seriously set about tasting and providing feedback.  Most tried guessing the varietals and a few tried guessing both the varietal and region. One taster correctly identified each varietal and region of all ten wines and named the producer on three. Two correctly identified seven of the ten wines and the remaining tasters each averaged five correct indentifications.

The fifth wine tasted was correctly determined by all to be Chardonnay, with one taster correctly identifying the region. Another interesting note about the tasting: wines number one and two were only one point apart, and wines three, four, and five were each separated by two points. This was the highest rated and closest point grouping to date.

So what were the top five wines from this selection?

Well, number one was the last wine tasted: [yellow tail] Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a multi-regional blend from Coonawarra, Wrattonbully & Padthaway, Australia. Full-bodied, structured, complex, and elegant, it had aromas of ripe, black cherries, blackberries, mint, oak, and velvety smooth tannins.

Overall our tasters commented on the “smoothness and lack of harsh tannins”. Some comments included:  “very smooth cab”; “a drinkable red, touch of sweetness at end”; “good flavor, smooth, yet has nice body to it”;  “very yum”;  “great nose, nice color, nice finish, tastes great!” and  “Love it!”

Our tasters were surprised to see that this was [yellow tail] Reserve Cabernet and that it retailed for around $13 not the $18+ they had guessed.

Number two was [yellow tail] Reserve Chardonnay. This wine was correctly identified by everyone and one person correctly identified it as [yellow tail] Chardonnay from Australia. Gasps of “Yellow Tail? You’re kidding!” were heard at the reveal.  Tasting it blind, they had been able to concentrate on the full-bodied wine’s melon, peach, tropical fruit rather than brand name. All of the tasters commented on the fresh palate and powerful fruit.

Some of the written comments were: “a little sweet, but good”; “dry, smooth, great dinner wine”;  “a hint of oak/butter in the finish”; “It’s oaky—Chardonnay. Not sure where it’s from”; “powerful, tropical fruit”; “oaky”: “ It’s my favorite white so far.”; “ Loving these wines”; “tend not to like Chardonnay, but would drink this again”; “hint of citrus oak flavor comes through” and “nice bouquet and great flavor”.

The tasters said they would pay up to $16.80 for it. The actual price point is around $12. Both top wine’s alcohol level hovered around 13.5%.

Number three was Ramon Bilbao Crianza Tempranillo from Spain. This medium-bodied wine was a bright, deep, cherry-red with intense aromas of ripe black berries, savory hints of balsam and licorice. It was fresh, well-structured and textured with smoky cedar, spice box, leather, violets, and blackberry nuances.

All of the tasters commented on the intriguing earth, smoky aromas and the lenghty, peppery finish. A few noted a bitter edge to the cherry flavors. Overall, the wine was well received and comments included: “Nice nose, deep color, very nice”; “smooth, mellow, love it!”; “ Great flavor and body, dry finish, like this a lot”;  “definitely yummy. Strong finish”; “My favorite so far”; “ love the flavor”;  “smooth cherries”, and  “not sure of what this is, but would drink again.” All wanted to know where this wine could be purchased and the average estimate for this $12 wine was $16.50

The first wine of the evening  [yellow tail] Bubbles ranked at number four. The first thing the group noticed was the stopper or “zork”—a reusable sparkling wine stopper that the user presses down firmly to seal, and then pulls the side clasps down until a click is heard—they were intrigued. Made using the Charmat process (Tank Fermentation),  Bubbles was delightfully fresh and fruity. Flavors of tropical fruits and a medium sweetness led to a delightful, crisp finish.

Some of the group thought it was  a $14 Cava. The sparkling wine lovers  thought this was “a delicious, fun sparkler”. One stated it was “too fruity for my taste”, but most agreed that it was a “good, general occasion bubbly”. Other comments included:  “good flavor, but a twiggy after taste”; “sparkling wines are my favorite.”; “Refreshing lemon-lime, yummy and light”; “nice amount of bubbles”; “love the apricot and peach flavors’; and the final comment “It’s sparkling, it’s white, what’s not to like?” They especially liked the $9 price tag.

Rounding out the top five was Hob Nob Merlot, a red from France made in a “New World” style.  The group picked up on the black-currant, plum, and blackberry aromas and flavors. Most of the group commented that it was “Full-bodied with a nice soft, dry finish”. One commented “This is interesting. I like the smooth, deep flavors would pay $15.” Written comments included:  “nice tannic finish and the best so far”; and  “tastes like rasins, but I think it’s merlot— nice chocolate undertones.” Most  agreed they would buy it again and they would pay around $15.50 for it. They were delighted to discover it was an $11 wine.

