Friday, August 12, 2016

When In Rome

I was lucky enough to find myself roaming the Italian countryside this summer. Besides the scenery and history, there was one thing on my mind: Italian food & wine. While it's hard to go wrong with any kind of Italian food, some cities are known for their specialties, and that’s what I was on the hunt for.
When in Rome...
When it comes to food, culture and history, the capital city of Italy can do no wrong. While I knew any menu item here would most likely be bellissimo, Rome is where I indulged in the 'traditional' Roman plates such as spaghetti carbonara, lasagna bolognese and insalata caprese. The list could go on for days but if you only have one meal in Rome, make it carbonara at Da Cesare in Trastevere. As for the wine scene,
Latium is the wine region around Rome. Most of the wine made here is white from the Trebbiano grape, and it happens to go perfect with carbonara.  Funny how that works!

A Little Taste of Florence...
Gelato anyone! While this dessert is done well all over Italy, it seems that Florence has found the secret to perfecting this delicious, creamy and sweet treat. My daughter and I tried almost every local gelateria. Our favorite was right off the Ponte alla Carraia (second bridge west of Ponte Vecchio, on the Oltrarno side), Gelateria Carraia. In our expert opinion, the gelato here was super creamy and most delicious.  The
Tuscany wine region extends from the city of Florence to the south. Some of the best-known Italian wines come from this region. Notable are the Chianti wines, and Brunello di Montepulciano. The rising trend to create Cabernet Sauvignon based, or blended wines, has led to the unofficial designation “Super Tuscans” for these expensive and much sought after wines. Sangiovese (or Brunello as one of the clones is called) is the important red wine grape of the region.  Gelato and wine…why not!
Seafood in Positano (duh)
This one may seem quite obvious considering this small town is the jewel along the famed Amalfi Coast. With that said, I did not miss the opportunity to sample some of the world's finest seafood; from mussels and clams to shrimp, there are few wrong choices you can make. I currently hold the family record for ordering Linguini con Vongole.
Campania is the wine district around the town of Naples. The wines are not well known outside of the region, but visitors to the region usually run across some examples in the local eateries. Many of these wine pair beautifully with the seafood of the region.

No matter where we found ourselves in this great country, we made sure to indulge in a bottle of vino and preferably a local one. We had no bad meals in Italy but our mantra was, “If we get a bad meal in Italy, it’s still a meal in Italy.”

Ciao Bella!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wine Tasting 101 - Putting Flavor into Words

May 31 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Quick! How many tasting terms for wine can you list that everyone agrees on precisely? Better yet, how many precise words are there to describe any flavor? Tasting is, of course, an extremely subjective exercise and you must ultimately let your own palate be your guide. Nobody is born knowing how to taste wine. But tasting is a skill you can learn, just as you learn to dance or play tennis. Unless you want others to tell you what to drink all your life, you’ll need to develop the ability to taste. It’s easy, and practicing is a pleasure – so join us for this fun and informative wine tasting class.

Register at: 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivé!

At one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of November, Beaujolais Nouveau, made from the Gamay grape, is officially released. There aren't many wines that provoke a reaction as strong as Beaujolais Nouveau. You either love it or hate it. Just a few weeks old and barely through fermentation, this grapey wine has become, for better or worse, a worldwide phenomenon.

What Is It?
Loved for its simplicity, Beaujolais Nouveau is fruity and ready to drink. It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine's release it was a cluster of grapes in a growers vineyard and within six weeks after the harvest, the wine is shipped quickly around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, Concorde jet, elephant and runners to get it to its final destination.

The Debate
Beaujolais Nouveau provokes debate among amateurs and connoisseurs. From the connoisseur's standpoint, Beaujolais Nouveau has three strikes against it. The grapes come from the less distinguished vineyards in the Beaujolais region. They're picked early, before they have time to develop sufficient natural sugar and flavor. And the wine is almost always consumed in infancy, before it can develop enough complexity to be taken seriously. For others, drinking Beaujolais is a casual endeavor, and doesn't demand deep thought or deep pockets.

How To Serve It
This wine is meant to be drunk upon release and appears on shelves timed perfectly for Thanksgiving dinner. Beaujolais Nouveau should be served at "cellar temperature" that is, slightly chilled (cool, not cold) to bring out its cherry flavor. It goes with a wide variety of foods and pairs well with rich and fatty foods because the high acidity of the wine cuts through them perfectly. Its fruitiness is terrific as a counterpoint to spicy dishes, as well as, grilled sausages and soft goat cheese.

