Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A quick "Tips and Sips" for Thanksgiving wines

Just a quick posting to toss out some favorites for Thanksgiving wines. In terms of white wine, you really can't go wrong with Sparkling wine, such as Champagne from France, Cava from Spain or even Prosecco from Italy. The wines won't overpower your food (like Chardonnay would) and all the complex pairings will work out well (e.g. think of a typical Thanksgiving spread--lots of different flavors which would make it tough to pair just "one" wine with everything). If you are not a bubbles fan (shame on you!) an excellent plan B is Viognier. Viognier is a very yummy grape that pairs well with many of the foods as well. Try to find the white blend by Treana or Tablas Creek. If you can't find one of those (try Costco!), perhaps try a DRY Riesling (emphasis on dry--which is NOT sweet). A perfect example is Chateau St. Michelle's Eroica Riesling (around $25).

In terms of red, Beaujolais Nouveau is out now and is always a youthful, fun wine to have with turkey. If that's too light/fruity for you there is always Pinot Noir--try Acacia or anything from Russian River Valley, Carneros (both California) or something from Oregon's Willamette Valley. It can be tough to find a 'good, cheap' (those words together) Pinot though! As always, a RED Zinfandel is a great option to toss out there; go for a Ridge blend and you'll be pleased but anything from Amador County, Lodi or even Napa/Sonoma will work!

So there's a quick shopping list for your feast! Have a WONDERFUL thanksgiving! Blessings to you and yours!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

California Wine Month meets the "Official" Wine of California

Time is running out to celebrate “California Wine Month” (yep, I’m a little late since it started 24 days ago…). With that in mind, why not celebrate the “almost” Official Wine Grape of California, Zinfandel. In 2006, then-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have declared Zinfandel the “official” grape of California. His reasoning was that it would be ‘wrong’ to single out just one varietal. In some respects, he’s correct as Cabernet is incredibly popular and well-regarded dating back to the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976 (which scored CA Cab’s on par or better than top Bordeaux wine—Sacre bleu!), not to mention all the Chardonnay produced there. However, I feel that Zinfandel is very deserving as it has a very special place in the history of wine in California—as well as the United States!

In 1829, “Zinfendel” was imported from Europe to a nursery in New York. From there, it was sold in Massachusetts. Zinfandel made its way West thanks to the Gold Rush of the mid 1800’s. Zinfandel’s origins are believed to be based on Italian grape Primitivo or even two different Croatian grapes, Crljenak Kaštelanski and one called Tribidrag. Regardless of the grape names, scientists have confirmed through DNA testing that Zinfandel and Primitivo are the same. By 1878 Zin was the most popular varietal planted/produced during California’s first wine boom. Like Europe, most California vineyards were destroyed in the late 1800’s when the phylloxera epidemic took over. Luckily some Zinfandel vines survived because they were isolated or planted on resistant rootstock. In 1900 most vineyards were replanted, with Zin being the most common varietal—until the 70s’.

We blame a lot on the 70’s—fashion, disco, big hair. One thing to add to that list? White Zinfandel. I do blast White Zin a lot due to its bubble gum flavor and that crazy pink color but there are 2 major things that White Zin managed to do: one was to save Zin as a financially viable grape, as many were plowing their vineyards to plant suddenly popular Cabernet and Merlot, so White Zin saved many vineyards due to its popularity. The second thing? Honestly, it introduced wine to the masses. Dare I say that White Zin is a gateway wine? No, I’m not making the ‘smoking pot leads to heroin use’ analogy, I am simply saying that if someone tries ANY wine (and likes it) and continues to ‘explore’ wine, that is awesome, even if it is white zinfandel leading the way!

A white zin drinker may not change their ways, but they may try another “sweet-ish” wine like Riesling or Moscato. From there they may try a dry white, such as Sauvignon Blanc or even Chardonnay. What’s next? Well, maybe they will continue to ‘think pink’ and try a rosé as the process is similar (leave the skins on the juice to impart more color but MUCH less residual sugar). From there? How about a nice Pinot Noir to start, then onward to Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. By the way, all of this was a nice ‘stair step’ list of ‘from light to heavy’ wines; give that a shot and see how your exploration goes!

