Category Archives: Wine Education

WINE (noun): the alcoholic fermented juice of fresh grapes used as a beverage

Source: Merriam-Webster

Thanksgiving Wine and Pie Pairings

Dessert and fortified wines are one of fall’s most delicious wine treats. While many of these dessert-themed wines find happy pairing partners in the traditional blue cheese or salty seasonal nuts, many will shine exceptionally bright when partnered up with the season’s favorite pies. Check out some top pie pairing picks ranging from fortified favorites to late harvest delights, Banyuls and more.

  • Pumpkin Pie – traditional, rich and filled with warm seasonal spice – the perfect pick for Port. To slice through the yummy spice character and lean into the creamy textures and full-on pumpkin flavors, consider the nutty nuances, smidge of citrus and innate spice of Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny  to bring synergy and contrast to the sweet pumpkin motifs.
  • Lemon Almond Tart – With Italian roots and the perfect mix of sweet meets savory, the famed lemon almond tart begs for the decadent, late-harvest, botrytis-ensnared themes that Bordeaux’s Sauternes deliver so well. Meshing the full-bodied medium sweet, honeyed profile of Chateau Guiraud Sauternes’ citrus character with the peppy palate offerings of the not overly sweet lemon almond tart brings the old standby of complementary pairing protocol to full flavor fruition.
  • Pecan Pie – Sticky, nutty and ultra-sweet, what’s not to love about this seasonal favorite? For this pairing we’ll travel southwest off the coast of Portugal to the island of Madeira. Opting for Blandy’s 15 Year Old Malmsey Madeira, where a full body and smooth palate texture delivers generous brown sugar character, rounded out by caramel, walnuts, and distinct mocha influences. The high acidity in the wine is what makes this pairing work. Acidity cuts through the sugar in the pecan pie like a knife and carries the residual sugar in the Madeira itself to brighter levels preventing the sweet spike from being turned into an insulin-induced sugar spiral void of competing flavors and palate interest.
  • Apple Cobbler – Ahh, apple cobbler. That sweet fall treat that fans the flames of ripe apples, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, and toasted oats crumbled with butter – does anything say fall louder than that? For this autumn dessert, we’ll run with a lighter-styled white wine from the hillside heart of Italy’s Langhe region in Piedmont. Light, bright and insanely aromatic, Saracco Moscato d’Asti  engages everything from apple cobbler to the famous French upside-down apple Tarte Tatin to biscotti and Milan’s famous panettone with exceptional versatility and pairing potential.
  • Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie – Beginning with a basic pecan pie and turning it up a notch by adding the unmistakable flavors of both bourbon and semi-sweet chocolate, this particular high-octane pie demands something with a bit of palate heft itself. Enter Taylor Fladgate’s 20 Year Tawny, big, rich and complex, marrying the best of figs and caramelized character with the savory elements of walnuts and warm spice.  This pairing highlights the complement over the contrast with both the pie and the fortified wine showing full throttle flavors and spotlighting some overlap in terms of aromatic and flavor elements.
  • Cherry Pie – There’s just something cheery about cherry pie. An American staple and perfect for pairing with the French dessert wine from the Roussillon, the traditional cherry pie will find a friend in the sweet cherry and chocolate flavors of Grenache-based Banyuls. Gerard Bertrand Banyuls promises significant ripe red and black fruit on the nose and palate combined with a sweet style, full body, and moderate tannins. If you plan on opting for a piece of chocolate in lieu of a slice of pie this Thanksgiving, Banyuls also delivers some serious pairing potential with all things chocolate.

While pairing Port with pie and Banyuls with chocolate are both decadent and delicious endings to a Thanksgiving feast, there are many that consider dessert wines as dessert themselves.  The choice is yours! Happy Thanksgiving!


Bordeaux on a Budget

Bordeaux is a classic region, home to classic wines. So often seen as unattainable, or even undrinkable, the wines of Bordeaux are slowly overcoming these misconceptions in the wine world. While serious wine collectors tend to focus on high-priced futures intended to be cellared for decades or on the rich, honeyed sweet wines of Sauternes, it is certainly possible to find both aged Bordeaux and ready-to-drink young Bordeaux at affordable prices—you just need to know what to look for.