Cru Wines To Try
If you consider basic Beaujolais a bit lightweight look to the crus Beaujolais from the region's top 10 villages. While the grape remains the same—Gamay Noir—the quality is typically several notches above that of a Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages. Some to look for; Louis Jadot Fleurie, Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes, Joseph Drouhin Brouilly.

No one claims it's wine worth a critic's review, but Beaujolais Nouveau has won the hearts of consumers. Maybe it is a long way from the pinnacle of what wine can be, but it is a wonderful reminder of what wine is; so give this juicy wine a try and drink a toast to the new vintage.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wine Tasting 101 - Italy Uncorked

Wine Tasting 101 - Italy Uncorked
Friday, April 25th 
Lafayette Community Center

Planning a trip to Italy? Want to feel like you are? Come join us for a wine tasting class of Italian wines.

The wines of Italy have something for everyone! Take a tour with us to a few favorite regions of Italy; Tuscany, Piedmont, Southern Italy, Veneto. The sheer diversity of styles, regions, and varieties offered up from Italy is amazing. From the tip of the boot to the northern Alps: tasty and unique wines in a range of prices and styles.

Come join us for an informative evening discovering the best Italy has to offer in wine & food. Class includes wine and food tasting, two hours of instruction and take home materials.

Please preregister on-line at Click on Spring Registration. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Stormy Outside, Warm Inside

Here are three of my favorite reds to weather any storm.

Let it snow, people. I’ve got a list of favorite reds to weather any storm. I did some legwork, err…umm…some glasswork and have three great reds to wash away the winter blues.

Italian Reds:
If it’s a big storm, and you’ve got a big budget, go big with a big Italian red like a Barolo, which is made 100% from nebbiolo grapes. Another option would be to try a Barbaresco, which is also 100% nebbiolo as Barolo much less expensive. Snuggle up to the fire, pour a glass of one of these intensely flavored reds and cook up some risotto. The intensity of the wine will complement the richness of this classic northern Italian dish.

Cabernet Sauvignon:
Nothing says weather chaser better than a rich cabernet. The cabernet grape is a small berry with a thick skin, giving it a high solid to juice ratio and creating a wine high in color, tannin and extract. Some typical cabernet descriptors include cassis, cedar and currant. Big and balanced, cabernet is the perfect stormy match for a fatty steak or something gamey.

If the rations are low, Zinfandel is bold enough to keep you warm all on its own. Known as the quintessential California grape, so find some California cheese and enjoy. Many Zinfandels are usually priced for longer storms in case multiple bottles are needed.

Don’t shovel the driveway. Pop a cork instead. And since we don’t usually get snow in Lafayette, pop a cork anyway - It’s still winter right.  Which reds will you be sipping on throughout the winter?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving Wine Advice

The ultimate Thanksgiving meal is about more than the menu. If ever there were a food lover's holiday, Thanksgiving would be it. And one of the pleasures of my Thanksgiving is that every family member has a role in the big meal. My role is a peach. I'm the wine gal. It's a fine job for a number of reasons with my favorite being the many tastings I conduct leading up to the final wine choice. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. I do receive some advice along the way; don't bring anything too expensive and don't bring anything too weird.
To fit the bill, the wine needs to be a crowd-pleaser and match the menu. No problem. This year I think I've got it covered.

I’d like to share a few tips on planning the wine for this delicious yet tricky wine-pairing meal.

Red or White?
Either! Stuffing is a good guide: if you serve a basic bread-and-celery dressing, try a white such as Chenin Blanc or an off-dry Riesling. Add mushrooms or sausage and a red, like Beaujolais, is great. But the best rule is to let guests drink what they like.

Choosing the Right Wine?
Here's an easy answer: No single wine will work perfectly with your meal so serve a few. Regardless of which wine you choose, the style to look for is medium-bodied, fruity, and without a lot of oak.

How Much Wine to Buy?
A bottle is about five glasses, so plan on a bottle for every two people. If you’re serving wine before dinner, add a glass or two more per person to the equation.

With all that's going on in the world, Thanksgiving is a good time for us to count our blessings. Whether you're out at a restaurant or celebrating at home, I hope you'll be enjoying a good bottle of wine with friends and family.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Reading List

If you’re more in the mood for a staycation than vacation this summer, you can at least transport yourself in mind and spirit with a great wine read. Reading wine books will inspire you and help wrap your brain around the immense world of wine, and summer time is a perfect time to dig in. Here’s a list of a few books, both new and old, that will take you to some great wine regions or at least compel you with some fascinating wine tales.

Books on Wine Worth a Read
So, pull up your beach chair, pour a glass of something and crack a book open.

