Wine Thoughts — Our Blog

Like a Rock: A wine fit for packing


petra-zingari-smSometimes, things just go better with wine. Well, maybe most things go better with wine. Packing up your belongings for a big move is definitely something that goes better with wine…lots of wine. Somehow it seems less tedious and a lot easier to part with some old knick knack that came from Lord knows where and has been collecting dust for Lord knows how long.

Since it’s a cold, dull January day, we need a cheerful easy-to-drink sipper that will help warm and not break the bank. Today’s choice? An Italian red.  Petra Zingari, a fresh entry level Tuscan. The cheerful sun-inspired label helps to brighten our day. The winemaker says the label is inspired by a pictorial interpretation of the spiral theme, which represents the repetitions of life, but the sunny idea works for us as we begin loading packing boxes full of various belongings.

The first thing we notice as we pack up the china, is that this wine is fresh and juicy on the palate, bursting with cherry fruit and an attractive note of wild rose. Smoke, underbrush, licorice and truffles add complexity to the generous, dark fruit. Medium-bodied and wonderfully intense, Zingari impresses for its sheer richness and density. Sweet, floral notes add length and brightness to the long, caressing finish. This shows great depth
without coming across heavy, quite a rarity in Bolgheri. There is lots of flavor and it is quite supple, drinking well already, very pleasant and really well-priced. Somehow, packing seems to be a breeze.

So what makes this wine so tasty?  Well, Zingari is a four-variety Tuscan blend of equal parts Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot aged entirely in stainless steel. It is an absolutely fabulous entry-level red. It offers immediately noticeable aromas of fruits and flowers: rose petals, red and black cherries combining with a pleasant vegetal background trace of herbed vegetables, what’s not to like?

According to the winery, when Vittorio Moretti, and his daughter Francesca, set out in search of a property in the Maremma in 1997, they asked Attilio Scienza, Italy’s most celebrated viticultural professor and consultant, to help them find the best spot. Scienza came up with Petra (the name is derived from the Latin for stone, or ‘pietra’ in Italian’), which is southeast of Bolgheri and inland from the sea. The estate now has 97 hectares of vineyard, which surround a modernist winery built by the Swiss architect, Mario Botta.  The vineyards are located at the foot of the hills, partly in the village of Suvereto and partly in Riotorto.

Since we know this little gem pairs well tomato-based pastas, fresh Parmesan and the like, we know it will take us through packing straight through to dinner. There is enough freshness for the Zingari to drink well for a number of years. One box down, another 30 to go!

Starting the year off with an old favorite


gir_bottle_sauvblancnapa_nvTo me, Sauvignon Blanc basically falls into two categories. There’s the lighter, lemony, grapefruit- like, “easy drinking” style that I truly enjoy. Then there’s a more serious approach to Sauvignon Blanc that means far more complexity, weight, food- friendliness and intellectual stimulation. The latter category is very special and it is where you’ll find my old favorite, Girard Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley. Actually, this is my most favorite California white.
Why? Because Girard Sauvignon Blanc is dry, very clean, fresh and crisp Sauvignon Blanc that is super  acidic and minerally, a wonderful rendition of a Loire-style Sauvignon Blanc.
More than thirty years after first planting its vineyards, Girard continues to produce wines
reflecting Napa Valley quality. Longtime California vintner Pat Roney purchased the winery shortly after the new millennium.  Girard’s ‘ambitiously efficient’ state-of-the-art winery, located in the Carneros district employs cutting edge energy saving initiatives
that result in a carbon neutral footprint and Sustainable Agriculture practices.
At Girard, they continue the tradition of highlighting the flavors of Napa Valley and its rich, ripe grapes.
What makes this wine my perennial favorite?
The Sauvignon Blanc is all stainless steel fermented and does not undergo malolactic fermentation. In fact, it is so light, it looks like water in the bottle and it is just as thirst quenching.
Aromatics lean towards lush citrus, ripe grapefruit, lemon zest, and fragrant, fresh and refreshing green apple and honeydew melon.Candied ginger, bright summer lemon curd and ripe grapefruit are followed by tropical notes of pineapple and guava that takes us
down the path to honeysuckle, mineral and fresh thyme.
This Sauv Blanc is full and rich from start to finish; bold, ripe fruit flavors are lasting and attractive on the palate. With little or no oak, it shows brilliant lemongrass, peach, vanilla and spice flavors. The citrus notes define themselves as lime zest with a touch of fresh-cut grapefruit and Meyer lemon. Tropical notes help round out the palate with hints of mango, guava and papaya. Bright acidity helps cleanse the palate. There is a slightly flinty and wet slate characteristic that compliments the refreshing acidity.  Ripe mango, peach and apricot flavors are smooth and elegant, but with plenty of punch from a refreshing acidity and a minerally undertow that crescendos on the lingering finish.
This is a wine that cleans and stimulates the palate, and a welcome addition to any wine
cellar. It’s a quintessential white that pairs beautifully with white meats (from fish and
shellfish to chicken and pork). The lean profile of Sauvignon Blanc also does not lend itself
well to dishes containing disproportionate amounts of butter or cream (use only with
balancing ingredients like lemon and capers, lest the wine turns unpleasantly sharp and
the dish too fatty or oily). This wine is a natural with dishes utilizing leafy green herbs
(parsley, basil, chervil and cilantro). If you drink this wine too cold, you’ll miss the nuances behind the pineapple, orange and spice flavors.
I love this wine,  it’s flat-out delicious and a perfect way for me to start my new year!

Amarone: Italy’s wine treasure


Amarone

Amarone della Valpolicella is a style of red wine produced in the Valpolicella area of the Veneto in northeastern Italy, just outside a gem of a city in northeastern Italy, Verona.

Yes, the city of Shakespeare’s two gentlemen and Romeo and Juliette; it’s also home to a medieval center, as well as one of the most untouched Roman amphitheaters in the world, where concerts and events are still held. Verona is about 90 minutes due west of Venice by car.

Amarone is an Italian wine treasure loved by wine drinkers looking for ripe fruit, power, roundness and a sense of adventure in their red wine. Yet, despite being one of Italy’s most symbolic wines it is little understood and often much under-appreciated.

Many wine lovers know of Amarone, though relatively few are personal admirers. That’s because most of us drink wines in the sub-$20 range–and there are some wonderful choices in that price range. However, every now and then, you want a wine in a higher price range that is worth the cost. Amarone is one of these wines—easily worth the minimum $50-$60 bottle price. While some wine prices are artificially inflated, there’s a practical explanation as to why Amarone is one of Italy’s top red wines.

Key to Amarone’s uniqueness are the indigenous grape varieties from the region. Known for it’s deep intense dried fruit flavors, slight hints of sweetness, dark cherry and raisins, made primarily of Corvina (between 60 to 80%)—which provides backbone, structure, body and acidity. It is then blended, typically with Rondinella  and Molinara. Other indigenous varieties such as Corvinone and the lesser-known Oseleta—are all important ingredients in the final mix, each adding its own special flavors and dimension to the wines.