Because outdated stereotypes can make these wines seem so intimidating, many casual wine drinkers don’t know enough about affordable Bordeaux to choose one for the dinner table. In reality, there is no need to feel overwhelmed, and the selection process can be simplified with a few easy pro tips:

1. Discover the Côtes de Bordeaux
Côtes de Bordeaux is comprised of the Right Bank regions of Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon and Francs. This collective of growers and producers banded together a few decades ago and were granted the Côtes du Bordeaux appellation status in 2009. In a way, this is similar to the way villages are attributed on the labels for Côtes du Rhone-Villages—each appellation adds its name to the Côtes de Bordeaux label, highlighting its own unique identity but identifying with the quality specifications of the Côtes de Bordeaux appellation as a whole.

A favorite value from the Cotes:
Chateau Les-Charmes Godard 2012

2. Buy older wines at a value
Some vintages are highly acclaimed at the time of their release (such as the heralded 2000 vintage), but then a few years later, even better vintages arrive—for example, 2005, 2009, and 2010. As a result, the 2000 will begin to lose some of its shine, followed by the 2005, and so on. Those vintages, when available, offer the great opportunity to purchase an older Bordeaux from an outstanding vintage.

Great picks include:
Château Simard Saint-Emilion 2005
Château Balestard La Tonelle 2005
Château Cap de Mourlin Grand Cru 2005

3. Find entry-level wines from fantastic vintages

There are highly-acclaimed vintages that demand extremely high prices from top châteaux, but a universally wonderful vintage means that even the under-$25, entry-level wines will be delicious. Currently, 2009, 2010 and 2011 can all be relied upon for high quality at low prices.

Some more-than-safe bets:
Château Lyonnat Lussac Saint-Emilion 2009
Château Fourcas Dupré 2010
Château Haut-Bellevue Haut-Médoc 2010
Château le Doyenné 2011

For a comprehensive list of the best deals in Bordeaux for this fall, shop this link.




Sicily: A food and wine paradise

At the mention of Sicily, hopefully some of the first things to pop into your mind are sunny beaches, Mediterranean air, fresh seafood, and possibly even delicious wine. Two of the coolest things about Sicilian wines are that they are approachable both in style and price. They offer some of the best—and diverse—options for introducing yourself to Old World wines. But unless you actually go there, it can be hard to realize how large, and unlike an island, this island really is. Its surface area is actually three times the size of New Zealand! They produce between 100 and 130 million gallons of wine per year. That is equivalent to about 2 million oak barrels! The region is also number one in Italy for organic wines, boasting 38% of Italy’s total organic wine production.

The first record of wine on the island dates back roughly to 700 BC when the Greeks occupied the island. Wine appears again in Sicily in the volume “Natural History,” when Pliny the Elder mentions the Mamertino wines produced around Messina. From about 831 to 1072 AD vines risked extinction altogether when the Arabs dominated the island.

The reign of Frederick III of Aragon in the early 1300’s finally unchained the wine trade in Sicily, but their industry didn’t start to pick up until the 1500’s. Nearly four hundred years later, in the early 1990s, Sicilian wines started to make a mark on the international market. This was a thanks in part to the blending of international varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot noir Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, and some might say Riesling) with indigenous grape varieties. The result was a group of wines that were more understandable to consumers in the global market. Currently about a third of the wine production in Sicily comes from international varieties and two thirds from indigenous grape varieties.

With so many types of Sicilian wine out there, experimenting on your own and finding new wines to like is easy, especially with some fun food pairings.

If you like light and crisp wines like Sauvignon blanc, a good Sicilian wine to try is the Planeta Eurazione, which is made of 90% Carricante, an indigenous grape to Sicily, and 10% Riesling. It has aromas of apple, mango, and white flowers. It is light and crisp on the palate and offers a bright finish with flavors of lemon curd. Pairing it with a dish like grilled prawns tossed in lemon juice and garlic works splendidly. Or if you can make it or find it, the Sicilians also like to have this wine with octopus salad. Any seafood salad will work!

Another fun white is the Insolia by Cusumano. This indigenous grape makes a full bodied and aromatic wine. It offers aromas and flavors of lemon and herbs, is smooth and rich on the palate and finishes with a hint of toasted almond. It is delicious with any pesto dish.

sicilian-pizzaThe Donnafugata Sedara, which is predominantly Nero d’Avola, one of the most important red grapes of Sicily, is the perfect everyday red wine. Full of wild blackberry and raspberry fruit, it is juicy and quaffable and excellent with pizza or a quick tomato-based pasta dish.