Judgment of Paris by George M. Taber
The Paris Tasting of 1976 was recently put to film in the movie “Bottle Shock.” This is the book that tells the story of the first time the world realized that wine can be great –even from places-other-than-France.

Wine and War by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup
The Nazi occupation of France was a flurry of destruction. Wine is the jewel of France and the Nazis had a lust for finery. During the 1940s, French winemakers came together to resist and protect their fragile world.

Napa: The Story of an American Eden by James Conaway
You don’t have to leave the country to find a great wine tale. This book chronicles Napa Valley, the fortunes made there, and the wine dynasties that have emerged from it.

The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

A novel about one of the largest scams the wine world has ever seen. The story gets interesting when an American billionaire drops over $100,000 on a single bottle supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson. A page-turner made for a lazy summer day, this mystery is the true story of a 1787 Château Lafite Rothschild (Bordeaux).

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
This classic and widely read book (and movie) still holds up as a romantic read if Tuscany, Italy, is on your horizon.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wine Tasting 101 - Italy Uncorked 4/26

Planning a trip to Italy? If not, want to feel like you are? Come join us for a tasting class of Italian wines at the Lafayette Community Center this Friday, April 26th from 6:30-8:30pm. 

The wines of Italy have something for everyone! Take a tour with us to a few favorite regions of Italy; Tuscany, Piedmont, Southern Italy, Veneto. The sheer diversity of styles, regions, and varieties offered up from Italy is amazing. From the tip of the boot to the northern Alps: tasty and unique wines in a range of prices and styles. Come join us for an informative evening discovering the best Italy has to offer in wine & food. 

Class includes wine and food tasting, two hours of instruction and take home materials.

Please register on-line at 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The World's Favorite White Wine

How Popular is Chardonnay? 
Popular enough to have sparked a backlash like the ABC Club – Anything But Chardonnay. Almost without question Chardonnay is the world’s greatest white wine. With characteristics ranging from citrus and green apple in cool growing climates to pear, tropical fruit and fig in warmer areas, this classic white wine grape of Burgundy has become a worldwide favorite. 

Growing Regions: 
Chardonnay grows in nearly every wine producing area in the world but it shines in Burgundy, France. The french versions are often described as being more restrained and higher in acidity. Burgundy produces Chardonnay under many local place names such as Chablis, Pouilly-Fuissé and Meursault as well as wines with Montrachet in the name and in Champagne it turns into Blanc de Blancs.  Among the many other countries that have caught Chardonnay fever America, Australia and Chile are standouts. 

Style Variations:
Chardonnay styles can vary dramatically based on origin and winemaker. When well made, Chardonnay offers bold, ripe, rich and intense fruit flavors of apple, fig, melon, pear, pineapple, lemon and grapefruit, along with spice, honey, butter, butterscotch and hazelnut flavors. Winemakers build more complexity into this easy-to-manipulate wine using common vinification techniques: Look for the following words on Chardonnay labels: barrel fermented (which imparts toasty oak flavors); cold fermented (which preserves fresh, youthful fruit flavors); and lees contact or sur lie (increasing the contact time between the lees, or sediment, and the wine which adds complexity and richness). 

Food Pairings:
Pair Chardonnay in the leaner Burgundian style with roasted chicken or seafood; the more voluptuous New World Chardonnay can match the buttery richness of pasta dishes made with cream or cheese, with lobster or other rich seafood. Caution: Chardonnay can be hard to match with food if it is high in alcohol (13-14%) or has a lot of oak flavor creating a heavier weight and body. Spicy food tends to accentuate the alcohol and oak in the wine and usually are not pleasant together. 
Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of reds and similarly, Chardonnay is considered the king of white wines making consistently excellent, rich and complex whites. This amazingly versatile grape grows well in a variety of locations throughout the world and creates widely varied wines. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Wine & Chocolate Pairing 101 - 2/7/2013

                 Wine & Chocolate Pairing 101
Just in Time for Valentine's Day
Thursday, February 7th 6:30-8:39pm
Walnut Creek Community Center, Civic Plaza

Some say it can't be done, pairing wine with chocolate, but if you have the right wine to complement the right chocolate it can be a match made in heaven! 

Whether you are pairing a delicate white chocolate or a lovely dark chocolate with wine, there are a few pairing tips to keep in mind so join us for a decadent exploration of Chocolate and Wine. 

Class includes wine & chocolate tasting, take home materials and 2 hours of instruction. 
Please bring 5 wine glasses to class. 

You must pre-register at class #21406

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Raise Your Glass!

Do some wine glasses enhance the wine better than others? Should you invest in expensive wine glasses? Are all 'good' wine glasses expensive? These are some of the questions I often receive from my wine students. In my opinion, yes, the glass makes a difference.