This tasting offered several surprises, instead of tasting something new and different, they were  reintroduced to some old favorites and great values.

The next wine I Like It tasting will be held at Branches Catering on January 25, 2011.

Most of these wines can be found at local retailers, including: Gerards Wine & Spirits in Point Pleasant, Wine King of Wall, Spirit of 76 in Manasquan and Monmouth Bottle Shop in Oakhurst.

September’s Wine I like It Wine Tasting


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Dardano Zara Rosso 2008 Nebbiolo blend

2. This Bliss Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008

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

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

5. Gran Sasso Montelpulciano DOC, 2009

Mister C’s Wine and Food Pairing


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine I Like it Blind Wine Tasting Panel


The latest Wine I Like it Blind Wine Tasting was held August 31 at Branches in West Long Branch. This month the wine tasting consisted of nine wines, which were sampled and rated by the 29 panel members.

Seven of the nine wines were from Spain, primarily tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero (although there was one Cabernet Sauvignon) and one white wine from Rueda. The remaining two wines to make up the set were a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California.

The wines were presented “blind”—no information was provided about the wine prior to tasting, nor could the tasters see the bottles before the tasting. The guests were told to rate the wines on a scale of “0” – “5” with “5” being “I liked it a lot” and “0” being I didn’t like it at all. Only the top five results are published. Full tasting results and information is provided to the to participating vendors, suppliers and distributors who request it.

Distributors / Vendors / Winemakers are asked to supply 2-3 bottles of each wine(s) that they would like to promote and/or sample with the public. If the wines are currently available locally, information regarding the basic price points and local retailers is conveyed to the tasters. If the wines are new to the market/area, providing suggested retail price aids the taster panel members when they ask for the products at their favorite retail establishment.

Guests were encouraged to guess the region and appellation of the wines and to mark down how much they would be willing to pay for the wine in a wine shop, rather than guess the retail price of the wine.

To help them remember the wines and tell their friends about the wines they liked, each taster had a two-piece rating sheet. The top sheet was returned  with their scores and what they would be willing to pay for each wine.  The bottom sheet listed the wines they tasted in the order of tasting, and since it is a carbonless transfer, they also retain their scores and comments. Additionally, each panel member was given (at the end of the evening) information regarding the wines, varietals and region to take with them.

If you would be interested in participating in the wineilikeit.com wine tasting panel program, it would be greatly appreciated. for more details on the particulars, check out the website or please contact: Art Foss at oceanwineguy@aol.com or Barbara Hay at hayseeds@mac.com or winepro@wineilikeit.com

The top five wines were:
1. Tinto Roa Reserva 2005
2. 24th Annual Belmar Seafood Festival Chardonnay from Domenico Winery
3. Tinto Roa Crianza 2007
4. Tinto Roa Roble 2008
5. Tinto Roa Musai de Tinto Roa 2006

The number one performer was the sixth wine that was tasted: Tinto Roa Reserva 2005, a tempranillo. Comments were very generous: “very bold fruit-forward wine, yet balanced”; “nice oak”; “it makes your mouth explode!”; “very full, big and spicy”; and “nicely balanced, great nose, smooth finish, jammy fruit-forward and big. Great for pasta” The prices people were willing to pay for this ranged from a low of $7 to a high of $25+ with the average coming to $15.

The number two-rated wine was the second wine tasted, it had been referred to as number eight. This was the 24th Annual Belmar Seafood Festival Chardonnay from Domenico Winery in California. Comments included: “excellent length, hints of flowers, and nice buttery finish”; “dry and oaky rounded flavors”; and “would be nice with food” The average price the tasters said were willing to pay for this wine was $10. One taster did say she would pay $4 while another remarked they would pay as much as $15

Finishing in third place was the fifth wine tasted: Tinto Roa Crianza 2007, another tempranillo. Overall the tasters seemed to agree that it had “good flavors, smooth mouth feel, and not too tannic”. One taster noted that it seemed “smoky, like pinot noir”. Many commented that it had a nice amount of oak and a “great finish” Another taster wrote “big and oaky, nice body with a good dry finish, nicely dry with a bit of spice—soft and smooth, good depth. In a word, yummy!” This wine was given a low price point of $7 and a high price point of $20 with the average dollar amount coming to around $13

