Category Archives: Food + Wine

The Forgotten Wine

I’ve often heard stories of places, magical places, beyond San Francisco where temperatures rise above 70 degrees for extended periods of time, known as seasons. I once had relatives visit from Michigan who packed nothing but shorts to wear, ignoring our warnings that San Francisco is not a very warm place and the weather is usually a crapshoot.

So when I imagine myself in warmer places, what am I drinking? It’s complicated. I could choose a white or sparkling wine but that’s too obvious, deep down I really want a nice chilled Rosé – she’s that pretty girl that no one asks to the school dance despite her killer moves. I forget about Rosé myself and get annoyed when I realize it.  Rosé has all the great red fruit and floral aromas we love about red wine and the bright acidity we love about white wines. A good Rosé will pair well with meat (especially pork) and seafood (move over Sauvignon Blanc) and mop the floor with many pasta dishes and Mexican dishes.

I can’t think of a single place in the wine world that doesn’t make Rosé. It is usually made using whatever the dominant red variety of the region is, like Syrah for Rhone Rosés, etc.  Rosés are usually made by either “bleeding” juice off from fermenting red wine, a technique known as Saignée, or by allowing only brief skin contact .  Cheap Rosés are made by mixing red and white wine – skip those.

Long story short, don’t forget about Rosé – she likes to boogie.

Wild Wines – Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting – March 27, San Francisco

You know it’s a good day when you manage to sample some of California’s cutting edge wines and eat some stomach charring Sonoma Jack Habanero Jack cheese in a single afternoon. Woo hoo!

The Rhone Rangers are a hardy band of intrepid domestic producers dedicated to promoting the Rhone’s 22 grape varieties, I challenge you to find friendlier bunch of vintners. Big names like Ridge, Pride and Tablas Creek showed off their smaller production gems and rising star Pax Mahle of Wind Gap, fresh off the cover of Wine and Spirits Magazine, showed off his cool climate Petaluma Gap Syrahs. I even got a chance to catch up with one of my favorite winemakers Gideon Bienstock, proprietor of the Sierra Foothills’ Clos Saron.

If there was a downside to the event, it was that many of these great wines aren’t widely distributed so I encourage all of you to take a trip out West and track some  of these vintners down. I give the reds (Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Carignane) a solid “A” for restraint and complexity. In other words, the best producers traded overt black fruit flavors for more subtle earth, meat and pepper characteristics and maintained a mouthwatering acidity that would make a vegan toss a steak on the barbecue.

The whites were harder to pin down. Marsanne and Roussanne wines battled big alcohol and sometime lost. Qupe’s Roussanne was particularly great, as was Clos Saron’s Carte Blanche. From San Francisco, the Rhone Rangers tasting takes its show on the road and makes its way to Seattle and Washington. Visit http://www.rhonerangers.org/ for more information.

Take a look at some of the Rhone Ranger member wineries we offer. Boony Doon, Ridge, Tablas Creek, JC Cellars and Clos Saron.  Although not listed as a member winery, I also highly recommend Donkey and Goat’s Rhone varietal wines.

Salud – Alma Leon-Reveles 

Clos Saron's Gideon Beinstock

Wine & Chocolate Pairing

Two of life’s greatest pleasures can be the hardest to pair together. Wine and chocolate are both decadent and pleasurable and a delight to have together,  when done correctly.  Sweet chocolate with tannic wine can make the wine taste bitter and is a match to avoid. You need to balance sweet with sweet – a good rule of thumb is: keep the wine as sweet as the chocolate.

regalechocolateHere is a quick guide to which wines go well with types of chocolate

White Chocolate
Lots of sugar here, and very little cocoa, so pair white with white – try Ice wine, sweet Muscat or a sweeter style Riesling.

Milk Chocolate
Try a ripe and juicy Pinot Noir from California or a dessert wine, like an Australian “sticky.”

Dark Chocolate
The one that pairs best with red wines, try Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon (preferably ones that are not too tannic, unless your cocoa content is high).

Chocolate desserts
Yum… chocolate dessert. From cake to mousse to souffle, chocolate desserts are popular and delicious. Port is a classic for all types of chocolate – truffles, cakes, etc. All sorts of port, but particularly tawny port, due to the nutty flavor, matches well chocolate desserts. Try also Australian Muscat, Banyuls or another fortified wine.

Since many of us pull out some chocolate while we are still enjoying the red wine from dinner, it’s not a set rule so don’t shy away from testing and tasting. Some chocolates have added flavors – cherry, orange or nuts. A few that I’ve had that tasted delicious recently:

Chateauneuf-du-Pape with cherry flavored dark chocolate (60%) – this would probably go well with Pinot Noir, too.
A Margaux (Bordeaux) with orange flavored dark chocolate (70%) sticks
An Italian super tuscan  blend with hazelnut dark chocolate (60%)

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy them both!