If you want to get a little more serious, another delicious Nero d’Avola is the Feudi del Pisciotto Versace Nero d’Avola. It has a deep bouquet of rose and ripe red cherry, is full on the palate and has a long, complex, and spicy finish. It is works beautifully alongside roasts or game. Plus, a serious meal will need a conversation piece and the label on this bottle is a good one. In the vain of creating wines that truly express the “Made in Italy” theme, the head of Feudi del Pisciotto decided to call on famous Italian artists and designers to create the labels for his wines. And what’s even better, a small portion of the winery’s revenue goes to reconstructing ancient works of art in Sicily. Donatella Versace, a lover of Nero d’Avola, chose the original Medusa head Versace logo for this wine, which for the Versace family symbolizes their desire to catch the eyes of audiences with astonishing and stylish designs.

planeta-etna-rossoThe Planeta Etna Rosso, made from the grape indigenous to Mount Etna called Nerello Mascalese, is an engaging wine with complex aromas of rose buds and stems, forest floor, sour cherry, strawberry, and rhubarb. On the palate it is full and smooth with a long spicy finish and suede-like tannins. This is a fun red too because it even works with fish! Try it with some pepper and herb encrusted grilled cod or seabass with a side of Caponata.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Caponata could be described as a Sicilian interpretation of Ratatouille. It also works well as a bruschetta topping, or be super authentic and serve it atop an orange slice, like the Sicilians do. If you have a little spare time, it isn’t difficult to make on your own. It’s totally worth it!

2 eggplants, cut into 1 inch dice
2 Tbsp plus 1.5 c olive oil
1 cup diced celery
3 onions, chopped
1 cup tomato puree
3 Tbsp capers
12 black or green olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
chopped basil or parseley
salt and pepper

Saute celery briefly so it is still crisp. Set aside. In a wide saute pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 c of olive oil. Saute the eggplant, making sure to cook thoroughly. Transfer to a plate with paper towels to drain. In the same pan, warm the remaining 1/2 c of oilive oil, then add the onions and saute until translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add the reserved celery and tomoato puree and simmer, stirring occassionally for 10 minutes. Add cooked eggplant, capers, olives, nuts, vinegar, sugar, and herbs. Stir well and simmer, uncovered over low heat for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It is best to reserve for the next day so flavors can meld but it is also possible to serve immediately.


Discover Rhone

Feeling a pull to step out of your comfort zone with the wines you normally drink? Well whatever those may be, a spectacular place to start a new voyage is in the southern part of the Rhone River Valley!

If you don’t have the resources to jump head first into the reigning region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, whose silky and alluring wines command a higher, though well-deserved price, the next best way to discover Rhone is to venture out into its satellite regions. Unlike many other wine growing regions of the world, the span of high quality vineyards of the Rhone extends far beyond its heart, in this case, the historical region of Chateauneuf. In the Rhone, the satellite regions are where you will find not just some of the very best values, but also quite a heap of hidden gems.


The general region of Côtes du Rhone, literally meaning “coast” or “shore” of Rhone, surrounds Chateauneuf. Within the Côtes du Rhone is a more specialized appellation called Côtes du Rhone Villages. Eighteen villages comprise the Côtes du Rhone Villages appellation. Since the 1970s (though a few established themselves before this) many of these villages have worked to distinguish themselves and have proven rights to their own appellations, gaining AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) status just as Chateauneuf did in 1936. Besides the Côtes du Rhone and Côtes du Rhone Villages general appellations, these individual villages are where you’ll find some of the most mind-blowing wines.

If you take a general count over the entire region, Cotes du Rhone wines are 94% red, 4% rosé, and 2% white. Grenache is the king variety, claiming 40% of all wine produced, including when it appears in blends and rosés.

While many people would name Provence as the center of rosé production, there is a famous and historical rosé region in the southern Rhone. Tavel AOC, established in 1936, produces only rosé wine and is one of the most renowned rosé regions in the world. The wines are characterized by a salmon or bright pink hue, are full on the palate, exhibit fresh red berry fruit, and are highly perfumed, redolent of fresh herbs and spices.

dentelles-di-montmirail-2Gigondas, authorized as an AOC in 1971, lies at the foot of the Dentelles di Montmirail, a small but nonetheless dramatic chain of spiked and eroded mountains formed by a horizontal strata of Jurassic limestone that became folded and forced into an upright position. The soils are diverse and range from stony red and black clay to green granite and chlorite chalk. Its wines are some of the boldest, most concentrated, and mineral-laden in the southern Rhone, characterized by blackberry, red berry, earth, and garrigue.

