Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spicy Red: Gravity Hills Zinfandel

Wine #4 for this Wednesday is a spicy red from California's Central Coast: Gravity Hills 2006 Zinfandel. Nicknamed The Sherpa, this medium-bodied Zin has a kick of white pepper along with raspberry and blackberry fruit. Adding interest on the palate are savory baconfat and herbal flavors, perhaps with a touch of eucalyptus.

Sound inviting? How about finding it for only $8.99 at Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert? And it's a screwcap too, in case you want to take it with you while mountaineering this weekend per the crazy tasting notes on the winery's website.

We'd rather snap it open with pizza or pasta arrabbiata at home alongside a roaring fireplace. It's a sure pick for barbecue, chili that's not too fiery and sausage dishes.

Have you signed up yet? Don't get left out in the cold – go to the Events page at The Girlfriend Factor and get going! Girlfriend Teri's venue is alive with colors and textures from her hand-painted silk scarves and gorgeous wearable art accessories. It's going to be fantastic – see you there!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aromatic Whites, Spicy Reds

At the next thoughtful tasting next week with The Girlfriend Factor, you'll learn to make sense of wine scents.

We found a wine that makes a great bridge between the first two aromatic whites and the last two spicy reds − Gewürztraminer, a white wine that's both aromatic and spicy. Grown in the cool climate of Sonoma's Russian River Valley, the 2009 Hook & Ladder is a tasty example of this versatile varietal.

A quick swirl releases aromas of ripe melon and tropical flower blossoms. On the palate, clean flavors of green apple, honeydew and a hint of lychee come to a spicy gingered finish.

Not to be confused with their sweeter late-harvest wine, Hook & Ladder's early harvest Gewurz is barely off-dry. It makes a terrific pairing with spicy and Asian fare, curries, simpler chicken and fish dishes (chutney or mango salsa, anyone?) or just some fresh fruit and cheese. Remember this one in summer for melon and prosciutto, too.

The winery takes its name from owner and winemaster Cecil De Loach's first career as a San Francisco fireman. For nearly thirty years before De Loach winery was sold in 2003, his Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel wines brought worldwide attention to the Russian River Valley region. The district was designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983 and the appellation's boundaries were expanded in 2005. Today, Cecil and the next generation of the De Loach family continue to develop that region's potential for top-flight viticulture in Sonoma's coastal fog belt.

Get with Gewurz for a refreshing change of pace or just the right wine complement to spicier or fruit-laced dishes. Sign up here to give this a swirl next week and learn more about this under-appreciated varietal. Find it for around $12 at Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentine's Day Wines

Perhaps more than food, wine is the ultimate consumable Valentine's Day pleasure. For many, what makes wine the libation of lovers lies in the primal appeal of its aromas. Breathe in the bouquet of a worthy wine to experience wine at its most intoxicating, in the non-inebriated sense, that is.

Certain grapes and varietal wines are known for their distinctive aromatic allure. For some, it's the perfumed nose of light Moscato or the honeysuckle heaven of a full-bodied Viognier. Others may fall under the spell of Pinot Noir's cheerful cherries and roses or the blast of berries and spice that wafts up from a swirl of Syrah. Whatever your preference, the smell of wine is not only divine, but it's also what comprises much of what we taste and enjoy with every sip.  

These Valentine's Day picks are intensely aromatic wines. Both are sexy and delicious in completely different ways and each pairs beautifully with a variety of foods. Uncork at your own risk, and be prepared to give in to their charms.

Elio Perrone 2009 Sourgal Moscato d'Asti
Slightly sweet and refreshing on the tongue, this Italian Moscato is racy and delicious. At only 5% alcohol, it's light enough to enjoy as an aperitif or as a closer to your Valentine's dinner, either by itself or served with strawberries, berries, poached pears or a light puff-pastry dessert. Seductive aromas of orange blossoms, honeysuckle and sweet citrus set the mood for a mouthful of bright, fresh fruit rooted by a hint of sage and a bracing, lingering finish. Very sexy, and very Italian. Find it for under $15 at LA Wine Company.

