Category Archives: Holidays

Seasonal Sipping: Capturing the Flavors of Fall in a Glass

These days, autumn is basically a synonym for “pumpkin spice everything season,” but let’s not forget about the other cozy, delightful fragrances and flavors of fall. Whether you’re enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, relaxing in front of a roaring fire, or rewarding yourself after a long day of raking leaves, you don’t need to venture to Starbucks or a candle shop to get your fix of your favorite flavors. Instead, look for a bottle of wine that captures those characteristics (it will be a lot more fun!).

If you like: Autumn leaves
Try: Red Burgundy
Red Burgundy, made from Pinot Noir, will always exhibit typical notes of red fruitstrawberry, cherry, cranberry, and pomegranate, to name a few—but sometimes the wines from this renowned region will also feature a flavor that is a bit more savory, more wild, and very specific to the local terroir. This can be described as anything from autumn leaves to fresh earth to even wet dog. It may be a bit surprising at first for those who are accustomed to the bold fruit of California Pinot, but it’s definitely worth giving these beautifully complex wines a chance to grow on you.
Our Pick: 2012 Maison Pascal Clément Bourgogne Rouge

If you like: Macintosh apples
Try: Loire Valley Chenin Blanc
Apples are of the most perfect foods for fall—you can enjoy them fresh and crisp on their own, bake them into a pie, or use them to brighten up savory dishes like pork loin or sausage stuffing. Apple is also a common flavor in many wines, particularly in Chenin Blanc, which often smells and tastes like Macintosh apples dipped in honey, and can range from bone dry to lusciously sweet, and from still to sparkling.
Our Pick: 2015 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec

If you like: Baking spice
Try: Oaked Chardonnay
Depending on their place of origin, oak barrels can impart various flavors to a wine during fermentation and maturation. French oak in particular is known for attributes of baking spice or “Christmas” spice. Chardonnay, a fairly adaptable variety, readily displays these characteristics when oak (especially from previously unused barrels) is utilized during winemaking.
Our Pick: 2013 Ramey Russian River Chardonnay

If you like: Caramel
Try: Tawny Port
When wine becomes oxidized, in addition to changing in color (from red to brown, in the case of Port or other red wines), it picks up an entirely new range of flavors and aromas. Tawny port is slowly oxidized through controlled aging in porous wooden barrels. This causes fruit character to pleasingly fade from fresh to dried or stewed berries, and the development of nutty and caramelized notes. These can make for delightful after-dinner wines—try them with a cheese plate or a classic apple pie.
Our Pick: Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

If you like: Cranberry
Try: Central Coast Pinot Noir
A wide range of red fruit flavors can be found in Pinot Noir from any region, but in the California’s Central Coast, where warm sunlight is tamed by cool breezes, cranberry tends to be a dominant flavor. This bold, tart flavor shows up in Pinots that are marked by moderate to full body and crisp acidity, making for a very crowd-pleasing as well as fall-friendly style.
Our Pick: 2014 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir


If you like: Firewood
Try: Northern Rhône Syrah
Syrah from France’s Northern Rhône Valley can often be easily distinguished in a blind tasting by experienced wine professionals based on several common characteristics: purple fruits and flowers, white pepper, and smoke—sometimes with a hint of bacon fat thrown into the mix! These wines are bold, warming, and aromatically pleasing—and absolutely perfect for enjoying in front of a fireplace while wearing your coziest socks.
Our Pick: 2013 Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph Offerus

Ten Wicked Wines for Halloween

Halloween party planning is in the works and if you’re scouting for some spooky sips to serve friends and fiends at Halloween happenings, then look no further! From wicked reds to a ghostly white, these wines vow to take a creepy spin on the fruit of the vine.

besiegedbottleRavenswood Besieged Red Blend 2014 (CA)

A blood-red blend of plush Sonoma fruit, Besieged gives a dubious nod to the day winemaker, Joel Peterson, harvested grapes under thunderous skies and circling ravens, the notorious bird of ill omen. Happily, the day’s dark clouds rolled by and Ravenswood wines shine brighter than ever with intensity, power, and rich berry-driven flavors. Besieged is no exception, built on the blood red blend of Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, and Barbera, this limited-edition, Sonoma-county carrying bottle rocks the palate with dark fruit, a full body and a tangle of well-integrated tannins.

velvetdevilbottle1The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 (WA)

If the devil’s in the details, then this lip-smacking, pitchfork-wielding Washington State Merlot has them covered. Columbia Valley, through and through, showing off whole berry fermentation that gives aromatics a leg up and tannins a smoothing out, 10 months of barrel aging (30% new oak), and going for gutsy by utilizing some native yeast influences during fermentation, the Velvet Devil delivers black plum, Bing cherry and a dash of cocoa in a medium-bodied, easy to drink style.

