All posts by Stacy Slinkard

Wine Pairing Strategies for Thai and Sushi

Let’s face it Asian fare is downright delicious, but it can be tricky to find solid wine pairing partnerships given the dynamic fusion of flavors, spices and otherwise exotic ingredients. In general, spicy themes beg for a wine that tames the heat with a touch of sweet (think German Riesling and off-dry Gewurztraminer). So, wines that carry higher levels of alcohol and lean heavily into oak, tend to overwhelm many of the innate flavors of Thai and sushi finds.

Wine Pairing: Thai

From super savory to feel-the-heat spicy green curries and creamy coconut milk textures to the full-on fusion of sour, sweet, salty and bitter found in your favorite Pad Thai, there is plenty of variety and culinary innovation busting out of most modern Thai dishes. When it comes to partnering up a wine, there are several things to consider.

  1. Sweet tames heat: for super spicy dishes, grab a wine that carries its own dash of residual sugar. This bit of sweet puts out the flames of hot red and green chili peppers quite well and fans the flames of flavor integration. German Rieslings at 9% abv or less are no-brainers for spicier curries.
  2. Bold flavors beg for less bold wines: Austria’s groovy Gruner Vetliner delivers savory flavors all wrapped up in rich fruit that won’t compete with the bolder flavors, but lighter weight of shrimp Pad Thai or more mild curries.
  3. Acidity is a good thing: when you’ve got moderate protein, a mix of funky flavors and exotic aromas and typically a starch base of noodles or rice, wines that deliver a dose of zesty acidity tend to highlight the flavors and carry the dish with added dimension.

 Quick Pairing Picks:

Wine Pairing: Sushi

Salty seaweed, wasabi, pickled ginger and raw fish. Not one of the easier pairings by any standards, but fully capable of showing fantastic potential with a handful of wine styles. As you increase the spice component, you want to decrease the alcohol levels or the alcohol will just amplify the heat and douse the flavors. For super versatile, tried and true pairings, you can rarely go wrong with off-dry Gewurztraminer or German Riesling (again). However, for more detailed menu matching, sometimes it’s easier to start with the protein for pairing. Let’s check in on wines for these ultra-popular rolls.

  • Crab Roll: The basic crab roll is picture perfect for pairing with an Alsatian Gewurztraminer or classic German Riesling, both teaming with mouth-watering acidity and forward fruit. These wines promise to play extremely well with the crab, cucumber and avocado that typically pack themselves into your everyday crab roll. Want to turn it up a notch? Give it a go with an off-dry Vouvray, based on the Chenin Blanc grape, that brings zippy acidity, round textures and lots of minerality that plays off the briny character of the crab meat.
  • Spicy Tuna Roll: The extroverted flavors and palate weight of the traditional spicy tuna roll call for a wine that shares many of the same characteristics. Enter Viognier. Highly aromatic, showing plenty of apricot and honeysuckle on the nose with more on display on the palate, Viognier echoes many of the characteristics of the roll itself – fresh, fuller bodied, complicated, versatile with rich silky textures.
  • California Roll: Avocado, cucumber and crab. Does it get any better than that? Well, with sushi, yes…often it does! But, the basic California roll is still loved by young and old alike, it’s a great introduction to all things sushi and provides a snappy pairing with everything from Alsatian Rieslings with their drier styles or the often herbaceous, topped with sunny citrus New World Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Tempura Shrimp Roll: The crispy, fried textures of the tempura make sparkling wines and Champagne a must-have glass for cutting through the yummy, fatty flavor profiles of your basic tempura shrimp roll.
  • Salmon Roll: Most salmon rolls show well with sparkling and still roses. The sparkling roses promise to cut through the fatty textures and clean the palate in one fell swoop.
  • Eel Roll (aka: Unagi or Dragon Roll): Earthy and briny, eel rolls work exceptionally well with the full-throttle aromatics and slightly sweeter side of Gewurztraminer, as does the snazzy, sweet, soy-based Unagi sauce that usually accompanies the roll.