Why is this so? The shape of the glass can have a big effect on taste. Experts claim that the depth of the bowl and the curve of the rim change the amount of air exposure and directs the flow of wine onto the tongue to enhance or mute flavors.

Wine Glasses 101:

• 1. The size and shape of the bowl - The larger the bowl the better the wine's aromas can circulate. Glassware intended for red wine tends to be bigger, since red wines need more time and air to open up.

• 2. The stem length - The stem of the glass allows us to hold the glass without having our hand on the actual bowl and 'interfere' with the wine's temperature. No more, no less.

• 3. Stemless - Stemless wine glasses have become very popular. This is a good thing, as they are practical, especially for everyday and casual wine-drinking occasions. I am a total convert.

• 4. Fine lead crystal or regular glass - The finer the crystal the thinner the glass. This does make a huge difference. Fine, lead crystal really does enhance the wine drinking experience. However, these are expensive glasses.

• 5. Plain, colored or etched - In general plain, unadorned glasses are better for serious tasting, as they allow you to examine all the visual aspects of the wine such as the color -- its intensity as well as viscosity. However, most wine drinking situations are not 'serious tastings' so feel free to have some fun, add some color.

• 6. Champagne/sparkling wine flutes - The 'flute' shaped glass has long been considered the best for Champagne and sparkling wines as it allows the wine to manifest its bubbles with greatest intensity and duration.

Try it for yourself. Pour the same wine into two different glasses and taste the difference.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Let it Breathe

Does wine really breathe? The term breathing usually refers to the process of aerating the wine or simply maximizing the wine's exposure to the surrounding air. Wine needs to come in contact with at least a little air to release its bouquet. Technically, the air causes the esters - fragrant liquids - in wine to evaporate or volatilize. In addition the wine will typically warm up causing the wine's aromas to open up and the overall flavor characteristics to improve. That's why you swirl a wine in your glass before you smell it.  
Which Wines Need to Breathe 
In general, most red wines but only a few white wines and dessert wines can benefit from aeration. Many young, concentrated red wines, like an expensive Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux that can age for several years, undergo a sort of micro aging process by getting lots of air into them. The same goes for a young and concentrated or especially astringent white wine, such as a white Burgundy. The reason is that forced exposure to air begins to oxidize a wine, causing subtle chemical changes that affect both the flavors and the texture. 
How to Let Your Wine Breathe 
Just popping the cork isn’t going to get you there. Pulling the cork out of the bottle and letting the bottle sit there has little perceptible effect on aerating the wine. Under these circumstances only a small amount of the wine in the bottle has contact with air. The little space in the neck of  the bottle is way too small to allow your wine to breathe very much. The best and most entertaining way to accomplish real aeration is to pour the wine into another vessel. If you really want to aerate your wine, do one or both of the following: 
Decant - A decanter can be defined as any large liquid container with a wide opening at the top and able to hold the whole bottle of wine. This can be an orange juice pitcher, glass jar or clean flower vase you have on hand. The idea is to splash the wine as much as possible while pouring  to maximize the wine’s contact with air. The increased surface area is the key to allowing more air to make contact with the wine. 
Wine Glasses - The wine will do a lot more breathing in your glass than it ever would have while still cooped up in the bottle. Pour your wine into large wine glasses and let it aerate about 10 minutes before you plan to drink it. This is certainly the low-maintenance method and typically works quite well. 
In general, the Aeration Rule of Thumb: the more tannins a wine has the more time it will need to aerate. Lighter-bodied red wines, Pinot Noir for example, that have lower tannin levels, will need little if any time to breathe. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Taste for Wine Country

A Taste for Wine Country

Summertime is a perfect time to visit a wine country. I can think of at least three compelling reasons to spend time in a wine region. First, if you’re already a fan of a particular region’s wines, it can be an exciting experience to meet its winemakers who are passionate and eager to talk about their art. Second, there is no better way to explore the world then by visiting great wine properties; many older wine estates are built on the most spectacular sites. Third, where there is a first-rate wine, delicious food is rarely far behind.

Living in Northern California affords us the opportunity to visit wine country as often as we care to. Here are a few tips to make your visit a success:

  • Book the wineries in advance. You can try simply showing up at the winery but keep in mind that the finest places are often the least accessible.

  • Observe the basic rules of etiquette. If you have an appointment, call if you’re running more than 15 minutes late and don’t be a no show. Word gets around.

  • Dress comfortably. Wine touring requires a lot of footwork. If you’re sampling in a wine cellar, the floor will probably be cold and damp so come prepared.