 

chronic_purpleparadiseChronic Cellars Purple Paradise Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the heart of Paso Robles, brothers Josh and Jake Beckett have given voice to regional wines with unforgettable labels built on quality fruit and a signature easy-going style. Expect this Zinfandel-dominated blend with a smidge of Syrah to engage ghouls and goblins with a deadly mix of black cherry and strawberry driven fruit medleys. The loud, eye-catching label leans heavily into Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday themes, making this bottle a go-to grab for all sorts of Halloween gatherings.

 

 

sinisterhandbtlOwen Roe “Sinister Hand” 2012 (WA)

This is a classic Rhone-inspired blend delivering Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsaut, but with an ominous name like “Sinister Hand” – you know there’s got to be a haunting backstory. And there is. Seventeenth century legend holds that two Irish families, the O’neills and O’Reillys (of course), determined their claim on a prized plot of land by entering into a rowing race. The straightforward agreement was that whichever team reached the land first won. Fair enough. However, when O’Neill’s boat began trailing behind, a member of the crew, reached for his own sword, chopped off his hand and tossed it to shore – going to great lengths to secure the land for the O’Neills. Rumor has it the land remains in the O’Neill family today.

plungerheadredbottlePlungerhead Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

Not all Halloween wines need to be devious and dark, some may inspire last minute costume designs: enter Lodi’s Plungerhead Cab. A light-hearted Cab that is as affordable as it is drinkable. Perfect for pairing with tricks and treats, making the most of mini milk chocolate candy bars, malted milk balls, and more, this Lodi red is fun and flexible with plenty of blackberries and raspberries up front and center well-supported by slices of chocolate, a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and a smidge of smoke.

 

 

faust4Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

For the more cerebral Halloween imbiber, Faust is a deeply concentrated Napa Cabernet deriving its name from Goethe’s tragic play whereby Dr. Faust sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for power, pleasure, enduring youth and infinite knowledge. While this richly textured Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t make any such promises it does deliver, mystery and intrigue, brooding dark fruit, a full body, stunning structure and an ongoing finish.

 

alma_negra_m_blendbottleAlma Negra M Blend 2013 (Argentina)

What does the “M” stand for? Mendoza, moon, mystery, Malbec, magic. Well, Alma Negra says, it’s up to the drinker. Whatever the connotation, this magical red wine brews up a healthy blend of Bonarda and Malbec, and pours almost as inky black as the label itself. Black fruit character, dusty dark chocolate, and peppery spice with a snip of black licorice all fold themselves into dense layers of liquid delight. The M Blend label, a foreboding enigma, promises to deliver some serious mystery on Halloween night.

 

ghostpineschardonnay-bottle1

Ghost Pines Chardonnay 2013 (CA)

Named for the shadowy pines that border the Ghost Pines Vineyard in Napa Valley, this otherworldly Chardonnay is a certain sip for those eating as much candy corn as they’re passing out. Expect to go bobbing for apples with this one as Granny Smith meets Gala and tart mingles with sweet, medium-bodied, with creamy textures and an ethereal finish.

 

 

 

poizin2Armida Poizin Zinfandel 2014 (CA)

Poizin, dubbed the “wine to die for,” is a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel that’s made for Halloween.  Adorned with blood-red labeling, complete with creepy font and a haunting skull and crossbones graphic, this wine is the one to sip while passing out Halloween candy.  And it’s delicious with both milk and dark chocolate, that may or may not make it into the candy bowl this year. What’s not to love?

 

 

 

apothicdarkApothic Dark Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the makers of Apothic Red and dripping with Gothic intrigue, the Apothic dark delivers a haunting blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. No need for candy, this one carries its own stash of ripe berry fruit flavors wrapped up in dark chocolate decadence.