No Italian wine is more distinctive than Amarone della Valpolicella, and few are as precious, because of the time, the labor and materials required to craft every bottle. Most winemakers vinify approximately two-and-a-quarter pounds of grapes to produce one bottle of wine, while a winemaker of Amarone will require 23 pounds for each bottle.

The traditional process to make this rich wine requires drying out 30-40% of the grapes on straw mats for about 120 days. All of the grapes must dehydrate into raisins before vinification truly begins. Next, the grapes are pressed, fermented, barrel aged, then rest in the bottles until released around four years after harvest.

Amarone comes from the word amaro which means “bitter” in Italian and most have a tartness or slightly astringent edge to them. At times, you may notice a sweet edge from the concentrated sugars the grapes pick up during the drying process. While diversity exists, the wines are typically dry, fresh, full-bodied and complex, with great depth and flavor concentration.

Amarone is a big wine, high in alcohol, with intense aromatics that range from resin and dried prunes to cherry cola. On the palate, the flavors can range from dark berry, cherry and plum fruits, to licorice, coffee and chocolate. It is rich and powerful with high levels of tannin  seamlessly integrated with the fruit. Despite having alcohol levels between 15% and 16%, these powerful wines are extremely balanced and elegant. Certainly, the combination of raisiny and sweet black fruit can make Amarone an irresistible temptation.

Delicious with red meats, heavy pasta dishes, and strong cheeses, it’s perfect for a cold winter evening in front of a fire. But, then again, it may be the singularity of this wine showing its very clearly defined unique personality and sense of place that makes it such a favorite.

A terrific food wine, exhibiting a wide variety of flavors, it pairs well with a wide variety—from traditional dishes of the Veneto to more modern Asian fusion. It especially pairs well with savory dishes. Depending upon the style, aromas and flavors may include cherries, plums, raisins, dried figs, smoke, nuts, bittersweet chocolate, coffee, tar, tobacco and earth.

In pairing it with food, it is important to keep in mind the different styles of Amarone, the two main ones being traditional and modern.

Traditional
The robust, sometimes oxidized character of the traditional style Amarones make them especially well-suited for pairing with game, steaks, stews and ribs. These wines are complex, earthy, and ripe, revealing aromas and flavors of dried black cherry and plum. There is a sense of terroir and prominent dried fruit characteristics. Older vintages reveal oxidized notes of caramel. While the wines receive extensive barrel aging, they generally do not reveal oak aromas or flavors. They are relatively high in alcohol (16-17%), their tannins are usually unresolved and require additional years of aging. These wines are made for long aging.

Modern
The red fruit intensity and softer tannins of modern style Amarones mean they pair well with pork, veal, and poultry dishes. Modern style wines are ripe tasting but offer more fresh fruit notes and in some instances, have a more outstanding balance and elegance than the traditional styles of Amarone. Their aromas combine dried fruit and toasted oak with some hints of vanilla and or coconut. Modern style Amarones exhibit high alcohol levels like the traditional wines, but can also reveal bold concentrated flavors extracted from long maceration periods and hints of sweetness from residual sugar and alcohol. They also exhibit a soft texture, silky fine-grained tannins and a persistent finish.

A selection of six Amarones for cold winter nights

San Rustico Amarone della Valpolicella Vigneti del Gaso 2006
Tsanrusticohis wine was selected as one of Wine Enthusiast’s TOP 100 WINES for 2015. It’s easy to see why. This 93-point blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone is etheral. It offers up scents of almond and cherry. The flavors are typicaly bitteryet, soft and velvety. A full-bodied wine, it is an ideal wine to be savored in front of a warm fire, preferably in large balloon glasses and uncork a few hours before.
Price:$49.99

Tezza Amarone della Valpolicella Corte Majoli 2011
Corte-MajoliDistinctly rich, this red wine is like no other in the world: high in alcohol, with intense flavors and aromatics, the beauty of Amarone is found in the painstaking effort that goes into producing each bottle. This balanced and elegant full-bodied deep ruby red wine oozes with vibrant fragrances of currants, blackberries, dark cherries, prune, spice, cola and Spanish cedar. There are also clean notes of sweet almonds  and vanilla. Warm and rich, with polished silky tannins and a long finish BN#578983
Price:$33.99

Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2011
cesari_amarone_classico_hiMade from 75% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 5% Molinara, the bouquet of Cesari’s flagship wine is marked by cherry and prune aromas and jammy notes. Toasted nuances and hints of vanilla follow in this full, warm, harmonious red. A long and persistent finish is defined by bold tannins that elegantly coat the palate. Produced from dried grapes cultivated in the historic Classico area of the appellation, Cesari Amarone is extensively aged in a combination of French and Slavonian oak barrels for a total of 3 years following fermentation in stainless steel tanks.
Price:$44.99

Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Il Bosco 2009
cesari_il_bosco_hiA single-vineyard Amarone, the Il Bosco vineyard is nestled in the heart of Valpolicella Classico. Made from 80% Corvina and 20% Rondinella, the wine is rich with concentrated flavors of preserved fruit, particularly cherries. Aged in a combination of French and Slavonian oak barrels for 2+ years then bottle for an additional year or so, the bouquet is layered with hints of baking spices, cocoa, and toasted nuts through the long finish. A unique and complex production process renders a wine with similar characteristics. Hand-selected grapes are dried prior to vinification in stainless steel tanks. A solid amarone. Lots of dried fruits, raisins & shoe leather.
Price:$65.99

tomassiTommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012
Deep ruby red blend of 50% Corvina Veronese, 15% Corvinone, 30% Rondinella and 5% Oseleta.
Warm, ripe on the nose, intense and refined. This complex, smooth, full-bodied wine offers up flavors full of cherry and plum.Serve on special occasions or sip it as an ideal companion to enjoyable conversation.
Price:$64.99

Terre-Antiche-Amarone-2012 _1Terre Antiche Amarone Della Valpolicella 2012
A killer value from an under-the-radar producer. This wine is an intense, deep garnet red color. Complex aromas of spiced plums, cherry and a hint of raspberry. Soft, velvety, yet full-bodied with a lingering aftertaste. Excellent with most red meats, game, and with hard-textured, mature cheese.BN#575971
Price:$22.99

All Amarones work well with big flavored cheeses. Try Parmigiano Reggiano, Cimbro, Monte Veronese Ubriaco, and Pecorino Vecchio. Also, try aged Gouda and blue cheeses like Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort and Danish Blue. Simply out, Amarone is a robust wine that is perfect with heartier meals fare over the course of 7 to 15 years.

These six wines can be found at http://www.circuswines.com/ Circus Wines / Spirits Unlimited in Red BankMiddletown and Sea Girt, New Jersey.