  • Show interest. Listen to what the pourer is saying and ask questions but don’t pretend you are an expert. You’re there to learn and have fun.

  • Offer a few words of praise. Start slowly; odds are your host will begin with the lesser wines and work up to the more serious in the portfolio. Offering too much of a fuss too early on will seem insincere.

  • Remember to spit. You won’t be expected to drink everything you are given to taste, but if you drain each glass, your day will be over before lunch.

  • Do comparative tastings. Tasting rooms offer a terrific opportunity to taste wines against each other. If there are two chardonnays being offered for tasting, taste them side- by side.  You’ll enjoy tasting the differences.

  • Buy a bottle. You don’t have to but it’s a polite gesture, and if you’ve had a nice chat with the winemaker ask him to sign the bottle. Some wineries charge to taste and often deduct that fee from the cost of a bottle.

A visit to wine country can often be as entertaining as it is educational so get out there and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All American Grilling Wines

As a proud flag waver for America’s own grape, Zinfandel, Zin epitomizes California. Known as the quintessential California grape variety.  Much of the appeal of this American treasure comes from the grapes complexity. At the same time, Zinfandel tends to be very approachable and a shoe in for casual summer gatherings. 

Style And Stylish - 
This uniquely American fine-wine grape has a history of moving in and out of fashion. Classic red Zinfandel has fruit aromas of dark cherries, plums, raspberries and blackberries and can range dramatically in style. These stylistic variations influence how the wine will likely pair with food. The styles you may encounter include:
  • Medium-Full Body; expressive fruit with some barrel age; often spicy
  • Full Body; ripe, higher alcohol, often more tannic and oaky
  • Late Harvest; dessert style, sweet, port-like, high alcohol

All About The Food - 
Unlike many other reds, Zinfandel is very compatible with food and especially loves the grill. Food pairings that work well include: 
  • Heartier dishes that have been grilled, braised or smoked. 
  • Many salty dishes as Zin is better then most reds due to its forward, sweet berry fruit.
  • Fruit based sauces particularly those with berry fruits.
  • Sharp cheeses like Manchego and washed rind cheeses like Taleggio.  

A Few Zin’s To Try - 
I recently participated in a 2009 Sonoma County Zinfandel tasting (yes, it was fun) and here are my top picks:
  • Seghesio Family Vineyards Home Ranch
  • JC Cellars St. Peters Church 
  • Carlisle “Carlisle Vineyard” 
  • Ridge Vineyard Pagani Ranch 
  • Ravenswood Sonoma County

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Red, White and Green Wine?

Can there be Green wine? The Green wine category showcases the wines and wineries that use sustainable, organic and/or biodynamic practices - both in the vineyard and/or winemaking process. As we look back on Earth Day 2012, I hope you'll be interested in discovering a few eco-friendly wine styles to toast the planet!  
This particularly intense school of agriculture has both organic and spiritual aspects. Biodynamic agriculture views the farm as a single organism, with the plants, animals, crops, soil, air and celestial influences, such as the moon and stars, all interconnected. By balancing these elements, the farmer, in theory, makes his property self-sustaining, thus eliminating the need for artificial nutrients or pesticides.
A small, strict, mostly French movement, "natural" winemaking uses organic grapes that are farmed and picked by hand, and are fermented with native (not manufactured) yeasts. No sulfites or other additives go into natural wine.
The use of the term organic is defined by the USDA: For a wine to be labeled organic, the vineyards from which the grapes are picked must be farmed without synthetic fertilizers, conventional pesticides or genetically engineered plant material. In addition, sulfites cannot be added to the wine as a preservative. 
Unfortunately, wines made without sulfites can re-ferment or oxidize in the bottle. That’s why many winemakers who use organic grapes also add sulfites. If their wines contain less than 100 parts per million, they are still permitted to label their wines "made with organic grapes."
Although there are no government standards for sustainable agriculture, practitioners generally promote both ecological and social responsibility by avoiding pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and by enriching soil with cover crops and composts.
What does it all mean?? Wine drinkers who really care about how a wine is made need to get to know its producer. After all, it’s the integrity of the winemaker that matters more than any certification process. And when you find a winemaker with both talent and integrity, you’ll probably find the best wines, natural or otherwise. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

What’s in Your Easter Basket

Easter is almost here and families everywhere will be gathering around the dinner table to feast with friends and loved ones. This may not sound like the best time to think about serious food and wine pairings, but if your family is anything like mine the end of Lent is one of the happiest of days. Chocolate, red meat, coffee or even (gasp!) wine, whatever you may have given up for the last 40 days, it’s time to reintroduce yourself. The Easter meal should be a happy occasion, and what better way to enjoy good company than with a little vino at the table? If your family celebrates Passover, wow the crowd with a tasty kosher wine.