Labor Day Wine: Griller’s Guide to Wine Pairing

Here it is. Labor Day Weekend. Serving as summer’s sweet send off, and typically wrapped up start to finish in backyard barbecues, Labor Day marks the transition from the dog days of summer to the revved up renaissance of all things fall. For many it also marks a seasonal switch in wine preferences and pairings. A subtle shift from light, bright and brimming with fruit towards wines that carry a bit more heft, solitude, and potential for pairing with heartier fare. However, to squeeze out the last drops of summer and offer the seasons best wine finds, we’ve rounded up some top notch wine picks to bring out the best in grilled grub.

Farm fresh and bursting with brats, beef, poultry and pork, end-of-summer grills are looking for wines that deliver pairing versatility, fresh flavor and tend to be fruit driven. From ripe reds to the lively profiles of regional whites, and wrapping things up with a well-chilled rush of rosé, there are plenty of wine options that will suit all sorts of flame-broiled fare.

Grill-ready Reds
Red wines are typically top picks for serving with a wide variety of heavy meat medleys; however, in the heat of summer, elevated alcohol levels can become more pronounced, masking much of the fruit character. The remedy? A quick 5-10 minute chill in the frig will revive flavors and amplify the wine’s innate fresh factor, while toning down overactive alcohol and giving reds their best bet to shine with smoky meat themes.

  • Zinfandel – The experienced griller’s go-to red wine. Handling smoked meats with forward, full throttle fruit, intrinsic black pepper spice and a generous, food-friendly nature, Zinfandel deserves a special spot next to the tongs and skewers. From pork chops to brisket and bison sausage to marinated and grilled chicken, or basic brats, hotdogs and burgers, the bold adaptable flavors of Zinfandel handles itself well with savory spice, but promises to shine particularly bright with a sweeter-styled barbecue sauce like the Kansas-City classic over ribs, brisket and pork.

Zinfandel to Try: Ancient Peaks, Klinker Brick, Lange Twins, Layer CakeMichael David, Ridge, Seghesio,

  • Syrah / Shiraz – It’s the same grape, but from very different places. Often flying with forward jammy fruit from the Land Down Under, Shiraz claims serious fame as Australia’s signature grape. When cultivated in the Rhone Valley of southern France, Syrah tends to take on more spicy character. Either way, this grape typically runs steady with black fruit character, offering a full-bodied wine with moderate levels of acidity, fairly tame tannins and rich velvety textures. The wine’s heady mix of smoke and spice give it a leg up for partnering with gamier meats like lamb, venison or elk.

Syrah / Shiraz to Try: Barossa Valley Estate, Delas Freres, Evans Wine Company, Guigal, Jim Barry, Merino, Michael David

  • Tempranillo – Spain’s red wine wonder, delivering loads of blackberry, black cherry and blueberry fruit in tandem with earth-driven, tobacco-induced flavor profiles, Tempranillo typically carries an appealing, integrated tannin structure often toned down by age and moderate acidity. This particular grape’s style and versatile nature partner up remarkably well with grilled options that lean intentionally towards pork themes. Easy pairing options include braised pork ribs, the sweet, tender textures of pulled pork, or the succulent, juicy bite of barbecued pork chops.

Tempranillo to Try: Bodegas Muriel, Bodegas Barco de Piedra, CVNE, Campo Viejo, Vina Eguia

Grill-ready Whites and Rosés

  • Sauvignon BlancWhile Sauvignon Blanc styles vary from region to region, most carry an unmistakable “fresh factor.” The vibrant acidity, citrus flavors and often herbal undertones, make regional Sauvignon Blanc a must-try wine for a variety of grilled veggie and herb-marinated chicken choices. Cooler climates tend to build a Sauvignon Blanc with more lemon-lime citrus character and “fresh cut grass” aromatics, while warmer growing zones plunge into plush, exotic flavor profiles with melon, grapefruit, pineapple and peach making a noticeable palate debut. Exceptional for grilled seafood, salad sides, and goat cheese themes, food-savvy Sauvignon Blanc is an easy and accommodating white wine option for covering all kinds of backyard barbecue dishes.

