Let’s take a trip to Rioja. The three hour drive from Madrid to Haro, the westernmost city in the district, is well worth the trip. This area is a natural for fine dining: known for lettuces, peppers, onions, artichokes, asparagus, beans, peas, goat, beef and sausage making. Then there is the wine.
The magnificent and internationally acclaimed Rioja longs to be poured into a glass. Rioja is available in white (Blanco), rosé (Rosado) and of course red (Tinto). The white, made from Viura, and rosé, crafted from Garnacha, are fine wines, but I choose to spend most of my money on the Crianza.
Why is Rioja so cool? The wine is incredibly versatile and food-friendly. Plentiful in the marketplace, Rioja is ready to be paired with any cuisine, from classic American fried chicken to Sichuan chicken. Rioja has what it takes to make the experience memorable so feel free to experiment. The notion that “one must serve Spanish food with Rioja” is as old a tale as red wine with meat and white wine with fish. Go on and draw from the garden, search the pantry and grab the butcher’s or fish monger’s choice of the day before you crack open a bottle of Rioja.
My personal pick is the 2010 Cune Crianza. This wine is fresh, fruity and substantial. Some tannins for firmness on the palate, yet nice and rounded in the finish; perfect for a buffet while relaxing in the backyard with family and friends. In the end, one does not have to visit Northern Spain to enjoy the Rioja experience.
If you’re a seasonal drinker like me, you naturally reach for cold white or rose wine in the summer heat. We all have our go-to wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, maybe even something like Albarino if you’re feeling adventurous! But there are some great off-the-beaten-path wines that you should be drinking to stay cool and refreshed this summer. These are my top 5.
Oysters, anyone? Muscadet hails from the western end of the Loire Valley, right near the Atlantic Ocean. The maritime influence leads to a wine with crisp acidity, fresh and lively - but subtle – fruit and a mineral undertone. Super mild but amazingly quaffable, I adore sipping a chilled Muscadet on its own or with a light shellfish appetizer.
Pronounced PEEK-pool, you should drink this just because it’s so much fun to say! You should also try it because it’s dang good. A Rhone-based varietal used in the blends of the Southern Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Picpoul is a fairly neutral grape, but it’s bright and refreshing and super affordable!
This has everything you want in a summer sipper. Bright fruit, crisp acidity, a slight spritz and low alcohol. Beat that! A lovely lunch wine, a great picnic wine, pretty much a go-to for summer fare.
You’ll see this from the NW are of Spain, as well as some in Portugal and even Australia. The wine is dry, but has a great texture that makes it ideal for spicy dishes, like pesto pasta, ceviche or chicken with garlic.
Ga-ga for godello? Yes! Another Spanish gem, this is my favorite. I think it’s the texture that sells me. It has some Chardonnay-like texture (not from oak but just from the variety) and yet a mineral backbone that gives it this unique quality. Perfect for a dinner where you want a white wine but something that goes with everything. I’m thinking clam bake and lobster boil!
Once upon a time, there was this lonely grape called Petite Sirah. Upon discovery, farmers and winemakers loved this grape so much that they nicknamed it “petet serre” and said it very fast with a grin. The real name of the varietal is Durif (named after a French scientist who crossed Syrah and Peloursin at the end of the nineteenth century). For years, this varietal sat lonesomely on the shelves gathering dust. Customers breezed by it, reaching for Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and other more famous varietals. It is my intention to bring this varietal to the fore.
Not as ferocious as most Zinfandel, less stately than many Cabernet and much more robust than elegant Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah has found its home among people who simply enjoy wine and food without pretense. I often call upon it for parties and when the gang comes by on the weekend for outdoor grilling and potluck meals. In today’s lesson, I have chosen three Petite Sirah for your enjoyment.
The 2012 The Crusher shows a shading of wood and plenty of pleasing grapiness. Coats the palate well and invites a plate of polish sausages, hot links and plain ‘ole hot dogs. For a fruiter style, with a bit less wood, I would go for the 2012 HandCraft. Perfectly poised, with its pretty red fruit flavors that pair nicely with roast chicken, I can almost feel the match on my palate. In the lighter and more elegant style, the easy-drinking 2012 Bogle does the trick nicely.
Not just for meals, Petite Sirah can serve as a cocktail wine to be paired with hors d’oeuvres. So take a trek off of the beaten path, snag one of these Petite Sirahs, and educate your palate about one of California’s hottest under-the-radar varietals. For more information, check out the group: P.S. I Love You, here is a link to their website. I think I’ll grab a bottle of Petite Sirah to enjoy with a savory pot roast for a comforting dinner on a foggy summer day in the city by the bay.
People often have the wrong idea of Bordeaux. While the names of Latour, Margaux and Pétrus dance so gracefully off of our collective tongues, these are not the wines that “regular” folks drink. Those of us who are more value drinkers are more in tuned with Bordeaux AOC, Bordeaux Superiore and Bordeaux Rosé (pink has risen up to the top of consumer awareness and is now being sought out).
In a recent trip to Bordeaux, those are the wines that I drank; never did one glass of the “big” name classifieds crossed my lips. Not that I would not have enjoyed a glass of Lafite, instead I ended up drinking what most everyone enjoys on a day-to-day basis and guess what? There was no less enjoyment to be found; the everyday Bordeaux took care of my needs quite nicely.
So what should we be drinking in everyday Bordeaux? Château Bonnet Blanc has been one of Bordeaux’s top white wines for more than a decade. Vintage after vintage, the wine shows pure fruit and crisp acidity as it finishes with a food pairing bite. The Château Bonnet Rosé is another winner, showing a shading of salmon and pink in its color; crisp and bright, the wine asks for a lightly grilled salmon. On the red side, I recommend the 2011 Domaines Baron Rothschild Reserve Speciale Rouge. The wine is straight-forward and delightfully balanced; perfect with grilled hamburgers.
Let us celebrate Bastille Day and liberate Bordeaux from the shackles of its high priced profile. Yes, the classifieds (1st to 5th growth) are wonderful, but mainstream Bordeaux values provide an everyday enjoyment that we can afford.
Trends come and go, but most are fun and some are important. Over the last few years, Muscat has picked up global attention. A lot of this stuff is sweet and fizzy and oh so easy to drink. But Moscato has not always been a trend. In it’s home base of Piedmont, Italy, it is known as Moscato d’Asti, and this wine has been in vogue for some time. While I have often enjoyed the sugar babies that are sweet and fizzy, my vote goes to the dried versions and that is why I would like to free the muscat.
Recently our team met with Master of Wine Olivier Humbrecht, and tasted several of his wines, including the 2012 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Muscat (Vin d’Alsace). I found the wine absolutely charming and stylish. With just a smidgen of sugar at 5 grams/liter (consumer threshold is around 6-7 grams), the wine stays between the stages of dry to barely sweet. In this area of sweetness, the wine can perform wonders with savory dishes like Szechuan Scallops on a b bed of noodles, as well with a faintly sweet dessert like Linzertorte, a common dish in Eastern Europe.
So I say, “Let us free the Muscat.” Enjoy this wine with some of your favorite foods and open a world of wine and food pleasures that you may have never known.