Super wines for super bowls


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

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

Punta Final Malbec

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Altovinium Evodia Old Vine Grenache 2013

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Ten Bottles for the Holidays


The holiday season is all about spending time with family and friends, basking in the warm glow of hearth and family. This is the time when you want to drink or give something that will make the occasion special. After all, any drinker can treat himself to a bottle of Makers’ 46 or Tanqueray 10 on payday, but a gift of spirits should something a friend might not think to try on his own.
In any decent spirits shop, there’s no shortage of bottles worth giving as a gift. If you decide to stick with the tried and true—the big brands—look for items like Crown Royal Monarch, a limited edition of the wildly popular Canadian whiskey; Johnnie Walker Platinum 18 Year Old Blended Scotch; and the remarkable Wild Turkey American Spirit—these are all exceptional “a step above” choices, but if you want to try something a little different, try one of the following ten gift suggestions.
• Angel’s Envy: Woodford Reserve makes one of the best bourbons around—when they announced a new American whiskey, we couldn’t wait to try it. This bourbon small-batch spirit is the a result of extra aging in port wine casks. The result is a finely-balanced liquor with the flavor of wine-soaked cherries. It’s just heavenly.
• Jim Beam Devil’s Cut: This bourbon from the Jim Beam distillery plays off the idea of the angel’s share—the portion of the bourbon that evaporates from the barrel as it ages—by offering you the darker alternative: the Devil’s Cut. When a bourbon is finished aging, some of the liquid remains trapped in the wood. Beam distillers figured out how to extracted that liquid and incorporate it back into the liquor, for a richer drink. The vanilla and wood flavors are more pronounced, while remaining exquisitely smooth. This is devilishly delicious.
• Brugal 1888: Brugal is the Dominican Republic’s biggest rum producer. A unique rum, it has the seriousness of a fine scotch. It’s aged twice, first in medium-toasted American white oak casks (previously used for bourbon) for a minimum of six years, followed by a second maturation lasting two to four more years in Sherry oak casks to bring out a level of oakiness similar to bourbons or single malts.Drink it neat to better taste the notes of chocolate, roasted coffee beans, hints of cinnamon and dried fruit.
Cognac is regarded as the finest of all the spirits distilled from grapes. It has an abundance of incomparable qualities: fruitiness, subtle bouquet, intensity, warmth and complexity. You could opt for one from one of the ‘big four’ Cognac houses (Rémy Martin, Hennessey, Martell and Courvoisier), or try a delicious alternative from Tesseron.
• Cognac Tesseron Lot No. 90 XO Selection Cognac is made 100% from Ugni blanc (aka Trebbiano). This honey-colored libation offers lively aromas of oak, pear and apple, which subtly change to delicate maple and banana as it aerates. The flavors are honeyed tropical fruit from first sip through the satiny-smooth sweet, medium-long finish. ($69.99, Bottle Shop, Spring Lake)
If Cognac isn’t your cup of brandy, you may want to try Calvados. More rustic by nature than Cognac or Armagnac, it’s distilled from cider rather than from wine, it can defy brandy expectations.
• Norois Calvados ‘Trois Pommes’ is a blend of bitter and bittersweet apple ciders and a good introduction to the intense and natural apple characteristics of the Calvados AOC Pays d’Auge. Apple aromas and flavors burst vividly from the glass, in jagged flashes that seem to penetrate deeply into the complex essence of an apple. Clarity, purity, tart citrus, cinnamon spice, earthiness, mintiness: are just some of the sensations you can experience this glass.
Sometimes you just want to introduce new flavors for after dinner sipping or a new favorite cocktail. Some of the current favorite flavors are the tasty Castries Peanut Rum Cream liqueur, a combo of rum and peanut butter cream; the cinnamon-y and creamy RumChata;  or Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice. For something different consider the following:
• Kahlua Cinnamon Spice. If you’re making a White Russian, you’ll need Kahlua, the Mexican coffee liqueur. This new flavor takes Christmas cookies and crunches them into your White Russian, So yummy.
• Amarula Cream Liqueur is made from the yellow berry fruit of the marula tree. Marula trees are found mainly in the warm, frost-free regions of sub-equatorial Africa, and the vitamin-C-rich fruit belongs to the same family as the mango, sumac, cashew and pistachio. This cream liqueur is the result of the fruit being pulped, sweetened, fermented, aged in oak casks for two years, and blended with fresh cream. The caramel-like flavor is sweet but not cloying, and is enjoyable straight from a refrigerated bottle, on the rocks, in coffee or try it as a dessert.
• Mama Micha Orange Dream Cream Liqueur. Mama Micha is a new product on the market created by a New Jersey-based, mother-daughter team who decided to pursue their dream of making delicious desserts you can drink. Take a sip and you’ll notice it tastes surprisingly like an orange Creamsicle. There is no overpowering alcohol taste (although it does contain vodka) and the combination of orange and vanilla is perfect. If you love Dreamsicles, you will love this bit of dessert decadence!
• Mama Micha Dark Silk Chocolate Liqueur. This is a perfect blend of creamy texture and explosive chocolate flavor. It’s like taking a bite out of a silky smooth dark chocolate candy bar. Full-bodied and delicately sweet with a hint of bitterness, it can be enjoyed on the rocks, in cocktails, added to coffee or hot chocolate and is particularly satisfying over ice-cream.
• Chartreuse. Why are we including “old-fashioned” Chartreuse? Because this green liquid is the perfect gift for the vodka or gin drinker in your life. Made from 130 herbs, plants and flowers gathered in the French Alps by the Carthusian monks, the mixture is macerated with a neutral alcohol spirit and distilled before being aged in oak casks for about five years. Chartreuse is the only liqueur to give its name to a color (my favorite color, too!) Look for intensely floral and herbal aromas followed by cloves, fennel, citrus, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, pine…each sip brings something new! Chartreuse is best served neat, but it’s quite delicious as a Chartreuse gimlet or served with chocolate creme brulée or mixed berries, whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
Happy Holiday drinking!

7 Intriguing wines to drink this Fall


There is a special smell in the air that’s crisp but still dusty from summer—fall brings the feeling of completeness of a season and thoughts of red wine. Wine is an all-seasons beverage, but if you’re eating seasonally, it makes sense to be drinking seasonally. It’s time to begin thinking about richer whites and more robust reds for the coming cold season.
It’s time to look for reds are light- to medium-bodied and have a range of spicy flavors that pair well with autumn fare. Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Syrah- and Grenache-based wines always feel more autumnal, similarly, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, or Chardonnay are wonderful for fall.
Here are a few wines that are a bit off the beaten path but will fill out your autumn cellar beautifully.