Sauvignon Blancs to Try: Dog Point, Los Vascos, Kim Crawford, Southern Right, The White Knight

  • Rosé Wines –Built on the sturdy backs of red wine grapes, and encouraging the delicious ripe, red fruit flavors from classic reds sans the tight tannins and higher alcohol levels, rose wines are the perfect pick for tricky menu combinations. Whether it’s heavy marinades, sticky sweet sauces or hard to please palates, rosé wines deliver remarkable versatility and palate appeal. Always served well-chilled, these are red wines in their summer suits, ready to refresh and cleanse the palate with vibrant acidity and an exceptionally food-friendly nature. Reach for rosé when grilling salmon, chicken or burgers and don’t shy away from sparkling rosés, which marry the best of bubbles with a dry-style and fresh red fruit flavors.

Rosés to Try: Broadbent, Crios de Susana Balbo, Guigal, La Playa, Miraval, Montes

Drink Like a Founding Father this Independence Day

Back in the early days of  America, when water wasn’t always safe to drink due to lack of proper sanitation, our Founding Fathers needed to find some way to stay hydrated. Ingeniously, those clever men who brought us the Declaration of Independence also came up with a foolproof way to consume liquids without the risk of water-borne disease: alcohol. It was widely understood that alcohol killed bacterial contaminants, and while it came with its own set of risks, it was deemed much safer (and much more fun) to drink.

While distilled spirits and beer were popular choices, our Founding Fathers (especially noted connoisseur Thomas Jefferson) often turned to wine as their beverage of choice. Early attempts at planting grapes in the New World were unsuccessful, as the European grape varieties brought over by colonists were not suitable for surviving American pests and vine diseases. Therefore, imported wines were widely preferred. In honor of Independence Day, raise a glass of one of the following wines to our Founding Fathers:

Port

While today we think of this sweet, fortified Portuguese wine as an after-dinner drink, our Founding Fathers would often consume Port alongside the meal itself. If you prefer bright, fresh red fruit flavors, try a Ruby Port. For more complex notes of caramel, nuts, and dried fruits, turn to a Tawny style.

Sherry

Like Port, Sherry was also frequently drank with dinner. This fortified wine from Jerez, Spain comes in a wide variety of styles ranging from bone-dry to sticky-sweet, but the sweet-toothed  colonists tended to have a preference for the sugary stuff. Dry styles, like Fino, Amontillado, and Oloroso, can pair beautifully with a meal, while sweeter styles like Pedro Ximénez and Cream Sherry are perfect for dessert.

Scuppernong

You won’t find Scuppernong in many wine shops today, but in colonial times this was one of the few Native American grape varieties to be planted successfully with appealing results. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was so fond of it that he planted it at his Monticello estate. It is still produced by some wineries in North Carolina, where it is the official state fruit.

Bordeaux

This French import which is associated with class and quality today has maintained that stature since the days of our founders, when it was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams. Back then, Bordeaux was also known as “Claret” – named as such for the pale color it took on in the early days of its production (the word is derived from the latin for “clear”). By the Colonial Era, it had come to resemble the deep red hue we know today, but the name stuck, and is still commonly used in the British wine trade.

Madeira

While Madeira’s heyday in America has long since passed, it was actually one of the most important alcoholic beverages in the days of our Founding Fathers. So important, in fact, that it was used to toast both the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. George Washington is said to have drank a pint of Madeira every day with dinner. And with good reason—that stuff is delicious. Whether you prefer the searing acidity of the Sercial style or the candied sweetness of Malmsey, this intentionally oxidized and cooked fortified wine from the eponymous Portuguese island deserves to make a comeback. Why not give it a try this July 4th?

Wine-Buying Tips for Father’s Day

This Father’s Day, shake things up and give Dad the gift of wine inspired by his hobbies and personality. It’s a given that a variety of occasions can influence the purchase of a flashy wine bottle, but buying wine based on Dad’s personal passions offers up a lively avenue to celebrate dear old Dad this Father’s Day.

The Golfing Dad

Whether it’s wrapping up 18 holes or going for an easy nine, avid golfers can sip vinous inspiration from some of the best in the business. Cart jockeys and mulligan-makers alike can share the green and the grape with high flying pros like Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus or Ernie Els. Got a Dad that tends to be a “King of Cabs?” Then reach for Arnold’s California-based Cabernet Sauvignon, carrying dark fruit and layers of spice and herbs alongside dusty, easy-going tannins.