Wines for the tailgate

When one thinks of drinking at tailgates, wine is not the first beverage that comes to mind. Beer probably ranks top of the list for most, though for me tailgate means bourbon & coke. Okay, maybe not anymore, but it did 10 years ago back in my days at UVA. Point is, most of us don't think wine when we think tailgate.

But perhaps we should. Look at the myriad of foods that come in tailgate parties – hamburgers and hot dogs. Crab dip and casseroles. These flavors are just screaming for wine. Maybe not all wine, but there are some wines that are tailgate friendly, and here are a few of my favorites.

Screw cap wines – this is a general category, but I think it is valid. Just as you pop open a beer, you want to reach into that cooler and just screw off the cap to pour that wine into what is most likely a plastic cup. Taking the time to use a corkscrew doesn't quite fit as you're eating baked beans from an aluminum platter.

Bubbly – I will clarify that I enjoy bubbly primarily at early season tailgates, particularly in the south, when the weather is still toasty and a super chilled bottle of bubbly is a perfect treat. My favorites are Cava, and while you cannot go wrong with Cristalino, an amazing wine for the price, I also like the Poema Brut we recently tried. Dry and crisp and great with anything salty.

Albarino– this may not be the most recognizable wine at your tailgate party (and some go against my screw cap suggestion), but it will be absolutely delicious! Crisp and clean, Albarino will go with any grilled seafood or seafood dip at the party. Favorites include the Burgans Albarino (great value at $14) and the Bodegas Fillaboa (also about $14).

Malbec – the perfect wine for grilled meats, hamburgers and hotdogs and just drinking on its own at a party. I'm going with the Ben Marco '08 Malbec here as we've got a great deal on it at $15.99 (down from $20). Mainly because this is a BIG Malbec. It's ripe and jammy with a spicy kick – it's a great match with food, but in particular, easy (maybe too easy) just sipping on its own.

No matter what you pick for your tailgates – beer, bourbon or wine, I hope you enjoy that general football season warmth – fall weather rolling in, the sound of the stadium roars and a chance to be a crazy fan. Me? I'll be watching my Virginia Wahoos as they take on the season with their new coach and new attitude. Are we in for a renaissance of Virginia football? One can only hope!

Some Basic Food & Wine Pairing Tips

Pairing food & wine is not a science. It has a lot to do with personal preference and tastes, so there are no cut and dry rules. Occasionally you’ll get a pairing that makes you say “WOW!” By the same token, you will occasionally find a pairing that makes your taste buds recoil in anguish. But most pairings fall somewhere in the middle. In fact, most wines work with most foods, but knowing a few basic rules can enhance your enjoyment.

Complementing Flavors

Complementing flavors means you are matching the structure of the wine with the structure of the food. Some examples are:

Match creamy with creamy – Creamy wines, such as Chardonnay or Viognier, matched with cream-based sauces (pasta or poultry) or a creamy cheese.

Match acid with acid – Bright, crisp Sauvignon Blanc is a lovely match for that fish with a lemon sauce. A good rule of thumb – if the recipe or food has lemon or other citrus in it, you’re going to need some acid to match. Great high-acid wines includ Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Chablis.

Match sweet with sweet – Chocolate cake? Lemon custard? Match a similar wine with the similar food. Rich and dense chocolate cake is a great match to Port or other dark, sweet wines. A light lemon custard looks for sweet and acid, so a Moscato or Muscat-based dessert wine is not too heavy and a perfect match.

Contrasting Flavors

Contrasting flavor means you are trying to offset a taste or structural element in the wine and food. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

DO match spicy with sweet – A big tannic red with spicy chow mien? Not so much. Take that dish and pair an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer, and it’s a party in your mouth. The sweetness of the wine is offset by the spice in the food and instead of tasting sweet, you taste the delicious fruit in the wine instead. Pair Riesling, Pinot Gris (Alsace style) or Gewurztraminer with spicy Thai or Indian food. It’s a great combo.

DO match creamy with crisp – Another fun match is to pair a bright acidic wine to cut through a cream-based food. Take creamy cheese. Sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc can cut through that cream and bring out the best flavors in both the dish and the wine.

DON’T match tannin with sweet – oh boy, a sweet food will zap all the fruit out of a tannic red and all you’re left with is… tannin. Now tannin is a good thing, but we want to taste it in the BACK of the wine

DON’T match tannin and acid – Go ahead, take a lemon based sauce on pasta or fish and pair it with a big tannic red. You may feel like someone put braces in your mouth because metallic is the flavor that will be most prominent.

Regional Pairs

Not sure what to have with a certain food? If you’re having a regional dish, such as pasta bolognese, try pairing it with a regional wine, like Chianti or another Tuscan red. Chances are it will be a good match. Something about the food and wine coming from the same soil and area make a perfect pairing!

For more pairing tips, check out our Wine & Dine pairing tool on the site. Should help guide you towards some good wine matches with your meal!