Château Thivin 2009 Côte de Brouilly
This cru Beaujolais from a stellar vintage is bursting with scents and intrigue.  Admire the rich purplish-magenta color as you swirl, provided you can resist nose-diving into its layered floral and cherry-raspberry aromatics. Violets, roses and herbs weave their seductive way through a palette of herbed fruits and minerality juiced by food-friendly acidity. The earthy finish is kissed by sour cherry and smoke. Although this Gamay will surely get better with time, its heady, endless nose will have your head spinning before you take your first sip. A great wine for falling in love, again, now and later. About $20 at LA Wine Company.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl Wines

We have pigskin picks to vinify your Super Sunday, but first a few food facts. Just two days after Go Red For Women, the American Heart Association's campaign to raise awareness about women and heart disease comes XLV, the super-snackdown day of the year. 
Incredibly, the amount of food Americans will tackle this Super Bowl Sunday may gut-bust Thanksgiving Day, the defending pig-out champion. The average fan is set to scarf 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat from game day snacking alone – and that doesn't include any regular meals. Unless you plan to walk around a football field for three hours, no amount of fist-pumping and jump-up cheering is going to burn off those calories. Backfield in motion, baby, and bring out the tape. Or, as comedienne Elaine Boosler would say, why not just rub all that stuff right into your thighs?

Worse perhaps is that so many bowl day foods are close to awful. Can we get a holding foul here? Burgers, fried funkitude and chip-dip combos that scream out for an aspirin-nitro-statin garnish hardly seem worth the angina – or agita either, for the Italians out there. I mean, if you're gonna Hail Mary, doesn't a nice plate of lasagna or a juicy rib-eye off the grill sound more appealing than something that stinks of cilantro or singes your palate? Yuck.   

Bottom line is that many Super Bowl food flavors + wine = false start. Chili, thick dips and weighty or fried foods are hard hits for lighter reds and oaked Chardonnays. In the red zone, Cabernet tannins come across as too harsh when combined with super salty foods. Even bigger or bolder reds such as Syrah or Zinfandel can get crushed in the pileup by four-alarm barbecue sauces or hotly spiced wings. 

Unfortunately, there aren't many takers for the alt idea of super Sunday: flip on the crockpot in the morning and uncork a favorite bottle over a real meal during halftime break. No worries about delay of game or missing the halftime show – odds are it'll be as lame as ever. Bah humbug. So with a shrug to mega-snacking as the official play of the day, here are wine picks sure to score big with the gang:

Riesling racks up huge yardage for how well it goes with a wide range of foods, especially spicy dishes, sausage, salads and smoked fish. Many Rieslings are low-alcohol too, to help keep guests safe and under-the-limit. Costco has a German Riesling now that's only 7.5%. Look for Dr L by Loosen Brothers in the tall, teal screw-cap bottle, around $10 at Dan's Wine Shop and Trader Joe's.

Box Wines
The space-saving eco-packaging by Octavin Home Wine Bar holds three liters, equal to four bottles of wine. With a convenient pour spout, these tasty, good quality wines will douse a couch-full of thirsty fans. Find them at Albertsons and Ralphs grocers, better still when they're on sale. Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc is refreshing and balanced, without too much grassiness for game day foods. Kickoff reds worth a runback are the low-tannin Monthaven Cabernet Sauvignon (find the 2007 if you can) or Big House Red, sometimes also at Costco.

If you think real men don't drink pink, food-friendly rosé will rock your manly man's playbook. Go with New World rosés made from heartier red grapes instead of more delicate French and Provençal rosé styles. Give it a good chill and watch for conversions. Try screw-capped Tapiz Rosé of Malbec from Argentina (BevMo!), Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese from Oregon or Mulderbosch Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa (World Market Cost Plus).

Finally, if your heart beats for healthier Super Bowl recipes, score with the roasted red pepper dip and others here, more recipes and substitution ideas here and funny but real food safety tips from Uncle Sam here.

Coming soon: Not-so-grouchy picks for a romantic Valentine's Day