But back to Zinfandel, probably my favorite. Why? While it does have a high alcohol content, the fruit makes the wine very approachable. In fact, you can easily sip Zin solo but when you add food, it’s not so overpowering like many heavy tannin wines like Cabernet. It’s as if Zinfandel was made for another great American pastime—grilling! BBQ is yummy with Zin, spicy foods too. So while “California Wine Month” comes to a close, we are just about knee deep in tailgating season so why not bring a little Zin to your next event? No, not the girly pink stuff; be manly and grab one of the 3 R’s (Ravenswood, Rosenblum and Ridge), which represent some of the best-known Zinfandel producers/pioneers). Each of the first two have inexpensive entry-level wines (Vintner’s Blend and Vintner’s Cuvee come to mind). From there, try some of the Ravenswood ‘County’ Series—you’ll be amazed by the differences between their Napa, Sonoma, Lodi and Amador county designates! All three make excellent single-vineyard wines (perhaps I’ll discuss the differences between “California”, County/Region and Vineyard designations next time) but the price rises (base Zin’s start around $8-10; County wines $15 to 20 and single-vineyards are $20-50+).

There are also a lot of Zin-blends out there (nicknamed ‘kitchen sink’ blends as they have many varietals, typically Zin and syrah-based). But again, there are many different producers and many different regions as listed in the ‘county’ designates above (don’t forget awesome Paso Robles juice!). So give Zinfandel the respect it deserves—even the pink stuff, albeit begrudgingly… Let me know your thoughts and share your Zin adventures with me! Cheers, Bo

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Just say no to wine snobbery

I received a marketing email from one of those review websites talking about wine shops, wine bars, etc. It listed several of their favorite local wine shops/wine bars/restaurants and gave a few details about some of them. Most of the reviewer comments referenced a desire to learn about wine and lauded their shop/wine bar/restaurant for not being pretentious or 'snobby'. As you've caught from most if not all of my posts as it relates to wine snobbery, THAT'S WHAT WINE IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT DAMMIT! Wine is meant to be approachable and enjoyable--not 'I'm so smart that I can tell that this wine came from an east-facing slope on a mountainside in Sonoma County'. (don't laugh--there are people out that who can tell that stuff and it's pretty darn cool and amazing!). Let me flesh that out a bit, actually. While a true sommelier should have an incredible grasp on wine and of all things wine, the average consumer just wants something yummy to drink and/or go with their meal. ME TOO! If you go somewhere and they don't know what they are serving (and don't give you help/ideas) it's time to move on--find a place where the servers have PASSION for their food and drink!

A friend recently took us to one of ATL's high-end steakhouses. The wine list was on an iPad and obviously was incredibly broad and would have been in a very thick binder if printed. For most people, that would be fear-inducing and would commonly result in either a blind pick of something that sounded familiar or a selection of something they did know about but was very pricey (take "Silver Oak" as an example--nothing against it, as it is a great wine, but like KJ Chard, it's just a well-known wine that gets tossed about as 'incredible' among people with deep pockets and 'some' knowledge of wine--there I go, being a snob). The thing about wine is to try things. Maybe it's not the best time to experiment when facing a $50-75 bottle at a restaurant but go to your local shop or liquor store (or even grocery/warehouse club!) and see what's out there. Yes, you'll find a ton of cheap blends with colorful labels (a favorite of mine being Apothic Red for around $8 or $9) and some silly 'critter wines' (e.g. wine labels with some animal on it meant to make it seem 'cute' so you will buy it. Not my typical choice). By the way, I'm sure if I had asked, I know the staff at that steakhouse would have helped me if I was clueless-don't EVER be afraid to ask for help; most servers LOVE to share their favorites and most sommeliers love to share their ideas as well! Again, if not, vote with your wallet and go somewhere else next time!

Do you drink white wine? Try something other than Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. I wax poetic about Viognier; try a Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc--you don't have to spend a ton but try to focus on a specific GRAPE varietal. Ditto for reds--if you like Merlot, try a Cabernet; if those make you happy, you may love Syrah or (my favorite) Zinfandel. What about a lighter red like Pinot Noir or something funky like Monastrell/Mourvedre? Temperanillo? Once you decide you like a particular varietal then explore regions or countries and experiment some more. So now you have some CHOICES out there.