1. Garnacha/Grenache.
Ranging from rustic-and-leathery to vanilla-fruit-bomb, this is a flamboyant grape. It has brilliant, red fruit flavors (strawberry/raspberry) and offers some of the highest natural alcohol levels (just behind Zinfandel). It matches up to any fall squash recipes you throw its way.
Altovinum Evodia Old Vine Garnacha, Calatayud,  Spain.
This is 100% Garnacha sourced from the highest elevation vineyards of Garnacha of any DO in Spain. It has a slightly exotic nose of earthy minerality, mocha, black cherry, and black raspberry. Savory and concentrated, this medium-bodied wine is very much fruit-forward personality. A great value wine. Aficionados familiar with the wines of the Priorat and the Roussillon will enjoy this delicious Spanish red. (Gerard’s Wine & Spirits, $9.99)

2. Carignan/Cariñena.
If you love savory wines, then this is definitely something that you need to have in your cellar. Good Carignan is bold and gamy with smooth tannins. Carignan’s red fruit-driven flavors pair wonderfully with any turkey or poultry dish.(Thanksgiving anyone?)
Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa 2011
This 100% Carignano wine is from the southern Sulcis region in Sardinia. The nose is intense with hints of licorice, pepper and earth. Red fruit flavors just ooze from this elegant, medium-bodied, silky-textured wine. As it is food-friendly with a wonderful acidity, it’s perfect for pairing with red meat, cheeses and dark olives. (Spring Lake Bottle Shop, $16.99)

3. Nero d’Avola & Nerello Mascalese from Sicily
This blend is so perfect for fall. Sicily was reinvigorated with Nero d’Avola, yet there is another delicious red: Nerello Mascalese. Lighter than Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese is similar to the delicacy of Pinot Noir, with a distinct smoky volcanic aroma along with a fruity-flower basket of cherry, raspberry, plum, rose and violet flavors that tends to sway on the more plush, end of the ‘pinot noir-like’ spectrum.
Corvo Rosso, Sicilia
This classic Sicilian wine is aged in oak barrels. Full-bodied and high in acidity, it’s not quite as overpowering as other high-octane reds like Zinfandel or Syrah.  Intensely aromatic, with powerful, seductive aromas of blackberry, black cherry, raspberry and spice that practically billow out of the glass. Soft and approachable, it has a  friendly, easy-drinking style. Extremely versatile, it’s perfect for everyday dinners and informal occasions as it goes well with grilled and roast meats and medium-aged cheeses. (Circus Wines, $10.99)

4. GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre)
GSM as in Garnacha, Syrah and Mourvèdre—the three classic varieties in a southern Côtes du Rhône red wine. Since it’s a blend of grapes, expect a mix of red and black fruit flavors. The wines from the Old World countries tend to have this tart herbaceous note, while New World versions tend to be juicier and more pure in their fruit flavors.
Schild GMS, Barossa Valley, Australia 2011
This red is a mouthful of juicy, ripe red cherries and spice. Grenache’s blackberry and cherry flavors appear on the front palate while Mourvedre and Shiraz provide structure, concentration and depth. White pepper and spice are evident with a soft tannin framework ensuring a supple, soft texture to finish. (Circus Wines, $11.99)

5. Carignan, Grenache, Syrah blend
M. Chapoutier Cotes du Roussillon Villages les Vignes de Bila Haut 2012
This French red from Languedoc-Roussillon is a blend of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and is a wine that will top anyone’s value list. Fleshy and well-structured, this red is medium to full-bodied, concentrated and balanced, with impressive amounts of blackberry and currant-styled fruit, herbs, pepper and smoked earth aromas and flavors. Showing more minerality with air, this powerful red offers concentrated cherry, plum tart and blackberry flavors that feature plenty of spicy notes. A dark chocolate accent lingers on the firm, moderately tannic finish. (Circus Wines, $10.99)

6. Pinot Blanc from Alsace.
It may seem a strange pick for fall until you realize it’s a surprisingly awesome match with shrimp and curry dishes. The flavor of Pinot Blanc can range from fruity pineapple and white peach flavors to green apple and sage with lots of minerals. These wines have high acidity and the best versions offer a rich, haunting honeycomb-like aroma, yet it’s perfectly dry.
Alsace Willm Pinot Blanc 2011
This golden white wine is fresh, fruity, subtle and balanced. It is a crisp wine with a delicate nose that opens with lime, golden apple and almond blossom. The flavors are fine crisp apples with hints of citrus, honeydew melon and limestone. A great wine for sipping or pairing with spicier dishes and vegetable-based meals. (Circus Wines, $10.99)

7. Viognier
Viognier is capable of producing extraordinary wines. Flavors are dry, luscious peach, apricots and apple fruit, nuttiness and undertones of spice. At its best, it is alluring, lush, aromatic and rich with amazing complexity and a wonderful alternative to Chardonnay.
Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2012, South Australia
This white has aromas that typify this exotic variety: honeysuckle, candied ginger and glacé pineapple. The dry and medium-bodied palate is rich in texture, with lots of soft fruit flavors that make it a pleasure to drink.
Fresh, refreshing and expressive, packed with pineapple, pear and spice, the wine smells sweet but finishes dry and silky with flavors of fresh pineapple and lychee. Perfect with white meats, freshwater fish and mild cheeses. (Spirit of 76 Wines & Liquors, $12.99)

Wine Cocktails for Summer


Now that it’s unofficially summer, it’s time to think about a few delicious wine cocktails.
While cocktails made with wine are by no means a new creation, they are enjoying a healthy revival as mixologists continue to craft better beverages and experiment with a variety of spirits, including wine as a direct route to making the traditional cocktail more food-friendly.

Amazingly, wine cocktails were at their height in the early 1900s with both table and fortified wines used as the drink base. That is until Prohibition took its toll on cocktails of all varieties. Today, these wine concoctions pair deliciously with food, friends, and festivities of all kinds. Plus, wine cocktails are inherently more relaxed because you can drink them from a straw. Even a bendy straw.

Sparkling wine cocktails tend to be all-time favorites with practically everyone. Typically they are a snap to make, bring festive bubbles to the mix, pair well with a variety of food and are just downright delicious.

There is the traditional Mimosa, a brunch cocktail, made with champagne or sparkling wine and orange juice, or the Bellini. The Bellini is perhaps Italy’s most famous wine cocktail, based on Prosecco and white peach nectar. Peaches and Prosecco, it doesn’t get much easier (or yummier) than this.

For a twist on sparkling cocktails, give this Gewürztraminer Agave Ginger Ale a try. Your mouth will explode with flavor when you use fresh ginger. Perfect wine cocktails balance sweet, spice, sour and savory. For this one we selected wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley, Washington. This wine is a beautiful blush sparkling wine, with essences of berries in the nose and on the palate. The initial impression is dry with a soft and fruity aftertaste. The Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer is also n lush wine with expressive fruit and clove spice. It also has a lot of floral character, while maintaining the grape’s natural crisp acidity.

Gewürztraminer Agave Ginger Ale
Ingredients
3 oz. Chateau St. Michelle Gewürztraminer
3 oz. Chateau Ste. Michelle Rosé
1 tsp of muddled ginger
3/4 oz. agave syrup
Optional: 1-2 dashes of tabasco
Preparation
Put sliced ginger and agave in a cocktail glass and muddle with a wooden spoon until ginger pieces are fragrant.
Add 3 oz Gewürztraminer. Stir. Strain into a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass with ice. Top with Ste. Michelle Rosé Brut.