Following the Crianza in fourth place, was the the fourth wine sampled, the wine was referred to as number 3 during the tasting: Tinto Roa Roble 2008. This wine had less aging than the previous two tempranillo offerings, and the tasting notes reflected the lighter body. Comments included: “reasonably dry”; “opens up to a nice fullness and depth”; “earthy, smooth, and dry”; “easily pairs with a lot of food”; “smooth, fresh flavors, light-medium-body, fills the mouth with berry”. The amounts the tasters said they would pay ranged from a low of $6 to a high of $20 with the average price point around $12.

The last wine of the top five was the number seven wine: Tinto Roa Musai de Tinto Roa 2006. It was apparent the tasters either “Loved it” or were indifferent toward it as it received more “5” point ratings than any other , but it also received more “1” and “2” point ratings than the other wines in the top five. The tasters comments included: “good structure, very impressive wine”; “nice, deep color and bold complex flavor—love it!” “The best of all with a big spicy finish”;, “wow! where”s the pasta?” “nice body and substance, sticks to my tongue” This tempranillo also garnered the highest amount that the tasters were willing to pay $27+,  but the tasters who were not enamoured of it seemed to prefer an $8 price tag, bringing this wine’s average price the panel was willing to pay to $15.

If you noticed, most of the wines on this list all contain a grape you may or may not have heard about before: Tempranillo. It is often referred to as Spain’s “noble grape”. Tempranillo grapes thrive in a short growing season and this early ripening tendency is the source of the name Tempranillo, which translates to “little early one”. Tempranillo also has many different regional identities worldwide, including aragon, cencibel, extremadura, valdepeñas and many derivatives of each.

Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak barrels. It is frequently used as the base variety in blends, mostly with grenache, (aka garnacha in Spain), carignan (aka mazuelo in Spain’s Rioja region), syrah, and, more recently, cabernet sauvignon. Tempranillo aromas and flavors often combine elements of berryish fruit, plums, herbaceousness, vanilla, tobacco, an earthy-leathery character, and good minerality.

As our wine panel discovered these wines provide value for the money and are definitely worth a taste.

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

Wine I Like It Blind Tasting Panel – Spanish Wines


Wine I Like Blind Tasting Panel Results from Thursday, July 22

Wine I Like it is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding out what the “average consumer” thinks about various wines.    To that end, Wine I Like It hosts “I Like It” wine tasting panels comprised of people who are not professionals in the wine industry. These “non-professionals ” taste wines to see if they “LIKE” them “OR NOT”.

There is a series of several different panels. Some are based on age, some on wine preferences and others on a combination of preferences. Our goal is to find out how people outside of the wine industry feel about various products—whether they “Like It” or “Dislike It”. It is fun and informative for the tasting panel members as well as enlightening for us to see what consumers prefer.

Our panel rates the wines based on a proprietary system, exclusive to Wine I Like It that serves to help demystify the number systems wine buyers currently rely on by making valuations as simple and transparent as possible.

This month the wine tasting stayed in a single country and within two specific regions – Castilla y León and Castilla La Mancha, Spain. Some of the tasters were surprised to find they were tasting Spanish wine, only one taster knew immediately they were from Spain. We tasted two whites, two rosés, and six reds that were all classified Vino de la tierra.

Here are the top five including the average price the panel was willing to pay for each wine.

  1. Cotoval Tempranillo 2004
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Aged 12 months in Oak
  2. Tavera 2008 Vendimia Seleccionada
    A selected blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla
  3. Cotoval Tempranillo 2006
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Aged 6 months in Oak
    Average Price: $15
  4. Tavera Syrah-Tempranillo 2008
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla
    Average Price: $14
  5. Cotoval Tempranillo 2008
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Average Price: $13

The all-around number one favorite was the Cotoval Tempranillo 2004 Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León Aged 12 months in Oak. Some of the comments about this wine included: “I need a slice of pizza!”, “Nice finish and flavor”; Awesome I’d lay it down for a year if I could stay away from it!” “Best of all! Would pay $30 for this one!”