Once you get the varietal figured out (e.g. I love Sauvignon Blanc), as noted, when you dig around you may realize how much you like a certain style (California SB can be a bit 'buttery' (unfortunately!) while New Zealand's are more crisp and acidic (hooray!) as they should be). SO if you like the crisp style of New Zealand (such as Marlborough region), the next time you see a wine list with a Sauv Blanc from that area you can feel confident in ordering it even if you have not heard of the producer. Same thing with reds; a Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in California (or Carneros) is a great region--the more you try, the more you learn and then that list becomes much less scary.

Wine is meant to be enjoyed. I think of it as a journey--we've all had horror-show vacations; the same can happen with wine but if it's bad, you can send it back. If you hate it, you can try something else. It's all temporary and there will always be another glass or bottle out there! As 'the man' says: Stay thirsty my friends!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wine of the Moment: Prosecco!

This week's wine is Prosecco. Oddly enough, Prosecco is a grape, a wine, and a place in Italy. While the grape is now called "Glera", the primary region where prosecco is produced is about an hour and a half north of Venice, in the Veneto region (commonly in Valdobbiadene--try to say that one fast!)

Prosecco is light and refreshing and is quite food-friendly like other sparklers Cava and Champagne. It is typically produced ‘charmat’ style (where secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks vs. ‘methode champagnoise’, the traditional in-bottle fermentation of fine French champagnes). As a result, prosecco is meant to be consumed young, typically within 3 years of bottling or it can become flat! As Italy’s most popular sparkling wine, the bulk of production is either Frizzante (lightly sparkling) or Spumante (fully sparkling). As a comparison, Moscato can be also frizzante but definitely sweeter, while champagne is more crisp but equally ‘spumante’ or fully sparkling.

Proseccos are traditionally dry, with creamy notes of peach. In fact, world-famous Harry’s Bar in Venice created a signature cocktail known as the Bellini, by mixing prosecco with white peach puree. Other characteristics of prosecco include notes of citrus, apple, baked bread with a hint of bitterness on the finish. As such, prosecco pairs with lighter fare, such as seafood (like smoked salmon; yum!), lighter balanced cheese, and pastas with lighter sauces or even fruit desserts such as sorbet or fruit tarts. Right now, as summer comes to a close, it’s perfect to sip on the deck watching the sun go down!

The final attribute of Prosecco, and perhaps one of its best features is the price—you can find most Proseccos in the $10 range. Mionetto is one famous producer; they have one line with a bottle cap (the “IL” line) that is $10 but they also have their ‘best’, named Sergio, after their founder. Sergio is more expensive and a bit tough to find but typically is highly rated by wine publications. I found a 92 point Nino Franco at Smyrna World of Beverage (LOVE that place) for $15 and Sam’s and Costco both have offerings in the $10 range. So pop a bottle of Prosecco this weekend and enjoy the bubbles! Cheers, Bo

CHEAPIE ALERT: Kroger has Apothic Red on sale this week for $7.99! See prior posts about this yummy blend!

Monday, August 1, 2011

My wine made me HURL!

Actually, just gagged a bit... Let's explain--no, I wasn't on a bender and no I didn't consume too much. In fact, I hadn't had anything to drink at all! I was just on the 'smell' stage (e.g. Swirl, sniff, sip) and the result was so harsh I actually almost threw up.

Background-had an old 1995 French wine; nothing super nice, just something my Mom had out in their workshop for a while (a/k/a wine room). I don't know if it got hot there (that room is air conditioned though), in the car on the way home (even though we drove w/Air Conditioning and we never parked/left it in the sun) or if it was just plain OLD but I should have known better than to have sniffed so hard... I decanted it and it was quite orange (a bad sign; old and aged but mainly just old...) and then I poured a glass, swirled a few times and stuck the nose in deeply to take a huge sniff and... OMG! Calm the gag reflex dude! I couldn't believe it. Was it corked or just plain old? I had to throw it out and opened up something young and fun to put that smell out of my memory banks. (I actually left the decanter out for a bit; tried a SMALL sniff about an hour or so later but it was still foul). SO lesson learned-if it looks ugly, be a bit more careful about a huge sniff! The result may not be so friendly.