 Quick Pairing Picks:

 

Five Wines to Have on Hand for the Holidays

When the holiday season rolls in, time is short and demands are high. Happily, wine is there to support the food, family and friends in a dynamic role that ranges from subtle to celebratory. We’ve rounded up some of the high-demand holiday happenings for bringing a bottle to share and given a handful of our favorite recommendations to get the party started.

Last-minute Hostess Gift 

The specs for this bottle typically lie in the under $20 category and ideally should be super versatile with a variety of appetizers and go-to dinners. If it’s a holiday gathering, chances are good that the bottle will be opened on the spot and ready to roll with whatever festive holiday dishes or seasonal h’ordeuvres are gracing the table. Nothing says, “thanks, happy holidays, glad-to-be-here” quite like a bottle of wine at the door. To turn the gift up a notch, consider leaning towards a lesser known region or grape – which has the added bonus of morphing into an easy (and educational) conversation starter.

Top Pick Wine: To roll crowd-pleasing character, food-friendly nature and somewhat exotic region all into one welcoming price point, reach for Pazo Senoran’s 2016 Albarino. Albarino is Spain’s delicious answer to all sorts of tough to pair foods. Bringing citrus appeal underpinned by earthy, fresh cut grass aromas neatly packaged in the elegance and creative palate profile of salinity meets spice and creamy textures – this grape over delivers time and again.

The Office Party

Colleagues after hours and dressed to impress, the wine should be easy to enjoy and able to stand up to some curious scrutiny. While food pairing compatibility is always a plus, the “office party” bottle may easily fall into the “stand and sip” sans food category. In that case, keep it fresh, flavorful and capable of being its own conversation piece. To that end…

Top Pick Wine: The 2015 Kaiken Ultra Malbec is brimming with black fruit and carries a dash of mocha in the mix.  Easy food-pairing versatility combined with a fantastic price point make this a no-brainer bottle for the holidays. Conversation points? Glad you asked – ranked #45 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2017.

The Gift of Wine

From snazzy stocking stuffers or an age-worthy collector’s bottle to the high-pressure salute of the annual “boss’ gift,” wine is a fun, fancy and functional foodie gift – perfect for that tricky, typically hard-to-buy-for person on your list. For stocking stuffers, look for the personal-sized split bottles that run 187 ml (about 6 ounces) or turn it up a notch and fill that stocking with a bit more vino in the form of a half bottle of bubbly. For the collector and the boss, check out bottles that are capable of being aged a bit – start your search with California Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux blends, concentrated Amarone, or Piedmont’s Nebbiolo-based bottles, Barolo or Barbaresco.

Top Pick(s):

Pol Roger Brut (half bottle) – The ultimate stocking stuffer: Who wouldn’t love to find a half bottle of Pol Roger’s tucked into the depths of their stocking come Christmas morning? Based on a traditional blend of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, the grapes are sourced from well-known vineyards in Montagne de Reims, Vallee de al Marne, Petite Valle d’Epernay and the Cotes des Blancs for the Chardonnay.

Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2012 – A heady blend of the traditional grape trio, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, was dried on bamboo racks for 3-4 months to concentrate flavor components prior to fermentation. The result is a full-throttle Amarone from one of the best terroirs in Valpolicella Classico.

The Holiday Dinner Wine

Whether it’s ham, turkey, goose or prime rib, holiday dinners offer an outstanding opportunity to open new bottles from a variety of grapes and regions. Opting for a honey-baked ham this holiday season? Great, reach for the full, fruity flavors of a California Zinfandel. Turkey making a second debut at Christmas dinner? Give it a go with Beaujolais or Pinot Noir for red wine fans or a tangy, citrus-infused Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis for white wine lovers. Goose and prime rib, both buddy up well to Bordeaux blends. Traditional tried and true holiday favorites tend to be heavy on the Cabs and Cab-based blends.