If you are a Margarita lover, a Pinot-Grita is the perfect sip to kick-start the spring into summer season. This unique twist on the traditional margarita adds a kick of bright lime to the Pinot Grigio’s clean citrus flavor. With aromas of nectarine and fresh peach, this Pinot Grigio is crisp and refreshing, creating a light and invigorating cocktail perfect to enjoy with friends and family on a warm and sunny afternoon.

Pinot-Grita
Makes four servings
Ingredients:
3 cups Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Pinot Grigio
¾ cup frozen limeade concentrate
½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 cups ice
Lime wedges, to garnish
Salt, to garnish
Preparation:
Combine Pinot Grigio, limeade and orange juice in blender
Slowly add ice until all ingredients are well-combined
Pour into 4 salt-rimmed glasses, and garnish with lime wedge (optional)

For the Ecco Frutta, we used Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. Ecco Domani translates to “Here’s tomorrow” in Italian, and this IGT Pinot Grigio’s light citrus and delicate floral aromas,tropical fruit flavors and a crisp, refreshing finish are perfect for the Ecco Frutta—a white wine cocktail where mango and kiwi marry  for summer sipping.

Ecco Frutta Wine Cocktail
Ingredients:
1 kiwi
2 tbsp Mango chutney
Ecooc Domani Pinot Grigio
Preparation
Muddle 1 peeled kiwi
Add 2 tablespoons of mango chutney (may substitute with 2 oz. mango juice)
Add 1 tablespoon of sweet basil
Add 2 oz. of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio
Pour into a shaker and shake vigorously
Pour into a highball glass
Garnish with a kiwi slice

Not into super-sweet? We love this cucumber wine cocktail. It’s both refreshing and savory because the mint and lime add a slightly sour balance the drink. For this drink we used Robert Mondavi ‘s Fume Blanc, a blend of 87% Sauvignon Blanc and 13% Semillon. This wine is very aromatic with lush, floral and tropical notes ntertwined with lime zest, wet stones, fresh herbs and lemon curd. It has an intriguing, textured minerality, with lingering fresh lime and lemon verbena finish making it a perfect wine for this cocktail.

Cucumber Mint Fume Blanc Fizz
Ingredients
3 oz Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc  (or other Sauvignon Blanc)
3 oz Cristalino Brut Cava (or other sparkling wine)
1 oz cucumber water
1/2 oz lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar
pinch coarsely chopped mint
Preparation:
Make cucumber water by grating, blending and straining a cucumber. Add cucumber water, Fume blanc, lime juice, sugar and mint to a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice. Strain into a serving glass and top with 3 ounces sparkling wine.

For the Strawberry lemonade lover, we offer the Strawberry Basil Moscato Lemonade,
Here again, we went with an affordable Moscato because of its aromatic floral scents, and the light, sweet flavors of orange marmalade and marzipan. Normally, Moscato pairs nicely alongside cheeses and lightly sweet desserts, including creamy brie or ripe figs with honey. With the addition of Basil the drink becomes a bit more savory.

Strawberry Basil Moscato Lemonade
Ingredients
6 oz Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato
4 Strawberries
1 teaspoon sugar
1 sprig basil
1 ounce lemon juice
Preparation
Blend all ingredients, except wine, together. Strain into tall glass with ice. Pour over moscato. Add a bendy straw.

Okay beer lovers, If you feel it’s just not a cookout without the beer, don’t fret. Here’ a refreshing summer drink for you: the Ginger Shandy.

Ginger Shandy
Ingredients
Mint springs, for garnish
One 12-ounce bottle chilled ginger beer
1 thinly sliced lemon
Three 11.2 ounce bottles of chilled image002 beer
In a large pitcher, combine the Hoegaarden with the ginger beer. Stir in most of the lemon slices and mint springs. Fill 6 rocks glasses with ice. Add the remaining lemon slices to the glasses and pour in the shandy. Garnish each drink with a mint sprig and serve.

As you can see, the best summer drinks are full of flavor — they can be subtle, fruity, or just plain refreshing. Enjoy these alcohol-enhanced summer cocktails and drinks during parties, weekend cookouts, or while hanging out with a friend.

Cool Sippers for Spring 2014


Lately, the question that I’ve been hearing from friends and customers is “What’s drinking for Spring 2014? What should I be drinking?”

Comfort food and classic cookware are making big classy comebacks. Chefs are taking down-home cooking upscale. Humble vegetables like beets and turnips are taking root on Michelin-starred restaurant menus from soups to dessert. It’s a good thing I like beets and turnips!

From my seat at the wine bar, I’ve notice five interesting trends and they are all good. Yes, there are new wines on the market, old wines are being rediscovered by a new generation of wine lovers and they are all waiting for us to take a sip.

First, more people will be discovering more affordable wines from different regions

The demand for established big hitters from Burgundy and Bordeaux continues to raise the prices and make it harder for regular every day consumers to afford them. Because of this many consumers are willing to try new wines from different countries, and discovering tremendous bargains. Portugal and Spain have had strong vintages and weak economies, and they have some great offerings on local wine shelves. Old world countries unfamiliar to the American wine drinker—Croatia, Slovenia and Bulgaria—are modernizing their vineyards and wineries to better compete in the world market. In South America, Argentina and Chile are producing new premium wines at great values. But will Brazil be the next trendy South American wine region? These regional shifts seem  driven by a genuine interest in more varietals and styles as a new generation of wine drinkers reveals itself to be more adventurous than previous generations.

  • El Coto Crianza, Rioja, Spain 
    El Coto de Rioja, in Oyón, was founded in 1970 by a group of wine makers committed to creating a new type of Rioja. Today, El Coto de Rioja Crianza is one of the most popular wines in all of Spain and one of the top-selling Rioja’s in the world. Dusty and leathery, it’s packed with the sour cherries and rustic aromas that are part of the classic Rioja profile. Made from 100% Tempranillo it is positively ancient in style. Basically, it’s earthy, with seductive cigar box, spice and herbal aromas balanced by plenty of scented red fruit to round out the rough edges. This medium-bodied red offers up a vanilla and leather-laden wine that has layers of fresh raspberries and cherry fruit flavors, cedar and spice with a wonderfully long, soft, yet earthy finish—the essence of fine traditional Rioja. I love it, but then, I love Spanish wines. If you’ve never had an old-school Spanish wine, I suggest you at least give it a try— it’s always a good value!
  • Bodega Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda Malbec, Argentina
    Established in 1901 by Leoncio Arizu, Bodega Luigi Bosca is the oldest family owned and run winery in Argentina and it is being managed by the third and fourth generations of the Arizu family. The winery owns seven vineyards and more than 700 hectares, located throughout the province of Mendoza. The Wine Spectator gave this little gem a solid 87 points and described it as “Toasty with plum, vanilla and mocha notes followed by a medium-weight, slightly firm, smoky finish.”  This intense red wine could be considered an amazing bargain with its fresh aromas of morello cherries and spices wafting from the glass. It is a well-structured, velvety wine with balanced tannins as a result of three-months spent aging in French oak casks. It will be hard to find another Malbec with such richness and depth at  this price.