The Easter Ham
Ham is often prepared with glazes or toppings that are sweet and can balance the inherent saltiness of the actual meat. Well-paired wines can accomplish the same objective. If I had to choose but one wine to accompany an Easter ham, I know what I’d choose in a heartbeat. Unfussy rosés are bursting with red fruit flavors and pair with a variety of holiday foods especially Easter ham. Rosé’s flavor profile has enough sweet fruit to balance the salt in the ham and enough acidity to support the combination without compromising the flavor in either the ham or the wine.

Rosé 101
Rosé wines are made from red wine grapes fermented just a short time with their skins. Colors range from light salmon to bright pink to medium-deep rose. The length of time the juice is in contact with the crushed skins determines not only the final color of the wine, but to a certain extent the amount of tannin extracted from the skins and seeds as well.

A Rosé By Any Other Name
Rosé spans the style spectrum. Because rosé refers to the color of the wine, as opposed to a specific grape variety, the wine can be made from a variety of red grapes and their blends, including Mourvédre, Sangiovese, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. With the variety of grapes used to make rosé, the character of the wine ranges from light and fruity to medium bodied with hints of tannin. Try rosé wines from California or Italy, but especially from Spain or from Provence, France.

I’m happy to bring in spring with a glass of rosé, and as rosé becoming more popular people will discover the joys of drinking pink.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Natural Pair

Wine and cheese are friends from way back. Both are the product of fermentation and both can express terroir, or the taste of the place they come from. In the case of cheese, the taste of terroir emerges from the different milk-giving animals; which can range from cows, goats, sheep and even water buffalos – my favorite cheese of all times.

Wine & Cheese Pairing Tips:
The first rule of thumb is that white wines usually pair better with cheese than red wines do – sorry red wine lovers. White wine’s acidity cuts through cheese’s butterfat beautifully. The creamy and nutty flavors in cheese can also bring a white wine to life by contrast. Along those lines, some consider Sauvignon Blanc the overall cheese-friendliest wine. Among red wines, the easiest to pair with cheese are the light and fruity varieties. Terroir-inspired combinations, wine and cheese coming from the same region, are almost always winners.

Pairings that Please:
• White or bloomy rind cheeses such as Camembert and Brie are the trickiest to match; safe bets include soft, fruity reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir or Beaujolais-Villages.
• Hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan and Manchego go with the widest range of wines; safe bets are medium to full bodied reds without too much tannin such as a softer style Bordeaux or good quality Cotes du Rhone-Villages. A buttery, medium bodied Chardonnay is a surprising star as well.
• Blue cheeses can be troublesome partners for any wine apart from the classic partnerships of Roquefort and Sauternes or port and Stilton. The salty with sweet principle prevails here.
• Strong, pungent cheese offers no safe bets. Sweet or fortified wines are likely to pair well or try an aromatic white such as the classic combination of Munster and Gewurztraminer.
• For Goat milk cheeses, Sauvignon Blanc is a good match especially with young soft cheeses; the more acid in the cheese the more acid the wine should have.
• Sheep milk cheese can handle a robust red made from Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache or Tempranillo grapes. Or try countering the cheese’s saltiness with a little sweetness in the wine.

Strategies for Harmony:
When planning a cheese platter, try adding walnut bread and a selection of dried fruits to create a more wine-friendly match. When serving a selection of cheeses, try to choose three or four which all pair well with a particular style of wine. Highly-oaked and super-tannic wines can be difficult to pair with cheese so be careful!

Pairing up cheese with wine can work like a charm. Just say cheese please and discover a delicious new dimension to your wine-drinking pleasure.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Warm Up

When winter weather swirls in, nothing could be cozier than a toasty mug of mulled wine. Mulled wine, the vine’s version of a classic hot toddy, is a traditional treat in many Old World countries and has been warming people for centuries. These are wines that have been sweetened, spiced and slightly heated - offering a delightful alternative to traditional coffees, ciders and toddy’s on a cold winter's night. Mulled wine is one of my favorite winter drinks because it is hot, sweet and possesses a very special power – it makes you beautifully warm inside.

Pick Your Potion
While red wine and apple cider are the most traditional of the spiced winter warmers, you can also use white wine, hard cider or ale. The primary spice combinations for mulled wine almost always include cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Nutmeg, star anise, allspice berries, cardamom pods, slices of fresh ginger, orange slices and lemon zest are also good additions. The trick to infusing the wine without making it cloudy and gritty is to use whole spices rather than ground versions.