This wine, as most of the wines sampled that evening is a Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT). The concept is similar to the Vins de Pays of France and, according to Spanish law, is seen as sort of transitional term for areas that can, after 5 years, apply for Denominación de Origen status. However, many wineries in Vinos de la Tierra areas have relished the greater freedom than exists under the D.O. system to produce grapes and wines as they wish. The result is wines that are more innovative and exciting than those of D.O.s. These broader geographical designations will appear on the label such as Andalucia, Castilla y León, Castilla La Mancha and Levante.

Three of our  top five, (including number one) hail from Castilla y León, IPA. Known formally as the Community of Castile and León, is one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain. It was constructed from the historic regions of Old Castile (Castilla la Vieja) and León, first as a preautonomía—a “pre-autonomous” region—in 1978 and then as an autonomous community in 1983. It is the largest autonomous community in Spain, covering an area of 94,223 square kilometers (36,380 sq. mi).

Number two on the list is Tavera 2008 Vendimia Seleccionada. This wine is a selected blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah. Although this wine is drinking beautifully now, it will  benefit from some time ageing in the bottle. For the word “Vendimia” or vintage year to appear on the label, a minimum of 85% of the grapes must be from that year’s (in this case 2008) harvest. This wine is from the Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla, central Spain, the Spain of Don Quixote. This region is noted for its hot, arid plains. The V. de la T. de Castilla was formed in 1999 to take in those areas outside of the several D.O.s in the area (such as La Mancha). The region as a whole has 600,000 hectares (1.48 million acres) of vineyards, which represents nearly 6% of the world’s vineyards.

Many of our tasters described this wine as “A nice piece of salmon is calling me!”,”Good summer red wine, nice soft tannins” “Great aroma and flavor” “really nice finish, would pair nicely with food” “excellent! A nice full-bodied wine.” The average price our tasting panel was willing to pay for this wine was $14, with some saying they could easily pay more than $20.

Number three on this hit parade took us back to Castilla y León with Cotoval Tempranillo 2006
Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
. This wine is aged 6 months in oak. In Spain, red wines that are aged for a two years with at least 6 month in oak are considered a Crianza. Our panel agreed that it had a “Great nose and smooth tannins” “Soft tannins with a nice full flavor”and “Smooth finish” this wine fell into the $15 average price category.

The fourth wine, Tavera Syrah-Tempranillo 2008 Vino de la tierra de Castilla took us back to Castilla La Mancha just outside of Toledo. This blend of Syrah-Tempranillo received the following comments: “I need a piece of mild sausage and Italian bread with this!”; “Very Fruit forward – it explodes!”; “Very versatile”; and “Good bold flavor that grows on you!” The average price point suggested was $14.

Our last top wine, number 5, was Cotoval Tempranillo 2008 Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León. One taster commented “I’m in love!” Another asked “Is that a slight pepper taste?”; ”Nice aromatics and cherry flavor” ; “Smells great! Nice finish, best one!” …and the short but sweet “Excellent!” The average price they said they would pay was around $13.

If you noticed, each of the top five wines on this list all contain a grape you may or may not have heard about before: Tempranillo—often referred to as Spain’s “noble grape”. Tempranillo grapes thrive in a short growing season and this early ripening tendency is the source of the name Tempranillo, which translates to “little early one”. Tempranillo also has many different regional identities worldwide, including Aragon, Cencibel, Extremadura, Jacibiera, Tinto, Tinto Fino, Valdepeñas and many more too numerous to list here.

Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak barrels. It is frequently used as the base variety in blends,and is most frequently mated with grenache, (aka garnacha in Spain), carignan (aka mazuelo in Spain’s Rioja region), syrah and, more recently, cabernet sauvignon. Tempranillo aromas and flavors often combine elements of berryish fruit, plums, herbaceousness, vanilla, tobacco, an earthy-leathery character, and good minerality.

As our wine panel discovered, these wines provide value for the money and are definitely worth a taste.

For more information about the wines that were sampled or to find out how you can become part of the wineilikeit.com tasting panel, visit http://www.wineilikeit.com

Interested in hosting a wine tasting party?


I personally love doing wine tastings and am often asked do them for my clients. They are fun and after the first or second taste everyone will discover that wine makes friends of us all.
Whether you are merely pairing wines with specific cheeses, or doing a vertical or horizontal tasting, you are sure to notice new nuances in both red wines and white wines as a result of the focused tasting.