New World Chardonnay revival

I’m hearing that Spring 2014 will be the Spring of Chardonnay. It looks like ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) may finally be falling by the wayside this year. Producers seem excited about Chardonnay, believing they have the right clones and vine age to produce superior fruit and leaner, cooler climate wines. Producers are limiting the use of new oak barrels to amplify the expression of fruit and “terroir” while reducing that huge “oaky” flavor. If you’re an oak lover, don’t worry, the oak won’t disappear completely, subtle use of oak will continue to play its part in the best Chardonnay. Look to see more aromatic and elegant styles from cooler coastal and higher altitude vineyards. These revived Chardonnays have the wow factor that has eluded us in recent years.
Here are two Chardonnays with an elegant expression of fruit and richness:

  • Josh Cellars Chardonnay, California
    Sometimes you just want an affordable, tasty Chardonnay and this wine from Josh Cellars delivers plenty of bang for the buck. Josh Cellars is the value line from Napa winery Joseph Carr. A blend of tank and barrel fermented fruit, this bright Chardonnay opens with inviting stone fruit aromas of ripe white peaches, apricot and pear accented by tropical pineapple and delicate notes of honeysuckle and white rose petals. On the palate, you’ll find lush peach, pear, citrus and tropical fruit in a creamy-textured, medium-bodied wine supported by just enough citrusy acidity.  Balanced, and round, the flavor profile is gentle — ripe citrus summer fruit, melon, peach and pear with hints of apple, light oak, and apricot aligned with a touch of vanilla and smoke. This Chardonnay is excellent with food , very enjoyable and a crowd pleaser. Serve it cool, not cold for the greatest benefits.
  • Joseph Carr Dijon Clone Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
    Winemaker Joseph Carr says he uses 100% French barrel selections and separated lots by  individual Dijon clones. The wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lies (on the yeast) with full malolactic fermentation. Indeed, he has produced a balanced, luscious and opulent Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast region. The aromas showcase  green apples, vanilla, butter, lemon tart, a touch of apricot  and green pepper. There are light notes of oak and yeasty brioche behind the luscious fruit.  French oak aging imparts oaky smoke vanilla flavors. This is a classy Californian in a very Burgundian style and it will be perfect for any meal. This is one wine you can’t  afford to pass up!

Champagne isn’t the only Bubbly of choice

With bubblies, rising prices for domaine and estate Champagnes from established regions have caused us to reconsider our choices and to explore different regions. Although spending on Champagne has picked up, most consumers are not opting to spend the big bucks for every day occasions. Consequently, Prosecco, Cava and other sparkling wines are  gaining market share. Prosecco, made only from the white grape Glera, has embedded itself in the American wine vocabulary, palate and budget.

  • Riondo Spago Nero Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
    As with most Prosecco, Riondo Spago Nero is made using the Charmat method, meaning it is a first-rate wine to drink young and fresh. In general, Prosecco often has lower alcohol levels and is best consumed within 2 years of release. This 100% Prosecco (Glera) version is a personal favorite and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate agrees stating, “This effusively fruity, light-bodied offering offers terrific floral notes, persistent effervescence, and a clean, delicate finish. It is an ideal apéritif to enjoy over the next year.— 90 points.”  It is effusively fruity and light-bodied, not to mention delicious. This amazing little wine is a perfectly inexpensive sparkler, so if you love bubbles you can splurge a lot more often.
  • Veuve de Vernay Brut, France
    Veuve du Vernay Brut is a crisp, clean and refreshing sparkler from the Bordeaux region of France. This charming little wine is made from a grape called Ugni Blanc (or Trebbiano in Italy). It’s bright and zesty with hints of apple and pear on the nose and lots of fine velvety smooth bubbles. The flavors are very much apple and pear with a hint of toast. For the price, it’s perfect to serve at any celebration, as an apéritif or as a compliment to lighter dishes.

Sustainable, organic or biodynamic wines are becoming more numerous and mainstream

The Natural Wine movement has highlighted the need for greater sustainability across all wine production due to their obvious popularity with consumers. Actually, it seems the younger generation of wine drinkers are not asking “are you organic and sustainable?” But “why aren’t you?” Because of this, more and more wines will be labeled sustainable, organic or biodynamic as these eco-friendly vineyard practices gain popularity with growers and consumers.

  • Barone Fini Pinot Grigio 2012 Valdadige DOC
    I know a lot of Pinot Grigio lovers and this Trentino-Alto Adige winery follows all the strict guidelines of the Italian DOC while practicing sustainable agricultural techniques. The average vine here runs between 25 to 30 years of age and these older vines provide crisp, dry flavors of roasted almonds and surprising concentration of apple. Soft, round apple and pear fruit fills the mouth with ripe, juicy flavors. The finish is long with ripe apples and lychee nuts. This is a fresh Pinot Grigio and it is meant to be enjoyed with friends as an apéritif, or with a light meal.
  • Deep Sea Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California
    Deep Sea Pinot Noir is comes from Rancho Arroyo Grande in the Central Coast region of California, just thirteen miles from the Pacific Ocean. Most of the fruit for this Pinot Noir comes from the Solomon Hills Vineyard in Santa Maria, California. This Pinot greets you with a wonderfully smoky nose, hints of vanilla and caramel notes. Barrel-aged for 17 months in French oak, this wine is soft and silky with classic flavors of cherry, rose petal, and exotic spices.  Light and balanced, with delicious fruit, elegant oak notes and earth, this wine pairs well with many cuisines, or can be enjoyed on its own.

It’s in the Blends

Red blends have become a thing. Blends are perfect for when you don’t know what type of grape you want to drink or what to pair with your meal. A blend of several varietals will offer a bit more flavor, round out some rough edges and help compliment the meal. You really can’t go too terribly wrong with a blend. The easy-to-grasp concept, modest price points and flavor profiles can add a new dimension to your cellar and they can be found from every region.

  •  Apothic Red Winemaker’s Blend, California
    This is an inexpensive blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Merlot from California. It’s often a favorite at wine tastings. Think of it as a berry fruit bomb with a cornucopia of flavor. Plum and blackberry aromas are quickly followed by notes of vanilla, spice and a bit of maple. The flavors are a melding of juicy mixed berries, cherry cola, brown sugar and spice that give way to a finish of lingering chocolate and maple syrup. An intriguing wine that will take you on a full flavor rollercoaster ride. It pairs nicely with barbecue and pizza, but many love it on its own.
  •  Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Côtes du Rhône Rouge, Rhône Valley, France
    “Les Abeilles” is a tasty Rhône blend of 33% Grenache, 34% Syrah and 33% Mourvèdre. Named after the honey bees inhabiting the vineyards, this wine entices with intriguing aromas of plum, ripe dark fruit and a little licorice. This medium-bodied, velvety red has smooth blackberry and black cherry flavors with spice against a backdrop of smooth, silky tannins. It offers a dry and velvety finish. A great bargain.
  • Di Majo Norante Ramitello, Biferno Rosso, Molise, Italy
    I love a good Italian wine and this blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Aglianico is one of them. It begins with a lovely aroma of dark berry fruit, smoke, menthol and maraschino cherry. The wine tastes delicious with the berry fruit continuing from the bouquet as well as some added flavor of dried herbs, licorice and leather. This is a smooth, silky soft wine with very nice balance. The finish is dry and delicious with some lingering smoky notes.
  • Primus, Colchagua Valley, Chile
    Primus is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah and Merlot from Colchagua (pronounced  kohl-CHA-gwa) Valley which has been dubbed the “Napa Valley of Chile.” This blend is a big, full-bodied wine. The ripe red and black berry fruit aromas are layered with exotic spice. You’ll also note the telltale “Chilean” menthol and eucalyptus on the nose. Blackcurrant, blueberry, ripe cherry, chocolate, toasted oak, vanilla, pepper, anise, and rich chocolate flavors create a dense, warm, spicy, leathery, dark-fruited lovely wine with mouth-drying tannins.