Mix it Up
The mixture should be brought to a very gentle simmer over low heat and should not be boiled – that would cause the spices to turn bitter and make the alcohol evaporate. And, gee, that is the last thing in the world we want, right? To really allow the flavors of the spices to infuse into the wine, allow the mixture to simmer on the stovetop for at least half an hour.

Mulled Wine Recipe
1 bottle of dry red wine (Merlot can stand up to heat and the zing of spices)
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cinnamon sticks (plus additional sticks for garnish)
3 whole cloves
1 star anise
1 Tablespoon honey

Pour wine into top of a double boiler and warm over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients and stir until honey dissolves. Reduce hear, cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally. Ladle into mugs and serve, garnished with an orange slice or cinnamon stick.

Come in from the cold to the warm aroma of mulled wine. It’s simple, fragrant and beyond delicious. If you’ve never tried it before, you definitely need to. It’ll make you happy on a cold night!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Year's Toast

If your New Year's resolutions include: eating better, exercising more and getting healthy. The next time you raise a glass of wine to toast a friend's health, you may be doing more than expressing goodwill. For some of the same reasons "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" a glass of wine a day may set you on your way to wellness.

I'll Drink to That
Now is a great time to enjoy the pleasures of wine, especially since science is discovering the potentially powerful health benefits of drinking the fruit of the vine. A great number of studies have been done to determine the therapeutic and disease-fighting powers of wine, both red and white. When it comes to protecting the heart, red—not white—wine has always been the hero. We've all heard that red wine is good for us, but how good it is depends on who you are and how much and how often you drink it.

A Votre Sante (To Your Health)
When it comes to health, all alcoholic beverages are not created equal. While all may have the power to relax us, only red wine contains a lot of polyphenols, heart-friendly antioxidants that help inhibit plaque buildup in the arteries. Studies suggest that the polyphenols, or tannins, which derived from grape skins and seeds giving red wine its color also act as protectors against cell damage caused by nasty molecules called free radicals, produced by sun, pollution and cigarette smoke; all believed to be culprits in the aging process. Wine, however, is not the only source of polyphenols: they are also abundant in a wide variety of foods, including tea, chocolate and many fruits and vegetables.

The Art of Living Well
Wine has played an integral role in everyday life, religious ceremonies, celebratory events and the enjoyment of meals by societies throughout history and continues to do so. While some of the recent studies concerning wine and health are more conclusive than others, many of them offers a good reason to make wine part of your daily life.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gifts with Taste

Would you like to make some spirits bright this holiday season? If you are still looking for a gift idea for the wine-lover or budding wine-lover in your life, here are a few ideas sure to satisfy. Wine is always in style and always a perfect gift for friends, family or colleagues. That does not mean it's always easy to pick out the right wine gift. You want the wine to match the occasion, the season, and the recipient's personality. Whatever your fancy, there is something to fit the wine-lover on your gift list.

Say it with Bubbles
This season, give the gift of bubbles. I'll use any excuse to pop a bottle of bubbly as there's nothing quite like the magical sound of a Champagne pop during the holidays. Bubbles in the glass represent celebration, fun and holiday cheer. Whether you're heading to a party, want to say thanks for being a great boss, or congratulations on anything and everything, you cannot go wrong with bottles that sparkle. With that said, it's hard to get good Champagne for less than $40 a bottle, so if you want European sparkling wine on a budget, look to France's neighbors, Spain and Italy. Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco are delicious and affordable alternatives to French Champagne.

Wine Clubs

If you don't want to say it once, but instead what to be remembered all year long, a wine club membership is the way to go. Wine clubs are a wonderful way to introduce wine lovers to new and different wines or help aspiring collectors to build their wine cellar. Whether they are starting from scratch or have been tasting for years, clubs are the perfect way to explore an array of new and different wines delivered right to your doorstep from vineyards all around the globe.

Just Desserts

If you're looking for the perfect wine present, consider a sweet treat. To enjoy one of the world's greatest sweet wines is a decadent pleasure. One we don't often allow for ourselves, which makes sweet wine the perfect gift. Great dessert wines are truly remarkable – they offer a unique balance of sugar and acid and combine the nuances of fine wines with a decadent treat for your sweet tooth. Today, a new generation of high-quality dessert wines are being made with the same complexity of table wines. From Port to Bordeaux's Sauternes and Australia's sticky Muscats, dessert wines deliver rich flavor and pure pleasure!
Gifts for the Cellar
Feeling generous this holiday season? Gifts for the cellar are wines worth splurging on. It is often said that 99 percent of the world's wines are made to be enjoyed within a year or so of their release. Wines worth aging make up the other one percent. This handful of the world's wines will develop and gain in complexity and texture over a period of years and even decades. Some wines are classic collectibles – Bordeaux, cult Cabernets from California and top Burgundies. These wines are ideal for anyone who appreciates quality, patience and age in their wine.

