Category Archives: Entertaining

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.

 

 

Home for the holidays: A six-pack of wines for Thanksgiving

Once again,  the holidays are here and what are we going to do for the various celebrations that are coming upon us? The family is primed for the annual requisite visits. How about expanding this base and say that home is where the heart is, and while it naturally includes family, it may also include special friends and cool neighbors as well. For the first of the big occasions, I have put together a six pack of wines that are sure to add to the pleasures of Thanksgiving.

For starters, the Mumm Napa Brut Rosé is a festive and serious sparkler that will turn all tongues into receptors of joy. This wine shows a beautiful pink color, offers plenty of ripe strawberry flavors, and is crisp in the finish. Begin the evening with this bubbly and you may find yourself with empty bottles early in the evening! Adding to the early evening festivities, the 2016 Leo Steen Chenin Blanc would be an enticing pairing with seared scallops or other shellfish. The wine’s purity of fruit and crispness would bring those seafood entrées alive.

With the appetites energized from the early going and waiting for the main event be it a roast turkey or a prime rib roast, a trio of my next choices would be eager to serve the voracious guests. The 2015 Eroica Riesling would be the perfect white to taking on either of the entrées. This beautifully fragrant white wine, with a slight shading of residual sugar, is crisp and lively on the finish. It is equally adept with handing light and dark meat dishes. By now, I can hear the cries, “Aren’t there any red wines?” Well, yes and I have chosen a pair of elegant reds to work their respective magic. The fresh, bright, and crisp 2014 Palmina Dolcetto will allow the juiciness of the turkey to shine through nicely and the rich finely balanced 2013 Wild Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir will be perfect for those desiring density and elegance.

The wine choice for the meal’s conclusion could be difficult, but the Lustau East India Solera Sherry is prepared to close out the evening on a high note. Pumpkin or pecan pie, ice cream, and evening remaining servings of candied yams will find a lovely home here. This is my six-pack choice for Thanksgiving.

Enjoy!

 

 

Best Bets for Mini-Champagne and Sparkling Wine Bottles

Fun and festive, with lively bubbles and adorable sizing, the trend of popping off mini bottles of bubbly as bridal shower favors and wedding guest gifts continues with great gusto. Though not limited to wedding wonders, mini bottles of sparkling wine and Champagne are also debuting at baby showers, birth announcements and New Year’s Eve shindigs along with serving as convenient happy hour finds when opening a whole bottle for a single glass just won’t do.

Many customers stop by Wine.com scouting for “mini Champagne” or sparkling wine bottles, which are 187 ml bottles, referred to as “splits” in the wine industry. Essentially, a split is one-fourth of a full sized, standard 750 ml bottle of wine. These bottles are remarkably trendy and carry all kinds of grapes from just as many regions; however, keep in mind that only the bottles bottled in Champagne, France are considered “mini Champagne” – everything else is sparkling wine.

Serving Tips & Tricks:

  • Serving temperatures: with most sparkling wines, shoot for 40-45 °F; however, the Brachetto should be a little warmer at 50-55 °F
  • Serving sizes are 187 ml or approximately 6 ounces. Most Champagne flutes hold about 6 ounces of bubbly, so most pours run closer to 4 ounces. Keep this in mind, if serving the wine in glassware instead of from the mini bottles with a straw.
  • Minis are easy to decorate with ribbons, custom name labels or served with brightly colored paper straws to match themes or festive color schemes.
©2016 LA MARCA USA

La Marca Prosecco – these snappy little blue bottles of bubbly bliss offer up a lively layer of fresh citrus and green apple with a splash of white honey blossom in the mix. Based on the Glera grape out of the Veneto region, Prosecco is Italy’s easy answer to the best of budget bubbly. Intended to be consumed while young and fresh, and in its hometown of Veneto, Prosecco is typically served in a white wine glass instead of a sparkling wine flute.  Incredibly food-friendly, give these bubbles a go with all sorts of appetizers including plates of antipasto, the classic prosciutto and melon, chips and dips, salads, shellfish and much more.

Courtesy of Freixenet USA

Freixenet Cava – Fun and feisty, Spanish Cava is made in the same method as Champagne (with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle), but built with the local grapes of Macabeao, Parellada, Xarel-lo and more recently Chardonnay. With an aromatic offering of apples and almonds this decidedly dry, medium-bodied Spanish sparkler is dressed to impress with the formal black and gold labeling at an exceptional price point.  Perfect for pairing with Cava’s hometown ham, aka Jamón Serrano, Spanish almonds, a variety of tapas, smoked salmon appetizers and sushi.

Courtesy of Le Grand Courtage

Le Grand Courtage, Rose Brut – Just plain pretty. This may be the quintessential bridal shower bottle. Elegant, feminine and packing some serious French flare, these bubbles are based on a heady mix of Chardonnay for depth and texture, Ugni Blanc to bring vibrant acidity, and the Gamay grape to showcase red fruit character and a dash of color. Like many French sparklers, this brut rose presents almost unlimited pairing potential. Sip with everything from pizza to pasta and sushi to barbecue along with chicken salad, baked brie or fig and ricotta spreads.

Courtesy of Banfi Wines

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto – Looking for something red, sweet and bubbly? Italy’s low tannin, light-bodied, low alcohol, sweet styled red sparkling wine, dubbed “Brachetto,” has got you covered. Hailing from Italy’s Piedmont region, the black-skinned Brachetto grape delivers exceptional aromatics. Expect ripe red fruit like strawberry, raspberry and currants wrapped in roses to swoop out of the bottle. Brachetto also enjoys a bit of lover’s legend, as stories swirl that both Marc Antony and Julius Caesar gave Brachetto to Cleopatra in savvy attempts to win her heart. In terms of pairing potential, Brachetto is a top pick for dessert pairings. Consider giving it a pour with chocolate mousse, German chocolate cake, seasonal fruit and berry dishes, chocolate sundaes, cheesecake, bread pudding and more.

Courtesy of Moet & Chandon USA

Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut Reserve – Technically, this is our only “true” Champagne in this feature. While we are often asked about our “mini-Champagne” bottles for weddings and party favors, many customers are truly asking for bubbles in a bottle, not necessarily Champagne. Keep in mind that Champagne is only Champagne when it’s made in Champagne, France. Enter Moet & Chandon, the world’s biggest selling Champagne brand with 30 million bottles sold annually. This bottle of mini bubbly is a top pick wine for those that would like to toast with a classic, dry style of Champagne carrying zesty citrus and Granny Smith apple, with remarkable acidity and an ethereal mix of smoke, brioche and hazelnuts. Classic pairing partners include shellfish, caviar, poultry, smoked salmon and many fried food finds that marry well with the exceptional acidity and bright bubbles.

Pairing Wine and Chocolate – Tips and Tricks

Wine and chocolate pairings can be tricky when you factor in the sheer variety in today’s chocolate confections alongside the diversity in personal palate preferences.  Whether it’s chocolate themed desserts, artisan 80% dark chocolate bars or chocolate creations dotted with nuts, sea salt crystals, mint infusions, dried berries or simply caramel, there are versatile wine and chocolate pairings that can accommodate even the pickiest of palates. Continue reading Pairing Wine and Chocolate – Tips and Tricks