There you have it, a dozen wines for spring 2014. Enjoy!

Twelve Days of Spirited Giving


When you think about it, the Christmas Carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has a lot of items that don’t necessarily hold true today, like where do you put six maids a milking? Where do you put the cows? Six cows definitely won’t fit under my tree, and when you add in the dancing ladies and leaping lords, not to mention noisy drummers—it just doesn’t seem practical. Though the Canada geese in the brook that gurgles through my property could easily count for the six geese a-laying. I don’t know how much a -laying they do, but they manage to make a mess of the yard and raid the bird feeders. The per tree still bears fruit but we haven’t seen a partridge on the property in years.

So thinking about it, it seems maybe we should apply the twelve days to more up to date gift ideas, preferably alcoholic in nature. So here is a nice list of tasty affordable bottles that could make a nice case and celebrate the 12 days.

On the First day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
First Press Chardonnay from Delicato ($12.99)
Elegance is the word for this bright, refreshing Napa Valley Chardonnay. Classically structured with aromas of lemon, ripe pear and honeydew, crisp acidity complements the abundant flavors of yellow apple and citrus, tempered by the mellow notes of American oak.  Perfect as an accompaniment to poultry, seafood, salads, fruit and cheese.

On the Second day of Christmas my true love gave to me Two Vines Gewürztraminer
Typical Gewürztraminer aromas of orange zest and spice are joined by a lively citrus note and floral lift. Upfront fruit flavors of melons and lime give way to a pink grapefruit essence and finish with bright acidity, balancing the wine’s subtle sweetness. ($7.99)

On the Third day of Christmas my true love gave to me Three Saints Pinot Noir
From Dierberg Vineyard situated atop a sandy loam mesa above the South Bank of the Santa Maria River, Three Saints Pinot Noir begins with aromatics of crushed raspberries, black cherry, sassafras, and vanilla bean. A plush mouthfeel accompanies notes of wild strawberry, fresh cedar, and cherry cola. The long finish emphasizes the rich fruit character, with enough bright acid to leave one longing for yet another sip. ($16.99)

On the Fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Four Vines Truant Zinfandel
A fantastic multi-appellation Zin Blend from the Purple Wine Company. This is not an over-ripe jammy style of Zinfandel. It is a blend of 77% Zinfandel, 13% Syrah, 5% Petite Sirah,  3% Barbera and 2% Sangiovese. On the nose the wine has layers of berry fruit and anise aromas with hints of spice. On the palate, blackberry and spicy plum fruit with a rich mouth feel trailing to a velvety toasted oak finish. Enjoy with your true love (or the friend who gave you this gift)! ($11.99)

On the Fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Becketts Flat Five Stones Shiraz.
Five Stones Shiraz comes from Margaret River, Australia. This red has an attractive nose with floral and spicy notes. The palate displays ripe plum and red berry fruit with spicy undertones that lead to a long finish with supple tannins.  Produced without the use of animal products, it’s suitable for everyone, including vegans. This wine is also Kosher for Passover and Mevushal. ($16.99)

On the Sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Graham’s Six Grapes Port
This is one of Graham’s original Port marques. It is a big-hearted wine, sourced from the same vineyards  that contribute to Graham’s famed Vintage Ports in ‘declared’ years, and closely resembles Graham’s Vintage Port style: full-bodied, with rich opulent black fruit on the palate and fragrant brambly aromas. Think of it as the ‘everyday Port for the Vintage Port drinker.’ Six Grapes has a seductive, rich aroma of ripe plums, cherries and dark chocolate notes. On the palate it’s complex, with an excellent structure and a long, lingering finish that pairs particularly well with dark chocolate, but is also fantastic on its own as a luscious dessert in a glass. ($20.99)

On the Seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me 7  Deadly Zins
This is a sinful blend indeed!  This blended red Zinfandel was devised to be so captivating that no one could refuse. Seven Old Vine Zinfandel vineyards were chosen for their superiority to create this unique wine. The winemakers quickly related the Seven Sins from their Catholic school upbringing to the seven Old Vine Zinfandels blended in their wine. 7 Deadly Zins possesses spicy, pepper, garrigue, black cherry, and earth characteristics in its medium-bodied, soft personality.  Drink it up! ($18.99)

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Cellar No. 8 Merlot
Cellar No. 8 is a real place where real wine is made for real people – people who appreciate quality, and recognize a tremendous value when they see one. This Merlot is a tasty red, with an easy-going personality; exhibiting red currant flavors from start to finish. It starts with rich aromas of ripe red berry fruit and Bing cherry, along with notes of dried herbs, followed by flavors of red cherries, cola, cloves and spice dominating the palate, with just a hint of toasty oak thrown in. ($9.99)

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Nein Lives Black Cat Riesling
Nein Lives is an off-dry Riesling from Germany’s famed Mosel Valley– the grapes are sourced from the Middle Mosel along the banks of the Mosel River in the town of Piesporter. Each vintage has three different label designs, a fun quirk matching the easy lightheartedness of the wine. Slightly sweet with elegant minerality. ($8.99)

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Ten Sisters Sauvignon Blanc
Ten Sisters Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand has a delightfully fragrant and complex bouquet with underlying citrus aromas. The palate is crisp and lively, its elegant layers hinting of tropical fruit. The finish is long and well-balanced. The sauvignon blanc is given extended lees contact—longer than the majority of Marlborough sauvignon blancs—to create complexity, weight on the palate, and aging potential, and to bring out fruit flavors. ($12.99)

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Row 11 Russian River Pinot Noir
California- A blend of three different vineyard sites- Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. Crisp with good acidity and rich in cherry pie flavors. Cherry and wild blueberry notes mixed with cola, spice and heavy smoke flavors.Red cherries, lighter smoke and hints of bacon with all the finesse and elegance expected in Russian River Pinot Noirs. This wine is ready to drink now, or can be enjoyed for many more years.($36.99)

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me Ouzo 12
Ouzo, Greece’s most famous drink immediately transports the drinker to sunny Greece. Clear and silky, with a distinct licorice flavor, ouzo is distilled from the must or remnants of grapes pressed for wine. Made according to the original recipe dating back to the 1880s, Ouzo 12 is produced using a unique blend of aromatic seeds, fruits, herbs and spices like anise, mint, mastic, and coriander. Potent and fiery, it’s not a drink for the faint of heart.
The name comes from the fact that the customers of Kaloyiannis Distillery, who appreciated a fine ouzo, insisted on being served from “Barrel No. 12.” Double-distilled, Ouzo 12 goes through 16 successive pot stills before it can be poured in your glass. Despite the strong flavor, ouzo compliments many different types of food. Next time you enjoy a glass, remember the customary toast is stin uyeia sou (steen ee-YEE-ah soo) – to your health! ($36.99)

This makes for a simple way to give a fun and interesting “by-the-numbers” gift.