Top Pick: Classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2014 Kathryn Hall Cab brings an often-overlooked affordability to the region’s top grape. Easy to like, and even easier to share, this food-friendly bottle promises to bring out the best in prime rib, filet mignon, goose and game at this year’s Christmas Dinner.

Celebrate with Bubbles

Yes, bubbles!! Nothing says ready to celebrate quite like a bottle of bubbly. Whether you are ringing in 2018 or just thrilled to be gathering with a favorite group of people this holiday season, sparkling wines are there for you. All the major wine regions produce their own signature sparkling wine based on local grapes, but for Champagne to be true Champagne, the grapes must be grown and bottled in the region of Champagne, France.

Top Pick: Representing one of the more affordable non-vintage Champagnes from one of the region’s top 10 Maisons, Piper-Heidseick Brut Cuvee brings exceptional consistency based largely on the Pinot Noir grape with diversity from over 100 different crus.

Urge to Splurge? Catch a celebratory sip of Nicolas Feuilatte’s 2006 Palmes d’Or Grand Cuvee in a stunning, black dimpled bottle with matching gift box. Marrying the elegance of Chardonnay and the depth of Pinot Noir, this versatile cuvee is aged for a minimum of 9 years before release.

Wine Guide: Best Wines with Seafood

When it comes to pairing wine with seafood, it’s easiest to start with the weight and texture of the fish or shellfish. The lighter and more delicate the fish, the more you’ll ask the same of the wine with crisp acidity, lean lines and well-managed fruit. For fish with heartier textures and thicker filets, the wine should bring its own weight in terms of body, style and flavor profile.

Fish Style: White, lean and flaky

Think striped sea bass, sole and tilapia. For the leaner lines and flaky, melt-in-your-mouth textures of mild, more delicate fish dishes, opt for a wine that shares many of those same parameters. Light, lean and dedicated to fresh acidity, these key wine components promise to bring out the best in the dish and not overpower the subtle flavors and savory seasonings.

Wine Style: Look for a wine with decent acidity to bring zip and lively engagement to the fish. Best bets include: Austria’s Gruner Veltliner, Spain’s Albarino, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Italy’s Pinot Grigio or its French cousin, Pinot Gris.

Quick Pick: The citrus-driven, lively acidity of Astolabe’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 

Fish Style: White, Medium-firm texture

These filets tend to be firmer in texture and thicker in cut. Classic (delicious) examples include: cod, halibut and mahi mahi. When a fish filet has a bit more heft in terms of both weight and texture, it demands the same of the wine. It’s no mistake that a classic pairing for halibut would be a Chablis. The mild, slightly sweet and savory profile of halibut’s filets make it a natural for the engaging acidity and natural soil-born salinity of Chablis.

Wine Style:  In terms of wine, there’s a bit of a range that will work well with the firmer flesh of cod, halibut and mahi mahi. From the contrast of high acidity, medium alcohol and stuffed with citrus Sauvignon Blanc style to the earthy minerality, rounder lines and rich viscosity of Semillon or Viognier this category of fish offers up a lot of flexibility in the white wine range. If the fish carries higher concentrations of oil, then a wine with high acidity will cut through the fatty components and bring a fresh flavor factor to the meal. Keep an eye out for: the dry styles of Viognier, Sancerre, Chablis, Semillon or Albarino.

Quick Pick: The rich, round flavors of Burgan’s 2016 Albarino

Fish Style: Meaty steaks

Salmon, tuna and swordfish come to mind. With heartier filets that often carry intense flavors of their own, turn to wines that deliver rich, round textures. Consider Chardonnay with a bit of oak, or a dry style Chenin Blanc. If the Salmon is grilled or carries earthy undertones in the sauce, then opt for Pinot Noir.

Wine Style:  Best bets include California Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Beaujolais.

