Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's New Year's Without Bubby Wine?

A wine writer’s occupational hazards include obligatory New Year’s columns on sparkling wines and year-end ‘best of” lists.

It’s fun to review the previous year and pick out a Top 10 – something you’ll read in the next Grape Sense. It’s tougher to write about sparkling wines when it isn’t a favorite. Still, it’s the time of year a lot of questions come up about a New Year’s sparkler.

After a little more than three years and 82 newspaper columns, only two were about sparkling wines.  Some of that is repeated here along with two best bet suggestions.

Any discussion about sparkling wine has to start with French Champagne. It’s not cheap, there is lots of it, and it can range from plain awful to magic in a glass. You can buy the Dom Perignon for around $130 a bottle. You can take a step up from that and go with Louis Roederer’s Cristal in a crystal bottle if you’re prepared to shell out $350.

But let’s face it; most of us aren’t buying that sort of wine.

If you want something more than the grocery’s usual Asti-Spumante (which isn’t bad), then you have to get into your nearest wine shop and rely on the merchant’s expertise. 

A good place to start is with an Italian Prosecco. It’s generally lighter than champagne, less alcohol content, but you still get the bubbles! And you can find pretty decent Prosecco at $15-$20.

Another great pick is a Spanish Cava. Cava hails from the region around Barcelona. Cava sparkling wines have become very popular and can be found in the $10-$20 range.

If you want a good U.S. sparkling wine (only France’s Champagne region can call its juice ‘Champagne’) there are good options. California’s Korbel and Washington’s St. Michelle have value sparklers and more expensive bubbling wines that will be great for Dec. 31.

Roederer Estate in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley makes really beautiful sparkling wine at a higher price point. I tasted several of their sparkling wines during a January 2011 trip to Mendocino and all were really beautiful. The Roederer Estate sparklers range from $20-$150.

Probably the easiest to find and safest choice, that will delight your palate, is California’s Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut. The wonderful and affordable Ferrer Brut is made of the traditional blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The bubbly has a nice soft or almost creamy feel in your mouth. It tastes much better than its easy-to-digest price point of $16-$20.

My top choice for your New Year’s Eve is widely available and one of the best wines I tasted this year. Banfi Rosa Regale is a delicious Italian sparkling wine. It has strong raspberry with a rich mid-palate. The bubbles are somewhat restrained. The dark cranberry color is festive and beautiful. The alcohol is a ridiculously low 7 percent. The suggested retail is $20.

You can’t go wrong with the Gloria Ferrer Brut or Banfi Sparkling Rose’. Try either or both and celebrate the New Year!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Choosing Wine as a Holiday Gift

A bottle of wine makes a lovely Christmas gift when attending parties, calling on friends, or for that wine lover next door.

But, what should you buy? There are a couple of things you can do to assure success.

-          Does the person enjoy wine? Are they a regular wine drinker or just an occasional glass?

-          Does the person enjoy red more than white or vice-versa?

-          What are you willing to spend on a bottle of wine?

With no offense to grocery stores or even liquor stores with limited inventory, the first piece of advice is get to a wine shop or a liquor store with a wide selection and a knowledgeable staff.

Almost all good wine shops are a lot more interested in making you happy than just selling you a bottle $5 higher than you intended on spending. Small retail business of all type are totally dependent on repeat business.

Let’s talk in general about some wines that would be great gifts. In this Grape Sense, I’m only recommending wines I have tried in recent years.

If your friend is a Chardonnay fan try to find something different than the stereotypical California oak-laden Chard. Ask the sales person for an unoaked Chardonnay or a Chardonnay that is a blend of oaked and unoaked juice. There is a huge selection of good Chardonnay under $18.

If this is a special friend get to a wine shop with a higher-end inventory and buy a French Chablis or White Burgundy. The 2008 Domain Joseph Drouhin Chablis is outstanding wine lighter on the palate with bright acidity. The White Burgundy will be more expensive but be one of the nicest glasses of white wine your friend may ever enjoy. 

If you’re feeling adventurous look for a nice white blend. Sokol Blossor, Oregon, makes a delightful white with intense fruit and lasting palate impression called Evolution. It can be found in most wine shops at $15. Caymus’ Conundrum is a sweeter blend of several grapes that gives you tangy green apple, tangerine, and floral characteristics. The Condundrum normally retails $20-$25.

It’s easy to pick a Cabernet Sauvignon off the shelf and throw a bow on it. But don’t overlook the many beautiful red blends that are easy to drink, affordable, and go with just about any meal. I’d direct consumers to Washington State red wines or California’s Paso Robles region. Paso specializes in the traditionally French Rhone grapes. It would be a unique gift that will impress your guests. You might look around for Ortman’s Cuvee Eddy, a wonderful Paso blend that sells for under $20.