All of these bottles were purchased at the above prices at Circus Wines on Route 35 North in Middletown, NJ.

Stocking up for the Holidays


The holiday season is rushing toward us faster than Santa’s sleigh and before you can say “Ho Ho Ho” it will be that time of year – the time for giving, the time for family, and of course, the time for parties! If you are one who spends most of the holiday season careening between family get-togethers, friends’ parties and other festivities, chances are you know it’s the time of year  to make sure you have a fully stocked bar and wine cellar.

If you’re hosting a holiday dinner party you will likely be having wine with dinner choosing something low in alcohol to start is a good idea. Sparkling Moscato with a slice of orange, or fresh Bellinis (typically peach juice or peach puree with Prosecco) will “set the mood just right for a special occasion, but not overpower the palate with alcohol before a lovely meal.

Cocktail parties call for a bit more in your bar and you’ll need to stock up. There are no rules when it comes to stocking a bar, and stocking up doesn’t have to break the bank.  Follow your preferences and those of your most frequent guests, then stock your bar with the basics, and you should be able to handle any occasion.

What to stock

Vodka
When it comes to Vodka, you can afford to go by price. Lower-priced vodkas don’t impart bad harsh flavors the way other cheaper liquors might.  Good bets for 750 milliliter bottles are Absolut ($25) and Sobieski ($14) if you prefer a 1.75 bottle try Svedka ($20) It’s a great deal.

Gin
There’s no need to spend a lot on tasty gin, since this liquor is usually combined with other ingredients, like tonic. Just don’t go so cheap that you wind up sipping one with an artificial-juniper flavor. Here, go for Gordon’s ($10), Hendricks ($36) or Bulldog ($24.)

Bourbon
When it comes to bourbon it’s better to spend a little more. Less expensive bourbons tend to give you the burn without the flavor. Two good choices are Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek, both $35 for 750 milliliters. Willett in the pot still bottle sells for around $43 and is really fantastic. If you have a real bourbon afficianado, try Booker’s Bourbon; $60 for 750 milliliters.

Rum
Rum is another spirit where you shouldn’t pinch pennies. Rum should bring a rich sugarcane flavor to drinks, however, a low-end rum can totally miss on those rich sugar and molasses flavors leaving you to wonder what happened. Good choices include Mount Gay Eclipse ($38), Kirk & Sweeney 12-year ($30) for 750 milliliters, or Brugal Extra Viejo ($29).

Tequila
Many cocktail lovers steer clear of this spirit in winter. But true tequila lovers know you need 100 percent blue agave tequila, nothing else will do, because many cheap tequilas contain corn syrup, coloring and grain alcohol, which are code words for “hangover.”  Here, look for Patrón Silver ($35), Karma Añejo ($36) or  Cazadores Reposado ($46.)

Whiskey and Scotch
This is one area you definitely cannot afford to scrimp. Since most party-goers seem to prefer to drink whiskey on the rocks, straight or with a “wee drop of water”, it’s worth the expense. A favorite is Glenmorangie Single Malt ($40), Bunnahabhain ($50), Pig’s Nose (a blended Scotch at $29) and—for Irish Whiskey lovers—Concannon Irish Whiskey $22  for 750 milliliters.

Don’t forget the Mixers like Club Soda and Tonic! Going budget on these only offers minimal savings as many store brands tend to go flat more quickly, and cheaper tonics can have an overpowering artificial taste. so opt for your favorite here.

When it comes to fruit juices, home-squeezed juices make all the difference. (Buy 25 lemons, 25 limes, and 15 oranges for every 50 guests.) If that’s not possible go with your favorite brand that you like to drink.

Because it is the holiday season, splurge and dress up your basic cocktail with plenty of fun, festive garnishes. Some of the more popular ones are olives, cocktail onions, lemons, limes, and Maraschino cherries, so try to keep them handy. You may want to add a few new and different bright, thin-skinned fruits like kumquats, key limes, Meyer lemons, tangerines, blood oranges, star fruit, pineapple and apple. For more savory flavorings, stock up on mint, basil, celery, cucumber and jalapeño. Seasonal berries, like raspberries and cranberries or currants, are perfect for floating in a glass of champagne or another bubbly cocktail. Pomegranate seeds and fresh mint make for pretty, aromatic garnishes, while edible gold and silver are perfect for adding a holiday sparkle,

Party Drinks
If you’re hosting a holiday open house or any other large gathering, think about serving a seasonal drink in a large format. Not only does serving a punch, mulled wine, or a batch of eggnog make getting a drink easy for any guest, it also enables you to make something more elaborate ahead of time (instead of mixing and re-mixing the same cocktail all evening). Here’s a helpful hint: freeze a large block of ice (using filtered water in a Tupperware container), to put in your punch so that it doesn’t get watered down too fast. Our personal favorites are Planters Punch and Homemade Eggnog, but you may want to try a tradional Mulled Wine or a warm Cider libation. Other drinks that are often in high demand are winter wines (Think Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Shiraz).

For Mulled Wine, start with a rich red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot work best and it doesn’t neet to be expensive (just good) Here, we recommend Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon (California at $8.99) and add orange, brandy—or try Gran Gala Orange Liqueuer ($22) instead of orange and brandy— with cloves, honey, cinnamon & ginger and you have one delicious drink to warm everyone.

Of course, traditional home made Eggnog calls for Eggs, milk, cream, bourbon, sugar, brandy, fresh nutmeg and cinnamon. In our world, grating fresh whole nutmeg and Four Roses Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($21) are de rigueur, making this one special.

With Cider, opt for local favorites like Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy ($25) and Delicious Orchards Apple Cider blended with honey, cinnamon, orange juice, spices and lemon. You’ll feel so “revolutionary”.

For New Year’s Eve, it’s easy. Just add a touch of sparkle to everything with Champagne, even your favorite cocktails. Use edible gold and silver flakes for a sparkly finish to any drink. You can never have too much fun — or be too creative — when creating festive cocktails during the holidays.

All of the prices quoted are from Circus Wines,  Route 35 North,  Middletown, NJ  and Spirits Unlimited, Newman Springs Road, Red Bank, NJ.