The shopping days are dwindling so whether you're looking for an affordable stocking stuffer or a bank-breaking indulgence for your sweetheart, spread a little holiday cheer with any of these tasteful recommendations and give the wine-lover on your list a reason to celebrate.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Wine Types Demystified

I’ve come up with a list of terms my students often want to know about regarding the world of wine. Many of these are simply terms that you might hear in any polite conversation about wine. I have avoided almost all wine-tasting terms, which are a whole column in their own right.

Ready? Here they are, in alphabetical order.

Bordeaux. French region best known for classy reds made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Burgundy. French region best known for reds made from Pinot Noir and whites
made from Chardonnay.
Cabernet Sauvignon. Red-wine grape responsible for famous Bordeaux wines and many California “cult wines.”
Cava. Spanish sparkling wine.
Chablis. French region (part of Burgundy) making special, seafood-friendly wines from Chardonnay.
Champagne. French region making outstanding sparkling wine from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes.
Chardonnay. Great white grape of Burgundy. No. 1 “varietal” wine in America.
Chenin Blanc. Fine grape for dry and sweet wines. Sometimes used in U.S. to mean “cheap white,” but sometimes a fine varietal.
Gewurztraminer. Peppery white wine that’s a specialty of the Alsace region of France.
Merlot. Bordeaux blending grape. First bottled as a U.S. varietal in 1972 by Louis Martini. Top red varietal in the U.S.
Muscat. Honey-like grape grown all over the world to make slightly sweet to very sweet wines.
Nebbiolo. Great grape of Barolo and Barbaresco in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Pinotage. Spicy, unusual red wine of South Africa.
Pinot Grigio. Italian wine — same grape as Pinot Gris — that recently became the most popular imported wine in the U.S.
Pinot Noir. Great red grape of Burgundy. Specialty of Oregon.
Riesling. Great white-wine grape at its best in Germany.
Rioja. Spanish district best known for woody red wine.
Sangiovese. Great grape of Chianti.
Sauvignon Blanc. White grape that makes grassy dry wines all over the world. Also used in dessert wines. Same as Fume Blanc.
Shiraz. Australia’s signature red-wine grape. Same as Syrah.
Varietal. Wine named for a grape type, like Chardonnay. In U.S., a wine must be at least 75% of a grape type to be called that.
Zinfandel. U.S. red grape (originally from Croatia). White Zinfandel, with juice allowed a little skin contact for color.

Remember, you don’t need to memorize this list to enjoy a delicious glass of your favorite wine. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrate California Wine Month

Break out the Pinot - September is California Wine Month, and that makes it a perfect time to enjoy a glass of California wine.  California Wine Month celebrates the state’s ideal climate for wine, and its importance to the California economy. Did you know that California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world and makes 90 percent of American wine? In celebration, learning about wine can be one of the easiest and most fun things you do all month.

Here’s my Top Ten list of ways to make wine more accessible all month long:

1. Open A California Sparkler For No Reason - There are so many reasonably priced bubblies that they can be a better bargain than many still wines. Put a bottle in the fridge and open it for dinner.

2. Drink More White Wine With Cheese - I've discovered that white wine generally tastes better with most cheeses than red. The acidity in white wines is what does the trick.

3. Take A Flight - Try a wine bar you have never visited and order a flight of wine.

4. Take Notes - You'll find that the wine will change with time, air and warmth. When you go back over your notes, you might be amazed at the changes.

5. Stop Holding Back Bottles - I'm as guilty as anyone of saving wines instead of enjoying them. Without waiting for a special occasion, invite friends over and open some of those gems you've got stashed away.

6. Visit A Local Winery - You’ll be amazed at the diversity of wines and styles in your own neck of the woods.

7. Try Different Wines - There are more than 5,000 grape varieties in the world, but many of us drink the same one, or ones, week after week (the equivalent of eating chicken every night).

8. Try A Wine You Think You Don’t Like - Are you sure you don’t like Riesling? Things change, including your taste.

9. Order the Least Expensive Wine On The List - This takes courage, but I've found that many restaurant wine buyers work hard at finding great deals. Why not take advantage.

10. Enroll In A Wine Appreciation Class - Taking a wine class can be a fun and un-intimidating way to learn more about wine. Whether you take a class on the basics or one with a narrower focus, you'll learn something new and have fun in the process.

Hope to see you soon.