I think of all red wine Pinot Noir makes the most beautiful gift. I’ve written often that good Pinot is very hard to find for under $20. There are a few labels that are nice wines – Robert Mondavi, Mark West, Drouhin’s La Floret, Mirassou, and Dashwood all come in under $15.

But it’s Christmas so splurge a little. Lange Winery’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is stunning for $22. It drinks far beyond its price point. There are many Oregon Pinot wines in the $20-$30 range which would impress.

And finally don’t forget the Rose’ wines. With the varied shades of red and pink they make a festive addition to your holiday table before they are ever opened. A dry Rose can pair with just about any food or appetizer and makes a great sipper for holiday parties. Rose is not expensive wine. Try Charles & Charles from Washington state for a wine that is worthy of any table. It sells for less than $15.

If you want a very special treat, again head to the nicer wine shop and pick up a Rose from France Provence region. Provence winemakers produce some of the world’s best Rose’ wines. They are typically a light salmon color. The wine is quite dry with beautifully balanced fruit and acidity.

Good to great Provence Rose’ can be found for $20-$50. If you’ve never had a great dry Rose’, one of the Provence wines will totally rock your wine world.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Guidelines for Your Holiday Turkey Wine Picks

There are thousands of wine bloggers, many wine writers and still a handful of newspaper wine columnists. They’re all writing about Thanksgiving/Christmas and wine pairing this time of year. I’ve done the same in recent years, and think it’s important to offer a little help when it’s most needed

Instead of a long list of wine selections, (I’ll offer a few recommendations throughout), how about some general guidelines to help you pick the right wines for your turkey dinner whether its Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Thanksgiving is about family so make it a festive occasion. Try a light sparkling wine before the big meal. It’s sure to be a hit. Look for a Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, or Gloria Ferrer’s delightful Sonoma County sparklers. For something really festive and delicious, I love Banfi Rosa Regale. The Banfi wine sells for right at $20, has just seven percent alcohol, and is delicious.

Wines with a higher acidity are going to pair better with fowl. There will be lots of different flavors on your holiday table and you want something that will hold up to everything served.

Consider buying several different wines if you have a large guest list. Most Thanksgiving family feasts feature a veritable cornucopia of dishes, so why serve just one wine?

First, there are no right picks. If you like it drink it. With that out of the way, it’s a good idea to rule out big red wines. Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Malbec are going to overpower the bird and side dishes.
Speaking of side dishes, consider the flavors and spices used to make the sides when picking a wine – not just the bird.

Wines with a higher acidity are going to pair better with fowl. There will be lots of different flavors on your holiday table and you want something that will hold up to everything served.

Consider buying several different wines if you have a large guest list. Most Thanksgiving family feasts feature a veritable cornucopia of dishes, so why serve just one wine?

When it comes time for dinner there is such a wide variety of choices. Instead of a Chardonnay, which can be over-powering and boring, try a semi-dry to dry Riesling? Gewurztraminer has become a very popular Thanksgiving wine in recent years. The wonderful spicy and floral aromas and taste are perfect for light fall fare.

If you want to support local pour an Indiana-made Traminette, a close cousin to the Gewurzt grape. Most Hoosier winemakers produce a sweet to semi-sweet version of the state grape that will work well with dinner. Just go to the semi-sweet or dry side if possible. Turtle Run Winery makes a dynamite dry Traminette if you can find it available.

A dry rose’ would also be a bold and delicious pairing.

If you like red there are more choices than Pinot Noir, a classic pick. While many might suggest the seasonal Beaujolais Nouveau, I always suggest a Beaujolais Grand Cru wine. Pick up a Beaujolais Morgon or Fleurie. A personal favorite is Georges Duboeuf’s Julienas which is widely available at $11-$15.

If you insist on Pinot you can’t go wrong on the pairing. I’d recommend staying on the lighter side and going up to the $15 price point. There are several drinkable Pinots around $10. New Zealand’s Dashwood, California’s Mark West, and the classic Burgundy of Domain Joseph Drouhin. Drouhin’s LaForet Pinot sells for just $10. Pick up Lange Vineyard’s Willamette Valley Pinot for around $20 for a real treat. The 2009 Lange Pinot is unbelievable wine for a 20-dollar bill.

Finally, don’t hesitate to do something a little crazy. I’m not a big fruit wine fan but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find some well-made fruit wines. Consider pouring a little dry cranberry wine with dinner. Cherry wine might have the same fun factor.