Quick Pick: Delights with old-vine intensity and firm fruit character all wrapped up in the yummy palate irony of this lighter-bodied 2015 Beaujolais from Stephane Aviron Moulin a Vent

Shellfish Style: Shrimp, Clams, Scallops, Oysters

With the briny, sweet textures of most shellfish, go-to pairings include Spain’s Albarino – the local favorite for all sorts of wild and assorted sea life in northeastern Spain. Or check out the Loire’s Vouvray or Cava, Spain’s well-priced sparkler, both promise to partner up well with a variety of shrimp, clams, scallops and oysters. Got some serious butter drizzling on the lobster? Grab the creamy textures of California’s oaked Chardonnay to complement the scene.

Quick Pick: A Classic California Chardonnay, best with butter and cream sauce – Rombauer Chardonnay 2016

The Sauce: Why it Matters

While the texture and weight of the fish has a significant bearing on the wine pairing, the sauce is a partner that can’t be ignored. In fact, depending on the sauce’s intensity and ingredients it can become a bigger player than the fish itself. If the sauce leans into heavy butter and cream themes, stick with a wine that shares the same – namely a California Chardonnay with some oak influence. If the sauce steers light and herbal, run with Sauvignon blanc and Gruner Veltliner. Got some red onions or dazzling dill on that salmon? Grab something light and red like Beaujolais or Oregon Pinot Noir.

 

 

Great European Garnacha/Grenache for Toasting #GarnachaDay 2017

Garnacha, one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, is known and loved as “Grenache” in France, where it enjoys exceptional plantings in the warm Mediterranean climate of Roussillon. While staking claims on being one of the oldest and widest planted red wine grapes in the world, with its origins firmly planted in the varied terroirs of Spain and France, the EU boasts over 97% of the grape’s plantings on an international level.

Garnacha/Grenache – The Grape: Early to bud, often last to harvest, this hardy, thin-skinned red grape is thought to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because Garnacha/Grenache acclimates quickly to the varying demands of crazy continental climates as well as the warm weather patterns of the Mediterranean like a champ, it is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking missions. From world class rosés to concentrated collectibles and fortified favorites, and routinely bottled as a key contributor in synergistic blends or flying solo as a single variety, Garnacha/Grenache brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other single grape variety can lay creative claim to redwhite, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha/Grenache Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain and Southern France’s warm, sunbaked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha/Grenache grape clusters that may carry considerable sugar, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle. Ranging from medium to full-bodied, often hauling higher alcohol levels (15% is not uncommon), with lower levels of innate acidity, and sporting thinner skins that give way to modest tannins all balanced by engaging aromatics, Garnacha/Grenache shines bright with delicious ripe red fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take center stage with raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry dominating initial impressions. Peppery influences along with cinnamon and cloves, earth and herbs, chocolate and coffee, savory spice and smoky notes may all debut in the bottle. Tapping into old vines that produce lower yields, allows many Garnacha/Grenache vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity that showcase a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha/Grenache may also be crafted as delicious white wine, ranging from fresh and mineral-driven to rich, round and full-bodied, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca” or “Grenache Blanc.”

Pairing Picks for Garnacha/Grenache: With its less intense acidity and tamer tannin levels offset by ripe fruit forward flavors, European-style Garnacha/Grenache is a versatile, food-friendly partner for all sorts of delicious fare. A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, a mix of regional barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, seasonal gazpacho, Serrano ham and Manchego, slow roasted lamb, chicken stuffed with chorizo, lentils, the Paleo favorite of bacon-wrapped dates, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha/Grenache promises and delivers some serious pairing partnerships.