(I think I have another bottle of the same that I poached some time ago; we'll have to see if perhaps the 1st one was a one-off or if both are way past their prime!) Again, it wasn't an old-growth Bordeaux, but typically Bordeaux can be (should be?) cellared about a decade to calm the tannins; as an example last night I had a nice 1998 Robert Sinsky Stags Leap Cabernet and it was PHENOMENAL, so the fact that it was 16 years old shouldn't have been a problem--we'll have to try the last bottle to see if it too is nasty...)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A new fave, and it's "Hot to Trot"!


No horsing around: 14 Hands "Hot to Trot" blend is a winner! I picked some up at Sam's Club last week and found it to be a yummy, fruit-forward blend. What a great deal I thought for just over $10!


THEN I saw an old flyer from Bullock's and it's only $8.97 per bottle! Time to stock up a bit! Click HERE for a data sheet from the vineyard and click HERE to find Bullock's (Sandy Plains in East Cobb and off Barrett Parkway, east of I-75. This is a perfect BBQ wine (yes, I actually recommended something OTHER than a ZIN!) and will be great for your Summer parties. ENJOY!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Snob or Sale?

I get accused of being a wine snob. Au contraire, mon frere! While I do love wine, my perception of a wine snob would be someone who would turn their nose up at the inexpensive beauties that I tend to recommend. Sure, I'd love to drink something like Orin Swift's "The Prisoner" all the time, but I can't drop over $30 per bottle of wine. Even a "deal" like an email I received for a Mollydooker wine for around $20 doesn't help--that's just too high for my wallet these days. So am I a wine snob? Hardly! I do like yummy wines though; I just tend to buy more bargains--it's like 'hunting"--I love to find a great wine at an inexpensive price! So let's go shopping!

As noted before I love blends. I received a flyer from Bullocks (East Cobb/Woodstock) and found Apothic Red to be $7.97! Other winners include Monte Antico Rosso (a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet) is $8.97 (the 2006 was rated at 90 points per Wine Spectator), La Crema Pinot Noir is $15.97 (yep, that's 'high' but it's touch and go finding a 'cheap' Pinot out there that's as solid as La Crema). Finally, Ravenswood Vintner's Blend is a low $6.27. I know many other top retailers like Tower and Total Wine have similar pricing; get out there and shop!

But that's all red wine, and it's hot out there! You can also find a good value on Estancia Chardonnay at Bullocks ($7.97) and Brancott Sauvignon Blanc for $6.97 (look for any Sauv. Blanc from "Marlborough" in New Zealand and you can't go wrong). Pinot Grigio is a nice, crisp option as well and "Kris" Pinot Grigio is under $10 there too. Why not try something different? Other wines that beg to be left in the ice bucket can be found from Spain (Albarino) Viognier (Rhone or Central Coast/CA), and Argentina's Torrantes, as mentioned in Gil Kuler's most recent AJC article.

One quickie about wine glasses--yes, I can be a wine glass snob; check my previous posts about Riedel. Suffice it to say that I hate going to restaurants that have crappy glasses. One thing that can hurt you more than a cheap glass is a smelly glass! I've talked about this before--I have several types of glasses, from stems I bought for $5 at Cost Plus World Market (excellent!) to the same 'style' (e.g. for the same varietal of wine) that was given to me (Riedel's "Sommelier Series" that retails for almost $100 per glass!)--all the glasses are in a glass-front cabinet in the kitchen. EVERY time I pull out a glass, if I don't rinse the glass, it smells like the cabinet! If it wasn't rinsed well, it may also smell like soap. All I'm saying is that the glass should be clean, dry and not have residual odors. As over half of your wine experience is based on what you smell (yep, even over the taste itself!) you really need to do this before serving your wine! Give it a shot-take 2 glasses, rinse/clean one and try the wine out of both--you may be surprised at the difference between the two!