The first thing you will need to determine is the the number of guests you will have, many say eight is a good number, others say 12, personally I feel anywhere between 8 and 16 is manageable.
If possible, try to invite one guest who is knowledgeable about wine (or invite me) to help discuss the wines, origins and flavors. Also consider how many wines you will be sampling. Some sommeliers recommend between four and six wines, others say between six and twelve wines.  I like to land somewhere between eight and ten wines and often serve ten wines at a tasting.

To make your wine tasting party a bit more challenging, try offering a “blind tasting” experience. It can be the perfect way to go, because the guests will not know which bottle or wine they are tasting. No don’t blindfold your guests—that could be dicey with red wine and spillage. What we do is bag the wine bottles to conceal their identities. Blind tastings require creative techniques in concealing the wine and the marking/numbering of each bottle.

The simplest method is to “brown bag” the wine and seal the bag with tape and write the number on the bag in magic marker. You can cover the bottle in aluminum foil and again number the bottle with magic marker. Or you can do what  I like to do: I have pretty little wine bags that I tie with ribbon, each ribbon has a number attached to it. These bags effectively hide the wine and disguise the shape of the wine bottles which can sometimes be a clue in determining the type of wine. Of course, to make it even more difficult, you could also serve the wine in a black wine glass to mask the color of the wine.

When sampling, I like to have wine tasters taste each wine on its own, then again paired with food or cheese and identify the changes that occur when paired with food. It can be amazing to find a wine that you thought was only so-so, when sipped with a perfect pairing, will positively sing to you and become  your new best wine friend. You don’t need to offer a wide variety of foods, simple crackers or bread works in a pinch to cleanse the palate.  I often use oyster crackers, they’re small, taste great and cleanse the palate between wines.

Encourage your guests to incorporate all of their senses to identify the respective wines based on their personal likes and dislikes. Allow your guests to consult and compare notes as well. Because blind tastings commonly involve the identification of a favorite wine and flavor profiles, you will find a great deal of “back and forth” tasting and comparison- and some lively conversations will ensue as the tasters try to determine the wines they are sampling.

Why do I like blind tasting?

Blind wine tasting helps to ensure impartial judgment of a wine. A taster’s judgment can be prejudiced by knowing details of a wine, such as geographic origin, price, reputation, color, or other considerations—this way there are no preconceptions. For example, people expect more expensive wine to have more desirable characteristics than less expensive wine. When given wine that they are falsely told is expensive they virtually always report it as tasting better than the very same wine when they are told that it is inexpensive. That’s why, blind tasting can be so much fun, you need to rely on only your taste buds, not some wine writer’s taste buds.

Often you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover you have preferences for wines that perfectly suit your budget.  Therefore, it’s always a good idea to conceal wine prices until the end of the evening.

That’s all there is to it, so select some wines and call a few friends and get tasting! If you need help with your tasting, I’m available. Cheers!

Offer Some Wine Descriptors
You may want to provide some examples of wine descriptors for the guest to use, such as:
•    Color -clear, cloudy, shny, straw yellow, yellow green, golden yellow, amber, deep ruby, chery red, garnet, brick, brown at rim, and so on.
•    Nose -sweet, fruity, crisp, musty, Fresh cut grass, etc.
•    Flavors -crisp, light, zingy, full, smooth, balanced, oak, tight, alcoholic, etc.
•    Persistence on the palate (finish) – short, medium, long

Tips for Hosting a Blind Wine Tasting:

•    Eight to sixteen people is about right for a blind wine tasting parties.
•    Pour about 2 oz of wine in each glass. Make certain you have enough of each wine. One bottle of wine can easily be poured in 2-ounce amounts for 12 (an average 750ml bottle holds about 24.5 ounces).
•    Set a theme for the wine tasting.
•    Bag your wines.
•    Provide simple hors d’oeuvres for the guests. Mild cheeses and crackers are a good choice. They help neutralize the palate between wines. Pick food that can help rinse the pallet without overshadowing the wines. The simplest – get some bread.
•    Bag the wines and use tape (or rubber bands) to tape the bags to the bottles so that they do not slip during pouring. For more aesthetic effect, you can use aluminum foil. Label them alphabetically (A,B,C…) Using numbers can get quite confusing when you are sharing your tasting notes and scores.
•    Prepare a tasting note guide and answer sheet for your guests. This preparation will make your night so much easier – they save you from explaining yourself hundred times. Also, your guests will learn more about wine.
•    Have a jug of water and a water bucket out so your guests can rinse their glass between each tasting.

Most of all have fun!