Vacqueyras, established as an AOC in 1990, lies just south of Gigondas and is comprised of diverse soils like Gigondas but with more sand and pebbles giving the wines a slightly more delicate feel. Black licorice, black cherry, raspberhonevinesrry, dried fig, and smoke are common descriptors for Vacqueyras wines.

Costières de Nîmes is the farthest south of the established AOC regions, and one of the hottest areas of the southern Rhone. Its wines, ranging from wild and spicy to fruity and tame, offer a pleasant surprise, regardless of style.

Ventoux vineyards stretch higher in altitude than the others, and fittingly climb the base of Mount Ventoux. Diverse soils and cooler temperatures produce reds with red berry fruit, blackcurrant, and ephemeral aromas of herbs, violets, vanilla, and licorice.

Most reds from these regions won’t run you too far over $20 and usually they are under. The wines will charm you with their sultry mid-palate of fruit, brooding earth nuances, and sweet, aromatic bouquets of spice, violets, and black licorice.

Grab Some Garnacha for #GarnachaDay 2016

Meet Garnacha. Serving diligently as one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, Garnacha enjoys extensive plantings worldwide. This hardy, thin-skinned, late ripening red grape is thought by many to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because it can handle the demands of crazy continental climates like a champ, with vines withstanding wind and drought conditions considerably well, Garnacha (aka Grenache in France), is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking endeavors. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha also comes as a rich, full-bodied white wine variety, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca.”

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 brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other grape variety can lay creative claim to red, white, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain’s warm, sun-baked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha 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, modest tannin, and engaging aromatics Garnacha’s red grape shines bright with delicious ripe fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take front and 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 make their way into the bottle as well.  Tapping into old vines that produce smaller yields,  allows many Garnacha vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity carrying a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile.

Pairing Picks for Garnacha: A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, all sorts of barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, slow roasted lamb, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha promises serious pairing versatility and a remarkable food-friendly nature.

Popular Garnacha Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Care to toast the town on #Garnacha Day? We’ve got you covered, take a sip of Garnacha in all of its unblended glory with these single variety bottles to try with prices ranging from $8-20.

Growing Garnacha – A Regional Peek

Today, Garnacha finds firm footing throughout Spain; however, some of 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. The renowned Rioja region also grows its fair share of Garnacha; however, it tends to play second fiddle and is most often blended with Tempranillo here.

DIY Garnacha Tasting!

Want to dive deeper into the great big world of Garnacha? Then have fun checking out this side by side comparative tasting format of Spain’s Garnacha regions to celebrate the diversity and festive sips of #GarnachaDay. Compare and contrast these wines in terms of color, aromas, fruit character, the levels of acidity, tannin content.

1. Campo de Borja AmbassadorBodegas Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2014
Winemaker’s Notes – Made from old vine Grenache grown on the cool upland plateau of Campo de Borja, between Rioja and Catalonia, the ‘Seleccion’ is specially selected to emphasise bright, ripe fruit and cool, perfumed aromatics, without any oak influence. There is also a notable mineral complexity imbued by the red rocky soils of the region. Given the underlying old vine richness of this cuvee, pricing is a real steal.
2.Terra Alta Ambassador:  Clos Dalian Garnacha Blanca 2015
Winemaker’s Notes – Bright white wine with golden hue. Aroma of ripe white fruit and minerals. Creamy, fleshy, fresh and very seductive in the mouth. Its mid-palate is quite long and silky.
3. Somontano Vinas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha 2011
Winemaker’s Notes – Very attractive color with red hues complemented by elegant hints of violet. It is very distinctive on the nose, with fruity aromas and discreet notes of toastiness that combine well together. The strong fruit aromas come through again in the mouth, providing great flavors, and producing a pleasant effect and long finish.
beso4. Cariñena Garnacha Ambassador:  Beso de Vino Garnacha 2011
Winemaker’s Notes – Opaque purple. Intensely perfumed aromas of cherry and blackberry are brightened by zesty minerality and a subtle peppery quality. Lively red and dark fruits on the palate, with black pepper and licorice nuances emerging with air. Sappy and strikingly intense for the price, finishing with excellent persistence and gentle tannic grip.


lasrocas5. Calatayud Garnacha Ambassador: Las Rocas Garnacha 2013
Winemaker’s Notes – Las Rocas Garnacha offers vibrant aromas and flavors of dark cherry and blackberry. Well-integrated nuances of oak and round tannins underscore these decadent fruit flavors to create a rich, well-structured wine.