Looking to escape to the “Land Down Under”? Greg Norman can get Dad there with his signature red, a bold wine spotlighting plenty of forward fruit dominated by blackberry with a mix of mocha and a wisp of smoke. Dubbed Limestone Coast Shiraz, this bottle is easy on the budget and ultra food-friendly.

With vineyards situated on the granite-layered soils of Stellenbosch, South African pro golfer Ernie Els makes the most of his roots (and vines) by digging deep to build Bordeaux and Rhone-based blends. Known in golfing circles as “The Big Easy” thanks to both his signature swing and solid stature, Els’ bottle by the same name is built on the sturdy back of Shiraz (60%) and well-rounded by Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), with a healthy mix of the Rhone’s finest varieties singing backup.

The Grill Master Dad

Whether he really is master of the grill or just wants to be, giving Dad a bottle or two of versatile wines that promise to make the most of grilled grub will thrill any fire-loving, tong-bearing man this Father’s Day. For burger lovers, whether it’s bacon-wrapped, bison-based or simply beef with a slab of cheddar, opt for the dense fruit and laid back structure of California Zinfandel. A best bet is Seghesio Zinfandel 2014, which comes straight from the cattle-driven country of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Or scout for Lodi’s Michael David Earthquake Zinfandel 2013. The name is a nod to San Francisco’s devastating earthquake of 1906, and made with grapes planted around the same time, promising a truly “old” vine wine.

Dad, the Adventurer

If Pop is the type that likes to bust paradigms and climb mountains (or ladders), dreams of living off the grid (or simply offline), and looks for adventure in life whether it’s new routes or new grapes, then we’ve rounded up some wines that are often off the radar. Got a white-wine loving Dad? Shake it up with Sardinia’s Vermentino, a lively, crisp wine that typically gets along just fine sans oak. This Italian darling promises heady aromatics and a remarkable propensity for all sorts of food, especially shellfish, pesto, and veggie themes. Check out the 2014 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino for some serious Sardinian love delivered via exotic tropical fruit, bright acidity and a clean, crisp finish.

Prefer an out-of-the-box red wine discovery for Dad this Father’s Day? No worries, with over 800+ grape varieties, Italy promises more wine adventure than virtually any other wine growing region on the planet. Pushing way past Chianti and Barolo, the Veneto wine region, bordered by Venice and the rugged Dolomites, produces an easy-going red wine blend that stems from an ambitious trifecta of grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Want to give this classic Valpolicella style a swirl? Then look for the fuller-bodied, red cherry flavors of Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2011. Prefer to go full throttle with the same grape trio? Then opt for the deeply concentrated, stouter-styled Amarone—enter Masi. As an innovative producer of world class Amarone, Masi’s appassimento methods produce top notch wines from semi-dried grapes. To offer Dad a high-octane taste of the Veneto, there’s no better ambassador than Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2010. Ready to roll now or happily held for another decade, Masi’s Amarone is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Dad, the Intellectual

If Dad leans more towards brains than brawn, then Burgundy begs for consideration this Father’s Day. Known for highly cerebral wines that thrive on taking a specific speck of soil and fanning it into a concentrated conversation piece, not to mention an all-senses-on-deck tasting experience, the best of Burgundy guarantees the essence of time and space, history and geology, culture and conscience. Burgundy offers a thoroughly classical education in one delicious glass. Diving into Burgundy is a no-brainer for Dads possessing a penchant for the scholastic, and a top pick on the Burgundy wine trail is Albert Bichot Aloxe Corton Grand Cru Clos de Marechaudes 2013. From this engaging red wine diplomat of organic origins, expect complexity with a serious side, and well-developed fruit supported by fine tannins. If Dad’s palate steers toward Burgundy’s whiter side, then check out a classic from premier producer Louis Jadot, in the 2013 Louis Jadot Chasagne-Montrachet Abbaye de Morgeot, which comes with a round of dried flowers, subtle citrus, and vivid minerality.

So, which wine will I give my golf-course-living, grill-loving, airplane-flying, Soduku-playing Dad this Father’s Day? Good question. It will likely be an older Amarone (with some selfish strings attached).