Regional Garnacha/Grenache in Spain and Roussillon:
Today, Garnacha/Grenache finds firm footing throughout Spain and the Roussillon region of France. In Spain, the most passionate producers and classic wines can be found from these five DO regions: Campo de Borja, Terra Alta, Somontano, Cariñena and Calatayud.  Campo de Borja, the self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” was the first to embrace and develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines. Its picturesque wine route is a haven for wine country tourists. Terra Alta, the white Garnacha specialist, delivers mineral-driven wines that highlight the grape’s versatility. Somontano approaches the grape with a New World spin, crafting luxury wines built to age. Cariñena  is an up and coming region that combines altitude, wind, significant diurnal temperature swings with old vine concentration, but let’s face it Cariñena is not quite a household name (yet!) for Spanish wine growing regions, which means that the price to quality ratios are still stellar. Calatayud often delivers its Garnacha in a versatile light. From intense, hot pink rosés to full throttle, full-bodied high-octane reds.  Grenache is the enterprising go-getter of Roussillon, backed by 28 centuries of vineyard prowess and a coveted Mediterranean climate, this French wine growing region is bringing laser-like focus to biodynamic and organic wine offerings. From the Spanish border along the coast, the Roussillon region caters to old Grenache vines that produce both dry and fortified wines from the grape.

Classified as PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) by the European Union, wines from all of these regions are upheld to strict standards to ensure the highest level of quality.

8 Popular Garnacha/Grenache Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Delve into the delicious array of European style Garnacha or Grenache from a variety of regions and styles at stellar values with prices ranging from $10-20.

 

Riding out Summer with Regional Rosé

Whether it’s rosé (France), rosato (Italy), rosado (Spain), Tavel (Rhone Valley) or simply “blush wine” – these region-specific wine terms point unashamedly to pink wine. Rosé wines are the rising stars and delightful chameleons of the wine industry. Ranging in color from hot pink to salmon and copper to pale blush, there are countless shades running from soft and subtle to loud and proud depending on which grapes were utilized and how long the grape skins were in contact with the juice. Happily, the versatile nature of rosé wines doesn’t stop there! Rosés also come in a wide range of styles: sweet, off-dry or bone dry with most Mediterranean sources of distinct rosés being decidedly dry.

Rosé Wine: Color and Character

Rosé wines are essentially red wine grapes in summer suits. Most rosés are derived solely from red grape varieties (though some producers blend red and white wine together to find their perfect pink). During a brief encounter with grape skins, the must (juice) takes on more subtle color variations; however, the longer the contact time the more vibrant the pink hues tend to become. Shades of pink are also significantly influenced by the type of grapes used for the specific rosé wine. Typically, the thicker the grapes’ skins, the more vibrant color pigments they can offer a vat of must.

Which Grapes Reign Pink?

The most popular grapes for initiating a bottle of rosé are Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mouvedre, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. These grape varieties may either be used solo or in a synergistic blend, with many regional rosé offerings basing their grape picks on the more prolific red wine varieties found in each growing zone. For example, many of Italy’s rosatos are founded on the popular Tuscan grape, Sangiovese. Likewise, Spain’s rosados find firm footing with the high-profile Tempranillo or Garnacha grapes coming out of the Rioja region.

Rosé Wine Flavors and More

Typically delivering more body than a white wine, but lacking the tannic grip of a dry red, rosé wines tend to be more subtle versions of their red wine counterparts. The fruit character steers toward red berry profiles with strawberry, cherry, and raspberry along with significant citrus and watermelon debuting on a regular basis. Rosés enjoy a happy range of palate profiles, running from completely dry to fairly fruity and sometimes sweet, depending on the region and producer. If you prefer dry and exceptionally food-friendly wine? Then scout for Mediterranean rosés from southern France, Spain or Italy.

Rosé: Food Pairings

While often enjoyed as an engaging aperitif, rosés are remarkably adept at pairing with a wide range of regional foodie finds. Generally carrying higher levels of mouth-watering acidity, these pink drinks are easy pairing partners. From the quintessential Mediterranean cuisine of fresh fish and signature tapas to summer salads, shellfish or the smoky fare of South American entrees and carrying on quite well with the burgers, brats and pub grub of many American treats, well-chilled rosés promise to be one of the most adaptable wine pairing picks around.

Where to Drink Pink: Regional Recommendations